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EXODUS 20:4-6
Series:  The Covenant - Part Two

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
October 3, 2004

Please turn with me to Exodus 20 - starting at verse 4. This morning we’re continuing our look at the 10 Commandments. Today we’re at the second commandment which focuses on idolatry. If you’re there - follow along as I read. Let’s get these verses fresh in our minds. Then we’ll come back and make some observations.

Exodus 20:4-6: You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

There are two parts to this command. The first comes in verse 4 - the command itself - no idols.

Do you remember The Ten Commandments? Cecil B. DeMille - Charlton Heston? DeMille butchered the actual sequence of events. But, that scene with Moses coming down off of Mount Sinai and Aaron and the Golden Calf sticks in the mind - doesn’t it?

The Hebrew people had grown up with idols - they were surrounded by idols - idols representing gods of just about everything. Death - life - fertility - food - rain - disaster. The way to worship a god was to make an image of gold or silver or something and bow down to it - honor it - serve it.

Moses is on the mountain. What should we do? Make an idol. It’s a natural sequence of events. Wrong. But natural.

Here in the second commandment God is instructing His people in how to worship Him - how to serve Him - how to honor Him - as the only true God worthy of their devotion. Because they had no clue.

What really is an idol?

Idolatry - worshipping idols - is a perversion of true worship - focusing on the means and not the end - focusing on the worshiper or an object of worship - rather than the One who is worthy of worship - service - devotion. Idolatry perverts worship. Try that with me, “Idolatry perverts worship.”

A week ago Saturday there was an article in the Sun-Star about the Saint Mary Magdalene Orthodox Church they’re building on Old Lake Road. Did you see the article?

In the midst of that article there was a discussion about icons - these beautiful pictures of Jesus and saints that they have around the church or for their homes. Often when we protestants think about the orthodox church and icons we think “idols.” “They’re worshiping these things!”

Is the cross an idol? Remember the words, “To the old rugged cross I will ever be true…I’ll cherish the old rugged cross...I will cling to the old rugged cross.” Is that idolatry? Am I splitting hairs? Yah - probably. But, I know people that have torn crosses down and ripped pictures out of Bibles because they saw these as idolatry.

I appreciated Rev. Thatcher’s comment about icons. Rev. Thatcher - the pastor of the Saint Mary Magdalene Orthodox Church - who by the way is graduate of Biola University - he said, “We don’t honor paint, we honor the person. They’re reflecting Christ, His transforming love. We use the word “worship” only for God.” (1)

In thinking about what an idol is - its not the object - it’s the significance we give it that perverts worship.

Have you seen the 50th Anniversary edition of Sports Illustrated? On the cover - they took the Sistine Chapel - where the graphic for this sermon series comes from - they took Michelangelo's work of utter devotion to God - and replaced all the saints with sports heroes. The centerpiece is God handing a baseball to Babe Ruth. Top of our sermon notes today.

God’s point about idols is not to keep us from playing baseball or golf - huge sigh of relief. He’s not going to condemn us to eternal damnation for living in a house - or driving a nice car - or even having a plasma TV. God’s dealing with our relationship with Him - the significance these things hold in our lives.

The house isn’t for us. It’s for serving God. The car is all about God.

If we’re going to play golf - then play golf because as we’re 100% sold out to God - He’s directed us - called us - led us - to play golf. Play golf - with a passionate desire to serve and honor and glorify God. I may kick myself for saying this. But, it may actually be possible to play golf and to grow deeper in our devotion and relationship with God.

What about our idolatry in 2004? Let’s take this one step deeper.

Money - a house - a car - sports - TV - work - food - those are cheap shots - easy idols to identify.

What about the greatest of all idols - that we all struggle with? Isn’t it us? Ourselves. All the other idols we struggle with - that struggle - that idolatry is a result of giving greater place in our hearts to ourselves rather than God.

A few years back I was doing a funeral. The interment was in a mausoleum. Vault after vault - solemn - long stone halls. Can you picture this? As part of the service I asked the people to join with me in singing The Lord’s Prayer in Armenian. To give you a flavor of this, “Hayr mer, vor hergeenus yes, sourp yegheetzee anoun ko…”

Its beautiful - liturgical. It comes from the mass of the Armenian Apostolic Church. People know it. Its appropriate to sing at funerals.

Imagine in this stone hall - which was like singing in the shower - anyone would have sounded like Pavarotti. I’m singing away - getting louder and getting more into it. Its’ beautiful. A moment in time. Soon the others are just listening. I’ve got my eyes closed and I’m carried away with the music and the sound. And I forgot the words. I opened my eyes and the people are just staring at me.

I was sharing this with someone here earlier this week. We were talking about getting lost in worshiping God - getting so caught up by the Spirit that we just forget ourselves. Ever have that happen? As I’ve thought about that - and I was thinking about this message - it came to me that at that moment - the only thing I was really lost in was myself.

We’re so devoted to ourselves. It is so easy for us to get tripped up by this.

We can trust our abilities - our intellect - to solve problems - to manipulate our environment - to create great things - to gain great recognition - without surrendering ourselves to God.

Serving God is an idol - using God given gifts to serve in the church - plugging in - when we feel like it - when it benefits us - rather than sacrificing everything in service to God.

Worship is an idol - when our expectation is what pleases us rather than pleasing God.

Bible study can be an intellectual experience to feed our own egos - rather than a process of humble obedience and deepening our love for God.

Prayer is an opportunity to manipulate God to do our will - rather than laying ourselves bare before God.

Bottom line: We struggle with idolatry - with our worship and service and devotion to God - our approach to God becomes inappropriate - we struggle because we set ourselves up as the object of our greatest devotion.

The second part of the command comes in verses 5 and 6 - God’s explanation of this for our lives and our relationship with Him. Why does God give us this command? First, in verse 5 - the explanation: “Don’t worship them or serve them - why? - because I am a jealous God.”

God is a jealous God. Try that with me, “God is a jealous God.”

That means that God is angry about anything that is going to destroy His relationship with His people.

Remember last Sunday we said that the God of the Bible is a covenant God not a contract God. His message to us is not, “Do this for Me. Then I’ll love you.” That’s a do this and you’ll get paid - contract. But instead God says, “I’ve done this for you as your Creator and as your Redeemer. Therefore this is the kind of relationship that I invite you to be a part of.”

God loves us. That’s what these commandments are about. Not about rules and regulations. But about the God who wants to pour out His love on us - to take the burdens off our shoulders - to bring peace to our hearts - to establish us and bless us and watch out for us and heal us and care for us and guide and lead us through life into eternity with Him.

Here - in the second command - God is focused on how we respond to Him - how we serve Him. Singular - focused - devotion - that flows out of the depth of our devotion - our relationship with Him.

Its important we understand this - even feel the anger and passion of God towards this. Idolatry destroys our relationship with God.

God speaks to the prophet Hosea. Hosea living in one of the darkest times of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. A time when God’s people openly rejected God in favor of other gods. God speaks to Hosea and says, “Go marry a prostitute.” Can you imagine God saying that to someone?

Why? Hosea 1:2 - “Go marry a prostitute so that some of her children will be born to you from other men. This will illustrate the way My people have been untrue to Me, committing open adultery against Me by worshiping other gods.”

Hosea - who represents God - and Gomer the prostitute - who represents God’s people - they have children together. Each child is given a name that shows that the covenant between God and His people has been broken.

Names like Jezreel - meaning “God scatters” and Lo-ammi - meaning “not My people”

Hosea’s wife goes out again as a prostitute and Hosea ends up bidding on her in an auction - to buy back his wife from her slavery to sin - an amazing picture of God purchasing us in Jesus Christ. (Hosea 3:1)

The point? Idolatry is spiritual adultery. Try that with me, “Idolatry is spiritual adultery.”

In the New Testament God bring us one step closer to home.

Ephesians 5: Remember this? “Wives, be to your own husbands, as to the Lord…As the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:22,24,25)

That whole discussion of wives honoring their husbands and husbands sacrificing everything for their wives - marriage is an illustration of what?

Ephesians 5:32: “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”

God uses marriage - good or bad - to illustrate our covenant relationship with Him. Perhaps this is one reason why God hates divorce. Aside from the tremendous pain - divorce breaks the covenant. Idolatry is spiritual adultery.

God says, “My people are serving other gods - making idols - and I’m angry - jealous of my relationship with them.”

There are rival gods out there - a tremendous number of voices and words coming into our minds all the time - repeatedly offering us protection and security - to deal with our fears - other philosophies - points of view - offers being made to us from other sources - that would try to convince us that God is really not worthy of our worship - that we really can't trust Him fully with our lives. Voices that tempt us to fornicate with our egos - our pride - our self will. To flirt with the sins of this world rather than maintaining our covenant with God.

In Exodus 20:5 - God says, “I demand exclusive devotion and I will punish anything less - even down to the fourth generation.” Not because God hates us or our kids. But because of the depth and passion of His love and the seriousness of our idolatry - for ourselves - and our children - who learn from us what it means to know and serve God.

The other side of this explanation - how having “no idols” relates to our relationship with God - comes in verse 6. God and His blessing.

The effects of disobedience last for some time - four generations. But, the effects of loving God are far more extensive. God’s lovingkindness - His blessing - mercy - grace - is poured out - literally “to a thousand generations."

Two families from New England were studied very carefully. One was the family of Max Jukes. The other was the family of Jonathan Edwards.

Max Jukes was an unbelieving man who married a woman of like character. Among the known descendants over 1,200 were studied. Three hundred and ten became professional vagrants - 440 physically wrecked their lives by a debauched lifestyle - 130 were sent to the prison for an average of thirteen years each - 7 of them for murder. There were over 100 who became alcoholics - 60 became habitual thieves - 190 public prostitutes. Of the 20 who learned a trade - 10 of them learned a trade in a state prison. They cost the state about $1.5 million and made no contribution whatever to society.

In about the same era the family of Jonathan Edwards came on the scene. Jonathan Edwards was the great American theologian and preacher of the 1700’s. A man of great devotion to God. Jonathan Edwards - a man of God - married a Godly woman.

Of their children - three hundred became pastors, missionaries, and theological professors - over 100 became college professors - over 100 became attorneys - 30 of them judges - 60 of them became physicians - over 60 became authors of good classics, good books - 14 became presidents of universities. There were numerous giants in American industry that emerged from this family. Three became United States congressmen and one became the vice president of the United States. (2)

That’s what all this is about. God saying, “I desire you to serve Me. Serve Me . Be devoted to Me.” Not as a contract - do’s and don’ts - to avoid judgment. But, because serving Me - honoring Me - worshiping Me - exclusively - keeps you in a relationship with Me where I will choose to keep pouring out my blessings on you and your children.

One last thought to think about before we sing and as we go into our week. How do we get past our own self-idolatry?

Answer: Brokenness. We need to be broken before God. Broken of our pride and penchant of focusing on ourselves.

C.S. Lewis wrote in “A Grief Observed,” “You never know how much you believe in the strength of the rope until you’re hanging by it over a cliff.” (3)

As we set aside our self-idolatry - break before God - open ourselves to Him - trust Him rather than ourselves - we find one the most incredible - joyful - realities of the covenant relationship with God. The rope - God - holds. He is sufficient. May our children - may those around us - see that brokenness - learn to be broken themselves - that the only sufficiency for their lives is found in the out poured blessings of God.

1.  Merced Sun-Star, 09.25.04, B1
2.  J. Oswald Sanders, A Spiritual Clinic - quoted in Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations and Quotes
3.  Quoted from Larry Crabb, Leadership, Summer 2004, page 26

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright© 1960,1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.