The Ten – Small God
Sherlock Holmes and Watson were out camping one night. After pitching the tent and rolling out the sleeping bags, they decide to turn in. In the middle of the night, Holmes violently shakes Watson awake. "Watson," he says, "look at the sky and tell me what you see."
"I see the stars." replies Watson.
"Yes, and what does that tell you?"
Watson said "I see a fantastic panorama of countless of stars. If there are millions of stars then it’s quite likely there are some planets like Earth out there. And if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life. Theologically it is a suggestion of the greatness of God and that we are small and insignificant. The blackness of the sky and the crispness of the stars tells me that there is low humidity and stable air and therefore we are most likely to enjoy a beautiful day tomorrow. Why? What does it tell you, Mr. Holmes?"
Holmes replied "What it tells me, is that someone has stolen our tent."
Today our look at The Ten takes us to the second commandment and my fear is that we will give into the temptation to arrogantly dismiss it. Often times we, like Watson, are so smart that we miss the very elementary things. Christians today don't have wooden or stone idols around their 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. We know better than to worship the Egyptian sun god, we can flip a switch and get all the light we need. We understand weather patterns and the science of crop growth. There’s no need to set up little idols and hope that they give us good weather and a great harvest.
At first look the second command seems a bit unnecessary in 2015. 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. No one explains the connection between bad theology and bad living better than Paul in Romans 1:18-32. (Read)
Paul understood that 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.
I hope you noticed that Paul touched 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. He 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. But we might want to reconsider. 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 32:1-5 and see the whole story: The people saw that a long time had passed and Moses had not come down from the mountain. So they gathered around Aaron. They said to him, "Look, Moses led us out of the land of Egypt, but we don't know what has happened to him. So make us some gods to go before us and lead us." Aaron said to the people, "Bring me the gold earrings that belong to your wives, sons, and daughters." So the people collected all their gold earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from the people and used it to make an idol. Using a special tool, he shaped the gold into a statue of a calf. Then the people said, "Israel, here are your gods! These are the gods that brought you out of the land of Egypt!" Aaron saw all these things, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then Aaron made an announcement. He said, "Tomorrow will be a special festival to honor the LORD
The people broke the second command, not because they refused to give Jehovah credit, but because they wanted to reducing 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, who was considered a god by his own people and by his own decree. Then Egypt was home to a host of other idols. 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 was visible and audible; 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 Jehovah 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; let me suggest two ways we practice idolatry today.
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. People are involved in secular idolatry when they search for meaning, success, happiness, security, peace or wholeness in anything other than God.
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 the second commandment as well. Adultery is the belief that another person will provide the peace and wholeness that we can only find in Jehovah, as well as taking something that does not belong us.
In Colossians 3:5 Paul called covetousness idolatry because it is the act of trying to find the blessing of happiness in 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.
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. 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.
Secular idolatry turns a house into a modern 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 garner 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 trying to find comfort in what we can touch.
Think for a moment what is it that you would say in second in your life. We would all 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 and trappings 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. This can be seen in a conversation I had just this week where I was told that folks are saved by being in the Church of Christ. I had to remind them that salvation comes from Jesus Christ and not the Church of Christ.
If we make loyalty to our Church 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.
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 thats 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 big enough 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.
We need 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 as we close today you need to answer two questions:
1) 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 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. You have given in to idolatry and you don’t know it.
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 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 world this will all come to an end. God is so big that He should strike fear in our hearts and so full of love that He should calm that very same fear.
When Trafton was a little boy his favorite game was Hide and Go Seek. He would tell me to count and go hide. When I found him he would count while I hid. When he turned 4 I added a whole new dimension to the game, Total Fear. A few seconds before he would find me I jump out of the dark and scare the socks off of him. It made the game much more interesting. Finding me was one dimension but surviving the scare was a whole different game.
One day Trafton and I were playing and I found him lying in the tub with the curtain pulled. Tag your turn and he started to count. I went to my room turned off the light and waited in the dark. When he finished counting I heard him walking up stairs so I yelled “Trafton come find me.” He raced down 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 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 laughed for a few minutes and then He said count and went off to hide again.
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 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 in the light 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 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 try to seek Him out, really seek Him out, that can we begin to understand the matchless love of our Father for His children.
Maybe this morning 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? We are called to 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.