Posted by: Heather | May 30, 2009

God’s Glory and Mercy

In our weekly Bible study we are working through Acts. Last week we went through chapters 6 and 7. We were looking at Steven’s “fifteen minutes of fame” in the Bible.

I have been through this several times, but this time I noticed something I had not seen before. Before I point it out, I want to explain again a thought I have been pondering in the last few months. It is a thought I was first introduced to by my brother Michael at Easter, but I guess we had been talking about it before that, too.

I mentioned it in my Tolerance = Arrogance? post earlier. You can click the link to get the context of the post, but here is the paragraph I am talking about.

I would like to point to Moses. In Exodus 33 and 34 we read of the time when Moses went back up on Sinai to get the second tablets of stone. He has a conversation with God where he asks God to show him His glory. He also says that if God won’t go with them, he doesn’t want to go anywhere at all. God took Moses up to a rock and covered Moses with His hand to protect him from His glory. Then God passed by and removed His hand so Moses could see the back side of God. God’s glory was the only force powerful enough to protect Moses from God’s glory. This is how God chose to display His glory. It is God’s glory to cover sin. (See Romans 4:1-8 only God can justify the wicked)

Since that post, I have been pondering the fact that Moses had actually asked to see God’s glory and God chose to show it to him. However, God did not just chose to show it, He chose how to show him. We cannot see what Moses saw, but we can share how he saw it. The important part God chose to pass on through the centuries was the method, not the view. The only way Moses could see God’s glory was through God’s mercy. Once this happened, Moses had to cover his face when he was around the nation of Israel, because it shone, and they could not bear it.

Exodus 34:29-35
(29) And it happened as Moses was going down from the mountain of Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony being in Moses’ hand as he went down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face had become luminous through His speaking with him.
(30) And Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face had become luminous. And they were afraid to come near him.
(31) And Moses called to them. And Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them.
(32) And afterward all the sons of Israel came near. And he commanded them all that Jehovah had spoken with him in Mount Sinai.
(33) And Moses finished speaking with them, and he put a veil on his face.
(34) But when Moses went in before Jehovah to speak with Him, he took the veil off until he came out. And he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel that which he was commanded.
(35) And the sons of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face had become luminous. And Moses put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.

When we read on, we do not find that this luminescence ever faded, it appears that Moses’ face shone from that time on!

Next, I want to bring up what happened when the nation was prepared to stone Moses, as they were turned away at the Jordan river for unbelief. God told Moses to stand aside, that He would destroy them and make a new nation out of Moses. Moses does not stand aside, instead he intercedes for them on the basis of God’s glory. He recognizes even this as an opportunity for God to be glorified by His mercy. Here is how I said it in my previous post: (bold emphasis not in the text, I added that)

Later, the spies come back from the promised land with a bad report. The nation of Israel tried to stone Joshua, Caleb, Aaron, and Moses. God’s glory appeared at the tabernacle and God told Moses to stand aside, God was going to destroy the entire nation and make a great nation from Moses instead. Moses interceded for the nation with this argument:
Numbers 14:13-19
(13) But Moses said to the LORD, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for thou didst bring up this people in thy might from among them,
(14) and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that thou, O LORD, art in the midst of this people; for thou, O LORD, art seen face to face, and thy cloud stands over them and thou goest before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night.
(15) Now if thou dost kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard thy fame will say,
(16) ‘Because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land which he swore to give to them, therefore he has slain them in the wilderness.’
(17) And now, I pray thee, let the power of the LORD be great as thou hast promised, saying,
(18) ‘The LORD is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of fathers upon children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation.’
(19) Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray thee, according to the greatness of thy steadfast love, and according as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”

Moses appeals to the power of God to pardon these people who are planning to stone him. When Moses saw God’s glory, he saw God’s power to pardon sinners. This is the fact Moses appeals to as he mediates for the nation.

So what does this have to do with Steven in Acts 6 and 7?

When Steven was questioned before the Sanhedrin, notice what is said about his face:

Acts 6:15
(15) And looking intently at him. all those sitting in the sanhedrin saw his face as if it were the face of an angel.

I am not sure of the significance, but I noticed the parallel with Moses’ face.

Second, let’s look at the question Steven was asked, and summarize his answer.

The accusation:

Acts 6:13-14
(13) And they set up false witnesses, who said, This man does not cease speaking blasphemous words against this holy place and the Law.
(14) For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered to us.

The question:

Acts 7:1
(1) Then the high priest said, Then do you so hold these things?

I will not attempt to put all of Steven’s answer here, at it takes up 52 verses (from verse 2 – 53). Instead, let me summarize. He has been accused of blasphemy by speaking against the temple and the law. He points them to God, and tells of how God’s people have followed Him before the temple was even around. He quotes that God instructed them to watch for the prophet like Moses, who would stand between, as Moses did at Sinai, and Jesus did with the law. He then pointed out that the blasphemy is theirs and not his, as they killed the Prophet they were warned to listen to.

Now we get to the point I wanted to share:

Acts 7:54-60
(54) And hearing these things, they were cut to their hearts. And they gnashed on him with their teeth.
(55) But being full of the Holy Spirit, looking up intently into Heaven, he saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
(56) And he said, Behold, I see Heaven opened and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.
(57) And crying out with a loud voice, they stopped their ears and ran on him with one accord.
(58) And throwing him outside the city, they stoned him. And the witnesses laid their clothes down at the feet of a young man named Saul.
(59) And they stoned Stephen, who was calling on God and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
(60) And kneeling down, he cried with a loud voice, Lord, do not lay this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

In verse 55, it says that Steven saw the glory of God. In the midst of being stoned in verses 59 and 60, he is calling upon God’s mercy for his murderers!

Where does the sweet spirit of the martyr toward his persecutor come from? When we are consumed by God’s glory, we see his mercy for what it is. At this point, we cannot help but notice the opportunity our persecutor presents for God to be glorified. This does not take deep contemplation from the martyr. It is so obvious to them that they cannot see anything else.

Why does this matter to me?

I fully expect as a Christian in America, that I will see persecution in this lifetime. It is such a comfort to me to realize that God’s glory and mercy are tied together, and He shows it to those who seek Him. When He does, we will see this world and those around us as they really are. Then joy in suffering will not be manufactured, it will be the natural result.

One last little nugget. We have just finished memorizing Psalm 23 as a family. The sequence of this verse, and the overflowing cup at the end make sense to me in light of what I learned while looking at Steven.

Psalms 23:5
(5) You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.

Just my thoughts:

Craig

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