Pastor Mark Driscoll
September 22, 2013
‘I CAN’T STOMACH THE IDOLATRY’
So I grew up next to the airport and as a little boy, I would watch the planes fly over and rattle the windows on our house. And I always wondered where the planes were going, and I always wanted to get on one, go to somewhere exotic and experience another culture. I was one of those peculiarly weird kids. I know that’s shocking, but I’ll just share that with you. And I would get on my bike a regularly ride miles to the library so that I could get magazines and books. And I wanted to understand the whole world and history, as well as the present and what was going on in other nations, in other cultures, just a weirdly curious kid.
I remember repeatedly sitting out in my yard just watching the planes fly over. And we could never really afford to get on one. And I thought, Man, someday I want to get on a plane. I want to go somewhere, and I want to experience some exotic different culture. Then my opportunity came when I was around 14 years of age. Our baseball team won some state and regional award and tournament, and we got to go play in some national/international tournament. And I, finally, for the first time in my life as a teenage kid, was going to get on my first airplane. So excited, I could hardly sleep. Get up the next day, go to the airport, get on the plane, looking out the window, fly far, far away and land in a place called Ohio.
Got off the plane, was greatly disappointed. Not the exotic, cross-cultural experience I had been longing for. Amen? Mark Twain once said, “If the end of the world comes, “I’m going to Ohio because everything happens there 10 years later.” Ohio was disappointing. It was not the cultural mecca that I was anticipating.
It took many more years before I would get on another airplane and finally as a pastor, I had the opportunity, starting in my late 20s and early 30s, to start to travel and actually get some of those global, cross-cultural experiences. And in God’s grace, I’ve been to places like Africa and Haiti and India.
In each of those locations, I have seen pagan, idolatrous, worship practices that is very similar to what the people of Israel are encountering in Exodus 20, which is where we are 3,000 years ago when they received the Ten Commandments.
What I learned going to these places was that people would carry their Gods, their goddesses, their idols with them, sometimes in their pocket to bless them, just like we do our phone. Sometimes they would have idols in their home, usually the seats would be around some little altar, kind of like our TV. They would have their temples, their small temples, scattered everywhere so there was one convenient and nearby, like our coffee shops and our bars and our convenience stores. And then all of the worshipers would get together in huge places called temples, like our stadiums and our malls.
I was in India many years ago and traveled a great distance to get there via plane and train and something called a rickshaw, which is a way to die, not necessarily travel. And they took me out to this very rural area. It was like “National Geographic.” I get off the rickshaw and there’s somebody plowing the field with an ox.
The next thing I know, I’m walking out into this rural village, and there are these small temples built for the local gods and goddesses seeking blessing and favor and crop fertility. And I poke my head in one, chicken feathers, chicken blood, chicken parts everywhere. They’re slaughtering animals to the local deities trying to get blessing.
I finally make it to the pastor’s conference, it’s under like a thatch roof, people have walked for miles to get there. It’s pastors and their wives. I’m talking to former witch doctors and all kinds of crazy idolatrous temples, surround us in the field. I’ve examined a number of them. You know, I’m pretty freaked out at this point.
I talked to a pastor’s wife who’s a Hindu convert and I asked her, you know, “So what’s your name?” She asked me what’s my name. She says, “Have you ever been to India?” I said, “No, this is my first time.” She said, “How are you liking it?” I was like, “Well, it’s different.” I didn’t know what to say. And then I asked her, “Have you ever been to America?” She said, “Yes.” I said, “Oh, that’s great.” I said, “How long has it been?” She said, “It’s been many years.” I said, “Well, when are you going to come back?” She said, quote, “I don’t think I’ll ever return. I can’t stomach the idolatry.”
I was like, I think the chickens would disagree that we have the idolatry problem. If you polled all the chickens, I would think you have the idolatry problem. And it shocked me and immediately I got defensive like, “Hey, hey, we’re not idolaters.” I’m preaching to a bunch of former witch doctors who know how to kill chickens to make crops grow. If we’re going to do plank/speck, I win, you know? But then, you know, it dawned on me, maybe she’s right. Maybe we see idols in other people’s culture far more easily than we do in our own. Maybe for us it’s recreation or hobby or entertainment or sport, but really it is worship, false worship.
EVERYONE WORSHIPS ALL THE TIME
Since that time, I’ve been thinking about this issue and this brings us to Exodus 20:4–6, where we deal with idolatry. And what I want to do is I want to set some spectacles at the end of your nose, right? And in one lens, I want you to think of idolatry. In the other lens, I want you to think of worship. And I want you, with me, to look at all of your life and all of our culture and all of the world through these two lenses of idolatry or worship. What is worship? Well, Harold Best in this great book “Unceasing Worship,” he says this, “Worship is the continuous outpouring “of all that I am, all that I do, “and all that I can ever become in light of a chosen or choosing God.”
Here’s the big idea: Everyone worships all the time. Atheists are worshipers. Buddhists are worshipers. Agnostics are worshipers. Christians are worshipers. People who are living are worshiping. Everyone who’s living is always worshiping, pouring themselves out for someone or something. That’s what we were made to do. That’s what we always do. The only difference is who or what we worship, when or how we worship. The question is not, do we worship? The question is, is our worship to God or is our worship to something other than God, namely idolatry? That’s why Peter Kreeft, the great philosopher, he says this, he says, “The opposite of Christianity is not atheism, “but idolatry. The opposite of Christianity is not atheism, but idolatry.”
Before we dig into the text—because my fear is if I just open the Bible and say, “3,000 years ago, these silly people bowed down to created things,” you’d say, “Yes, we’re like C.S. Lewis said. “We have chronological snobbery. “Yes, 3,000 years ago, they were very primitive. It’s a good thing we’ve evolved beyond that,” and we won’t see that these are not just timely words for them. They’re timely words for us all. You ready?
Let’s do this. Let’s look at worship in our culture. If you imported a Hebrew from 3,000 years ago to a college football game where people were dressed up like animals, had their faces painted, slaughtered an animal and barbecued it as a sacrifice at the tailgate party and saw them all dressed the same with their arms outstretched trying to affect the outcome of a game like pagan priests who are doing some sort of mantra, would you not assume that they would think that it was a religious gathering? Oh, OK, you feel convicted.
OK, we’ll move on. Malls and shopping centers are now temples, it’s where we go to improve our life and our image. It’s where we go to worship with our wealth. That’s why the biggest, most expensive places are shopping malls.
Let’s keep going. Sometimes we look at one person as a functional savior. We do this around politicians and election years. We put someone up to save us, to be our functional savior. We cheer for them. We vote for them. All of that can be acts of worship or idolatry. We have icons to represent our idols, do we not? Do we not? I know some of you you’re like, “I work at Microsoft.” You’re right, that is an idol, so is your logo, OK? It’s just a different idol.
Here’s what’s interesting about idols: Idols lie. They make promises that they cannot deliver. How many of you have looked at Absolute vodka and thought, Yes, that is the path to freedom? That is the path to freedom. How many of you find that alcohol actually results in slavery? If you drink too much, you’re enslaved by it.
This is the great themes of the Exodus that 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 and to partake to invite alcohol in instead of the Holy Spirit to control us. That’s why the Bible says, “Don’t get drunk, be filled with the Holy Spirit.” This is all counterfeit worship. It’s idolatry. You say, “Well, I shouldn’t have alcohol?” Not for breakfast.
I haven’t gotten in trouble for a while, so I thought I would share this: Yoga is exercise. OK, for some it is, right? Like, “OK, here we go, that helped.” OK, but tell me whether or not that looks like worship. Yes or no? Let’s vote. Yes or no? All in favor? Yeah. All who say no? You’re wrong. OK? Sometimes we worship individuals. We put them up front. We pay big money. We sing along. We follow them on social media. We buy all of their products. We dress like them. We sing like them. We want to be like them. We’ll even say things like, “They’re my idol.” And so we formalize it with a show called “American Idol.” We have idols, right? We all have idols. What does God have to say about this issue of idolatry?
Well, here’s what he says: “No idolatry.” He says it this way in Exodus chapter 20, verse 4—and the context, friends, is this—God has set his people free from slavery to Pharaoh as a nation of a few million. He’s convened them together for a family meeting where he’s a loving father, going to give some advise for his rebellious kids. They’re meeting at the base of Mount Sinai and through Moses, Ten Commandments are given by God. The first one we looked at last week. How many Gods are there? One. And this week we’re going to deal with how to worship that God.
So, the first two commandments are the most important, that’s why they come first and they establish everything else that God is going to teach us from the Ten Commandments and the rest of Scripture. Who we worship and how we worship and both are significant. It’s not enough just to have the right God, you need to worship the right God in the right way, otherwise you can have Jesus as your God and be living as a pagan and committing idolatry and living in the slavery of sin. So it’s having the right God and worshiping the right God the right way.
He starts with a negative, “No idolatry.” And he says it this way, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, “or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, “or that is in the earth underneath or beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”
Here’s what he’s saying: Don’t worship anything, anything up there, anything down there, anything under there. Nowhere are we to find something that becomes for us the object of our worship. And idolatry is this, it’s trying to bring God near to us and trying to bring us near to God so finding someone or something that is mediatorial that helps us get close or, at least, feel closer to God. And in so doing, it opens the door to the demonic because Satan is glad to give you counterfeit signs, wonderers, miracles, experiences, emotional highs to deceive you.
REASONS NOT TO WORSHIP IDOLS
God says, “Do not be deceived. “There’s one God, worship me alone and don’t think “that anyone or anything else will get you closer to me, “give you greater insight to me, greater experience of me, that is idolatry.” Two reasons theologically why we do not worship created things, anything that is made. And when I say worship, think of where your time goes, where your talent goes, where your treasure goes. Think about what you pour your life out to. Think about what consumes the majority of your time. Two reasons we are not to worship idols, created things.
- WE ARE THE IMAGE OF GOD
Number one, we do not worship an image because we are the image of God. See, they were worshiping images and they were not to worship images, they were to be the images of God who worshiped God. It says it this way in Genesis 1:27 when God first made Adam and Eve. God created man in his own image in the what? One of the Ten Commandments is don’t worship an image and here God says, “You’re my image. “In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
I gave you an example of how this works. So this morning you got up and you looked in a what? In a mirror? OK, for some, it was a sad moment, right? I understand. Play the hand you’re dealt, OK? But you get up and you look in the mirror and the mirror does what? Reflects you, OK? God is Spirit and God made us to be his mirrors, to bear his image, to reflect his image. That’s what worship is. Worship is reflecting the goodness and the glory of the God of the Bible. So when we love, when we forgive, when we seek justice and truth, when we are generous, we are reflecting something of the character of the God who made us, that’s what worship is. It’s that who Jesus is would be shown forth in how we live. That’s worship. So he says, “Don’t get an image to worship, be the image that worships.”
- JESUS IS THE IMAGE OF THE GOD
The second question is, OK, if we’re not to worship images, of course, we’re we to be the image of God, then what is the object of our worship? Who or what do we reflect? Where do we go? Well, we go to Jesus. We do not worship an image, but rather Jesus, who is the image of God. And this is an important verse in Colossians 1:15 on this issue of worship versus idolatry. Paul writes that he, that is Jesus, is the image of the invisible God. So in the Ten Commandments when he says, “Don’t make an image.” He says, “You are the image of God, and the image of God is perfectly reflected in Jesus.” That’s why Jesus can say, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” It says that he is the radiance of the Father’s glory.
No one is a more perfect worshiper than Jesus. God cannot be seen anymore clearly than in Jesus, that’s why we don’t look to created things. We don’t look to nature. We don’t look to animals. We don’t like to other people because if you want to see what God looks like, look at Jesus. There’s God, God become a man. And that word there for image is our word for icon.
How many of you grew up in Catholic churches or eastern Orthodox churches and there were icons, of Jesus or of saints? We’re not to have those kinds of icons because Jesus is our icon. The Greek word for “image” is literally “icon.” If you want to see what God looks like, look at Jesus. Amen? That’s what we believe. That’s what we believe. So we’re not to worship created things. We’re to worship the Creator. We’re not to seek images, we’re to be God’s image bearers and we’re to reflect the perfect worshipers, Jesus, who is the image of God, perfectly revealed.
CATHOLIC CHURCH ARTISTRY
That being said, let me do something that’s a bit of an excursus but very practical and I think very important. I was raised Catholic, OK? Long line of Catholic. Southern Irish Catholic as far back as I could trace. Went there with my dad. We’re Catholic as far back as we can find, so much so that my grandma, when my grandfather died, she became a nun. Like we’re really Catholic. I went to Catholic school for a few years, helped the priests with the Mass, right? So how many of you are former Catholics here with me today? How many of you, right? OK, my name is Father Mark, welcome to our Mass. We’re glad to have you. We’ll have Communion in a little bit. You’ll love that.
Let me talk about the second commandment and Catholicism, which I would also include could apply to eastern orthodoxy as well, the Orthodox branch of the Christian faith. So I grew up very, very Catholic and one of the things I loved about the Catholic church was the artistry. I mean the buildings were beautiful, stained glass, icons, paintings, statues, images, candles, incense, super sensory, very beautiful, very beautiful. Some Catholics know Jesus. Some Catholics love Jesus. I wasn’t one of them. I didn’t have a bad experience with the Catholic church. I’m not going to just start railing on Catholics. A lot of my relatives are Catholic and love Jesus, and I’ll be with them together forever in heaven. But God saved me at the age of 19 in college.
Some of you know my story. I was reading the Bible and met Jesus. I was just a kind of moral, religious, spiritual guy up until that point, at least that’s what I thought. I was also, you know, had sin, a lot of it, you know, beating guys up, sleeping with the pastor’s daughter. So I was a good guy. You know anyways, it’s amazing how we all see ourselves.
Then God says, “I see it different.” So then God saved me at 19, and I wanted to go to a Bible-teaching church because the Holy Spirit, when you become a Christian, he just creates an appetite, a hunger in you for the Scriptures. All of a sudden I’m like, I want to learn the Bible, so I’m looking for a church. I find myself visiting Protestant churches. I’ve never really been to Protestant church, only been to Catholic church, but they were going through books of the Bible.
Here’s what I noticed: they were all really plain, not a lot of color, no stained glass, no icons, no images. It was like God was a dentist. It was just pretty, pretty clean, pretty white, pretty straight down the middle. But I kept going because they taught the Bible. And then I started asking, “Well, hey, “how come it looks different than the Catholic churches that I grew up in and visited as a kid?” And they said, “Oh, because the Protestant reformation.” I was like, OK, I gotta figure that out. “Oh, because of the second commandment where we’re at today.”
I start researching it and there were some in the Catholic faith including—and I would say eastern Orthodox faith as well, who they were taking the images and breaking the second commandment. They were taking the paintings, the statues, the icons, and they were using them as objects of worship, not just to help tell the story. That was the whole point of stained glass. I mean, stained glass was the first video screen in the church. It was to show the story of the Bible for illiterate people. Well, that’s not bad. It’s helping them see the storyline of the Bible. But what happened with some of the icons and the paintings and the images and the statues, people started using them for worship, bowing down to them, praying to them.
Here’s what I saw: bringing offerings to them. See, in the pagan world, as long as you feed your God, it blesses you. So anytime you see idolatry, it can even be a small shrine at an ethnic restaurant. Have you seen them? There’s a candle lit, there’s a little home for the deity to come and meet with the people, and they’ll leave fruit or food or money. As long as you feed it, it blesses you. That’s the exchange. This is a God you can manipulate. This is a God you can pay off.
Well, next thing you know, people start bringing the same things to the statues and the icons and the paintings. They’re leaving food. They’re leaving money. They’re lighting candles. It starts to become very pagan. And all of a sudden, there is a confusion between the worship of the Creator and the worship of the created.
Now, maybe some of those people did know and love Jesus and they were abiding by the first commandment. They believed in the one God, but they were violating the second commandment. They were worshiping the right God wrongly. So all of a sudden, the Protestants started breaking stuff, breaking stained glass, breaking statues, breaking icons saying, “We worship only Jesus, and we don’t worship manmade created idolatrous things.”
This leads to Protestantism where the plainness of the architecture is very intentional. It’s very intentional. It’s knowing that the human heart easily drifts toward idolatry and we want, in the church of Jesus Christ, to give every opportunity for God to be worshiped and no one and no thing else.
WHAT ABOUT THE ARTS?
Then, it raises the question, what about the arts? What about creativity? How many of you are arty? You’re kind of arty, right? I am. I was a weird mix growing up. I was an arty jock. I’m like a unicorn, like a—what an unusual species this is. So I played a lot of sports and I painted, sketched, drawed. I liked various medium. I wasn’t great but when I was a kid, I actually won an art contest, had my stuff in a gallery. I like interior design. I got a little bit arty. I haven’t done anything in years, but I have a bit of a creative streak in me.
What does this mean for worship? Does this mean that God doesn’t like creativity? Yes, the Creator is very creative. Right, the heavens declare the glory of God, the Bible says. As we look at the world that God made, we realize that God cares a lot about shape and form and function and color, that’s why we have trees instead of big boxes to clean our air.
That is our God. He is a beautiful God. Our God is a creative God. God made us in his image and likeness and creativity is certainly part of worshiping him, though it can lead us into idolatry if we don’t guard our hearts.
In the Old Testament, for example, in 1 Kings when God gives the directives for the creating of the temple on how he is to be worshiped and where he is to be worshiped, it is filled with page after page after page after page. Here’s what you do with the fabrics and these kinds of wood and these kinds of precious metals and here are the dimensions and here are the paintings and here are the colors, and it’s very beautiful. It’s very artistic.
ARTISTRY CAN LEAD TO IDOLATRY
Worshiping God in beauty and in creativity is not in and of itself idolatry, but let me say this, and I give you this word for those of you who are creative, those of you who are artistic, for those of who that, perhaps, have a Catholic background, for those who are going to hear this in New Mexico where Catholic idolatry has been syncretized with native spirituality, that sometimes artistry can lead to idolatry. And I think, in particular, four ways.
- WHEN WE CLAIM TO BE MEDIATORIAL
Number one, artistry becomes idolatry when we claim it is mediatorial. We’re still working off of the practical implications of the second commandment. See, 1 Timothy 2:5 says there’s one mediator between us and God. Who’s that? Jesus. Nothing mediates between us and God. Anytime that artistry is said to be mediatorial, it is functioning in a way that is idolatry.
I’ll give you some examples. How many of you have many even done this or said this, you walk into, let’s say, a religious building, all right—a church or a mosque or a synagogue—and it’s beautiful, it’s amazing. You say, “I feel so close to God here.” Idolatry. What you’ve just said is, “The building brought me closer to God.” The building can’t get you any closer to God than Jesus has already gotten you. Understand that? You can walk in and say, “This is a beautiful building and I really enjoy this space.” That’s OK. You walk in and say in a massive cathedral, “Man, the architecture really reminds me of the sovereignty of God.” Is that OK? Yeah, that’s fine. You walk into an ancient cathedral and they’re made in the shape of the cross. You walk in and say, “Oh, the architecture reminds me of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.” Is that OK?
But don’t say, “When I’m here, I feel closer to God.” Sometimes a well-meaning but theologically understudied worship leader will say it this way, “Welcome to our church, “and today it’s my great pleasure to usher you into the presence of God.” Ooh, now you’re a pagan priest, with a guitar.
What you’re saying is that the music will get you closer to God. Now we’re not worshiping God, we’re worshiping worship. We’re worshiping song. We’re worshiping the experience that we receive from the sounds that we hear. Is it OK to say, “I love to sing because I love Jesus. I love to hear God’s people sing.” “‘God inhabits the Bible,’ says the praises of his people. “I feel God’s presence, not through the music, “but the music helps to awaken my emotions “and affections and my heart toward God, “but I know that I am close to God because of Jesus, not because of the music.”
- WHEN ANY ATTEMPT IS MADE TO SHOW GOD THE FATHER
Number two, artistry becomes idolatry when any attempt is made to show God the Father. The Bible says that God is not a man. Jesus says that God the Father is Spirit, doesn’t inhabit a physical body. The Lord Jesus entered into a physical body to come and live without sin, to die for our sin and to rise as our Savior to be that perfect God-man mediator to mediate between men and God. But God the Father does not occupy a physical body. And anytime there’s an attempt to show God the Father, in a created thing, it’s idolatry.
Let me ask you this: in a lot of common artwork, how is God the Father depicted? Like an old man. OK, is God an old man? No, he’s not a man. I don’t even think he’s old. G.K. Chesterton rightly said that we grow old because we sin. And God has never sinned, so he might be younger than us all. Something wrong happens when we think that the eternal, timeless God is old and something wrong happens when we project on God an image of an old man. The Bible says he’s a father, but God cannot be depicted as an old man. So anytime that there is a painting or a portrait or a picture of God the Father, let’s say standing in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, that’s idolatry.
- WHEN THERE IS CONFUSION BETWEEN THE CREATOR AND THE CREATED
Number three, artistry becomes idolatry when there is confusion between the Creator and the created. This is what Romans 1:25 says, “They worshiped and served created things rather than “the Creator God who’s forever praised. Amen.” Of these people he says, they exchange the truth of God for the lie. The truth is there’s the Creator, the created. God created us to worship the Creator.
Idolatry is what happens when we worship the created, sex, money, fame, glory, power, prestige, whatever the case may be, instead of the Creator. This is common in Wicca. This is common in Pantheism and Panentheism, and there are some Christian—Christian, I use that term loosely, schools and seminaries that have drifted toward Pantheism and Panentheism that all is God or God is in all, that the Creator and the created are all one. There’s not this distinction and separation.
This is very common in Native American spirituality. It’s very common in Native American spirituality. And you’ll hear this from people who are also radical environmentalists. They’ll say, “We worship—we worship Mother Earth, not Father God.” It’s very common. And the most common thing we worship is ourselves, created things. It’s a pet peeve of mine but some of you will think that.
Here’s what happens, with younger, newer, Christians: they get really excited about old worship practices because they think it’s more avant-garde and hip and cool, right? These are the same people who wear their grandparents’ clothes. They’re looking for anything that’s vintage. Just because something is old, doesn’t mean it’s good. It may be pagan. You need to be discerning.
What you’ll see at some churches, it’s actually fairly common especially in mainline liberal, you know, less Bible-believing teaching churches. It’s something called a prayer labyrinth. You seen these? They actually say, “We have a prayer labyrinth.” What is that? Oh, let me tell you since you asked and I’m glad to do that for you. So the way a prayer labyrinth works, they’ll build a beautiful ornate garden, kind of running water, some trees, get all your feng shui shuied away. Get it all set up, right?
The way the prayer labyrinth works, it’s a circle and you’re supposed to meditate and think and be quiet. And it’s this prayerful inward introspection and contemplation where you walk in a circle slowly until you’re standing at the center of the circle, as an act of worship. It’s pagan to the core. Because what it’s saying is the way you grow is by the self-turning in on the self.
The essence of spiritual enlightenment is to have yourself at the center of your spiritual existence. Martin Luther rightly said that “Sin is the self bending in on the self.” This is the path to damnation, not salvation. The path to salvation, if we’re going to do a prayer labyrinth, I would tell you start in the middle and walk out, right? “I am a sinner. I need to get out of myself. “I need to get out of my life. “I need to walk away from me being the center so that God can be the center.”
- WHEN WORSHIP IS NO LONGER WORD BASED
Number four, artistry becomes idolatry when the gathered worship of God’s people is no longer word based. What happens is that people will get rid of the word for images and experiences, and they go together. Thank you for letting me preach the Bible, thank you. I love the fact that I get to preach the Bible. You sitting there and listening is an act of worship. It’s an act of worship. It’s submitting to authority and it’s hearing the word of God. The center of our service is the word of God. For us, this means that, that we think in terms of the word of God of the totality of Scripture, that the world came into being because God spoke it into being by his word.
One of the first things that God does to our first parents is he speaks to them. When they sin, he speaks to them again. He sends priests on his behalf to speak his word to them. He sends prophets over and over to speak on his behalf to his rebellious people. He sends the apostles to write down for us the veritable words of God. And faith comes by hearing what? The word of God. Faith does not come by seeing the painting. Faith does not come by pondering the icon. Faith does not come by hearing the song. Faith comes by hearing the word of God.
We’re a word-centered church. We’re a Jesus-centered church. We’re a Bible-centered church. And what happens is the church drifts toward pagan idolatry, all of a sudden, the preaching of God’s word gets diminished and set off to the side. Next thing you know it’s like, “Well, this week we’re just going to gather “in a circle and talk and see what everyone thinks. “Or this week, we’re going to have “people painting on the sides “and giving us their opinion and expression of God, “and we want you to look at those and ponder them. “Or this week, we’re going to look at the icons and meditate. “Or this week, we’re going to not have any preaching and we’re going to go serve the community,” which could be a wonderful and good thing if it’s guided and led by the preaching of the word.
Anytime a church drifts away from the preaching of the word of God, it is drifting toward idolatry and the violation of the second commandment. It’s true, that’s why even sometimes people come along, they’re like, “Why are the sermons so long?” Because the book is so good.
NO SAVING FAITH THROUGH ART OR EXPERIENCE
This does not mean that paintings like Rembrandt that take Bible stories and illustrate them are bad. They can actually be helpful. But here’s the big idea: No one can come to saving faith in Jesus Christ through art or experience. It has to be through the word of God. You can’t look at a painting. You can’t hike in the mountains. You can’t walk through a stream. You can’t listen to the band and know that Jesus is God, fully God, fully man, lived a perfect human life that we have not lived, died substitutionary death that we should have died, rose to conquer Satan, sin, death, hell, and the wrath of God and that apart from repentance of sin and faith in him, there is eternal damnation. You can’t get that by having an emotional experience with a piece of artwork. Amen? Somebody has to explain that to you. That’s why it’s good news. News has to be said. News has to be communicated. News has to be articulated. So God’s people are to be word based.
There is always a flip side with the commandments. He’ll say, “Don’t commit idolatry,” so the answer is worship. He’ll say, “Don’t commit adultery,” so the answer is be faithful to your spouse. There’s always a flip side to the commands. The flip side to the second commandment is worship the Creator, not the created. Exodus 20:5, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them.”
What I want to do now is I want to look at your functional, actual worship. Some of you may come in here and say, “I’m OK. I worship Jesus.” You may think you worship Jesus, you may be a Christian, but let’s examine your worship and see whether Jesus really is the object of your worship.
What he says here, it’s two things: submission and service. So who do you submit to? What do you submit to? What rules and authority in your life? And if it’s you, you worship yourself. The created thing you worship is the person you greet in the mirror every morning, because you’re the highest authority in your life and you decide what’s right and wrong. Who or what do you submit to and who or what or where do you serve? Where does your time go? Where does your money go? Where does your heart go? As we examine, we can laugh a all the cultural idols, but we need to be deadly serious about our personal idols. And again idolatry is always more clearly seen in them than in me.
Let me share with you why idols historically are popular. They’re indulgent. They’re indulgent. Oftentimes with idolatry, you drink all you want. You eat all you want. You carouse all you want. There are no limits. It’s very indulgent. It’s also very desirable. Idolatry is where you can be in control. That you can tell the god or goddesses or spirit realm what you want and you can manipulate them to get what you want.
Who doesn’t want to be in charge? Who doesn’t want to be in control? Who doesn’t want to get rich? Who doesn’t want to be healthy? Who doesn’t want to be successful? Who doesn’t want to be comfortable? It’s very desirable to be the one who establishes your future and then recruits some spiritual deity to bring it to light.
In addition, very ornate. As I talked about it, the temples around the world are glorious, they’re beautiful, and this is the case historically as well. The lighting, the color, the architecture, it’s magnificent. How many of you are really arty and honestly, this is a temptation for you?
I’ve seen people leave Jesus-preaching, Bible-preaching, theologically robust churches to go to somewhere that is bordering on heretical because the architecture and the experience connected with their artistic giftedness. Man, there’s nothing cooler than a concert. There’s nothing more exciting than a sporting event. There’s nothing more intriguing than the perfectly set up mall where the worshipers walk around and tithe to their gods and goddesses. It’s also likable, just super popular. Festivals, holidays, you get dressed up, kind of like we do, parties, celebrations and traditions.
What happened in that day and it happens in our day is, “Well, it’s not idolatry. That’s Halloween. “That’s not idolatry. That’s Cinco de Mayo,” which is Hispanic for drunk, I guess. You know—it’s, you know, it’s not—that’s not a religious thing. That’s Mardi Gras. We create holidays that compel us toward pagan revelry, drinking too much, eating too much, dressing up, pretending to be someone we’re not, maybe even taking on the image of a created thing like an animal or a bird, going out and cavorting and carousing, and it’s really—everybody likes it. “You’re against that?”
It’s very simple. It’s very convenient. You could take your god with you, there’s one nearby. It’s very convenient. It’s very simple, not like the God of the Bible who makes you examine your heart, repent of your sin and learn some things. It’s not like that. You get what you want. All you gotta do is just be a little bit spiritual and then you get what you want. It’s very simple.
We’re idolaters, right? Are you with me? Have I made my case? And idolatry leads to slavery, that’s why people are addicted, perverted, indebted.
See, idols lie. They promise things that only God can deliver and they do so to enslave us, and that’s why the worship of God is so important because that alone free us.
IF YOU IDOLIZE, YOU WILL DEMONIZE
Let me ask you a few things. Let me first give you a few statements to help you find your idol. An idol lives in our heart before it escapes into our lives. Martin Luther, the great reformer, said, “That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your god.” An idol is a good thing, family, marriage, health, GPA, income. An idol is a good thing that becomes a god thing, which makes it a bad thing. An idol is something that keeps you up at night and gets you up in the morning. An idol is anyone or anything that replaces Jesus at the center of your life. An idol is any created thing that takes the Creator’s place in your life. An idol is what you turn to instead of God to get what you want.
If you idolize, you will demonize. The great American theologian Jonathan Edwards articulated this, if you idolize your job, eventually you’ll demonize your job, you’ll hate it. If you idolize your spouse, eventually you will demonize your spouse and hate them.
Do you ever wonder why in our culture, there will be certain politicians, celebrities, business leaders, whatever the case might be, there’s this roaring surge of worshipful approval? We idolize them.
Then, when they fail because their name isn’t Jesus, what do we do to them? We demonize them. We vilify them. We criticize them. We hate them. How many of you this has happened to you, somebody idolized you, you failed them, they demonized you? How many of us have done it to someone else? If you idolize or worship someone or something, invariably, you will demonize that person or thing. One more thing, don’t let idol hunting become your idol.
See, immediately some of you are tender conscience, you’re very serious. You’re introspective. You do love the Lord. You want to get it right, so immediately you’ll become absolutely, “Oh, my gosh, where are my idols? “What’s in my heart? What am I living for? “Why do I get up in the morning? “How do I spend my money? What motivates me? What drives me?” You know what? You’re still all about you. You’re still not about Jesus and other people.
Jesus said the whole point of the law is that we would love God and love our neighbor. So at some point you’ve got to stop looking at yourself and get out to Jesus and get out to some other people. What happens with some people is they become very dark. All of a sudden, for them, the mark of true spirituality is finding idolatry.
Historically, there are people, who, in an effort to help atone for their own sin, would harm themselves. They would remove from themselves any sort of pleasure. It’s blasphemous. Saying, “You know, when Jesus said it was finished, “he was wasn’t talking to me. “He didn’t suffer for my sin. “I need to suffer for my sin too. I need to help little Jesus out with my forgiveness.” Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t obsess. Don’t spend your whole life looking for your idols, OK? When the Holy Spirit shows you one, smash it. If there’s somebody you love and you see it in their life, lovingly approach them.
But here’s the deal: we’re all going to have idols. They’re going to show up. John Calvin, the great Bible teacher, said that the human heart is an idol factory. We’re going to make some. But don’t obsess over this. All right, the worse you feel does not necessarily mean the holier you are. So the answer is not to make idol hunting your idol, but to make Jesus the object of your worship. The way out of idolatry is worship. You’re made to worship. We’re all going to worship. So if we worship Jesus, that sets us free from the idols and sin and it liberates us to live the life that God intends for us, the one of true freedom.
The last question is, why is worship better than idolatry? Here’s how he says it: Exodus 20:5 and 6, “For I the LORD your God.” OK, alcohol is not your God. Sex isn’t your God. Fame isn’t your God. Pleasure isn’t your God. Your spouse isn’t your God. Your children are not your God. 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 or other people’s opinion, they are not the Lord. They’re not the sovereign. They’re not in control. They’re not in charge. He is.
A JEALOUS GOD
He says this, “For I the LORD your God am a jealous God.” Idols are not jealous. Idols will let you worship anyone, everyone and everything because behind them are Satan and demons and as long as they can enslave you, they don’t care how it happens. But the one true God is jealous and he loves to set people free. “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers”—How many fathers in the house? Pay special attention, dads. “On the children to the third and fourth generation of those who, hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands”—and that’s thousands of generations—“of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
First of all, God is a jealous God. Praise God he’s jealous. Anytime I meet a couple and she says he’s committing adultery and she says he’s—you know they’re committing adultery. “How do you feel about that?” “You know, we’re OK with it. It doesn’t bother us.” You don’t love each other, because love is exclusive. Love is very exclusive. God doesn’t say, “Well, you can have me and other gods and other goddesses and other religions and other spiritualities.” You know, because on CNN they keep talking about tolerance and diversity and we looked at multiculturalism and pluralism, you know, in community college and it’s just good to be open to everything.
God says, no, no, it’s like a marriage relationship. God’s like a groom. His people are like a bride and idolatry is adultery. And God doesn’t like when his wife is out whoring around. Some say, “I don’t whore around. I just do a little Buddhism.” It’s whoring around. It’s whoring around, OK? So you say, “Boy, that’s pretty emotional.” Welcome to love.
If Grace brought a boyfriend over for dinner, it would be anything but indifference that would be experienced in my home, all right? Because love is exclusive, and love is passionate, and love is jealous, and love is like a marriage. And God is like a husband, and his people are like a bride that he loves. Imagine, ladies, on your wedding day, walking down the aisle to your fiance with your boyfriend, OK? If he didn’t have any emotional reaction, he should never be your husband. He doesn’t care. God is a jealous God like that.
CONSEQUENCES FOR IDOLATERS
Number two, there are consequences for idolaters, that God will visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation. How many of you, this makes sense? We hear the analogy like mother like daughter, like father like son. If you read this, you say, “Well, so the one generation sinned and God punished “three or four generations? That’s not just.” You’re inferring that the third and fourth generation weren’t just like their parents.
He says, “All those who hate me.” He was taking 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 of flourishing. That’s not a life of freedom because that’s not a life of faith. It leads to death.
How many of you, this has been the issue in your family, the same stupid thing for generations? The same foolish, rebellion, spirituality, idolatry, addiction for generations. That’s the consequence. Our kids become like us. Our grandkids become like us. Our great grandkids become like us. And for some of us growing old is not a joyful occasion because we get to see our sin magnified and amplified generationally to our misery.
THE GOOD NEWS OF A FATHER’S STEADFAST LOVE
But here’s the good news: “But showing”—what? Steadfast love, patient love, gracious love, a father’s love to thousands of generations. Isn’t it beautiful that the punishment will go three or four generations, but the blessing can go to a thousand? It tells you 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. Who—what’s the key? “Love me.” That’s what commandment? The first commandment. “And keep my commandments,” which is the second commandment, worship God alone.
How many of you, your parents, your grandparents, they were godly and there has been God’s blessing and favor on your family? You’re like, “Yeah, they stayed married. “They love each other. It’s not perfect. I learned about Jesus. We prayed together.” Continue that legacy of faith, amen? How many of you never had that legacy of faith and you’re like, “I don’t understand the people who’s like, ‘Yeah, “‘my parents love Jesus, my grandparents love Jesus and I don’t.’” What? You’re living under all the blessings of the people who love God and God’s grace to them and you have no gratitude for it. You have no sense of commitment to it. How many of you, you look at your family history in line and you say, “A bunch of idolaters, “a bunch of functional pagans and a bunch of misery and sadness”?
Here’s the answer: love God, keep his commandments because God wants to bless you, and he wants to bless your kids, and he wants to bless your grandkids, and he wants to bless your great grandkids. For how many generations? A thousand generations. This is the Father heart of God. He loves his children, and 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. So guess what we’re going to do now. We’re going to worship Jesus. You’re listening to the word of God, that’s an act of worship.
Here’s the big idea: The pagan gods demand that you make a sacrifice. The real God offers himself as the sacrifice. In addition, we’re going to sing. We don’t worship music. We worship God through song. And so as we sing together, it’s an act of corporate collective worship and it is us together crying out to God as Father and asking him to help us to live lives of worship.
Because here’s the 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, and God wants that freedom for your family, and God wants that freedom for your legacy. And I would encourage you this week, study the word of God.
Worship is not just a Christian activity; it’s a human activity. All people are always worshiping—atheists, agnostics, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, etc. The question is never, “Do you worship?” rather, “Who, where, why, and how do you worship?” Entertainment, sports, tradition, family, finances, vocation, school—we think it’s just the way we do life when, in fact, these could be our gods. This sermon examines the way we divest our energy—in worship or in idolatry.