Please turn with me to Exodus 20:1-17. As I said last week every week that we discuss the 10 laws of Grace we will begin by hearing them.
I love stories about kids so I thought I would share this one with you. Little Sara looked forward to the end of the school day. The last 30 minutes in Ms. Hunter’s kindergarten class was used for free time and she could spend some time drawing. One day Sara was intently drawing and didn’t hear the last bell ring. Ms. Hunter was walking around helping the other students get their backpacks and jackets so that they could go home for the afternoon, when she noticed that Sara hadn’t moved. “Sara what are you doing?” Ms. Hunter asked. “I’m drawing a picture of God.” was Sara’s reply. Ms. Hunter smiled and said “Sara, no one knows what God looks like.” To which Sara replied. “They will when I get through.”
When we read the second commandment today our immediate temptation is to arrogantly dismiss it. Christians today don’t have a problem with little wooden or stone idols so why not move on to something a bit more relevant. Technology and scientific explanation have made idol worship something you read about in History books.
We know better than to worship the Egyptian sun god, we can flip a switch and get all the light we need.
We now know that rain is caused by the evaporation of water. Winds blow these clouds of water vapor over Scufflegrit where the vapor condenses and falls to the earth. The storm god, no longer gets credit or blame for the weather.
So at first look the second command seems unnecessary. Of all the temptations we struggle with, having little idols is well down the list if it makes the list at all. And yet the Bible seems to obsess on this subject. Biblical writers mentioned idolatry more than they mentioned any other commandment.
Why does the Bible spend so much ink condemning such an apparently weak sin?
One answer to that question is that the Old Testament is a cycle of the Children of God following God, prospering, turning to idols, being captured, following God, …
But the appeal of idols wasn’t the only reason the Bible worries so much about idolatry. Perhaps more than any other commandment, the second law of God illustrates the powerful connection between what we believe about God, and how we live. What people think about God shapes their behavior. If we reduce God down to a manageable form, we not only diminish His stature, we shrink ourselves. No one explains the connection between bad theology and bad living better than Paul in Romans 1: 18 - 32. (Read)
According to Paul, failure to obey the second command leads to a lifestyle that violates every other command. Because people worshipped created things rather than the creator, because they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and animals and reptiles, they became people who were incapable of keeping any of the other commandments.
Did you notice that Paul touches on most of the Ten Commandments in this passage?
He says that those who worshipped idols were disobedient to their parents.
He mentions murder and he describes in uncomfortable detail the sexual promiscuity that idolatry caused.
The eighth command forbids theft, Paul mentions deceit and ruthlessness, which is a disregard for the property and rights of others.
Paul described the gossip and slander that resulted from lives steeped in dishonesty, and says that yet another result of idolatry was greed and envy "
The Bible spends so much time condemning idolatry because not only is it our favorite sin, it is the Pandora’s box which unleashes every other sin.
You are probably thinking right now, "This is not our problem. We know better. Our sins are much more sophisticated, much less superstitious." That’s what we would like to think. Today let’s talk about the Second Commandment itself. What did it actually forbid?
The first commandment forbids worshipping anything other than God. The second commandment takes that one step further by forbidding us to worship God under any false form. Which is exactly what the Israelites did when they manipulated Aaron into fashioning the golden calf.
Turn over to Exodus 32: 1 - 4 and see the whole story.
Notice that they said, "These are your gods who brought you out of Egypt." In vs. 5 Aaron said, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord."
It isn’t that they were not giving God the credit for their Egyptian deliverance. Their sin was in reducing god to the form of a calf. For four hundred years the only authority they had known was an authority they could see.
There was Pharaoh, who was considered a god by his own people and by his own decree.
Second to Pharaoh there had been a host of idols in the land of Egypt. They had been surrounded by symbols and structures of authority that they could see with their own eyes and experience with their own senses.
Even Moses, their new authority figure, was visible and audible. He was flesh and blood. Now he was on the mountain and had been for a month. With all the fire and thunder and smoke he was probably dead. As far as they were concerned any authority that you couldn’t see was no authority at all. They craved something tangible, visible, and manageable so they persuaded Aaron into casting the calf.
I always thought that when the Israelites bowed down to the golden calf they were worshiping the calf as their God. But according to Exodus 32 they were worshiping Jehovah as a calf.
So the sin of idolatry isn’t limited to just calling a statue God and bowing down to it. It is any attempt to shrink God to a manageable, controllable, predictable form and we are all guilty. Let me suggest two ways in which we practice idolatry today.
1) Secular Idolatry
Secular idolatry has little or no religious devotion. There are no rituals to sustain it, no ceremony or service, and it lacks any clear structure. People are involved in secular idolatry when they search for meaning, success, happiness, security, peace or wholeness in anything other than God himself.
We assume that a physical, material object or person will do for us what only God can do. We turn to these physical things because we can see them; to touch them, control them. We trust them because they are available to our senses in a way that God is not.
If we believe we can find satisfaction and fulfillment only in the arms of another person’s spouse we are not only guilty of violating the 10th commandment against covetousness, but of the second commandment as well.
In Colossians 3:5 Paul called covetousness idolatry. This person thinks the blessing of happiness is bestowed only by a human relationship, not in obeying God’s commands. For this person, an invisible God is not enough. They require something they can touch and see and, ultimately, control. And often, they will attempt to justify this passion for another person’s spouse by claiming it is God’s will for them to be happy.
And there are other idols we worship.
When we compare financial success with personal worth we have pushed the abundant life Jesus promised to a number at the bottom of a ledger sheet. Salvation is not freedom from sin, but freedom from financial problems.
God’s promise of contentment is replaced by the world’s promise of abundance. Financial success is attractive because it is something within our power. We can control this benefactor. This idol redefines commodities like security, abundance, prosperity and peace in ways that are recognized and valued and worshipped by the culture. Again, we ease our consciences by claiming that God wants his people to prosper.
I remember hearing a TV preacher one time preaching a sermon called “God Wants You to be Rich!”
Secular idolatry turns a house into a modem day status symbol. Rather than being a place to keep warm and safe and dry, it becomes a palace where the royal family resides - or a temple - to which little human gods and goddesses retreat.
It turns a vehicle - created to be a mode transportation - into a chariot of the god who drives it.
It turns a wardrobe into a statement. It makes athletic or academic ability a way to gamer and keep power. We may thank God as the source of the blessings we have received, but in the end, we are like the Israelites.
We know it is God who has sent the blessings. But we need something we can see and touch and taste. When we loose the tangible things we also loose our faith in God. It is the gift we love and trust and turn to, in secular idolatry, not the giver.
Now if we are honest all of this talk about Secular idolatry chafes a little but when we discuss Sacred Idolatry we get down right mad. So I beg you to give me your full attention.
2) Sacred idolatry.
Where the secular form of this sin has no religious flavor, sacred idolatry is flooded in the language and structures and trappings of the spiritualness.
Remember we said that idolatry is nothing more than an attempt to reduce God to a manageable size. For the Israelites, immature as they were from 400 years of Egyptian religious and cultural propaganda, God had to be made as small as a calf. But our spiritual idolatry is more elaborate. God is reduced not to the crude image of a cow, but to a sophisticated system of doctrine and tradition.
Our churches and theology today are not heaven on earth. They are a misguided attempt to grasp holy things by means of the hints earthly things can provide.
We have got to stop confusing commitment to our particular denomination with devotion to God. One tip off to see if you struggle with sacred idolatry is if you just cringed when I said we were a Denomination.
He definition of a Denomination is anything that separates or divides the whole. And our devotion to being the Church of Christ has divided us into different warring camps and has reduced us to member rivalry. If you love your membership to the Church of Christ more than truth you are guilty of idolatry.
If we put a list of doctrines or traditions above knowing God we have become spiritual idolaters.
If we make loyalty to the Church of Christ the test of acceptance with Christ we have become spiritual idolaters.
We have reduced God to our system, and our church. We have walled Him in within the confines of a man-made temple we call truth. And the very walls that keep God in, keep others out.
God was too big to be represented in the golden calf.
He was too big for the traditions the Pharisees had built up like a hedge around the law.
And he is too big to be confined to our particular way of expressing our faith. The only physical thing that was big enough to perfectly represent the image of God on earth was Jesus Christ. He is, Paul said, the exact representation of the Father.
Perhaps that why the Bible spends so much ink condemning idolatry? God didn’t want us trying to figure out what he looked like. He wanted to reveal Himself in the person of Christ. Jesus was God’s self-portrait. Any human effort to depict God is doomed to be a crude, inadequate representation. God is just too big to be confined to any human idol, no matter how spiritual it may seem.
We can talk about this in theory, but until it becomes uncomfortably personal we have not yet begun to understand the second commandment. Remember, the pronoun "you," in each of the commands is singular. God means for these commandments to be taken personally. So let me ask two questions.
1) What is the source of your sense of worth?
If your answer refers to anything that can be bought, sold, owned, driven, lived in, worn, or held in your hands, you’ re looking to the wrong god.
If it can be inscribed on a plaque or stenciled on the door of your office or etched on a piece of paper; if it has a birth date or will on some unknown future date die, if it is subject to the effects of time, if it is limited by space, you have shrunk God to a manageable size.
2) What is the source of your security?
If your answer refers to any thing that cannot survive the fire, which God will send at the sound of the last trumpet, you have placed your confidence in an idol.
If your source of security is membership in a particular church or how well you follow a system of doctrine, however rooted in scripture it may be, you have reduced the infinite, indefinable, omnipresent God to a limited, describable, parochial deity.
If God is contained within the structures of our theology and doctrines he is too small to offer any eternal security.
Remember the story I told you about Trafton and I playing Hide and Go Seek in the house. I will hide my eyes and count to ten and then go and find him. When I find him then it’s my turn to hide. When I hide I add a whole new dimension to the game beside just Hiding and seeking – Total Fear. A few seconds before Trafton Finds me I jump out of the dark, screaming and scare the socks off of him. It has made the game much more interesting. Finding me was one dimension but surviving the scare that’s a whole different game.
One time Trafton and I were playing in Atlanta and I went and found him lying in the tub with the curtain pulled. Tag your turn and he started to count. I went down stairs in our room turned off the light and hid in my closet and waited. When he finished counting I heard him looking up stairs so I yelled “Trafton Come Find me.” I heard his feet tearing across the house and down the stairs. He made his way to my room and stood at the door. The light switch was in reach but he ignored it. Slowly he crept into the room with a sound that was a mix of giggling and heavy breathing. As Trafton got to the end of the bed I jumped out of the closet with a scream. Trafton jumped about two feet in the air and took off out of the room trying to get away from the monster. But as soon as he hit the light of the hallway he turned around looked at me, let out a laugh and attacked. We rolled on the bed for a few minutes and them it was Trafton’s turn to hide again.
A little boy terrified of his dad and yet he wasn’t. When he walked into that dark room his heart was pounding, he knew that this thing was about to pounce on him. He knew the strength of this monster, but He also knew the love of this monster. He had heard the monster call so he knew the area I was in but Trafton didn’t know exactly where I was. There were all of these things that told Trafton to stay away, stay safe but he was drawn to the Monster like a magnet. Trafton sought me out, in the dark and when I pounced he was afraid at first but soon realized that the scary presence that they were looking for was filled with love. In a small way Trafton realized what it is like to search out for God.
We try to make God manageable so that we can serve him. But that just leads to idolatry. Jehovah is huge, scary, and like nothing on this earth, but it is only when we try to seek Him out. Really seek him out can we begin to understand the matchless love of our Father for His children.
Do you need to be reminded of the awesomeness of our God? Are you tried of trying to serve a God that you think you can control? Come before God in fear of His nature and live in the peace of His presence. The lesson is yours if we can help with any needs please make that known while together we stand and sing.