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There is God; We are Not Him!
Scripture: Exodus 20:4-6; 2 Kings 21
Track 2 of 10 in the Ten Commandments series
Running time: 35 minutes, 38 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, July 10, 2005
2nd sermon in a 10-part series.
"There is a God; We are Not Him"
"Ten Words to Guide our Lives"
(Exodus 20:4-6)
Copyright 2005 G. Charles Sackett

A generation ago George Buttrick was the Chaplain at Harvard University. He would have students come in and look at him and say, "I don't think I believe in God." He would have them sit down in a chair and say, "Tell me about the God you don't believe in because I don't think I believe in that God either."

We started out last week in Exodus 20 with this statement. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt. "Don't have any other gods before me," he says.

We're going to spend some time over the next several weeks talking about God and his character and who He is and what His desires are. Last week we introduced that opening command. He is, in fact, God and he will accept NO competitors. There is no other God besides Him. The natural followup to that, of course, is going to be the second command which we'll get to in just a minute.

The thing that we looked at last week: we were reminded that law is in the context of grace. The very first thing he says is, "I brought you out of Egypt. I gave you freedom." Law was never intended to create a relationship with God. In fact, it can't. It can't produce anything except guilt; but, it can reflect an opportunity for you to show your gratitude to God and to live in a way that pleases Him and demonstrates that you understand who He happens to be. First command - I don't accept competitors.

We're going to look at Exodus 20:4-6 where we get to the second of those commands.

Exodus 20:4 "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; 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, but showing love to a thousand generations, of those who love me and keep my commandments."

You've got to remember that the giving of the Law, this law about not making any kind of idols, came in the context of their existence. First of all, in Egypt, and then moving from Egypt into Canaan where there were all kinds of gods. I've tried to give you just a little sample of them. There are gods to Molech, and gods to Baal and gods to Asherah. There are gods to which those early people found themselves bowing down in worship. Israel faced that rather difficult thing of trying to understand how to worship God, whom you cannot see, without trying to create an image that you can see in order to be able to facilitate worship.

In that context, understand at least this much. The Law was given to "the people of God". God doesn't say a thing in the Old Testament about other nations worshiping idols. It's not that I think He doesn't care. I suppose He does; but, it doesn't make any difference because they're not His people anyway. They can bow down and worship anything they want.

But, if you're the child of God, if you're a part of the family of God, if you're a part of the people of God, then the command becomes very clear. Don't create something to fall down in front of and worship. Worship Me only! Have no other gods besides Me, and don't create Me or any other god in any kind of an image, whether it's an image that is above the earth or below the earth or in the sea, the starry heavens, the humanity, the animals, the fish; and, we don't get, well, we don't get 35/40 days into

Israel's relationship with God under the Law before they have already messed this thing up.

Moses goes up on the mountain for forty days. If you'll just thumb over a few pages in your Bible to Exodus 32 you'll see what happens. This to me is an absolutely amazing development. I mean, I know that we have short memories. And I understand that we sometimes have a difficult time figuring out what it is that God really wants us to do, but we're talking here less than. . . . well, it's just a month into this relationship. He has shown them the miracle of dividing the Red Sea. He has brought them out of Egypt. He has crushed the army of Pharaoh in the Red Sea. He has fed them with manna on the ground. He has taken care of them. He has shown up in a pillar of fire and then the pillar of fire. . . . . . .it's not like God hasn't made himself pretty clear about who He is.

Exodus 32 starts this way. When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, (now he's been up there about 35 or 40 days) they gathered around Aaron (this happens to be, by the way, Moses brother - happens to be the other key leader in Israel - happens to be the man through whom all of the high priestly line will come - this is the second in command - this is the person that God used as Moses voice in Egypt until Moses finally figured out he could talk for himself. This is not somebody from the back of the crowd. Okay? They come to Aaron for a reason, because Aaron is a leader and they step up to Aaron and they say.) "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him."

Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me." So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt."

Do I need to remind you of Exodus 20:2? I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt,. . . . . . and already they want to ascribe that to a golden calf.

When Aaron saw this, Exodus 32:5, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord." So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

Then the Lord said to Moses, "You better go down the mountain, because these people are messing things up." That's a loose paraphrase of the next verse.

Ya ever see the billboard that says, "What part of thou shalt not do you not understand?" Don't you just have this mental image that says, "what's with these people?" I mean, how hard is it to understand. . . . .DON'T MAKE AN IMAGE! And, they, in less than six weeks have decided to worship a golden calf and offer offerings that belong only to God to some golden calf.

See, Israel never quite got it into their head that God would not accept any competition for their loyalty. I mean, you can just almost put your finger any place in the history of Israel. For example, come over to 2Kings 21. . . .just a little brief look.

2Kings 21 We're in the divided kingdom. We have just come off of the heels of the reign of one of the greatest kings in Israel, man by the name of Hezekiah - great ruler, godly man. 2Kings 21 we get introduced to his son, Manasseh. Manasseh was 12 years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. His mother's name was Hephzibah. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah pole, as Ahab king of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, "In Jerusalem I will put my Name." In both courts of the temple of the Lord, he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced sorcery and divination, and consulted mediums and spiritualists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord. . . . . . .NO KIDDING!

Sometimes God merely chided Israel for their absolute foolishness.

If you come over to Isaiah 48. . . . . I have to confess to you that Isaiah is one of those writers that I connect with so well because, ah, well, frankly, because I think he's cynical, sarcastic. Isaiah 44. If I were really Isaiah I would get it right the first time.

Isaiah 44:9 All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit him nothing?

He and his kind will be put to shame; craftsmen are nothing but men. Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and infamy.

The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint.

The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine.

He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak.

Isaiah 44:15 It is man's fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it.

Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, "Ah! I am warm; I see the fire."

From the rest he makes a god, his idol' he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, "Save me; you are my god."

They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand.

No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, "Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?"

You get the image? He goes out in the forest. He cuts down a tree. He cuts the tree in half. With half of it, he goes over. He builds himself a little fire. He cooks himself some lunch. The wood serves him. It gets him warm. It prepares him a meal.

With the other half he walks over to the other side of his little camp. He sets it up in a corner. He carves it with chisels. He makes it look like something and then he bows down and serves it.

And Isaiah says, does that not make any sense to you at all, how foolish that is? That you now serve what serves you. Only humanity and all his brilliance could be that stupid. That's a loose paraphrase of Isaiah.

Sometimes, however, God doesn't just chide Israel for it. Sometimes He punishes them. And so you have seventy years under Babylonian captivity where they are forced every day of their life to worship idols and to see just how foolish that really is. The issue is slavery. Oh, I don't mean slavery to a person. I mean slavery to your own stupidity.

Look at the text in Exodus 20. Come back and look one more time, Exodus 20:5 particularly; You shall not bow down to them or worship them;. . . . .this thing that you have carved and made. Those two words, bow down and worship are both words that indicate being enslaved to something; giving yourself to it, worshiping it. The image here that God is trying to create through Moses comment is, you cannot be enslaved to anyone but Me and these idols will simply enslave you as you bow down to them, they take over you and they begin to control you.

Well, here's the question that we started raising last week. How in the world does this stuff apply to the 21st Century? 'Cause, I've not been in many of your homes, but so far, of all the homes I've been in I haven't seen any graven images sitting up in any corners. Now I've been in homes where that's been true in other parts of the world, but I've not been in any of your homes where you had a little idol shrine that you bowed down to, at least that you've shown me. Maybe behind cupboard doors or something, I'm not sure.

Now there have been dozens of guesses about how to try to bring this application into the 21st Century. I'll just share some of them that I've read recently. A couple of people have suggested that sports have become America's idols. These are not Christian people saying this. These are people out here analyzing the culture. For example: A fella by the name of Robin Gunston who is a futurist at the 2004 conference for the World Future Society writes this: "The loss of core values in society due to the waning influence of the church creates a spiritual vacuum into which sports may move. 'Religiosport' could develop as a major sports replace conventional religion. Religiosport will have its shrines (stadiums), costumes (uniforms), services (games and events), rituals (chants and songs), high priests (star athletes), and piety (fan loyalty).

I don't know whether he's correct or not. I wouldn't have any idea but I guess if I were trying to sort that out I would ask this question. Would you rather be at a sporting event or in worship? Would you rather spend time and get excited about rooting for your favorite sports team or spend time in the presence of God honoring

Him? Would you rather spend your money on a ticket to a game than to give to the King of the universe? Those would be some questions that might help you sort out, if that were, in fact, the case.

Somebody else has suggested that it's not sports at all, it's pleasure and recreation. I don't know whether that's true or not. I know we spend a lot of money on our recreation. We spend a lot of time. Now recreation and sports and other things are not bad in and of themselves are they? They aren't necessarily wrong things. Somebody else has suggested what you would all expect somebody to suggest. That in American culture, our money has become our god. And quite honestly, when you think about it, we spend more time messing with money, more than any other single thing we do. I mean you think about how much time we spend earning it and how much time we spend spending it. It really is a time consuming thing. The question isn't, is it time consuming. The question is, is it heart consuming? Does it own you or do you own it? And again, I don't know the answer to that question. Some have suggested that our families sometimes become our idols that we invest more in our family than we do in our families relationship with God. I don't know if that's true. Others have said looks. Others have said exercise. Some have even suggested that the church as an entity, could become an idol. I don't know the answer to any of those questions. All I know is that it is important for us to begin to ask the question, "what is it that's most important to us?" But if you really pressed me, I think all of those issues are wrapped up in one issue. There all just symptoms of one rather simple thing.

Ann Lamott says it this way in her book Bird by Bird. . . . "you can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." -

Or, George Orwell writing back in 1945 in the Observer says, "When men stop worshiping God, they promptly start worshiping man, with disastrous results."

In 1991 there was a really fascinating book that came out called The Day America Told the Truth. I don't know if the statistics have changed in the fourteen years since that book was printed but the authors, at that point, had interviewed Americans and this was their conclusion. "Ninety-three percent of Americans say that they alone decide moral issues, basing their decisions on their own experiences or whims. Eighty-three percent said they would break the rules of their own religion."

I think if you want to push really hard, the problem that we face is primarily self-worship. You can put any label on it you want. You can call it anything you want. You can put in its place any idol you want, but ultimately the thing that we face is whether or not God is going to be God or we are. Who's going to win when our desires conflict with God's desires.

I am absolutely fascinated by that struggle and I won't report it for anybody because I can't report for you. I can only report it for myself. It is an ongoing struggle to try to figure out whether God's going to win or I'm going to win. I'd like to tell you that He always wins. That would be a lie. How about you?

This is a tough text. It's a tough text in part because of the consequence that is enlisted in this text. "I will punish those who hate me three to four generations." It's an interesting "Hebrewism". It's really a way of talking about the extended family. You've got to remember when this is written. It's not like 1995 or 2005. It really dates back to an era more similar to the 1800's in our culture when down here on the corner was great-grandfather and on the next house down, on the next lot, around the corner on the farmyard was dad. Across the field and back behind the hedgerow was a brother or two. Extended families lived within a very close distance and multiple generations were often spending lots of time together. And so what you begin to see in this statement that God is making through Moses is that when a father decides to worship idols, it is not an individual issue. It's not a single person's problem. That

the problem extends from him to his children, to his brothers, to their children, to their grandchildren because whatever that patriarchal figure is, whoever that is, whatever they do, their influence carries to the entire family. Multiple generations. . . . .

What really scares me, is how true that is. I look at my children and I see how much like me they are. I have a 7 year old grandson who, as most of you know because you've heard me talk about him before, is trying to endure what it means to grow up in a broken home. His father is having a really hard time deciding how to be a divorced man. His father never did figure out how to be a divorced man. Without going into a great deal of difficultly, what I'm trying to tell you is I have great concern for a 7 year old little boy who is growing up under that image of what it means to not know how to settle into a single relationship. And what frightens me, is that's true for every family in this room.

Did you read this week's Gospel Messenger where the family of Bill Gross said something about him as an elder and Bill, you said more than once in that article "it's a generational thing." It's a generational thing; and, those of us who are older set certain standards. They will, in fact, carry to the next generations. And what is really intriguing to me about this text (and one of the things that troubles me most about this text) is that idol worship God likens to those who hate me. Did you see that in the text? I punish the generation three and four deep to those who hate me. This is the only time the word has shown up so far. Something about worshiping idols is an indication that you hate God. That's the terms with which God sees it. When you put something in competition with Him, He, in essence, says, "you, therefore, hate me". Now the flip side of that, lest I get really carried away with that; the flip side of that. . . . did you notice the flip side . . . . . the flip side is incredible isn't it? You mess it up. It goes three or four generations, but when you obey me, did you notice what it said, "I want to bless you to thousands of generations." God so desires to bless his people that if you get it right, He wants it to spread from you to your children, to your children's friends, to your children's children, to your neighbors. He wants this thing to just explode. And so, when God's people honor Him, then there is this incredible thing that God blesses mightily.

Alright, are you still with me? 'Cause I haven't got to the point yet; but, I'm there. If you ask me what this second command is all about, it's just this much. The creation of an idol is an attempt to put God in a box that you can handle. It's an attempt to try to understand Him and control Him. See, if God is God, but He refuses to be captured in any human form, if He refuses to be visible in any way, then you just have to live by faith in Him and trust in His word. And so, He says, "I'm not going to put myself in any kind of shape and form for you." You learn to trust Me. You see, the problem with an idol is that it's something you can control. It's something you can handle. You can put it on the shelf. You can hide it in the corner. You can fall down and worship it. If you don't like it you can take it outside and throw it away.

To be really honest with you. . . . . just to be honest, it often reminds me of the attitude that we so often take toward this book. How many of you have one of these in your house? I mean, hardly. . . . .I mean there is not hardly anybody my age and over that doesn't have at least one or two of these laying around the house. In fact, it was always fascinating to me as a young preacher (I was one once), going to people's houses and there laying on their dining room table was a book so big you could use it for the foundation of your house. This great big ole'. . . . . you remember it, you probably got one from some picture company who sold you a package of pictures for that newborn of yours and along with that you got a big family Bible. And you laid it out there as if having a Bible in your house somehow made it "sacred" or something. You never opened it. You never read it. You never looked at it. But there it was.

And then our publishing companies have done us a great favor. Our publishing companies have put it into language we can understand. Why they have made it so small, you can even tuck it down in your shirt. They've got it so you can pack it in your backpack. They have created this Book in such a way that you feel like you own it.

You don't own it. It owns you! And the problem with an idol is that you can own it. And God said, "You can never own me." You can never reduce me to something that you can understand. You have to take me by faith.

One of my favorite books is a book by J. B. Phillips called Your God is too Small. The title alone is worth the price of the book. Because for so many of us, God is something we can understand. Someone we can control and if your god is one that you can control, he is too small!

I love Isaiah 40. I'm not going to take the time to read it but I highly encourage you to mark it. Isaiah 40: particularly verse 12 through the end of the Chapter where you get things like this. The God that we're talking about, Yahweh, Elohim, the God who says in Exodus 20, I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt says, I measure the heavens by the span of a hand. I mark off the stars which are so far apart that we can't even see them all with our massive telescopes. He says, I measure with a nine inch stretch from thumb to fingertip. If your God can't measure the heavens with that, your god is too small! He says, I hold the waters of the earth in the palms of my hands. You've heard me say this before, I can get a cup in there. I've measured a cup of water in the palm of my hands. There are 144 million square miles at an average depth of 12,000 feet of water on the face of the earth and God says, "I hold that in the cup of my hand." And if your god can't do that, your god is too small! He says, "I know the names of every star, not one of them is missing." If your god can't give you the names of every star in the Universe, your god is too small!

If your god needs somebody to explain him, he is too small!

If you want to "see" God. . . . .I mean, if you really want to "see" God, if you need an image of God, I have one for you. His name is Jesus.

In John 1, John says, The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

And three verses later in John 1:18 he says, No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known. He has explained him.

You need an image of God? You want an idol? You can't carve this one in stone. You can't actually put him in a corner and look at him, but if you want to know what God looks like; if you want to bring God down into some kind of form that you can understand; if that's that important to you, and it should be, then take a look at Jesus. Because that was the whole point of His coming, was to help us understand the ununderstandable; to help us get a handle on what God is really like. Not so we can carve Him into a shape; not so we can put Him in a corner and worship Him; not so that we can somehow get our hands and grasp His greatness; so that we can begin to catch an image of what it means for God, to become human and live among us and look like us and live with us and act among us; so that we know how to respond.

When people would come into George Buttrick's office at Harvard he would say to them, "sit down. Tell me about this god you don't believe in because I don't think I believe in that god either." And then he would explain to them and introduce them to Jesus, because that is a God worthy of our worship; that's a God worthy of bowing down to; that is a person worthy of being enslaved by. And that is the invitation. That's the invitation that Jesus gives. Don't try to create God in some image that you can understand. Don't try to worship something other than what God really is. Don't let God have a competitor in your life, but instead, understand that my relationship with you is the way you have a relationship with the God of the Universe. You connect with Jesus and you're connected with God.

Now I'm not foolish enough to think that one sermon is going to convince you that you're an idol worshiper; especially if you don't have any little carved images sitting in a corner somewhere. But I'm not foolish enough to think, either, that God's word couldn't penetrate your life and help you really reflect on what's most important to you.

Who is it that has your heart? Who is it that you are giving yourself to? If it's not Jesus, I encourage you to take a second look at what's really important.

We're going to sing. We don't often make this an invitation in the sense that you can come forward. You certainly can. This is such a powerful statement about giving yourself as an offering to Him. If you need to come forward for some reason. If there is an idol in your life that you need to identify and you want somebody to pray for you, then you come. If you're tired of living for yourself and you want to give your life to Christ wholeheartedly, then you come. If you know enough about your relationship with Jesus, that you know that you need to identify with Him in Baptism, you come. But even where you are, I'm encouraging you to take this command seriously. Don't try to make somebody that you can control. Trust Jesus instead. Let's stand.