Last week Emmanuel preached about Zacchaeus, the tax collector, who experienced the presence of Jesus in his house. As a result the presence of Jesus changed him completely. He did not need to be told how he should live or what to do. He had been changed form the inside out and hence he offered to compensate for all the money he’d stolen from people. The important conclusion is: he didn’t need rules to become a better person; he needed a touch of the Presence of Jesus in his life in order to change. This goes for all of us. Christianity has nothing to do with changing your behaviour; it’s about changing your heart.
It says in Ezekiel 36:26,27:
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
And in Jeremiah 31:33,34:
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it ton their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
So, the Biblical conclusion is very clear: it has nothing to do with you making all the efforts to live a Christian life, but rather with the question: is God present in your life? in Biblical terms: does He dwell in your inner being?
Today I’d like to ponder a bit more on the Presence of God
We read: Acts 7:44-50: (Stephen)
“Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favour in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by 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 what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’”
Acts 17:24,25: (Paul)
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
Stephen, the deacon
Shortly after the birth of the New Testament church in the book of Acts, we read about Stephen, one of the deacons, appointed to oversee the care for the poor. This Stephen was a man full of the Spirit (as the Bible says) and he went out to preach about Christ and perform signs and wonders in His name. This caused opposition by the religious leaders and they captured him and questioned him. In the 7th Chapter we read Stephen’s magnificent speech in which he explains how God had led His people and gave them life and everything, but also how His people went stubbornly their own way and worshiped idols. He ends his sermon by explaining that God wants to live amongst His people. That’s why He ordered Moses to build a tent, the Tabernacle as a place for people to meet Him. Later on David, the man after God’s own heart, wanted to build a proper house for God (instead of a tent), which is the temple in Jerusalem.
>> David wanted God not just to camp amongst them, but actually to live amongst them. David had captured what was on God’s heart: being permanently with His own people. But it was David’s son Solomon who was granted to build the temple and he made a very beautiful one to the honour of God. From then on the Jews referred to Jerusalem as the place where God dwells. So when people wanted to meet God, they went up to Jerusalem, to the temple.
Jesus: changing the order
However, God was not satisfied with this situation, because He actually wanted to connect to people like He did in the days of creation of mankind. He ‘walked with Adam and Eve in the evening’, it says. Although He was quite near to His people in the temple in Jerusalem, His ultimate wish was to live with them and in them. But since we’re sinful people and God is a holy God; this would not be possible, unless God would provide in an all-sufficient solution. This is where Jesus comes in: He provided that all-sufficient solution by taking our iniquities on Him and making us new creatures in which God could live by His Holy Spirit.
God’s solution rejected
However the Jews didn’t accept God’s provision in Jesus, they wanted to stick with their own thinking and practice. When God drove the Jews into exile (about 600 B.C.) because of their disobedience and sin, He restored them a few decades later on. Their beautiful temple, that had been destroyed by the enemies, was rebuilt (although more modest) and now they were proud of their temple and their efforts and their religious rituals. And then Jesus comes and tells that this temple will be destroyed. They became so angry that they killed Him. And now we read the story of Stephen. Like Jesus He points at the temple and says: this is not at all, what God had in mind. God doesn’t want us to please Him, He wants to please us. And out of that (like David) we experience a desire to please God. The Jews were very proud of their outward religion with all rituals and good behaviour, but that would not get them closer to God. On the contrary: those who are healthy, don’t need a doctor, Jesus said, only the sick.
God’s reversed order
We don’t build a house for Him, He builds one for us, actually in us. In 2 Sam. 7 we read about David’s desire to build a house for God. He wants to honour God and give Him the place He is entitled to. So this is a very honouring thing to do and the prophet Nathan strongly approves. But then God comes in between and says to Nathan: I don’t want him to build a house for Me.
And He says: ‘Would you build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about ain a tent for my dwelling. 7 In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’
There are two reasons why God doesn’t want this:
1. He doesn’t want to be an immovable God, living in one specific place. He wants to be with us all at the same time.
2. He doesn’t want our efforts in pleasing Him, He is capable of Himself to rule all things and our lives as well.
That’s why He says to David:
‘ I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. 9 And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.’
And further on:
‘Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house!’
And then God promises David that his son Solomon will build God’s house, because God has seen the sincere desire of David to serve Him. God looks at the heart of people; that’s what He did when He appointed David, and that’s what He does with regards to David’s wish to build a proper house for God. This proper house will be built. But God is eager to show David His real intentions: I don’t want to live remote from My people in some house; I want to live amongst them and within them. And it’s by David’s offspring that He realises this plan. Much more important than David’s original plan!
That brings us back to the story of Stephen. Stephen understood that our God is not a remote God. He’s not standing along the side-line watching if you’ll be able to meet His requirements. He’s not waiting for our initiative; He has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ. He took the initiative and He keeps taking initiative in your life. He’s not interested in the outer appearance, as He wasn’t in the temple as a beautiful building. He’s not interested in our behaviour. He wants the inside. He wants our hearts. He wants to connect to our hearts. And that was possible by Jesus’ death on the Cross.
What He does when you surrender yourself to Jesus:
- He cleanses you from your old sinful nature
- He removes this old sinful ‘heart and mind’ and replaces it by His Holy Spirit.
- Outwardly we haven’t changed: we’re still the same vulnerable creatures we were with a sinful tendency. Yet our old nature is no longer in charge. Now the Holy Spirit is in charge, if you let Him.
- Now you know you’re saved and free from condemnation; you are God’s child!
In Romans 8 Paul describes this as following:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you…..
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you….. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God…..
God not just wants His presence amongst us, but He wants to live within us. Then He changes us from the inside out so that we rejoice in Him and want to live for Him.
And then as Zacchaeus, we say: Lord, I want to be changed!