Today we are going to continue our series on the Ten Commandments, and I’ll have to admit I love a list. I love the way God spells this out. Because a list is the quickest way to get my attention. If I see an article titled Eight Foods Guaranteed to Increase Your Brain Power, or America's 5 Most Powerful Cars or Ten Parenting Mistakes You Can't Afford to Make... it gets my attention every time. You see, I can skim the list in just a few seconds. Lists have a way of summarizing everything, giving you the information you're looking for in an easy to read format, without all the unnecessary clutter.
And so today we’re going to continue our look at the original top ten list found in Exodus 20; which I jokingly call “The Ten Suggestions?” because that’s the way many people skim over the list. In our culture today, the Ten Commandments are seen as a buffet line where we just pick and choose those things we like. And today, in the same way, we are going to pick from the tray labeled “Worship” and this brings us to Exodus 20:4–6, where we deal with the subject of idolatry. And what I want you to do, is to look at all of your life, all of our culture, and all of the world as if it had been placed neatly in that tray labeled “Worship.”
You see, in a very real sense, our lives, culture, and world are really all about worship. So let me explain, the English word "worship" comes from two Old English words: worth meaning value; and ship which means something like shape or "quality." We see this in modern words like friendship and sportsmanship, which are the quality of being a friend, or the quality of being a good sport. So worth-ship is the quality of having worth or of being worthy. When we worship, we are saying that object or being has worth, that it is worthy of our attention… it is worthy of our affection… and so we prioritize it, we idolize it, and we declare or attribute worth to it… whatever it is.
So here is my point: Everyone worships all the time. Everyone who’s living is worshiping, pouring themselves out for someone or something. That’s what we were created to do. We were created to worship. That’s what we always do. The only difference is who, what, when, or how we worship. The question is not, do we worship? The question is, is the object of our worship God or is our worship to something other than God, which is idolatry?
Before we get into the text, let’s consider worship in our culture. Let’s just suppose you transported a Hebrew, an Israelite, from 3,000 years ago to the United States today. What if they stumbled upon this great gathering… a college football game where people were dressed up in the same jerseys, some with their faces painted. And this Hebrew watched as they slaughtered an animal and barbecued it as a sacrifice at the tailgate party. And they saw these people all dressed the same, waving their arms, chanting and trying to affect the outcome of a game. Would you not assume that they would think that it was a group of pagan priests at a religious gathering?
Let’s keep going. Aren’t malls and shopping centers temples, where we go to worship with our wealth? Where we go to improve our life and our image. Isn’t that why the biggest, most expensive, extravagant places are often shopping malls.
Sometimes we look at a person as a functional savior. We do this around politicians and election years. We lift someone up to save us, to be our functional savior. We cheer for them. We vote for them. And all of that can be acts of worship or idolatry.
How you ever looked at a bottle of Absolute vodka and thought, “Yes, that is the path to freedom?” How many of you know that alcohol actually results in slavery? If you drink too much, you’re enslaved by it. You see here’s what’s interesting about idols: Idols lie. They make promises that they cannot deliver on.
This is the great theme of the Exodus. Sin enslaves us and God sets us free and then our idols lie and promise something that only God can deliver. And it’s an act of worship to spend our money to buy the bottle of alcohol to comfort us instead of inviting the Holy Spirit to comfort us. That’s why the Bible says, “Don’t get drunk… be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18). It’s all counterfeit worship. It’s idolatry.
I haven’t gotten in trouble for a while, so I thought I would say this… we all have idols. So what does God have to say about this issue of idolatry?
Let’s read together at Exodus 20:4-6
"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments. NIV
So here’s the context again… God has set his people free from slavery to Pharaoh. Now a nation of a few million people, and he gathers them together for a family meeting where he’s a loving father about to give some advice to his rebellious kids. So they’re meeting at the base of Mount Sinai and through Moses, God gives the Ten Commandments. And we looked at the first one last week. Does anyone remember? How many Gods are there? One, right?
And so this week we’re looking at the second commandment and we’re going to deal with how to worship that One God. God is going to teach us who we are to worship and how we are to worship because both points are significant, and that’s why they come first, because they are going to establish everything else, they’re the base line, for the rest of Scripture. It’s not enough just to have the right God, you need to worship the right God in the right way, otherwise you can claim to have Jesus as your God and yet be living as a pagan, committing idolatry, and living in slavery to your sin. So we need to have the right God and worship the right God the right way.
The Lord starts this way, "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” And here’s what he’s saying: Don’t worship anything up there, down there, or under there. Nowhere are we to find something that becomes for us the object of our worship. And so idolatry is this, it’s trying to bring a self-described god, a god in a box, a created god near to us by finding someone or something that helps us get close or feel closer to God. Because in doing so, it opens the door to the demonic because Satan will gladly give you counterfeit miracles, experiences, and emotional highs to deceive you.
But God doesn’t want you to be deceived. He doesn’t want you to be tricked into thinking that anyone or anything else will get you closer, give you more insight, or a better experience of him, because that is idolatry. So he gives us two reasons why we don’t worship anything that has been made… created things. And when I say worship, just think of where your time goes, where your talent goes, and where your treasure goes. Think about what you pour your life into. Think about what consumes the majority of your time. That is what you have ascribed worth to… and worship.
Number one, we don’t worship created things because we are the image of God. You see, we’re not to worship images, because we’re to be the image of God. It says it this way in Genesis: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). So God made us to be his mirrors, to bear his image, and to reflect his image. That’s what worship is… reflecting the goodness and the glory of the God. So when we love, when we forgive, when we seek justice, when we’re generous, we’re reflecting part of the character of the God who made us. So he says, “Don’t get an image to worship, be the image that worships.”
The second reason we’re not to worship images, is because we’re supposed to worship Jesus. In Colossians 1:15 the Bible speaks to this issue of worship versus idolatry. And Paul writes that Jesus, “is the image of the invisible God.” That’s why Jesus can say, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9). As a matter of fact in Hebrews it says that he is the “radiance of the Father’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3). God cannot be seen any more clearly than in Jesus… that’s why we don’t look to created things…to nature... to animals… or other people. If you want to see what God looks like, look at Jesus, look at the description and character of Jesus recorded in the Bible. We were created to worship the Creator Jesus, who is the image of God, perfectly revealed.
That being said, the plainness of our worship area, the simplicity of the cross, is very intentional. It’s intentional because we know that the human heart leans toward idolatry. For this reason God said, "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them...” So we want to give every opportunity for God to be worshiped in the church and no one or nothing else. There are enough distractions in life right? The Bible tells us that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1). And even the beauty of God’s creation becomes idolatry when there is confusion in affection and attention between the Creator and the created. This is what Romans 1:25 warns, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.”
God created us to worship him alone. And in 1 Timothy 2:5 it says there’s one mediator between us and God. There is one way to worship God and his name is Jesus Christ. Nothing else mediates between us and God. Anytime you walk into a church or maybe even a massive ancient cathedral and it’s so beautiful. And you say, “I feel so close to God here.” that building, that created thing, is functioning in a way that is idolatry. What you’ve just said is, “This building has brought me closer to God.”
You can walk in to church and find yourself anticipating the worship. You’re looking forward to the worship team “leading” you into the presence of God. But what you’re thinking is that the music will get you closer to God. So now, suddenly, we’re not worshiping God, we’re worshiping worship. We’re worshiping the experience that we receive from the sounds that we hear.
And so what God is saying is gather, sing, and worship because you love Jesus. The music may help awaken your emotions and affections toward God, but you’re close to God because of Jesus, not the music. You may feel God’s presence, but that building can’t get you any closer to God than Jesus Christ has already gotten you. We’re a Jesus-centered, Bible preaching church, because the preaching of the word of God, points us to Jesus. And this is important, because no one can come to saving faith in Jesus Christ through “anything in heaven above, on the earth beneath, or in the waters below” (Exodus 20:4). You can’t look at a statue or painting, you can’t go for a walk in the woods, or listen to the band and know that Jesus is fully God, fully man… that he lived the perfect human life that we haven’t… died the substitutionary death that we should’ve… rose again to conquer Satan, sin, death, and hell… appeased the wrath of God, and that apart from repentance of sin and faith in him, we’re destined for eternal damnation.
You can’t get that by having an emotional experience with created things.
Somebody has to explain that to you. That’s why God spoke. That’s why I get to preach the Bible. That’s why you’re sitting there and listening. It is an act of worship as we are pointed to and focused on Jesus Christ. It’s submitting to authority of the word of God. And faith comes by hearing what? The word of God. Faith doesn’t come by seeing a statue, pondering a painting, or hearing a song. Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). We were created to worship him alone.
God says it this way, “For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God...” (Exodus 20:5). Alcohol is not your God. Sex isn’t your God. Fame isn’t your God. Pleasure isn’t your God. Your spouse… Your children… Your marriage is not your God. Your beauty is not your God. The car you drive, the clothes you wear, the house you live in… other people’s opinion, they’re not the Lord. They’re not the sovereign. They’re not in control. They’re not in charge. He is. And he is a jealous God.
Idols are not jealous. They’ll let you worship anyone, everyone, and everything because behind them are demons and as long as they can enslave you, they don’t care how many you have or how it happens. But the one true God is a jealous God, because he loves you, and wants to set you free. He says it this way: “Punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:5-6).
Praise God he’s jealous, because real love is exclusive. Love is very exclusive. God doesn’t say, “Well, you can have me and other gods, other religions, and other spiritualities.” God says no… it’s like a marriage relationship. God’s like the groom and his people are the bride and idolatry is adultery. And God doesn’t like when his wife is out flirting, cheating, and fooling around. Maybe you think it’s just yoga, it’s just a little Buddhism, or Native American mysticism. But God says, “It’s whoring around and I’m jealous.”
If my wife Dana invited a boyfriend over for dinner, I would be anything but indifferent, because love is exclusive, love is passionate, love is jealous, and God’s love is like a marriage. God is like a husband, and his people are like a bride that he loves. God is a jealous God like that.
And so there are consequences for idolaters, that God will punish the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me. Did you ever hear the proverb like father like son? Here’s what God is saying. He’s talking about parents who hate God who raise kids who hate God, who raise grandkids who hate God who raise great grandkids who hate God. And that’s not a life that’s flourishing. That’s not a life of freedom, because that’s not a life of faith. It leads to death.
How many of you, have seen this issue in your family, the same stupid thing for generations? The same foolish, rebellion, spirituality, idolatry, adultery, and addiction for generations. That’s the consequence. Our kids become like us. Our grandkids become like us. Our great grandkids become like us. And so for some people growing old is not a joyful occasion because sin is magnified and amplified generationally.
But here’s the good news: God says, “But showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:6). Isn’t it beautiful that the punishment will go three or four generations, but the blessing can go to a thousand? God’s steadfast, patient, gracious love to thousands of generations. It reminds us that God is really happy to pour out grace. God is really happy to change families. God is really happy to have people with your last name be friends of his long after you’re gone.
The key is those who what? …who “Love me.” And that’s the first commandment. He says, “Who love me and keep my commandments” which again is the second commandment, to worship God alone.
Here’s what we need to do: love God and keep his commandments because God wants to bless you, he wants to bless your kids, he wants to bless your grandkids, and he wants to bless your great grandkids. For how many generations? A thousand generations. This is the fatherly heart of God. He loves his children, he loves his children’s, children, and he loves his children’s, children’s, children. Amen?
All of this, forgiveness of sin, eternal life, freedom from bondage, escape from slavery, worship instead of idolatry, it’s ours. It’s yours. It’s your children’s. It’s your children’s, children’s, children’s, children if you will belong to the one true God, the Lord Jesus Christ and worship him alone.
So as we close, maybe this morning you found that there is a problem: You don’t have an adultery problem; you got a worship problem. You don’t have a greed problem; you got a worship problem. You don’t have a coveting problem; you have a worship problem. And if you would worship God, then that would fix all your other problems. And God wants that freedom for you, God wants that freedom for your family, and God wants that freedom for your legacy.
So I would encourage you this week, study the word of God. Come out on Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. for Bible study. Hang out with God’s people. We want to help you be word based. We want you to be studying, reading, discussing God’s word through the week. You know posting on Facebook. Tweeting Psalms 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” Every way you look at it, God is building a really vibrant church family here. A thousand generations. And we’re really encouraged by everything that God is doing, but we could really use your prayer in this coming season. We want to be able to love, serve, and care for everyone that God draws to be a part of our church family. So, please continue to remember us in prayer. Pray that God will continue to draw people here to hear about him and have their lives changed by Jesus. Pray for more leaders to care for our people. And pray, ultimately, that more and more people will be changed by Jesus here at Christ’s Community Church.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
November 02, 2014