Today’s Bible reading: 1 Kings 8:1-66; Acts 7:51-8:13; Psalm 129:1-8; Proverbs 17:1
The Temple has its “grand opening” today as Solomon hosts a dedication ceremony in 1 Kings 8. The Temple was completed a few months earlier but could not be used until the Ark of the Covenant was installed in the Holy of Holies.
The Ark was where God met with the high priest once a year. This made the Temple God’s house. Until now, for some 500 years, God dwelt in a temporary “house” – a tent. Now He has a permanent home in Israel although not even the heavens can contain Him (1 Kings 8:27).
After the Ark was installed God’s presence filled the Temple as thick cloud – similar to the cloud that lead the Israelites through the wilderness (1 Kings 8:10). Because of His presence the priests could not continue their service.
When we are in God’s presence it is hard to do anything because we can sense His holiness and compare that to our sinfulness. This leaves us weak and without words. The presence of God is not a pleasant feeling. It is a feeling of inadequacy.
Sometimes we can have good intentions in our attempt to serve God but He still does not want us to do what it is we desire. Such was the case with David (1 Kings 8:18). God will lead us to the things that He wants us to do.
Today we pray on our knees with our heads bowed. Its interesting that in the Old Testament people prayed while standing and with their arms stretched out towards heaven (1 Kings 8:22). Even Jesus prayed this way.
God has made many promises to us. We should acknowledge those promises like Solomon did. Notice that Solomon even reminded God of His yet-to-be-fulfilled promises (1 Kings 8:25). Doing so is a way of appropriating (claiming) what God promises through faith.
This ceremony took place at the annual Feast of Booths (1 Kings 8:2) during which time the people recalled their wandering in the desert and living in tents. The people had entered the Promised Land about 500 years before and by now had their own homes. Now God has His “home” too.
Stephen brings his argument home in by calling the religious leaders “stiff-necked” and “uncircumcised” (Acts 7:51). These terms were used in the Old Testament (which they would have known) to refer to Jews who were not obeying God’s commands. This would have been a tremendous insult to these men who prided themselves on keeping God’s law.
Notice that these men were furious at Stephen for saying these things (Acts 7:54). What Stephen said was true. There are two way people react when confronted with the truth of who they are: they are either repentant or angry. Similarly, the Bible tells us that there will be two types of people in hell: those who cry because they realize their mistake and those who curse God and blame Him for their eternal destination.
Stephen sees Jesus standing next to God in heaven (Acts 7:56). This enraged these men even more as they could not imagine a crucified man being in heaven, let alone in authority there. These men were “religious” but they had no relationship with Jesus Christ, so their “religion” counted for nothing.
Stephen is stoned to death and while dying he prays. He asks God to forgive these men (Acts 7:59) which is similar to what Jesus prayed on the cross. No matter how badly we are treated we should always see others as God sees them – as people in need of forgiveness.
After this event Christians began to be persecuted in Israel so they scattered like seeds to other locations (Acts 8:1). God used the hate of the Jews in Israel to send His followers all over the world to spread His message. This is a great example of how God used evil to bring about good. Those who are against God may think they have won. But really they have helped God accomplish His plan. God is so smart.
The persecution of Christians was so severe that the Jewish leaders went from house to house to find them and throw them into prison (Acts 8:3). In some parts of the world Christians are treated this way or even killed. Bible prophecy tells us that this will happen world-wide in the future (the not too distant future, in my opinion).
Persecution is not defeat (Psalm 129:2). Christians face a lot of hate in this world but we need to remember that it is not us that people hate – it is Jesus (John 15:18).
Proverbs 17:1 tells us that peace is more important than wealth. Worldly success often brings problems. But since worldly wealth is temporary, it is not important. Simply having our needs met, while living in peace with God, is a complete life.
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