************ Catechism Sermon on Lord's Day 34 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on April 29, 2018

Lord's Day 34
Deuteronomy 6
"The Sin of Idolatry"

Many people don't understand why Christians keep some of the laws we find in the Old Testament and not others. Even some churches get confused on this point. That's because they don't distinguish between the three kinds of laws given by God at Mount Sinai.

First, God gave the civil law. The civil law is the law which governed Old Testament Israel as a nation set apart by God to be His own people. Since Israel was largely an agrarian society many of these laws regulated farming, livestock, the sowing of seed, boundary stones, and so on. Now that the church is the people of God the civil law no longer applies.

Second, God gave the ceremonial law. The ceremonial law governed Israel's worship. For example, God gave detailed instructions on the tabernacle, the priesthood, different kinds of sacrifices, and the observance of feast days. The New Testament tells us all these instructions and regulations find their fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ; they are but shadows while Jesus is the real deal. Therefore there is no more need for the ceremonial law. Indeed, we must not use the ceremonial law for that would be a step backwards into the shadows (Col 2:16-17; Heb 8:5; 10:1).

Third, God gave the moral law, what we know as the Ten Commandments. Those standing at Mount Sinai right away knew this law was unique. Because before this law was pronounced from the mountain, Israel was given three days to cleanse herself and to properly prepare. A barrier was put around the mountain so no person or animal could touch it. There was thunder and lightning, a thick cloud, trumpet blasts, smoke, an earthquake. And, the Ten Commandments was uttered by God Himself to the people; whereas the civil law and ceremonial law was given to Moses to say to the people.

The moral law is the only law that still applies today. As was the case with Israel, it is a rule of gratitude. It states how we are to thank God for His salvation. We do not keep the law to be saved but because we are saved. We keep the law because we have been redeemed by Jesus Christ.

We continue our study of sound doctrine today by looking at the first commandment. The first four commandments especially deal with worship:
-The first: Who do we worship?
-The second: How do we worship?
-The third: What about the name of the God we worship?
-The fourth: When do we worship?
But, as we will find out, worship involves all of life and not just what we do when we gather together.

When it comes to worship, the first commandment warn us against the sin of idolatry. Perhaps you think idolaters are only found in pagan lands or Roman Catholic churches. I want you to see that you and I are also idolaters. I want you to see that the thankful life requires us -- as the song puts it -- to "break down every idol."

I What Idolatry Is
A In the first commandment God says, "You shall have no other gods before me."

This commandment makes a number of assumptions. It assumes there is one God. It assumes this one God is the LORD God almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth. It assumes this one God covenanted with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It assumes this one God brought His people out of the slavery of Egypt. This one God does not know of any other gods. As He says through the prophet Isaiah,
(Isa 43:10-11) Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. (11) I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior.

This truth -- that God alone is God -- was hammered into the head of every Jew from childhood on. Every single day every single pious Jewish household recited the words of our Bible reading:
(Deut 6:4) Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

In that time and place this truth of a single God was a unique confession because most nations served a number of gods. And, most nations would never dream of claiming their god was the only god. For example, think of what the Apostle Paul said on his visit to Athens:
(Acts 17:22-23) "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. (23) For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD."
The people of Athens had all of their bases covered. Not only did they have a god for everything, they even had an altar to an unknown god, just in case they had left one out.

In contrast to this, the LORD God almighty says, "You shall have no other gods before me." The God we worship, congregation, is the only God and does not tolerate any rivals.

B "You shall have no other gods before me." According to the Catechism, when we break this commandment we commit the sin of idolatry. The word "idolatry" causes more than one person to confuse the second commandment with the first commandment. The first commandment forbids idolatry. The second commandment forbids idol-making.

In Q & A 95 the Heidelberg Catechism gives us a definition of idolatry.
Idolatry is having or inventing something in which one trusts in place of or alongside of the only true God, who has revealed himself in his Word.
An idolater has "another god" before Jehovah. Not only Deuteronomy 6 -- but the whole book of Deuteronomy -- warns against the idolatry forbidden by the first commandment.

We see the sin of idolatry among the Egyptians at the time of the Exodus. They worshiped the powers of nature: sun, Nile, alligators, agriculture, and so on. But what did God do? In the plagues He demonstrated His power over the gods of Egypt. For instance, the Egyptians depended on the flooding of the Nile to produce crops and credited this annual event to the god Hapi. But what did God do to the Nile? He showed His power over Hapi when He turned the water of the Nile into blood. The plague of darkness demonstrated God's sovereignty over the Sun-god. God similarly showed His power over the gods of Egypt with the plagues of frogs, gnats, boils, flies, hail, and locusts. In the plagues God attacked the gods of Egypt and declared He is the one only true God.

C Most people in Western culture today might smile or scoff at the confrontation between God and the gods of Egypt as something primitive and backwards. Yet, make no mistake about it, people in Western culture also practice idolatry and therefore break the first commandment about no other gods.

Let me start with the forms of idolatry mentioned by the Catechism: magic, superstitious rites, prayer to saints and other creatures. It is idolatry to look to any of these instead of calling upon the name of God.

I can also identify some modern forms of idolatry. Let me break them down into three different categories.

First, there is the idolatry of atheism. Atheists make the claim they do not worship any god. This is actually impossible because everyone has something that they worship. So-called atheists worship human reason, science, or something in creation while refusing to acknowledge the existence of the one only true God. And when an atheist is in trouble he will worship medical science or technology or family but he will not trust God.

Second, there is what I call the idolatry of practical atheism. These people know God, they claim to believe in Him, but they live like He does not exist. God is in charge of their religion but daily life is ruled by the gods of career, possessions, greed, money, self-esteem, family, friends, entertainment, fashion, science, politics, pleasure, and so on. Most people in America probably fit into this category.

Third, there is the idolatry of religious pluralism. This form of idolatry worships the one only true God and other gods too. He or she has no problem with worshiping in a church on Sunday and a mosque on Friday or with being Hindu for a day. This kind of idolatry is popular among interfaith groups.

D The warning against the idolatry forbidden by the first commandment is rooted in God's intimate relationship of covenant love with His people. That's why in almost every verse of our Scripture reading God is called "your God" or "our God." That's why Deuteronomy 6 calls us to love God and be devoted to Him. That's why the sound doctrine of the Catechism also gives us a call to love and discipleship.
That I sincerely acknowledge
the only true God,
trust him alone,
look to him for every good thing
humbly and patiently,
love him, fear him, and honor him
with all my heart.

This love which God demands is like the love of a wife for her husband. In a marriage relationship no rival can be tolerated. No husband allows his wife to bring another man into the relationship. Similarly, God does not tolerate any rival. He cannot watch unconcerned as His people worship Baal or money or pleasure or power.
(Deut 6:13-15) Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. (14) Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; (15) for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.

Did you notice that Deuteronomy 6 calls us to teach love and devotion for God to our children. We do this by making God so much a part of our life that there is never a time when our children do not see our walk with God. There is something seriously wrong with the Christian who can talk about politics, sports, hobbies, shopping, vacations, cows, and crops but never talks to his children about God. This is how our Bible reading puts it:
(Deut 6:5-9) Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (6) These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. (7) Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (8) Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. (9) Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

E "You shall have no other gods before me." Do not commit idolatry. Instead, love God. And, teach your children to love God.

But God's people so easily forget. God's people so easily fail to remember. That's why Deuteronomy warns God's people nine times not to forget. That's why Deuteronomy warns God's people sixteen times to remember. Listen to verse 12:
(Deut 6:12) be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
As proof, look at the golden calf. It was made within sight of Mount Sinai. It was made within days of the Ten Commandments being given. See how quick the people forgot? See how quick they failed to remember?

II What Idolatry Requires
A "You shall have no other gods before me."

Our calling is to "avoid and shun all idolatry." This requires self-examination, honest self-examination. So let me give you some questions which help you examine yourself for idolatry:
1. On what are the majority of my thoughts; what is the focus of my heart?
2. Do I expend energy on my relationship with God or do I expend energy only on hobbies and entertainment?
3. On what do I spend my money: just myself and my pleasures or do I give generously to the church and Kingdom?

This examination is painful because we all will discover idolatry in our hearts. And then we have the even more painful task of breaking down every idol. As the song-writer puts it:
The dearest idol I have known,
whate'er that idol be,
help me to tear it from thy throne
and worship only thee.
("Oh, for a Closer Walk with God")

B We need to do this. We must do this. Notice why: "That I, not wanting to endanger my very salvation ..." You might think this is an overstatement. It isn't! Idolatry is a sin which brings the idolater to hell! Why can I say this? How can I say this? Because when I worship another god in place of the one only true God, I leave the God of my salvation. When I worship another god in place of the one only true God, I leave the God Who delivered Israel from the bondage of Egypt. When I worship another god in place of the one only true God, I leave the God Who loves us and saves us in Jesus Christ. When I don't worship only the God of the Bible, I leave the only God Who saves.

C This is hard. Is this ever hard to do. It is so hard to avoid and shun our idols. It is hard to get rid of our idols because they are so near and so dear. Because we don't want to give them up. And, it is hard to love God with all our heart and soul and strength.

The only solution to our sin of idolatry is Christ. Christ is the only man Who perfectly kept the first commandment. Christ is the only man Who never ever served and worshiped another god. Christ is the only man Who loved God with all His heart and soul and strength. Christ is the only man Who never set His affections on anyone or anything else.

So remember what God does? Our sin -- including our sin of idolatry -- is transferred to Christ. And Christ's righteousness -- including His love for the Father -- is transferred to us. So it is as if we have never committed idolatry. So it is as if we have perfectly loved God above all.

Furthermore, to obey the first commandment, we need the power of Christ. Remember what His power does? In union with Jesus we have the dying away of the old self -- the old self that loves its idolatry. In union with Jesus we have the coming-to-life of the new self -- the new self that wants to love God with all its heart and soul and strength.

So I say, "Idolater, come to Christ. Come to Christ and seek cleansing in His blood. Come to Christ and live by His power. Come to Christ and cast out your idolatries. Come to Christ and begin to love God above all."
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