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Agenda #2 - Maintain the Status Quo, Part 2

From the series Diabolical

Sometimes, what we’re used to isn’t always right. In fact, there are times when what we are familiar with, what we cherish, our traditions, are not only wrong - they're diabolical. Chip reveals how to protect your faith, family, and relationships from unhealthy religious habits and rituals.

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Message Transcript

All through the Old Testament we have this picture of Egypt being this, sort of, place of bondage and sin, the salvation is through the Red Sea and into the Promised Land and new life. And Stephen is saying there’s a new Moses. And the new Moses is the Messiah and he’s going to build his case.

“He was in the congregation in the desert with our fathers when the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai and he received the living words to pass on to us, the Ten Commandments. But our fathers refused to obey him. Instead they rejected him and in their hearts they turned back to Egypt. And they told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow, Moses, who led us out of Egypt, we don’t know what’s happened to him.’”

Well, he’s up on the mountain getting the Ten Commandments; he’s with God.

“That was the time when they made an idol in the form of a calf and they brought the sacrifices to it and they held a celebration in honor of what their own hands had made,” then notice this, “but God turned away and gave them over to the worship of heavenly bodies and this agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets.”

See, when they told the story, when the Pharisees looked at the truth, they looked at it through the lens of their tradition, and control, and power, and the parts they wanted to hear.

He’s now telling the story of Moses and how, yes, another prophet is coming like him and then he tells a story and he says the people rejected. This law that you guys think is so great, which God gave and is, it was rejected by them.

Then he quotes Amos chapter 5 and God speaks saying, “Did you bring these sacrifices and offerings for forty years in the desert, O house of Israel? You have lifted up the shrine of Molek,” this is a false god. They would take their small, baby children and they would throw it into the fire to appease this god.

“The altar of your god Rephan, the idols that you made to worship. Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.”

And so, he’s telling the story about Moses but when he tells the story notice he says the blessings came from Midian, Moses came to deliver, he did have the law, the law was rejected, it was all about faith.

Now he’s going to move to Joshua. So he’s addressed the issue about the land, he’s addressed the issue about the law and its real purpose, and now he’s going to address the issue about the temple.

Because they’ve now got God inside of a box, in control, this is God’s presence, we’ve got, you know, only us, we have it, no more. And he’s going to talk about the origin of, “Where did we get the temple?”

And he’s going to tell the history in a way that breaks through their tradition. Notice the location is the wilderness. Again, we’re not in Palestine. The promise is victory over your enemies. He’s going to talk about Joshua going into the Promised Land and overcoming his enemies.

And then the focus is going to be the tabernacle’s purpose. He’s going to talk about, it’s God’s presence. Every time, remember, the cloud would move, or the fire by night, and then they would take the tabernacle and it was portable and they would move. Wherever God moved, the tabernacle.

The point is the tabernacle wasn’t to be worshipped. The tabernacle was a place that always identified the living, moving, dynamic presence of God and obedience is always moving and changing to whenever God – He moves, you move, He moves, you move, He stops, you stop.

And it’s like a chainsaw cutting underneath of the core of their tradition. And so far, the issue of the land has been decimated, the issue of the law and how they view it is being crunched, and now he goes after their view of the temple that they’ve put their trust in.

We pick up the story in verse 44: “Our forefathers had the tabernacle of testimony. They had it with them in the desert. It had been made as God directed Moses according to the pattern he’d seen. Having received the tabernacle, our fathers under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations.

“God drove it out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built the house for Him.”

So he said, “We had the tabernacle and then they had the Promised Land. David had it in his heart, but Solomon is the one who built it.”

“However,” this is what he adds, “the Most High God does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says,” and now he quotes Isaiah 66:1 and 2, “Heaven is My throne,” God speaking, “and earth is My footstool. What kind of house will you build for Me or where will My resting place be? Has not My hands made all these things?”

Now again for us, sometimes, not being steeped in the Old Testament, nor being Jewish, nor being a rabbi, we don’t, we really don’t get how deeply he’s puncturing what’s going on.

Isaiah 66 is a classic, classic passage. Isaiah is a prophet and he’s prophesying about when Israel is in sin and has turned away from God. Now he gives verse 1 and 2 but I will guarantee all seventy of those scholars, they know verses 3, 4, 5, and 6. And it’s like a lawyer who has someone on the stand and he makes the point.

Point one and point two but in the news media, point three, four, and five have been there and he just makes point one and two and then he walks away and kind of lets it simmer while everyone’s going, “Whoa!” The implications are unbelievable.

Well, let me, just for your sake, tell you what’s in Isaiah 66. You can just listen. Verse 3 he says, God has said, “Heaven is My footstool; My hands made all things, nothing can contain Me.” Verse 3: “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in heart and trembles at My Word.”

What’s the problem of the Pharisees? What did Jesus say? They’re arrogant. Their way is the way. They’re not contrite when they’re faced with the truth and they don’t tremble at God’s Word. They manipulate it.

Now God says some things that if you were a rabbi your blood pressure is going from about one forty over eighty to about two hundred over one sixty because what you know is what God says after that is this is how He feels about people who respond in these kind of ways. This is God speaking.

“But whoever sacrifices,” speaking of people who would worship Him falsely, “whoever sacrifices a bull in the temple is like one who kills a man.

And whoever offers a lamb is like one who would break the neck of a dog. And whoever makes a grain offering is like someone who would present pig’s blood, and whoever burns memorial incense is like one who worships an idol.”

I mean, do you see those pictures? “They have chosen their own way and their souls delight in abominations so I will choose harsh treatment for them and bring upon them what they dread.”

And then He gives the reason why He is rejecting Israel: “For when I called, no one answered. When I spoke, no one listened. They did evil in My sight and they chose what displeases Me.”

He has made the case for the land, he’s made the case for the temple, and he’s made the case for the law, that you are nullifying the truth of God and all of His purposes, and all those things by your traditions, and it’s put you in control, and comfort, and power, and religiosity, and you have rejected the One who gave the law.

And you have rejected everything that God promised to our father Abraham in the land and the whole purpose was to bless all the nations.

And so his finale is strong. Notice, finally, we get to his comments about Jesus. The location he talks about is our hearts. He says the real issue is always about the heart. It’s about inside you, not external religious stuff.

Eternal life is the promise. It’s deliverance from sin and death and it’s the fulfillment of the law. Did you notice? In each one he talked about descendants. Then he talked about deliverance with Joseph and then deliverance with Moses and deliverance – he’s saying this is the final deliverer.

The focus is the rejection and killing of the Messiah. And for Stephen, faith means you believe to the point that if they kill you, you refuse to compromise on the truth.

Notice these harsh but accurate words. Now he’s made his case, here’s his application: “You stiff necked people with uncircumcised ears and hearts. You are just like your fathers. You always resist the Holy Spirit. Was there a prophet your fathers didn’t persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the righteous One. And now you’ve betrayed and murdered Him.”

What a line. “You’ve received the law,” tradition, “that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.” That’s truth.

Result: “When they heard this they were furious and they gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ And at this they covered their ears, yelling at the top of their voices and they rushed at him and they dragged him out of the city and they begin to stone him.”

So much for the trial. So much for justice. “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” Does that sound familiar at all? “When he had said this he fell asleep.”

As you turn to the last page, as I said, it’s a very interesting history lesson, isn’t it? But I don’t, I don’t think God’s purpose is for us to look back and understand how they didn’t get it. I think God’s purpose is for us to have the decision at a crossroads to say, “Am I going to look at life through a Pharisee and tradition or am I going to look at life through a Stephen and truth, regardless of how painful it might be?”

I find there’s four lessons that just pop out of his story that I think, at least for me, are very applicable and I think probably for you.

Lesson number one simply put is: truth demands transformation. Truth demands transformation. James 1 says when we receive truth and we don’t act on it, we just, we’re hearers, we’re not doers of the truth.

Jesus said it’s when you know the truth and when he said “know” He meant by way of application. When it abides in you, when you act on it, when you respond, when you’re the Abraham, if God speaks, you leave. If you’re Moses, you return. If you’re Joseph, you endure. If you’re Joshua, you fight!

But truth is based on promises given to you and you are following in relationship. Truth brings transformation. But you can traffic in truth. You can read the Bible every day, you can go to a men’s Bible study, you can come to church regularly, you can listen to Christian radio, and you can feel like, “I must be okay, right? I mean, I’m in the Bible.”

Well, could it be that coming to church and hearing God’s Word is a part of a tradition but the diabolical part would be what if you’re not responding to the part of truth where God’s speaking to you?

And coming to church, and reading the Bible, and even being in a Bible study makes you feel safe and comfortable and okay, but what if the truth of God is you need to address the issue in your marriage? You need to forgive your mate, go get counseling, and make it right.

What if the truth is, your finances are out of control, and I’ve been whispering it, whispering it, whispering it and you go to a ladies Bible study and afterwards buy fifteen pair of shoes?

What if the truth is you have a sexual addiction, you flirt at work, and I want to save you, and save your marriage, and you need to get help, get clean?

What if the truth is that you live with a low-level resentment of one of your folks or an ex-mate and you’re just, you smile on the outside but you’re an unhappy, resentful person on the inside and you’re bound by it? And you drink the poison of unforgiveness thinking it’s going to kill somebody else.

What if the truth is that your schedule is crazy and the denial of, “It’s going to slow down and as soon as we do this or as soon as we do that…?” And your kids are neglected. And you’re giving them stuff instead of you. What if that’s the truth?

What if the truth is you’re a religious person, you’re just not very loving? You tell everyone how closed non-Christians are. You know why they’re closed? You’re not a very nice person to be around. You come off self-righteous. What if that’s the truth?

See, I can live with all those things completely unaddressed and go to Bible study. And check off, “I read Genesis 22 this morning and Matthew 22. And I can’t until we go to our small group.” And we talk about the stuff that I’m comfortable with. Just as long as we don’t deal with issues.

Do you see it? When you look at Christendom across America, is this not true or not? Haven’t all of us, I mean, I grew up, I didn’t grow up as a Christian. I just grew up around all these people who said they were. They lied, and cheated, and committed as much adultery, and did stuff that everyone else did. So I said, “I don’t want any part of you!” How much of that is in us?

Second lesson: the basis of God’s blessings are relational, not ritual. Jesus would say here in Matthew 15, “Go and learn what I mean. I desire compassion, not sacrifice.” There is no formula, okay? It’s not read the Bible, go to a Bible study, give ten percent, and “Ooooh, I even went on a mission trip.”

And now, God, You owe me a great marriage, a great life, bring the right man, the right woman, all my kids turn out right, we’re upwardly mobile, and…

That’s evangelical Christianity. Much of America. It’s our view of ritual. Our attempt to put God in a box, have a formula, and say, “A-7, B-4, C-3,” on the little vending machine of God. Now make me happy, make me wealthy, keep me from cancer, have all my kids turn out right, and I really want to get them in these kinds of schools. And when You do that, “Thank you, Jesus. I give You all the credit.”

That doesn’t sound a lot like leaving, returning, enduring, fighting, and being an instrument of God in a fallen world that fulfills His agenda.

Now any of those things or all of those things that He happens to give you, He’s just good. But they’re not the goal.

Third lesson: perverted traditions must be exposed and abandoned. I get that from Acts chapter 7. I mean, this guy went against hundreds, and hundreds of years, of tradition. Hundreds of years of the law, and the temple, and the land.

Could I just name a few? What if, how many of us, you know, including, how many of us have this tradition that we just buy gifts and go into debt every Christmas? And buy stuff because we feel obligated and not because the people need it and not because we really want to do it but it’s just a tradition and to not do it, “Well, what would they think?”

Breaking traditions is hard. Sometimes what you get used to isn’t right. It’s diabolical.

The very last point here is that truth bearers refuse to maintain the status quo. In their life, their relationships, or their sphere of influence. You know when homes are going to change? You know when workplaces are going to change? When I and you all, together, say we will be Stephens and Stephen-ettes. And we will take honest looks at the traditions in our lives and we will take so literally that if we know the truth, and practice the truth, then we will know the truth and it will set us free.

And where there’s freedom there’s always faith, and there’s power, and there’s promises, and there’s a relationship, and there’s joy, and there’s impact. But you have to break some tough traditions.