There are a lot of dangerous jobs in this world. My first job was at 14-years old and I cleaned carpets at elementary schools for the summer. It wasn’t dangerous other than the hot steam coming from the cleaning machine.

Investigative journalism is a dangerous job. The assignment will take a journalist into war zones and hotbeds to expose a crucial story the world needs to hear about. Often times these journalists are threatened, defamed, beaten, even killed for their stories. Like Marie Colvin an American journalist who for 25 years worked for the British newspaper The Sunday Times. She was one of the world’s leading war correspondents. She reported from war zones on 3 continents over the course of her career. Known for her bravery, she was blinded in one eye by an army rocket in Sri Lanka. She wore a trademark black eye-patch for the rest of her life. She was killed covering the siege of Homs during the Syrian Civil War in 2012.

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The Apostle Luke was an investigative journalist of sorts. He followed Jesus for 3-years and wrote about it in the Gospel that bears his name. Then he followed Paul and talked with eyewitness which he reported in the Book of Acts. It was these reports and his connection with Jesus that eventually got him killed.

Acts began with Jesus preparing to ascend to heaven and promising the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came and empowered the Apostles. In Acts 3-4, Peter powerfully proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus and a beggar was miraculously healed. In Acts 5, the church begins to grow and spread despite obstacles.

Acts 6 concluded with Stephen, a glorified busboy (table waiter), accused of flipping the script on Moses and Temple-shaming (Personally, I think he shared how Jesus was greater than Moses and the Temple; 6:14-15). Stephen’s trial was like looking at Jesus’ trial in the mirror.

Screen Shot 2020-01-13 at 6.44.03 AMToday, we come to Acts 7. The chapter is Luke’s record of Stephen’s sermon before the Sanhedrin. It would be like preaching a sermon to 71 biblical scholars. No pressure, right? It was such a good sermon that he devoted an entire chapter to retell it. (And I have the task of giving a sermon on a sermon). Stephen’s sermon was simple, his source material was familiar, but the conclusion was sobering. So let’s hear Stephen’s sermon and may the Holy Spirit give us a radically different response than those who heard it the first time. (Read Acts 7:1-53)

Stephen’s sermon can be summed up two phrases: People will try to contain God, but God will not be contained. And if your God is uncontainable, then people will try to contain you. Or it could be summed in one word: UNCONTAINABLE.

1. People will try to contain God.

Screen Shot 2020-01-13 at 6.44.13 AMThere isn’t a person on this planet who hasn’t tried to contain God. You and I seek to contain God to at least three arenas—a place (a location, a land, a nation, a building), a possession (an image, an idol, a memory, an intellect), or a personality (love, goodness, grace, justice, wrath, etc.). all with the hope to explain God in a way that is understandable, definable, attainable, box-able and comfortable.

It doesn’t take long to realize that trying to contain God is like trying to contain the sky. It can’t be done. Although we know this and history tells us this, we still try and retry containing God.

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Left: Nike. Right: Nike in Athens

You might know the story of Nike was the goddess of victory. Nike was a goddess before she was a brand. In order to keep Nike, Athens cut her wings to keep her contained and controlled. Israel also had their turn by crafting God into a golden calf.

Stephen’s sermon wasn’t simply a history lesson. It was a lesson on the heart. Stephen got at the heart of every man. As Calvin said, “Our hearts are idol factories.” Stephen said the heart of the Sanhedrin was no different than their fathers (and that you are no different than your fathers). In what ways are you tempted to box up and contain God to a place, a possession or a personality? Think about it. You and I can be very creative.

2. God will not be contained.

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You may try to contain God, but he won’t be contained. God doesn’t fit a mold. He cannot be stuffed into a box. He bucks against boxes. Even the Book that describes him best, shares countless stories about his uncontainability.

Do you remember flannel graph? I didn’t grow up going to children’s Sunday School. So let me indulge by sharing Stephen’s sermon as a simple flannel graph lesson making up for my missed childhood.

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Stephen’s sermon covered 2,000 years of Jewish history all in the hope to prove that God could not and would not be contained. He used four major stories from the Bible (plus one if you take into account Jesus). It was like going to Sabbath School again for these 71 scholars:

1. Abraham (vs.1-9) — God appeared to Abraham, moved him, and blessed him. This is before there was a temple. Abraham didn’t need a temple to be close to God. God came close to him.

2. Joseph (vs.9-16) — Then God appeared to Joseph in dreams. Although, he was rejected by those closest to him, he became a ‘savior’ for them.

3. Moses (vs.17-43) — God appeared to Moses at the burning bush (again not limited a temple). Moses helped build the tabernacle. He was also rejected as a deliverer. With Moses, Stephen connected the dots for the Jews, “You have rejected Jesus, who was like Moses yet greater than him (and Moses spoke about), and you deny that Jesus has any right to be a ruler and a judge over you.”

4. David & Solomon (vs. 44-50) — God promised David a temple that his son Solomon built. Interestingly, God was the architect and engineer of this Temple. God ordered the supplies and didn’t spar any cost. It would have cost $220B (compared $1B to rebuild Notre Dame). God was worth the Temple, but he was worthy of much more. Solomon knew this and emphasized this in his prayer when dedicating the Temple, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27)

Stephen’s point was that you can try to contain God’s presence to a tabernacle or temple, but you still reject God and his special messengers. God was present in Jesus and you missed him. God is frisky and wild. He can’t be pinned down. God is unchangeable, unteachable, unlimited, and utterly uncontainable. Let that fill you with wonder and awe.

3. If your God is uncontainable, then people will try to contain you.

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Instead of wonder and awe, the Jews filled with rage. The Jews become like rabid wolves chopping down on Stephen. Rather than being convicted by his sermon, they were carnivorous. They gnashed their teeth and sought to give him hell. What was amazing is that Stephen was allowed to even speak a word or that he was given the time to share all of his sermon. It was certainly a grace of God that allowed him to finish it. But after he finished they contained him quickly (Acts 7:54-60).

It is not a coincidentally that Stephen’s story mirrors Jesus’ story. The Jews tried to contain Jesus and killed him, but the grave would not hold him. He burst out three days later in resurrection power. The Jesus story continued to spread through Stephen in a contagious missionary movement that is still spreading today.

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Acts 7 ends with Stephen stoned to death. That’s it. That’s all we have right now. (Until we read chapter 8.) As we continue to read through Acts, the fullness of the glory of Stephen’s death will be revealed. But what if all we knew was his death?  Can you still feel the weight of glory even without the rest of the story?

What do we learn from Stephen’s speech?

Stephen’s story reminds you to listen. May God give you ears to hear.

Stephen’s story causes you to relish in a God’s uncontainablity. Wonder and awe at him.

Stephen’s story calls attention to the scars you bear for following Jesus. Maybe like Marie Colvin or Stephen you have felt the stones of those trying to contain your God.

Stephen’s story encourages you to turn your gaze from the stones onto Jesus. May you not thrust Jesus aside nor ignore the threat he poses to your arenas of idols. Readily lay down your life for him as he did for you. You may not walk to the martyr’s stake, but you must walk in the Master’s steps.

Noah (Part 2): God is faithful through the flood

Without God’s grace on Noah and his family, you and I would not be here today. Remember, the reason God chose to save Noah is given in Genesis 6:8, “But Noah found favor [grace] in the eyes of the LORD.” Noah did not begin his life a blameless [6:9], righteous man [7:1], “walking with God,” but he began a sinner. The only difference between Noah and the other sinners who drowned in the flood was that God was gracious to Noah. God choose undeserving Noah to be an object of His grace. This is the first time in the grace appears in word form in the Bible.[1] God is so faithful to mankind despite their flagrant sin.

The time has come [Genesis 7:1-5]

God calls Noah to enter the ark. Final preparations from God arrive about the ark and the future flood. There are two very interesting items to note. First, God asks Noah to gather seven pairs of clean animals, and a pair of unclean animals. In God’s wisdom, the mixed genders of the animals give the ability for the animals to procreate after the flood, but what is the deal with the clean and unclean animals? At this point, there was no law [cf. Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14:3-12], nor any recorded conversation with Noah concerning the difference between pure and impure animals. In the context of the first chapters of Genesis, I tend to lean towards the belief that the distinction of clean and unclean animals was for the purpose of sacrifice. Sacrifice and worship were already a big part of God’s created order [cf. 3:21; 4:3-5; 9:20ff].

Second, God’s patience for man’s sin extended for 1600 years [Genesis 5], He allowed 120 years for people to repent [6:3], but no one did. The time has come and Noah has only one week to gather two of every kind of animal.[2] This is totally an impossible task for one family to accomplish on their own, unless they have divine help [cf. 7:16; 2:19]. And again, Noah obeys all that God commands Him to do [cf. 6:22]. God’s sovereign rule and His expectation for man’s obedience run parallel to each other. God requires Noah to build the ark—taking 120 years—possibly showing the diligence of Noah’s obedience.

Put your feet in Noah’s Nike’s [Genesis 7:6-24]

Noah builds a big boat in a desert, for 120 preaches with no one listening only mocking, and God gives him 7 days to gather all the animals of the field and air before the flood walls burst [note: water came from above and below]. The decree of God comes to pass just as He promised. His sovereignty is displayed in His wrath against sin.[3] This is one of the most sobering passages in all the Bible. The destruction was all encompassing and annihilating to every living thing on earth [7:19-23], except for what was in the ark of His grace. Doesn’t that sound like a great way to celebrate your 600th birthday? I am sure Noah was flooded with emotion.

What would you be thinking? Could you image what Noah and his family was thinking as the storm clouds move in, as he notices neighbors and friends working the field, as he hears the voices of children and mothers in their homes, as they stand in the ark during the flood? “What about the other people who do not get into the boat? Is it fair that they are out there and we are in here? Has God left us alone? Will this boat stand the strength of this storm? Will we ever be able to get out of this boat? Will we have enough food?” We do not know what they were thinking, maybe fear, doubt, or loneliness.

I remember as a child, I would hide from my mother in the clothing racks while shopping. She did not like that very much. One time we were in JC Penny’s and I thought it would be fun to hide extra hard and extra long. So I hid in the center of a tall rack of jean. I could hear my mother saying, “Justin, where are you? Come out this minute!” I waited until I couldn’t hear her anymore. I peaked out from the clothes and she was gone. I was alone. For a split second, I was excited because I lost her, but then I was filled with fear because I didn’t want to live in JC Penny’s the rest of my life. I loved my mom and didn’t want to lose her. I searched throughout the store yelling her name, but could not find her. Until I heard a voice from above say, “This is the costumer service counter. Would Justin Hutts please report to the service counter immediately.” The voice said it again. I ran to the front of the store. There was my mother with a look anger mixed with an embrace of grace.

God has already shown Himself faithful. He is in the storm. His sovereignty is displayed as He fills the ark, He shuts the door on time, and He unleashes the flood re-creating of all He created. Holding the boat afloat and by His grace filled it with 8 people and enough animals to replenish the earth. God’s progress of redemption again takes chaos and shows His absolute control. The same language in Genesis 7 is used in the initial act of creation [Genesis 1; Note: Creation and Re-creation Comparison chart].

God Remembers Noah [Genesis 8:1-19]

Even in the floods of judgment, when God seems most distant to our eyes, He is faithful to remember His own [8:1]. Noah is not forgotten. God gives Noah a glimmer of hope amidst the stormy seas. The word “remembrance” is found twice in this passage and only two other times in Genesis in relation to God and man.[4] This word is used primarily to speak of a covenant God makes with His people, thus recalling a promise made by God to sustain man.  In Exodus, this word used again, as God recalls the covenant relationship between Abraham and His children as they are living in Egypt [Exodus 2:24; 6:5]. This is the kind of remembrance that God has for Noah and his family in the ark. God is faithful in carrying out His plan and executing His promises to Noah [cf. 6:18].

It only took forty days for the waters to rise and destroy the earth, but it took about 5 months for the waters reside.  What is Noah doing during this time? He patiently waits [8:10, 12]. How many of you would be willing to wait on God like Noah? How many of you when bad things happen with impatience plead with God for immediate relief? Noah simply waits. He waits for a word from God before leaving the ark [8:15, 18]. God speaks; Noah obeys. Noah knew God was at work. The rain stopped and the waters began to reside. Do you see the sovereignty and faithfulness of God at work? Do you see the rhythmic ebb and flow of the flood story?

In conclusion, the flood flexes the character of God as sovereign dealing with sin [death, Romans 3:23; 6:23], and faithful to His own through the flood. We are also confronted with the patience of God and how He is offended by sin. We are encouraged by Noah’s faithful obedience. Noah was particular, not partial, in following God’s instruction. ‘Cutting corners’ would mean the destruction of his family too. God expects lifelong obedience. Noah is an example to all of us not just of obedience but also the faithfulness of God in the midst of the fierce flood.

Questions for Reflections and Application: In light of Genesis 6:5-7 and 2 Peter 2:4-9 why did God send the flood? What does the flood reveal about the fate of those who continue in sin without repentance? According to Romans 3:21-28,  how is the Old Testament act of atonement ultimately applied to Jesus Christ? According to I John 4:7-21, how is Jesus’ atonement related to Gods love and ours?

[1] Later, Paul the apostle carries this word in his New Testament teaching on salvation ”by grace through faith alone”. Noah was a favored because God saved him by grace and he had faith in God alone.

[2] Is God just to send the flood? Yes. Why didn’t He give them more time? He gave them 1600 years, plus 120 years of warning, and 7 final days to turn. Why didn’t he send a preacher? He did. Noah preached for 120 years, but no one repented. He was the Billy Graham of his day. Why didn’t God let them sin? You would curse God for His injustice. Why didn’t God save them? He did. He had Noah build a boat. No matter all that God does to people still choose not to heed God.

[3] The flood was a day of judgment, which would be echoed in God’s prophets as they foretold the Day of the Lord,  “The prophets also appealed to the imagery of creation’s reversal to depict the day of the Lord’s judgment [i.e. Isaiah 24:18b; Jeremiah 4:23-26; Amos 7:4].” (cf. Bruce Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI. 2001. 139.) This type of imagery is not seen until the end of time, which is prophesied in the Book of Revelation.

[4] Cf. 9:14-15; 19:29; 30:22; Exodus 2:24; 6:5; 32:13; 1 Samuel 1:19; Judges 16:28; Job 14:13; Psalm 8:4; 9:12; 74:1-3; 98:3; 105:8; 106:45; 111:5; Jeremiah 15:15.