************ Catechism Sermon on Lord's Day 35 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 6, 2018
Lord's Day 35
"The Second Commandment"
Last week sound doctrine told us that the first four commandments deal with worship.
1. Who do we worship?
2. How do we worship?
3. The name of the God we worship.
4. When do we worship?
Today we look at what the second commandment says about the how of worship. We discover three answers.
I Worship the Resurrected and Ascended Christ
A How do we worship? First, we need to answer this question in light of Ascension Day. On Ascension Day we remember Jesus ascended into heaven and was seated at the right hand of God the Father. Realize, congregation, that the ascension of Jesus impacts our worship. Realize that the ascension of Jesus effects how we answer the question asked by the second commandment.
How do we worship? What stands out when we look at the disciples in our Scripture reading? That they worship Jesus as the risen and ascended Lord (Lk 24:52)! This is the first time the disciples worship Jesus. Before this they are astounded and astonished. Before this they marvel about Him. Before this He surprises them. But now that He is the resurrected and ascended Lord they recognize that Jesus, with the Father in heaven, is worthy of worship. It takes the resurrection and ascension to make the disciples praise His greatness and power and glory and majesty and splendor. It takes the resurrection and ascension to make the disciples acknowledge everything in heaven and earth is His. It takes the resurrection and ascension to make the disciples praise His kingdom rule (cf 1 Chron 29:10-13).
The Apostle John was granted a vision of Jesus in heaven. It was a glorious vision. Jesus' head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance (cf Rev 1:14-16; 19:12). Remember what John did? He fell at his feet as though dead (cf Rev 1:14-17). The resurrected and ascended Lord is awesome in His glory. So John falls down in worship and awe.
How do we worship? As we celebrate Ascension Day we worship God in Christ. Our worship is Christ-centered.
B How do we worship? Let me give three critiques of worship today.
First, so much of what passes for worship today is man-centered worship. So much of what passes for worship today attempts to please man. So many churches today have seeker-sensitive worship services: they say what they think the unbeliever wants to hear; they do what they think the unbeliever wants to do. Worship is geared towards getting the unbeliever in instead of raising the eyes of people to heaven where Jesus is seated at the right hand of God.
Second, so much of what passes for worship today is nothing but entertainment. A couple of years ago, I read an article in "Christianity Today" magazine about Bethel Church in Redding, California. We decided to drop in for worship. Under the spotlight there was a Praise Team on the stage, the lights over the congregation were off, strobe lights were on, an older woman wearing a cowboy hat was dancing in the aisle, and most of the people stood and simply listened. This part of the service was like being at a rock concert. Entertainment rather than Christ-centered worship. The message was some self-help gospel; Jesus was mentioned only in passing.
Try to imagine what this mind-set would have looked like some 2000 years ago:
-Jesus would sell tickets to the feeding of the 5,000.
-Paul would entertain the crowds rather than preach to them.
-Barnabas' title would be minister of entertainment rather than minister of encouragement.
-James would beg money for "tickle the ear and emotion programs."
-Peter would peddle his "Feed My Sheep" seminars.
Churches today try to bring ministry, music, business, and entertainment together, and in so doing, they've lost the integrity and true meaning of worship.
Third, so much of what passes for worship today is self-centered. You see, it is but a small step from man-centered worship to self-centered worship. Young people in Catechism Class or Pastor's Class always give me a blank stare when I mention Robert Schuller and the Crystal Cathedral. I am embarrassed to admit he started his ministry in a Reformed church. He was a guest speaker at a conference I attended. One of his most famous quotes: "The Reformation erred in that it was God-centered rather than man-centered." He told us "man's greatest need is for self-esteem." Not salvation, not forgiveness, not a relationship with God, but self-esteem.
In self-centered worship, pastors must treat each person as though he or she is the main attraction on Sunday morning. Sermons must give the impression that God exists for the happiness and pleasure of the people seated in the pew. People come to church to get something rather than to give something. They come to feel good about themselves or to improve their marriage or to become successful instead of coming to bring praise, thanksgiving, worship, and service to Christ.
It is self-centered worship that causes people to exclaim, "I don't get anything out of it." But that is not the main thing. That is never the main thing. The main thing is that God is glorified.
I've told you before about my cycling friend who always asks, "How is the preaching business?" And then, "What are you preaching on?" I told him I am talking about true worship this morning. Though he doesn't attend worship, he right away understood that our worship must center on Jesus.
How do we worship? We worship God in Christ. We worship the resurrected and ascended Christ.
II Worship Without Images of God
A How do we worship? The second answer is that we worship without any images of God. There are at least three reasons for saying this.
First, the Bible tells us God is Spirit. He is not material substance. He is not flesh and blood. He is not solid, liquid, or gas. He has no shape or color. In Deuteronomy 4, Moses reminds Israel that the day God gave the Ten Commandments out of the fire, they heard the sound of words but saw no form (Deut 4:12). Of course they saw no form because -- as I already said -- God is Spirit. Which means we cannot see Him. Which further means it is impossible to make a visible representation of Him. It is impossible to draw Him, paint Him, sculpt Him, or make a movie about Him.
Second, we cannot make an image of God because God is too glorious and too majestic to be represented by an image. Whatever image man makes of God shows God as being less than He is. Whatever image man makes of God therefore insults God and dishonors God.
Third, we cannot make an image of God because God is a jealous God. That God is jealous means that He guards His honor and tolerates no rivals to His love and devotion. The worship of all creatures belongs to God and God alone. Therefore, God is even jealous when His image is worshiped.
B How do we worship? Do you realize that the second commandment is even concerned about our mental images of God? God does not permit us to form an image of Him in our minds which is contrary to or beyond what He has revealed to us in His Word.
C God commanded no images of Himself when we worship. So when God commanded the construction of Solomon's Temple, He insisted there be no representations of Himself (1 Ki 6:16-18). As the sound doctrine of the Catechism puts it,
God can not and may not
be visibly portrayed in any way.
We see this prohibition so clearly in the golden calf made by Israel while Moses was with God on Mount Sinai. This was not meant to be another god. Rather, it was meant to represent the one only true God. Remember what was said about the golden calf? "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt" (Ex 32:4). Remember what God did? Three thousand in Israel were killed by the sword and the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did. Remember what Moses did? He was so angry he threw the tablets of the law out of his hands, breaking them; and, he ground the golden calf into powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.
How do we worship? Not by making any image of God. Not by bowing to a statue of Jesus.
III Worship Without Images
A How do we worship? The third answer is that we don't use any idol-images in our worship of God (cf Deut 4:15-19).
Those who worship the one only true God do not worship like the heathen do. The heathen use idol images in their worship to manipulate god. Our God is sovereign. Our God is almighty. We cannot control Him. Rather, He controls us. If He chooses, He may withhold our breath; if He likes, we may become poor. Death may come upon us unexpectedly, or sudden wealth may become our lot in life. But all of this is determined by God and not by man manipulating an image of God.
B This might surprise you: the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church has never said it is allowable to worship images. Why, then, are Roman Catholic churches filled with images and statues? The Catechism answers this when it says "images were permitted in the churches as teaching aids for the unlearned." As Thomas Aquinas put it in the 13th century, "men are more easily moved by what they see than by what they hear or read." Or, to put it another way, the chief defense of images was that they provided instruction for those who could not read. This is how images slipped into the church and its worship.
Is this any different than those in the Protestant world who say that the written Word is not enough? Such people and churches use this argument to justify such bizarre, unscriptural rituals as holy laughter, holy vomit, staggering and swooning because one is drunk in the Spirit, going through the motions of childbirth to "birth" a new ministry, and a variety of other manifestations. Bethel Church in Redding claims that angel feathers and gold dust come down during the service -- and when I left the service I made sure my pockets were full of both.
Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (TACF) has long been promoting a so-called gift of the Spirit known as Holy Laughter in which people break into uproarious laughter. Although it is called a "new" movement of the Spirit it is actually very old and was once practiced by Islamic mystics, known as dervishes, who transferred it to their students by a touch or the wave of the hand. In other words, it is a work of the Devil.
C God's people don't need idols and images in order to worship God. All they need is the "living preaching of the Word." All they need is the Word of God. That's why we don't ever allow pictures, icons, images, idols, statues, movies, plays, choir pieces, and PowerPoint presentations to take the place of the preaching.
The Reformers did three things. They removed the images. They peached the Word of God to the people. And they taught the people to read so they could read the Bible for themselves.
D There are some who wrongly think the second commandment is opposed to all images. If this is the case this means God Himself broke His own commandment with the Tabernacle and Temple. The Tabernacle was made with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn. Do you remember what was worked into the curtains? Hundreds of cherubim. Solomon's Temple made much use of color, shape and images but there were no images of God Himself (1 Ki 6:16-18). As the Catechism says, "creatures may be portrayed ..." And then comes a warning:
yet God forbids making or having such imagesGod is not opposed to art in His places of worship. God is not opposed to pictures or objects that celebrate everyday life and give the natural world its own place. Nor are all depictions of the apostles forbidden in His places of worship. They simply are NOT to be used for worship or devotion.
if one's intention is to worship them
or to serve God through them.
How do we worship? The second commandment makes clear that God is concerned, very concerned, about worship. God is so concerned that He lays down for us how we are NOT to worship: without idols. God is so concerned that He lays down for us how we are to worship: with the living preaching of the Word.
How do we worship? Simply put, it is not up to us to decide. God tells us what He doesn't want. God tells us what He does want.
The purpose of worship is not to please you or to please me. The purpose of worship is the praise of God. The purpose of worship is to praise the resurrected and ascended Lord of the church.
Our focus is God and not ourselves because we love Him and adore Him and are devoted to Him.
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