No Substitutes

Series: Preacher: Date: September 26, 1999 Scripture Reference: Exodus 20:4-6;

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.

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.

Our culture here in the United States has become very good at finding substitutes for almost everything in life. Walk the aisles at GIANT or SAFEWAY and you’ll see all kinds of food substitutes: sugar and salt substitutes, cheese substitutes…..even egg substitutes. Watch enough TV and you are sure to hear Fabio exclaim in his heavily accented voice, “I Can’t Believe It’s NOT Butter!” – and that’s good because its not! It’s a substitute! One of my favorite meals at our house these days is when Sue uses a “crab substitute” to make a pasta dish It is almost as good as the real thing — but much cheaper! And food substitutes are just the beginning. I’ve paid particular attention in past years to all the new hair substitutes….everything from hair weaves to toupee’s…and even “spray-on hair” that comes in an aerosol can. Perhaps your medical plan is like ours in that it prefers that we purchase generic prescription drugs-which hopefully are equal substitutes for the real thing. A few months ago we were driving along route 50 near Annapolis and I instinctively hit the brakes when I spotted a state trooper sitting in his car on my left. It wasn’t until we passed him and I looked in my rear view mirror that I realized it wasn’t real….just a very realistic, life-sized mock-up of a patrol car…..a SUBSTITUTE for the genuine article.

All this is to say that in America substitutes, are big business. And I don’t think God is necessarily against this but as you can see in today’s text, He makes it very clear that when it comes to our relationship with Him…when it comes to worship…He will tolerate no substitutes.

We’ll talk more about worship when we deal with the fourth commandment….but in order to understand this second commandment we must realize that worship is not limited to what we do in this room on Sundays. No-Worship is a lifestyle…it involves the way we live every aspect of our lives. Genuine “worship” is when every moment of every day clearly reflects our relationship with God. Remember the words of Paul in Romans 12:1-2, “I urge you brothers in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies — as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of WORSHIP.” So, when we put anyone or anything in God’s rightful place in any part of our lives, we are disobeying this second ten(der) command….For, replacing or substituting God with something else is the essence of idolatry.

Now, as I said a couple of weeks ago, the first four commandments are God-ward. They have to do with our relationship with our Heavenly Father. And I want you to note that the first two of these God-ward laws lock together like matching pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Commandment number one tells us Who God is….God says, “I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”…and then Commandment number two tells us how we are to worship or relate to God. This second law insists that the object of our worship must never be something of our own construction or something that is under our control. We must never make these things the focus of our day to day existence. Only God is to have that place in our lives.

Obviously we are more powerful and wise than anything we make on our own…we can control the works of our hands. We can make many amazing things these days, but none of them are deserving of our worship.

And another thing we should understand as we study this 2nd commandment is that the impulse to worship is universal. Anywhere you go on this planet….among any tribe or race of people…you will find people engaged in worship of some kind. This is a God-given inclination. There is a God-consciousness in the heart of every human being. And when people take this natural inclination to worship and instead of directing it in its proper direction….toward God….they worship other things-this is idolatry. In Romans 1:23,25 Paul describes this sin when he writes, “They have changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds and four-footed beasts, and creeping things….who exchanged [or SUBSTITUTED] the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator.”

As you know, the people of Israel continually displayed this tendency in Old Testament times. You don’t even have to leave the book of Exodus before these people….newly freed from Egyptian bondage by the God Who loves them…..have made a golden calf and begun to worship it as their god. In fact at the very moment that Moses was on the mountain with God receiving His ten(der) laws, these people were making an idol…a golden calf…and Exodus 32:4 records Aaron pointing to it and crying, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” And then all through the history of the children of Israel you will find that they had a constant problem in violating this very Commandment. Following the idolatrous practices of neighboring nations, Jeroboam set up golden calves in Dan and also in Beersheba.

Even the brazen serpent that God provided in the wilderness to deliver the people from snake bites was later made into a graven object of worship by the Israelites. Only when the people of Israel were carried into captivity were they finally cured of this problem of idolatry.

Then the New Testament records that Christians spreading the good news of the gospel encountered the practice of idolatry. You may remember that the book of Acts records that Paul was bewildered by the “many gods” that filled the city of Athens. From his perspective, there must have been an idol of some kind on every block-they were as regular as fire hydrants.

And of course idolatry continues in our world even to this day….as we are about to enter a brand new millennium. This week I read a story about a certain tribe that lives in the Bismarck mountains of central Papua New Guinea and I learned that these people like BIG EARS….a lot.

As a matter of fact, this tribe worships President Lyndon Johnson because he had big ears. According to Dr. Ulrich Ritterfeldt of the University of Utrecht in Holland, the people of this tribe have a photo of President Johnson pulling on the big ears of his beagles. This photo is hung in a cave and flowers are offered to it. You know looking at my own ears tells me I could do pretty well in the Bismarck Mountains of Central Papua New Guinea! Now we in the United States hear stories like this and we think that, since idolatry is all about worshiping weird things — like big ears and golden calves….and since we don’t do that here, well we feel that this law is no longer relevant to us…that obeying this commandment is a snap. But the reality is that idolatry in our culture is very widespread. Its here alright but it is much more subtle. In our culture we worship the gods of materialism, sexual indulgence, and personal power — and their messages don’t just line the streets as they did in Athens in Paul’s day.

No,here they fill the very airwaves! The images and their deceptive offers go across the nation by satellite, cable, Internet, and slick four-color printing. In our country we are surrounded by more false images than ever before in the history of mankind. They leer at us from billboards and magazine covers. They call to us in powerful visual impressions on televison. And, as every good advertising or network executive knows, the objective of these ads is to absolutely “capture” as many people as possible. They want to capture our attention….our interest…our money…our time….our commitment.

Now, there is nothing wrong with money or a new car or wanting to wear attractive clothes or wanting to succeed in business. It’s just that these things and a hundred others may become idols to us as they begin to control our thoughts and desires.

But you know, I think the most-worshiped false god in our society is SELF. Charles Swindoll describes an editorial cartoon he once saw in which the words, “I, ME, MINE, & MYSELF” appeared as an enormous monument, each letter chiseled out of granite. At the base of this strange “monument” were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people with their arms held up high, as if worshiping at a shrine. Surrounding the borders of this picture were four familiar lines from well-known commercials: “Have it YOUR way.” “Do yourSELF a favor.” “You owe it to yourSELF.” “You deserve a break today.” And then in very small letters, this caption appeared at the bottom, “speaking of American cults….” And you know, this cartoon was proclaiming accurate truth….we DO constantly applaud the “I-me-mine philosophy” in our society. We make books on the subject of selfishness bestsellers by purchasing them by the millions. We make every effort to “look out for number one.” Let’s face it….ours is an age of gross SELFishness. This is the “ME” era. I agree with Dr. Laura Schlessinger who writes, “One could read the Second Commandment as follows: ‘Do not make yourSELF an idol.” And our society does exactly that. We idolize our individual FEELINGS….we make and base major decisions on how we FEEL rather than on what God says. We worship happiness and self-esteem at all costs….we care more about personal rights than God-given responsibilities. We worship how we look….we especially bow down to our careers. In fact it is often not until the first heart attack that men realize that they work to live not live to work. You see, whenever anything other than God becomes the absolute focus of our attentions and activities, that is idolatry. Nothing in our lives-especially not SELF-should make God take a back seat….nothing should interfere with our relationship with Him.

Now before we go any further….think about it….why would God give us this law? Why would idolatry be such a big deal to Him? You know more than 50 of the laws in the first five books of the Bible are directed against idolatry. And in all Judaism it is one of only four sins to which the death penalty is attached. Why? Why did God think this law was necessary?

Well,I think one reason He did was because God knew how easy it would be for us to slip into idolatrous acts.

Think about it. God is unseen…a spirit and a power invisible to the eyes of men. It is very hard for simple people like you and I to remember and to think about and to worship an UNSEEN God. We prefer to have something we can see, and touch…something we can relate to. It’s like the story of a man named Jack who was walking along a steep cliff one day when he accidentally got too close to the edge and fell. On the way down he grabbed a branch, which temporarily stopped his fall. He looked down and to his horror saw that the canyon fell straight down for more than a thousand feet. He couldn’t hang on to the branch forever and there was no way for him to climb up the steep wall of the cliff.

So Jack began yelling for help, hoping that someone passing by would hear him and lower a rope or something, “Help! Help! Is there anyone up there? Help!” He yelled for hours but no one heard him. He was about to give up when he heard a voice.

  • GOD: “Jack, Jack, can you hear me?”
  • Jack: “Yes, yes! I can hear you! I’m down here!”
  • GOD : “I can see you Jack. Are you alright?”
  • Jack: “Yes, but….who are you and where are you?”
  • GOD : “I am the Lord, Jack. I’m everywhere.”
  • Jack: “THE Lord? You mean, GOD?”
  • GOD : “That’s me.”
  • Jack: “God please help me…I promise if You will get me down from here I will stop sinning. I’ll be a really good person. I’ll serve you for the rest of my life.”
  • GOD : “Easy on the promises Jack. Just let me get you down from there and then we can talk.

Now, here’s what I want you to do. Listen carefully.”

  • Jack: “I’ll do anything Lord. Just tell me what to do.”
  • GOD : “Okay. Let go of the branch.”
  • Jack: “What?”
  • GOD : “I said, let go of the branch. Just trust me. Let go.”

There was a long silence. Finally Jack yelled, “Is anyone ELSE up there?!”

Like Jack, when the rubber meets the road in life, we want a god we can reach out and touch.

So we have this tendency to worship things we can see and feel. And God of course knows that we are like this….He knew that this would be a very real temptation for us so He gave us this law.

But you know, I think He also gave this law to protect us. Remember when we began our study of these ten(der) commandments, we noted that God gave us these ten laws to lovingly provide His best for us but also to protect us from harm. And disobeying this particular law can indeed cause us great harm….in many ways.

1. First of all it steals our freedom.

When we put anyone or anything other than God in charge of our lives we become slaves to that thing or person. I want to share a truth here that may be hard for you to believe….LISTEN: you and I will be slaves to something or someone in this life. It is unavoidable. We were created to be controlled….we were made to be mastered. We were designed to exist in relationship to GOD.

We are programed to be controlled or mastered. The only freedom we really have is to choose what controls us. Have you ever noticed how much freedom is lost in the name of freedom?

Someone says, “I am free to take a drink.” But then many times the drink takes the person. Others say, “I’m free to do drugs.” but soon the drugs DO them. We become slaves to work or idleness, love or lust, ambition or whatever “magnificent” obsession claims us. You see a god is basically something you surrender your life to. Freedom comes from choosing the best master and we are designed to function best….free-est….with God at the controls of our lives. Acts 17:28 says that … “in Him we live and move and have our being.” The air we breathe and the beat of our hearts are in His hands. He is God! Resist that and we destroy ourselves. Accept it and we find freedom. Just as a truck is free to roll far and long if it stays on the highway, just as a train is free and powerful unless it jumps the tracks, so are we free to enjoy God’s gift of abundant life so long as we stay under the rule of God. That’s the way we are made. He must be number one. When He is not….when we substitute Him for false gods, we lose our freedom…

And, you know…like all dictators, idols promise everything and give nothing in return. They take and never give back. They use us up, drain us dry, and then discard us. Psalm 135 says that idols, “have feet” — but they can’t come to you when you need aid. “They have hands”…but they won’t lift a finger to help you when you are struggling. “They have eyes” …but they don’t see your heart or what is going on in your life. “They have ears”…but they don’t hear you cry out when you are lonely or frightened or in despair. Idols are false fronts like you see on movie sets…they look good on the outside but there is nothing behind them to back up their promises of freedom and joy. As the woman at the well discovered, you can drink all you want at the wells of the world but still be thirsty. The only way to satisfy our thirst for freedom is to be in relationship with God.

2. And then….a second way idolatry harms us is that it hurts our children and their children and even their children.

Remember the words of the text? God says, “…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,” Now…God is not saying here that our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be punished for our idolatry. I like the way the King James words it, it says….

“…for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, VISITING THE INIQUITY of the fathers upon the children until the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” God is saying here that the way we worship has an impact on our offspring. In essence the effects of our sin is projected upon them. They will be affected by our decisions. If I live indifferently to the things of the Lord, .if I continually give in to every suggestion of the flesh, if I have a love affair with materialism and acquiring things at any cost, If I chase after empty, hollow images for the rest of my life, then my children and their children will do this as well. If God does not have the proper place in my life then the repercussions will be felt from generation to generation. Basically God is reminding us that our children will copy our sins. They will follow our example when it comes to the things we worship. Idol worshipers often pass on the same forms of idolatrous religion to their children. And scripture provides a vivid example of this truth. In II Chronicles 26:16 we read the account of King Uzziah, a godly king up until the latter part of his life when he disobeyed God and side-stepped the temple priests to burn incense in worship. He made the mistake of thinking that every man can worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. When in actuality we only truly worship when we worship according to the dictates of God’s word! Because of this transgression he was stricken with leprosy.

Then in chapter 27 we read of his son, Joham, who began to reign when he was 25 refused to enter the temple. His dad had trouble with the church so he did too. In chapter 28 we read of Ahaz, Uzziah’s grandson who began his reign when he was 20. Ahaz not only stayed away from the temple, he closed it’s doors and began to worship false gods. He even had his own children sacrificed to these empty images.

So the father started worshiping God in the wrong way so, His son quit going to the temple all together and his grandson worshiped the devil himself. You see our attitudes toward God affect and influence our children’s attitudes toward God. My father pastored a little church north of here when I was a little boy…that was nearly four decades ago. And I remember dad commenting that this church was such an unhappy church because all they did was fight among themselves. And you know, to this day they are still that way because children and grandchildren and great grandchildren have followed the examples of their parents. Idolatry can have that widespread of an effect! Our children learn from our example! But you know when we worship idols it also hurts us in that…

3. . . . it changes us so that we become like these false gods that we serve.

Listen to Psalm 135 again, “The idols of the nations are but silver and gold, the work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear; nor is there any breath at all in their mouths. THOSE WHO MAKE THEM WILL BE LIKE THEM.” Jeremiah 2:5 says, “They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.” In other words, we become just like any false image we pursue in life. If we worship self, we become selfish. If we idolize wealth, then like Scrooge we tend to value it above anything else even our loved ones. If we bow down at the altar of physical beauty, we become shallow people. Our own beauty as individuals becomes only skin deep.

We become like that which we worship. And the sad thing is God wants us to become like Him not the false, empty images we pursue. In Romans 8 verse 29 Paul says that God’s desire is that all His followers be “conformed to the likeness or IMAGE of His Son.” In I John 3:2 it proclaims the hope that when Jesus returns “…we shall be LIKE Him.” So, as Ron Mehl writes, “Why in the world should I waste my time chasing shadows…. …substitutes, desert mirages, and house-of-mirrors reflections? Why should I serve other lords who aren’t lords at all, care nothing for me and never will?” Indeed why???? Why place something other than God at the center of our lives when doing so hurts us in so many ways? Idolatry promises us everything and gives us nothing. It steels our freedom. It affects our children and our grand children and our great grandchildren…and…It changes us…so that we become like those empty things we worship.

Substituting God for anything else is such a wasteful thing to do… wonder God has lovingly given us this TENDER commandment! But you know the most amazing thing about this law is that not only does disobeying it hurt us. It hurts God Himself!

For when we worship other Gods……it makes Him feel the pain of jealousy.

Remember verse 5? Referring to idols, God said, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…” Think about it… would your wife feel if she were to see a picture of another attractive woman along side her picture in your wallet.

Would she say, “This is interesting but… husband has a right to his privacy.” or would she yank it from it’s holder and hold it up to your face and say, “WHO IS THIS?!!!!” And how do you think she would feel if she learned that this other woman and you had an ongoing relationship-that you turned to her when you needed support, affection, and encouragement? Would that bother your wife? Would it? If this happened, would she continue to believe you when you whispered in her ear that you loved her with ALL your heart? I don’t think so! Of course she would be bothered…of course she would be hurt — because she expects your exclusive devotion.

And she has a right to do so. And God feels the same way. When He sees us giving other people or other things-or even ourselves-devotion that He deserves, He is jealous. In this commandment God is saying, “I am the only God there is. I am YOUR God; you belong to Me. I am jealous of that relationship.” And the fact that God feels this way shows how precious our relationship is to Him. God is jealous for you because He loves you. Yet He has given you a free will and will allow you to chase empty idols and false images for the rest of your life if you so desire. He will let you have your own way. But you’ll have to walk right by His open arms to do it.

You know, God another reason commands us not to make any graven images because He has already revealed Himself in an image.

Colossians 1:15 says that the Lord Jesus “is the image of the invisible God.” Hebrews 1:3 says that He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the EXACT representation of His being….” Two first-grade buddies were playing when one said to the other, “I had a good time in Vacation Bible School this morning. Why don’t you go with me tomorrow.” His friend responded by asking, “What’s a Vacation Bible School? The little boy replied, “We have it at church. We play games, sing, and learn about Jesus Christ. His friend asked, “Who is Jesus Christ?”

And then, in wisdom surely born of the spirit of God the six year old answered, “Jesus Christ is the best picture of God that has ever been took.” God has revealed Himself clearly in His Son….we need look no farther. This morning let us evaluate our own lives. Are we idolatrous in any way? Are there other “snapshots” in our wallet next to the picture” of God? Is there anything in our lives that would steal us away from a whole-hearted walk with Christ? If, after your introspection you find something, I urge you to commit today to cast it away….this morning commit to make God the only god” you serve. Remember, Jesus is Lord of all or He is not Lord at all. We close with a time to allow you to publically commit to God’s Lordship. Perhaps God is leading you to put Him first in your life by following His leading move your letter and join this church and work with us side by side in ministering to this community. Maybe you need to publically re-dedicate your life to His Lordship. Or maybe you are hear and are not a Christian and this morning you feel God leading you to repent of your sin and give your life to Him. Whatever decision you have to make public…we invite you to do so as we stand and sing.

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