Where God’s Presence Resides
Robert Wurtz II
Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:23 NKJV)
Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will you build for me? says the Lord: or what [is] the place of my rest? (Acts 7:49)
It is hard to imagine a question as profound as the one Stephen quoted in Acts 7:49b — given by God — in Isaiah 66:1b, “what [is] the place of my rest?” The verse implies that God is at rest in some places, and He is not at rest in others. Perhaps we could use the language “at home” to describe what He means by “at rest.” Jesus used this idea in John 14:23. Where is the place where God is “at home”? Where will God come to take up residence?
A Sermon For The Ages
In Acts 7, Stephen preaches to a wide variety of synagogue worshipers and leaders what is undoubtedly one of the greatest expositions of scripture and the mind of God ever delivered. He recounted every significant step that God took in the Old Testament to draw near and dwell among His people. God embarked on a reconciliation process after Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden. He wanted to draw near and Tabernacle with man. Nevertheless, though He would strive with humankind, they always resisted Him.
God constantly desired a place of rest here on earth. However, since the Garden of Eden, man has not welcomed God. From Genesis 3 to Genesis 6, humankind was on the fast track to absolute destruction. The people rejected God and wouldn’t retain Him in their minds (Romans 1:28). That is to say, they did not factor God into their decision-making process. Moreover, they did not seek God. Instead, they fled from Him and resisted Him on every hand.
In Genesis 6:3, God said that His Spirit would not always strive with humankind but that his days would be 120 years. A few people began to call on the name of the Lord; nevertheless, by the time of Noah, only eight people would listen to and obey His voice. Eventually, God destroyed the earth with a great flood, and Noah’s family began to replenish the earth. However, over time, humankind drifted away from God again until there were only remnants of people who feared the Lord.
God Returning Among Men
Despite the stubbornness of humankind, the eyes of the LORD ran to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart was perfect toward Him (2 Chronicles 16:9). God found such a man in Abram (Abraham) and called him out of Ur of the Chaldees into the land that He swore unto him. God appeared to Abraham and started a process by which He would slowly bring man back into fellowship with Himself.
People typically want to be left alone to do their own will. Nevertheless, God found someone He could reveal Himself to, and Abraham was that person. When God began speaking to him, he built altars and became a praying man. Abraham sought the face of God in the mountain and from place to place. He desired to please God and do what was right.
When God spoke, Abraham responded in obedience. Because of this, he became the heir to the righteousness of God, that is, by faith. Conversely, Abraham’s nephew Lot and his small family traveled with him but had a different outlook on life. In time, it became necessary for the two families to separate.
The Direction of Your Tent
Abraham gave Lot a choice of land, so he pitched his tent toward Sodom, the evilest city on the face of the earth, not knowing they were on the brink of being destroyed by God with fire and brimstone for their gross sexual immorality. “Pitching your tent” is an expression that means to turn towards something and give it your full attention. It speaks of the direction of a person’s life and outlook.
When the children of Israel came into the promised land, they pitched their tents towards the Tabernacle, where God dwelled. When they stepped out of their tents at night, they first saw the fire of God, the manifest presence. During the day, they could step out and see the cloud. Nevertheless, all that Lot saw, who had pitched his tent towards Sodom, was the madness of sin.
Vexed by Sin
While Abraham was walking with God, Lot moved into the city to walk with those who rejected God. He tormented his heart and mind by seeing and hearing about the people’s sins. God could never be at rest in Sodom and, consequently, in such a person’s life. As a result, Lot never knew the close fellowship with God that Abraham knew. Lot is referred to elsewhere as a just man, but he didn’t know God as his friend, as did Abraham.
Lot could have chosen the path Abraham took. He could have shared his altar experiences. Nevertheless, Lot seemed to want just enough of God to keep Him on retainer (so to speak). As a result, he would never experience a close relationship with Him, as did Abraham. Lot’s life ended in disaster beyond words. His compromise led to sin that impacted God’s people for thousands of years. Nevertheless, each of these men had to make their own personal decision to walk close to God.
These Are Our Examples
Over time, Abraham would have a promised son named Isaac, and Isaac would have Jacob (Israel). Israel had twelve sons who became the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Most of these sons bore many children and did not walk in the way of their father, Jacob, but Joseph feared the LORD, and God showed Himself strong through him.
The Twelve Tribes of Israel were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years and multiplied into the hundreds of thousands. Being sorely vexed by the Egyptians, they remembered the God of their fathers and cried out to Him. God raised up a deliverer in Moses. With a mighty outstretched arm, God delivered all of the children of Israel from Pharaoh and Egypt. At first, they seemed happy to go, but soon they began to grumble and complain.
God cannot rest in an environment of unthankfulness. Romans 1:21 reminds us that unthankfulness is a sin expressive of fallen humanity. It’s a reproach on our Creator. Therefore, Hebrews speaks of the sacrifice of praise, which is the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name (Hebrews 13:15).
God’s presence and sin do not mix. When He was near and sin was committed, He either brought swift judgment or departed. One of the two has to go; God or sin. They cannot abide together. If He stays, He has to judge the sin. If He does not deal with the sin, His unique presence must leave.
The First Glimpse of Glory
God drew very near to Israel when Moses went up on the mountain. He came down, and his face was glowing with the radiance of God’s glory. This was their opportunity. Did the people line up to see Moses’ glowing face? Did they long to look upon him with awe and wonder, savoring every glimpse of God’s majesty? Did they ask Moses what it was like to be with God, or perhaps they could get permission from God to come up? No on all counts. They tried to cover his face to shield themselves from any remembrance of God. They accepted the book (covenant) but did not want God’s glory near.
When Moses came down from the mountain, many discovered they did not want their God. If God’s presence were important to them, they would have complied with His commands so He could remain. They did not. Nevertheless, God instructed Moses to build a mobile Tabernacle where He could reside among the people. The Tabernacle passed away, and Solomon, the king, built a Temple in Jerusalem. It was glorious! God manifested Himself in powerful ways. However, as the people sinned, God left again, and the Babylonians destroyed the Temple.
Seventy years later, they rebuilt the temple that would eventually become Herod’s Temple. However, God was never present there in the way He had been with the Wilderness Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple. When Babylon sacked Jerusalem and destroyed Solomon’s Temple, the Ark of the Covenant went missing. It has yet to be found.
As Stephen pointed out, God was not interested in inhabiting a building. His ultimate desire was to live inside of people and make them His Temple. The 7th chapter of Acts sets forth God’s efforts in drawing near and establishing a covenant that continued restoring the relationship and dwelling among men. Nevertheless, the people generally rejected God’s presence.
At the very least, they were content to keep God’s presence in a building while they went home to their own lives. Is there any wonder that most wanted nothing to do with the New Covenant that made people temples of the Holy Spirit? Having God in the Land was too much for some, much less Him moving into their body.
Having set forth God’s purposes to the people, line upon line, precept upon precept, Stephen gives God’s estimate of it all Acts 7:51; You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye.
God in a Building?
Stephen never finished his sermon. They stoned him. He only quoted a portion of Isaiah 66. Undoubtedly, many knew the remainder of the passage and understood the implications of what he was saying. Consider the full context of the passage.
Thus says the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that you build unto me? And where is the place of my rest? For all those things have my hand made, and all those things have been, says the LORD: but to this one will I look, even to they who are of a poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word (Isaiah 66:1, 2).
Although God appeared to people at different times and places, even moving among them in the Wilderness Tabernacle and Temple, He ultimately intended to make His dwelling place in people. Not a building or a structure. Not a spot on a map, but I will look to this “one” (person). God was looking for men and women to live inside them. Everything He had done to this point was merely a series of steps leading to this ultimate goal.
The first man that God tabernacled in was Jesus Christ. Many were filled with the Spirit, but Jesus was the Temple of the Living God when He walked the earth. (John 2:19) He said in Mark 14:58; I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.
The people missed the point. Another temple made without hands? What did Jesus mean? Herod’s Temple (made with hands) was on borrowed time. Forty years to be exact until the Roman conquerors Vespasian and Titus would annihilate it. However, His death and resurrection made the Temple of the Body of Christ (made without hands) possible. Individuals born again are living stones in the Temple (1 Peter 2:4-8).
Whether or not these religious leaders misquoted Jesus in Mark 15:48 is beside the point because the theology of what they said was spot on. Jesus Christ intended to pitch (build) a Temple that was not the works of men’s hands but the working of the Holy Spirit. (Hebrews 8:1ff)
After Pentecost, God began once again to walk with man in sweet fellowship and communion — only this time, the Garden of Eden was in the Temple of men’s and women’s bodies. He desired to be worshiped in Spirit and Truth and made that desire possible once He ascended into Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to baptize those that genuinely believe into His One Body.
The Place of God’s Rest
To this one will I look, even to they who are of a poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word (Isaiah 66:2b)
This verse contains what God is looking for in a residence. He is at rest in a humble person who trembles at His word. These are two things. Pride is a stench in the nostrils of God unlike anything else. It was the snare and condemnation of Satan. Jesus Christ, the first living temple of God, was meek and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29).
Paul goes into great detail in Philippians, showing the extent of Jesus’ humility. Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6–8 ESV)
The second characteristic of God’s residence is one who trembles at my word. Sometimes God would address a group by saying, “Hear, you that tremble at my word!” God was talking to people who took His word absolutely seriously. They don’t scoff at obedience. On the contrary, their attitude is that God’s word must be obeyed and swiftly. Again, this was the attitude of the first living temple.
It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4 NKJV)
Satan has a characteristic that helped get him cast out of Heaven. He undermines God’s word and entices others to disobey. Is there any wonder he was cast out and ultimately down to hell? Jesus confronted him with Matthew 4:4. This was His attitude towards God’s word. It is more vital to us than our necessary food. When we take on this attitude sincerely, God can rest in us.
In modern times, it seems that people will do almost anything to get God’s presence to come near. They employ Old Testament techniques thinking that if they sing the right song or play the right tune, God will come and “inhabit their praises.” However, under the New Covenant, the saints sing because God has already come, and His presence is already in them. We sing from the fullness of the joy of the Lord. We don’t strike up the band and wait for God to come.
The prime reason so many revert to Old Testament thinking is that they have not considered what Jesus or Stephen preached. To be a place where God resides, one must follow His requirements. There is no side-stepping them. Otherwise, we risk going without His presence and even entertaining counterfeits. Stephen’s message is still valid. The words of Jesus in John 14:23 are still valid, too. God asked, “What [is] the place of my rest?” God tells us plainly. “To this one will I look, even to they who are of a poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word.”
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