Where God’s Presence Resides
Robert Wurtz II
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|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.” Where is the place where God is “at home”? Where will God come to take up residence? This is the subject I wish to address in this important entry.
A Sermon For The Ages
In Acts 7 Stephen preaches to a wide variety of synagogue worshipers and leaders what is certainly one of the greatest expositions of scripture and the mind of God ever delivered. He recounted every major step that God took in the Old Testament to draw near and dwell among His people. In fact, God embarked on a process of reconciliation as soon as Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden. He wanted to draw near and tabernacle with man. Nevertheless, though He would strive with man; man was always resisting Him.
God always desired a place of rest here on earth. However, since the Garden of Eden, man has not made God welcome. From Genesis 3 to Genesis 6 men were on the fast-track to absolute destruction. The people were so against God, that they would not retain Him in their mind (Romans 1:28). That is to say, they did not factor God into their decision-making process. Moreover, they did not seek after God. In fact, they fled from Him and resisted Him on every hand. In Genesis 6:3, God said that His Spirit would not always strive with man, 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, there were only eight people that would listen to and obey His voice. Eventually the world was destroyed by water, and Noah’s family began to replenish the earth. However, over time, man drifted away from God again until there were only remnants of people who feared the Lord.
God Returning Among Men
In spite of the stubborness of the masses, the eyes of the LORD ran to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew Himself strong in the behalf of them 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. God had to deal with man’s sin debt on the one hand, and a rebellious nature on the other.
People typically want to be left alone to do their own will unthwarted. Nevertheless, God went forth searching until He found someone He could reveal Himself to. Abraham was that person. When God began to speak to him, he built altars and became a praying man. He sought the face of God in the mountain and from place to place. It was his desire to please God and do what was right. When God spoke, Abraham responded in obedience and became the heir to the righteousness of God that is by faith.
Conversely, Abraham’s nephew Lot, travelled with him as he lived by faith. In time it became necessary for the two families to separate. Abraham gave Lot a choice of the land, so he pitched his tent towards Sodom. This was the most evil city on the face of the earth. In fact, they were on the brink of being destroyed by God for their wickedness. These people hated God utterly. 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 the first thing they saw was the fire of God — the manifest presence. During the day they could step out and be met with the cloud. Nevertheless, all that Lot saw, who had pitched his tent towards Sodom, was the madness of sin.
While Abraham was walking with God, Lot moved into the city to walk with those who hated God. He could not help but weary his heart and mind with the vexing torments of other people’s sins. It goes without saying that God could never be at rest in such a person’s life. As a result, Lot never knew the closeness of fellowship with God that Abraham knew. He wanted compromise in his life, and God could not walk with him, as a friend, as He did with Abraham. Lot could have chosen the path Abraham took. He could have shared in his altar experiences. Nevertheless, Lot seemed to want just enough of God to keep Him on retainer. He would never experience a close relationship with Him as did Abraham. Lot’s life ended in disaster beyond words. The consequence of his compromise would be felt for thousands of years. Each of these men had to come to their own personal decision to serve 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 slaves in Egypt 400 years, and multiplied into the hundreds of thousands. Being sorely vexed of 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 to be happy to go, but soon they began to grumble and complain.
God cannot rest in an environment of unthankfulness. God’s presence and sin do not mix. When He was near He He either brought swift judgment or He departed. One of the two has to go; God or sin. They cannot abide together. If He stays he has to judge the sin. Simply put, if He does not deal with the sin then His unique presence has to leave. 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’ 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. In fact, they tried to cover his face to shield themselves from any remembrance of God. The would accept the book (covenant), but they did not want God near.
When Moses came, many people found out that they did not really want their God. Nevertheless God gave instructions to Moses to build a mobile tabernacle where He could reside among the people. In time that tabernacle passed away and a Temple was built in Jerusalem by Solomon the king. It was glorious! God manifested Himself in powerful ways. However, as the people sinned God left again and the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. Seventy years later they rebuilt the temple that would eventually become “Herod’s Temple.” God was never present there in the way He had been with the Wilderness Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple. In fact, it didn’t even have the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies.
Albeit, as Stephen pointed out, God was not really interested in inhabiting a building. The entire 7th chapter of Acts sets forth God’s efforts in drawing near and establishing a covenant that would make this process of restoring relationship and tabernacling among men possible. Nevertheless, the people generally rejected God’s presence. At the very least they were content to leave God dwelling in the 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 the temple of the Holy Spirit? it was all many could handle simply having God in the Land, much less Him moving in to 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 was never allowed to finish his sermon. They stoned him first. In fact, he only quoted a portion of Isaiah 66 to them. Undoubtedly, many knew the rest 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 man 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 to this “one” (person) will I look. God was looking to live inside men and women all along. Everything He had done to this point was merely a series of steps leading to this ultimate destination.
The first man that God tabernacled in was Jesus Christ. Many have been filled with the Spirit, but Jesus was the Temple of the Living God when He walked the earth. (John 2:19) He is quoted as making this statement 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. They totally missed the point. Another temple made without hands? Herod’s Temple (made with hands) was on borrowed time. Forty years to be exact until the Roman conqueror Titus would annihilate it. However, the Temple of the Body of Christ (made without hands) was made possible by His death and resurrection.
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 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 and women’s bodies. He desired to be worshiped in Spirit and in Truth and made that desire possible once He ascended into Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to baptize those that truly 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 person who is humble and that trembles at His word. This is two things. Pride is a stench in the nostrils of God unlike anything else. In fact, 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 His 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. 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 other 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 in sincerity, God can rest in us.
In modern times it seems that people will do almost anything to get God’s presence to come. 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.
I suggest that the prime reason why so many revert to Old Testament thinking is that they have not considered what Stephen preached. If one wants to be a place where God resides, they have to follow His requirements. There is no side-stepping them. Otherwise, we risk going without His presence and even entertaining counterfeits. For the ages Stephen preached it. It has not changed since. This is the way for us to consider and walk in. As if the world wants to know, “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.