These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. (Heb 11:13, ESV2011)
How many of us really relate to the above verse? The more this world system rots from within the more isolated we feel… cut off from anything that we once found comfort in. Our streets have been taken over by rioters and demonstrators who use filthy language, our government is at war with what was once considered good and acceptable and even church services we once enjoyed seem distant and far away.
A couple of days ago, I was reading an article by T. Austin-Sparks titled, “Jealousy for God,” and as I read, it became an overlay of my experiences in organized Christianity. In his article he started out with the life of Elijah, how he was jealous for God and His rightful place among the people of Israel. His very presence in the land made him a hated target because he was the opposite of all that Ahab and Jezebel stood for. Elijah stood with God in His Spirit and Ahab, Jezebel, 450 false prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the groves who ate at Jezebel’s table were all under the influence of the devil. Most of the people of Israel were completely under their influence as well. As a result he felt all alone while they had lots of company as they worshiped in their temples under the blessings of the king and queen and all the false prophets. The apostle Paul quoted Elijah,
“Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. (Rom 11:3-5, ESV2011)
Many hundreds of years later, we see a member of this “remnant chosen by grace” standing alone against the apostate Jewish system that killed their Messiah out of pure jealousy. A young man named Stephen stood before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. He was all alone as he spoke up for God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Stephen’s words struck at the heart of all that was wrong with the Jews and their temple worship and they hated him for it!
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?’ “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:47-53, ESV2011)
The more things change, the more they remain the same. False prophets, false religious systems, and false worship. Where in the New Testament did Jesus or the apostles command the early Christians to go out and build church buildings and cathedrals to worship in? No, Jesus told the woman at the well that true worship did not require religions and building, “They who worship God must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.” Peter made it clear that the true church of God was not a system of buildings.
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1Pet 2:4-5, ESV2011)
It is this spiritual house built by God, those who walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh that is the Church and they are a threat to the very system that draws attention and worship away from Christ unto itself. This is why they killed Stephen! His face shone like that of an angel and theirs was the face of the devil. Darkness cannot stand in the presence of God’s Light.
Sparks points out that in this apostate system that focuses on buildings and human hierarchy, anyone who dares to speak the truth and tries to bring Christians back into worshiping in spirit and in truth is considered a “trouble maker.” Human nature in its fleshly way
s takes those things that are holy and pulls them down onto this earthly plane, and anyone who dares to point this out is a threat to the status quo. If you dare to speak to these things in today’s churches, you will get the same reception that Stephen got when he spoke out in one of their synagogues long ago. Anyone who lifts up Christ in His body and draws attention to Him is a threat and the jealous y of false prophets, false pastors, and false apostles, etc., will rise up in a foaming rage.
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him…” (Acts 7:54-58, ESV2011)
T. Austin-Sparks describes what we can expect when we walk in the Light as Stephen did.
Now that touches a principle. You and I, on the broadest basis of the Christian life, are here in this world in this very capacity, to straddle the path of iniquity, of sin – of the very course of man – and to represent a check; and because we are here for that, we shall be called ‘trouble makers’. In a very real sense we shall BE trouble makers. The trouble will focus itself upon us, and we shall have to suffer for it. The very fact that you are jealous for the Lord will bring you into conflict with that trend that there is in this world, in man. It is going to be a really gruelling business for any testimony for God in this world, because, in the very nature of things, it counters the whole course of this world, which is downhill.
That is, as I have said, the broad line of the principle. Let us get nearer to the heart of things, so far as what is represented by this chapter is concerned. When the SPIRITUAL stands to confront the merely formal, traditional, nominal and ‘natural’, then there is going to be trouble. This is not now merely the reaction from the world: it is the reaction from religion. I would go further, and say it may be the reaction from Christianity. There is a very great difference between formal, traditional, nominal, ‘natural’ Christianity, on the one side, and spiritual Christianity, on the other; a great deal of difference. So much so, that this also becomes a battlefield – the battlefield of a lot of trouble.
Leave formalism alone, and everything will go on quite quietly. Leave traditionalism alone – that is, the set order of things as it has always been; that framework of things as it has been constituted and set up and established by man; that Christianity which is the fixed, accepted system of things – and you will escape a great deal of trouble. But seek to bring in a truly spiritual order of things, and trouble arises at once. And YOU are the trouble maker! The truth is that the trouble lies in the existing condition, the situation, the state; but it is only brought out by your action. And so spiritual men and women, and spiritual ministry, are called ‘trouble makers’, because the two things cannot go on together.
That is where Israel was. They had the traditions, they had the oracles, they had the ordinances, they had the testimonies; they had the forms, they had the system – they had it all; BUT, in the days of the prophets, there was ever this vast gap between the ‘externals’ and ‘internals’ of life in relation with God. The heart is far removed from the lips. The spiritual reality is not found in the formal. You may have it all – but then bring in the truly spiritual meaning of things, and trouble begins in that very realm. It is the trouble which arises when what is external and traditional comes into conflict with something which is truly spiritual….
When, therefore, there is the purest testimony, the fullest expression of what is of God, the heavenly over against the earthly, the spiritual over against the carnal or the natural, the enemy gives a turn to things, a twist to things, and lays the responsibility at the door of a spiritual and a heavenly ministry. He says: ‘You are the cause of all the trouble – you are the troubler!’ But no. The trouble lies deeper than that, and in another realm. The truth is, there is something here that, in its very nature, MUST create trouble, MUST be a source of trouble, so long as God’s known will, His revealed mind, is being violated; while the full expression of God’s purpose is being withstood. To bring in something that stands for that, there is going to be trouble.http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/001248.html
This spiritual principle will probably seem strange to many Christians who read this article, but I know that some of you who have had a spiritual walk similar to my own where no matter how hard you tried to fit-in and “be one of the boys” in that church system, the more you were rejected and persecuted. You might have thought, “Well, maybe if I just kept my mouth shut and smiled they would welcome me,” but that didn’t work for long either. It is not the words alone that offend, it is the Who that is in YOU that bothers them! “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship,” but only then. It is a heart thing. Out of many frustrating attempts to be part of that system, I cried out to God, “Lord, I DON’T FIT! I just DON’T FIT!” To this He replied, “YOU are not supposed to FIT!” Some of us like Stephen or Elijah have a “prophetic gifting” that makes us a target no matter what. If we walk into a room full of religious people they immediately know we aren’t one of them. I have written this article to you, hoping that you might find some comfort in knowing it is alright not to FIT, but rather as John did, find your place at the breast of Jesus Christ instead of nursing at the breasts of men.
Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2Cor 3:4-6, ESV2011)