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Where Does God Live?

Acts 7:44-50
'Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them in the wilderness. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, who enjoyed God's favour and asked that he might provide a dwelling-place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?"' (NIVUK)

In an attempt to stop Stephen speaking about Jesus, he had been accused of supporting Jesus in wanting the temple to be destroyed. What Jesus actually said was, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." But He was speaking of His own body (John 2:18-22). However, the charge gave Stephen the opportunity to talk about where God really lives.

During the wilderness experience, God appointed a mobile tabernacle as the place He would meet with His people. A huge stone temple replaced it in Solomon's time. But that was partly destroyed by the Babylonians and restored on a smaller scale after the exile. Then, with periods of misuse, looting and decay, the temple was left in a poor state until Herod the Great renovated and greatly expanded it to be the temple which Jesus and the disciples knew.

The tabernacle and temple were built to focus the worship of God in Israel, but they were not the places where God lived. Stephen (echoing Solomon's prayer in 2 Chronicles 6:18) said that God is not contained within any building made by human hands. He is the Creator who has made everything. We cannot trap God in our design of building or make Him conform to our system of worship. He is so much bigger. His domain includes the earth but is not confined to it. It is a common religious mistake to think that we can make God live in our structures, be they architectural, ecclesiastical or denominational.

Jesus taught that He lives in heaven but He is also present in our hearts, and wherever His people gather. And yet, like Stephen's accusers, we may like to isolate God to a so-called 'holy space' (Luke 9:33-35), and can be more concerned to get the religious building and system of worship right, than be right with God in our hearts. The truth is that we do not own God, so that He can increase our glory: He owns us so that our love and obedience will bring Him glory. Beware religious legalists: they got rid of the prophets, Jesus and the apostles. Beware legalism in yourself: it inflates pride and takes glory away from Jesus. Best of all, welcome Jesus into your heart (www.crosscheck.org.uk) as your Saviour and Lord and learn to work with Him as Stephen did!

Lord of eternity. Thank You for creating this world and populating it with people made in Your image. Forgive me when I have tried to trap You into what I understand rather than allowing You to reveal Yourself as the Lord of all. Please help me to see that You are far bigger than everything I know, and give me the grace of submitting myself to You, so that You may have the glory. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams