AGCC Sun. a.m. 2/28/99



TEXT: Ex. 20:4-6; 24-25; Num. 21:8-9; II Kings 18:3-5


Strangely enough, the 2nd commandment is probably one of the most violate commandments today! That may seem strange since it is a prohibition against making idols, but there are many ways to "make an idol".

The second commandment attempts to prevent us from making any kind of image of God, either out of wood or stone, or even out of our own ideas or concepts! It is a prohibition against trying to define God by any kind of image that would seek to restrict Him to that image or symbol and thus make Him less than He is.

While symbols or ideas can help us understand God, they must not become the actual image of God that we worship. Too often the concept of God gets lost in the image used to understand Him. Far too often God ends up looking more like us than like Himself!

ILLUS: ... 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. -- Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. Christianity Today, Vol. 41, no. 8.

Egypt had many symbols of God, and each one became its own god. Israel too learned about God through many different symbols, and like Egypt they often found themselves worshipping the image more than God Himself. If we are not careful we can begin to worship an image of God in our own mind that may be quite different from the real God of the Bible.

PROP. SENT: The Bible teaches us that any attempt at limiting God to an image of our own creation will only give us a small god, and when we have a small god we will have big problems. But if we worship the God of the Bible we will have a big God, and when we have a big God we have small problems!

I. SYMBOLS AS TOOLS Ex. 20:4-6; Num. 21:8-9

A. Defining Principles Num. 21:8-9 1. Many symbols have been used throughout Scripture to teach us about God's character: a. Ark of the Covenant with the lid as a mercy seat - taught God's presence with His people and His willingness to forgive when sprinkled with blood. b. Much of the tabernacle contained symbolic things that represented truths about God and His work of salvation. (1. Altar of incense - prayers (2. Table of show bread - His provisions (3. Candlestick - His light in darkness (4. The bronze basin - cleansing of the walk of the believer (5. The bronze altar - place of sacrifice for sins 2. In the desert when Israel disobeyed God snakes were sent to punish them. God had Moses make a bronze serpent and lift it up so that all who looked upon it would be healed, an act of faith required by looking at it… a. From this Israel learned that God was a healer. b. From this Israel also learned that God was a God of judgment. 3. The problem begins when we confuse the images that help us understand God with God!

ILLUS: Let's--all of us--decide to stop trying to convince the world that Christianity is true because Jesus makes us prettier, happier, thinner, wealthier, bigger, more successful, more popular, healthier, stronger, and more influential than everyone else. Do we actually believe that the world is impressed with our fancy new churches, 12,000 in Sunday School, five services each morning, the "millions" who are watching on television, converted beauty queens and professional athletes, our book sales, or our crusades? The world is laughing at us--mocking us and the Jesus we supposedly are serving. -- Mike Yaconelli in The Door (Sept,/Oct.l989). Christianity Today, Vol. 34, no. 2.

4. The image of God that many American Christians have too often resemble the materialistic health driven obsession we have as middle class Americans! 5. God however must always remain above our symbols or images.

B. Developing Perspectives Ex. 20:4-6 1. God revealed Himself to Israel through many images or symbols in the hopes that they might grasp certain perspectives about Him. a. Manna revealed God as the sustaining bread, even Jesus used this image to give us a perspective on His provision for us. b. God is referred to as "father" to give a perspective of His love and care for us like children, but He is more than a "father" also! 2. God's names in the Old Testament were meant to reveal new perspectives on God, but not for each one to become a different idol to be worshipped. a. Jehovah Rapha - God our healer, yet perfect health is not His only goal for our lives. b. Jehovah Jireh - God is a provider, yet He does more than just this. c. Jehovah Shalom - God is our peace, yet He is also a God of war! d. Jehovah Tsidkenu - God our righteousness, yet He also is our judge! 3. We cannot use images or symbols to slant our view of God to a particular area while avoiding other areas of His character… a. This is what many Americans do today, especially religious ones! b. We have made God in our image more today than God has made us in His image!

ILLUS: It is characteristic of our age that people want to have God but do not want to have the Devil. People are inventing gods for themselves, with what I have elsewhere called their do-it-yourself God Kits. But they are gods who do not demand much of them, and they certainly are not gods who punish, although they are allowed to reward. On the contrary, their gods absolve them from conflict and doubt, massage them, pat them on the head. ... But above all they are gods who will not trouble them with the fact of evil. The problems of evil, suffering, and death are not confronted, but evaded and dismissed. -- Henry Fairlie. Leadership, Vol. 12, no. 3.

4. When we have a desperate area of need we must be careful that God doesn't only become the object of what our need is. 5. Understanding more about God is fine through images and symbols, it is however wrong when we define Him by those images and symbols.

II. SYMBOLS AS TRAPS II Kings 18:3-5; Ex. 20:24-25

A. Dependency Problem II Kings 18:3-5 1. The mistakes we can make when using images or symbols to help us understand God is that we can become dependent on that image and therefore end up worshipping it instead of the true God. a. This has been the problem with human beings ever since we have attempted to get to know God. b. All through the ages we as humans have mistaken God's concern for certain things and worshipped what God is concerned about rather than worshipping God Himself!

ILLUS: The difference between Christianity and paganism is well illustrated in the actions of one religious sect in India that hires people to pick up unwanted or dying insects! They are then fed and cared for. This is in a country where people starve to death on the streets every night! Christianity teaches that all that exists was created for the use of people. Their needs must concern us, not the needs of insects. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).

2. Today many people are attracted to a god of love, but will reject the God of judgment on sins because it doesn't fit their image of the kind of God they wish to serve. 3. Even God's good qualities can distort our image of Him if they become the image of God we worship. a. While the brass serpent became a symbol of God's healing power it later became a cult god that they worshipped. b. Hezekiah recognized that the symbol had replaced the true God so he had it destroyed! (see 2 Kings 18:4) c. Israel had become too dependent on the symbol and instead of pointing to God it now pointed them away from God! 4. Because Israel had become too focused on symbols and images they rejected Jesus when He came because Jesus did not match their image of God or the Messiah they had in mind! a. Their Messiah was defined by what they wanted the Messiah to be, not what the Bible said He would be. b. There are many people today like this too with God, they don't mind worshipping a God that allows them to live in sin or do as they please, but they don't want to accept the God of the Bible that would confront them with their sin. 5. We as Christians can have an unhealthy view of God also, we can view God as the one who will prosper us, keep us healthy, etc; and while God is a healer, and the one who does prosper us we can turn God into an image of these desires and lose the full picture of God thus resulting in an unhealthy relationship with the Lord based on our definition of what we want God to be.

B. Destructive Pollution Ex. 20:24-25 1. In an interesting passage God forbids His people to build man made steps up to His altar when coming to worship Him. a. Why? b. Lest their nakedness be seen! 2. What does this mean in our terms? Any attempt to reach God by our own efforts will only reveal our nakedness and shame! a. God's altar was not to be shaped by man. (no tool used on the stones) b. God's approach was not to be dressed by man. (no dressed stones or steps up to the altar) 3. Man is too good at creating his own way of trying to save himself, and it always falls short. a. Today there are people who will travel the world to touch a certain holy relic in the hopes of it giving them some kind of special touch by God. b. We rely on things instead of on God. c. All these relics are simply man's creative dressed stones up to God!

ILLUS: What lies there are about relics! One claims to have a feather from the wing of the angel Gabriel, and the Bishop of Mainz has a flame from Moses' burning bush. And how does it happen that eighteen apostles are buried in Germany when Christ had only twelve? -- Martin Luther, "Martin Luther--The Early Years," Christian History, no. 34.

4. It is strange that we will avoid the real God for tokens of Him! 5. Instead of trying to define God, we just need to find God!

ILLUS: When men stop worshipping God, they promptly start worshipping man, with disastrous results. -- George Orwell in the Observer (1945), Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 15.

6. Whenever Israel sinned, it always began with idols! a. These false images and idols would lead their hearts away from the God of all creation and get their hearts on created things instead. b. The result was always a weakened and perverted faith, and a weakened nation. c. Mysticism replaced faith whenever they turned to their own images of God, something that still happens today. 7. What about us? Do you worship the God you want to worship or the God of the Bible? a. How big is your God? b. Are you stuck on a certain image of God? c. Does your image of God look a lot like you want it to look versus the way God has presented Himself? 8. We will never know the God of power and might if we create Him in our image.

CONCLUSION: False idols are not only made of wood and stone, they can be formed in our minds too! Whenever God is worshipped as the image in our own minds we are guilty of breaking the 2nd commandment. Your God can be too small when you define Him. Symbols help us understand Him, but we must worship the God that He is and not the one we have made Him to be in our own minds. How big is your God?