Ten Commandments – Small God

Exodus 20:4-6

In the beginning God created everything and called it good. And it continues to be good until Eve and Adam decided to go their own way and try to become like God. The result of their sin was that God’s perfect creation becomes damaged. And ever since that moment sin has continued to damage everything: our relationships, families, communities, and ourselves. We are all witness to the fact that sin is rampant and destructive, but can you name the sin that has caused the greatest amount of destruction in the Bible?

There are over 1,000 verses in the pages of the Bible that deal with this particular sin. There are more than 50 laws found in the Pentateuch dealing with this particular sin. As a matter of fact according to the Jewish law, the penalty for committing this sin was death. Any ideas what sin we are talking about?

If you have looked in the bulletin and noticed the title of this morning’s sermon, or if you know where we are in our study of the 10 Commandments, you probably have figured out the number one problem that the Bible addresses is the problem of idols and idol worship. Before we get started let me give you a little warning. It is a little too easy to arrogantly dismiss the second commandment. I mean most of us don’t have wooden or stone idols around our homes so let’s just skip this one and talk about something that has relevance.

Technology and scientific explanation have made idol worship something you read about in history books. Why would we worship a sun god when we can flip a switch and get all the light we need. At first look the second command seems a bit unnecessary in 2020. Of all the temptations we struggle with, having idols probably doesn’t make the list at all. Yet the Bible seems to obsess on this subject. 

Biblical writers talked often about idolatry because they understood that more than any other commandment, the second law 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. 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.

While 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.

Look with me in Exodus 32:1-5: When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.” So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.” All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” Aaron saw how excited the people were, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then he announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!”

There is so much disfunction in these 5 verses. But what I need you to notice today is that the people broke the second command not because they refused to give Jehovah credit, but because they wanted to reduce Him to something they could manage. For four hundred years the only authority they had known was an authority they could see. There was Pharaoh, and every home in Egypt had at least one if not several family idols. Fo their entire lives they had been surrounded by symbols that they could see with their own eyes and experience with their own senses.

Even Moses was visible; 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 making the calf.

The sin of idolatry was not that the Israelites were worshiping a calf, the sin was that they were worshiping God as a calf. The sin of idolatry isn't limited to just calling a statue god and bowing down to it. Idolatry is any attempt to shrink God to a manageable, controllable, predictable form. That’s why this command is so important for us, because we are tempted to still practice idolatry today in two different ways.

First is 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. Yet we are addicted to secular idolatry when we search for meaning, success, happiness, security, peace or wholeness in anything other than God.

We work on this assumption 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 are honest, we have to admit that we never just break the second commandment, because the second commandment is tied to all of the others. In Colossians 3:5 Paul writes Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. According to Paul, sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and covetousness are all forms of idolatry because it is the act of trying to find the blessing of happiness in a human relationship, or in human stuff. We turn to these desires because in our minds an all powerful God is not enough if we can’t see Him. We require something we can touch, see, and ultimately control. Then we try to justify these sins by claiming it is God's will for us to be happy.

There is the idol of financial success and personal worth. We push the abundant life Jesus promised to a number at the bottom of a ledger sheet. We have bought into the lie that salvation is not freedom from sin, rather salvation is the 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.

Secular idolatry turns a house into a modem day status symbol instead of being a place to keep warm and safe and dry. Your home becomes a palace where the royal family resides, or a temple to which little human gods and goddesses retreat.

Secular idolatry 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 garner and keep power. We may thank God for the blessings we have received, but in the end, we are like the Israelites trying to find comfort in what we can touch. 

Before we get away from this point I want you to think about what you would say is the second most important thing in your life. I am assuming that because you are in a place of worship this morning you would say that God is first, so what is your second? Your kids? Your spouse? Your job? Your hobbies? Financial health? A good reputation? What ever your second is, it will always be in competition with God for first. If you can see it, touch it, manipulate it, or control it then there is a great danger that it will become your idol.    

The second way we practice idolatry today is Sacred idolatry.

Where the secular form of idolatry has no religious flavor; sacred idolatry is flooded in the language and structures of spiritualness. 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 image of a cow, but to a sophisticated system of doctrine and tradition.

There are so many folks who walk into a building on Sunday Mornings who are not looking for a relationship with the Creator, Sustainer, and Savior of mankind. They are looking to check off a list of practices and traditions. We have confused our commitment to a particular list of doctrines or traditions above knowing God. We are told that we must follow the pattern if we want to make God happy with us, as if there was anything you or I could do that would force God to love us more than He already does.

A few weeks ago someone had watched a sermon on Facebook and called me because they were afraid we were going down a slippery slope. They were concerned that we were getting away from practices and doctrines of scriptural churches of Christ and they were truly concerned for our souls. I really appreciate their concern, and I thanked them for loving me and us enough to share those concerns with me. After I got off the phone I spent some time looking at their concerns and how they interpreted the scripture. I still believe that my salvation comes from Jesus Christ and not the church of Christ. And the more time I spend in the Gospels I am drawn to this idea that God is more interested in how we are living and loving during the week than He is with an hour on Sunday. If we make loyalty to our Church, our traditions, or interpretations 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.

You need to know that I am proud of our heritage, and I truly believe that we are on the right path and we are getting closer to becoming what God desires us to be every day. But if God was too big to be represented in the golden calf, if He was too big for the traditions the Pharisees had built up like a hedge around the law, then He is too big to be confined to our understanding of faith.

I believe that’s why the Bible spends so much ink condemning idolatry. God didn't want us trying to shrink Him down into something that is not worthy of His personality. The only physical thing that was able to perfectly represent the image of God on earth was Jesus Christ. Paul said Jesus was the exact representation of the Father and any human effort to depict God is doomed to be a crude, inadequate representation. God is too big to be confined to any human idol, no matter how spiritual it may seem.

As we close this morning, let’s take a moment to get out of theory and get uncomfortably personal with second commandment. Remember, the pronoun you in each of the commands is singular. God means for these commandments to be taken personally. So this morning as we gather at the tables I want us to focus on two questions:

As you take the bread this morning you need to answer What is the source of your sense of worth?

Why are you important, why do you have 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 printed 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. You have given in to idolatry and you don’t know it.

As you take the cup you need to answer 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 deity. If God is contained within the structures of our theology and doctrines He is too small to offer any eternal security. God is much to big for that, He created the world by speaking it into existence and at His word this world will all come to an end.

We often forget that God is so big our hearts should melt in fear when we consider that He is All Powerful.  And at the very same time God is love, and His perfect love casts out all fear. I had a hard time coming up with a way to explain that idea. And the boys love it when I tell stories about them, Okay that’s a lie, but if you will indulge me, I hope this story will help make this last point. When the boys were little they used to love to play Hide and Go Seek in the house. At first they would simply stand in the middle of the room with their hands over their eyes, because every 2 year old believes if I can see you then you can see me. Then they started standing behind a chair, or the couch, then behind the door. But when they turned 5 I changed the game from hide and go seek, ti hide and jump out and scare the socks off them; which made the game much more interesting.

I would usually hide in a closet or a dark room. Trafton was it and he counted, 1, 2, 10, here I come. Then he started searching first the kitchen, then the living room, then his room, and then I heard his foot steps making their way down the stairs to the basement. I called out to him, Trafton come find me. He raced back up the stairs and 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 he got to the end of the bed I jumped out with a Boo! Trafton jumped about two feet in the air and took off out of the room trying to get away. But as soon as he hit the light of the hallway he turned around let out a laugh and jumped into my arms. We laughed for a few minutes and then He said count and went off to hide. 

Trafton was terrified of me and yet he wasn’t. When he walked into that dark room his heart was pounding, he knew there was something in the darkness waiting to pounce. He knew my strength, but more importantly he knew my love. He heard me call out to him and there were all of these things that told Trafton to stay away, stay safe in the light, but he was drawn into that room like a magnet. Trafton sought me out, in the dark, and when he found me he was afraid at first but soon realized that the scary presence that he was 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 seek Him out, really seek Him out, that can we begin to understand the matchless love of our Father for His children.

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