************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 94-95 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 24, 2011
Q & A 94-95
"The First Commandment"
June 25, 2009. Do you know what happened that day? That is the day Michael Jackson died. The world is a pretty big place with interesting and important things happening all the time. So, what else happened on June 25, 2009? I don't know and I couldn't tell you. Because the only thing on the news was Michael Jackson. I came home from the office and that was the lead story. When we were done with supper the story was still on. We cleaned up and the story was still on. When we got ready for bed the story was still on. For six or seven days it was as if the whole universe went into shock because the only news story was Michael, Michael, Michael.
And then, then, I had to listen to the silly and even ridiculous things that were said at his memorial service. Some bubble-head said something about Michael sitting on the clouds of heaven. After the service the police shut down all roads for his funeral procession as if he were some head of state.
The TV set showed the public's response. Men and women by the thousands gathered together in downtown LA. They were crying, they were playing his music, they turned a section of LA into a memorial. Some were on the verge of hysteria. Others went into a trance-like state of reverence and worship.
All this fawning made one think Michael Jackson must have had a tremendous impact on national and international affairs.
Do you know what thought kept going through my mind? "You shall have no other gods before me." Michael Jackson was treated and remembered like he was a god.
I No Idolatry
A "You shall have no other gods before me." I am sure you realize these are the words of the first commandment.
Why is this the first commandment? Because idolatry is man's basic temptation. Because our hearts are idol factories – always manufacturing gods in place of or alongside of the one only true God.
As a boy, I had a tour of the Ford plant close to my hometown. I watched the cars roll off the assembly line – 1500 per day.Instead of cars, think of idols. They roll off the assembly line of our hearts.
B "You shall have no other gods before me." What is amazing is that man worships gods that are not real. They have no real existence. They are unable to do anything. Yet, man stills worships and bows down before them. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians: "We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one " (1 Cor 8:4; cf vs 5-6).
Our Scripture reading from Isaiah is, perhaps, the clearest statement in Scripture as to the emptiness of idol worship. The picture Isaiah draws is actually silly. Imagine, says Isaiah, planting a tree. When the tree is big it is cut down. Part of the tree is used to make a fire where it bakes bread and warms man. What is left over is measured and cut and chiseled and fashioned into an image. Man falls before this image – that he has made – and says, "Save me; you are my god" (Is 44:17). Can anything be more ridiculous? Which is why Psalm 115 put to verse can say:
The idol gods of heathen lands Isaiah's conclusion:
are but the work of human hands:
they cannot see, they cannot speak,
their ears are deaf, their hands are weak.
(PH # 115)
(Is 44:9) All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame.Yet, I repeat, man's heart remains an idol factory – idol after idol rolls off the assembly line.
C Throughout history man has worshiped a multitude of gods. In our study of Genesis we have seen idol god after god of the heathen struck down. The sun, moon, and stars have often been worshiped as gods; however, Genesis makes plain they cannot be god because they were created by the one only true God. Mother earth is worshiped as god but she too has been created by God. Baal and Astarte are considered the gods of fertility but we learned it is the Lord God Who makes things grow and produce. Storms and rain and thunder and lightning are not gods either because look at how they are used by Jehovah in the flood. The mighty men of old, the Nephilim, perished in the flood and at the hand of Caleb so they, too, are not gods.
"You shall have no other gods before me." I repeat what I said before: our hearts are idol factories – idol after idol rolls off the assembly line.
D I'm afraid that God's people have not been immune to idol worship. The pages of the Old Testament are filled with examples. What happened shortly after Israel left Egypt? She made and worshiped a golden calf. And the people said to each other, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt" (Ex 32:4). How could they say this after God showed His might in the ten plagues? How could they say this when God brought His people safely across the Red Sea on dry ground and drowned the obstinate Pharaoh and his army? We see the golden calf, again, in the days of King Jeroboam (1 Ki 12:28).
Remember the story of Achan? His god was money, mammon, wealth, possessions. Achan took what belonged to the Lord. As a consequence of his idolatry, Israel suffered defeat in battle. And, as a consequence, Achan and his family were stoned to death (Josh 7).
Remember Balaam? Balaam tried to curse Israel. He wanted to curse Israel. Instead, what came out of his mouth were words of blessing. That was act 1. In act 2 Balaam tried another approach. He advised King Balak of Moab to send beautiful women to Israel's camp. These women invited the men of Israel to engage in the sexual immorality associated with their religion (Num 31:16). The net result: the people of Israel were seduced into bowing before the idol gods of Moab (cf Num 25).
Remember what happened in the days of Ahab? The people of Israel bowed before Baal. They were confronted by Elijah but would not say a word until the Lord's fire came down from heaven and consumed the offering on Elijah's altar (1 Ki 18).
Let me mention four names: Judge Jephthah, King Solomon, King Ahaz, King Manasseh. What do these four have in common? They all worshiped the god Moloch. Solomon built a high place for this god (1 Ki 11:7). Kings Ahaz (2 Ki 16:3) and Manasseh (2 Ki 21:6) both sacrificed their own children in honor of this god. The story of Jephthah is probably the saddest of all. He made a vow to the Lord: if the Lord would give him victory over the Ammonites, then he would sacrifice as a burnt offering to the Lord whatever came out of his house to meet him. Unfortunately, what met him was his only child, his virgin daughter (Judges 11).
"You shall have no other gods before me." Our hearts are idol factories, aren't they?! Idol after idol rolls off the assembly line.
E People, today, might think they are a bit more sophisticated. Yes, we don't worship idols made of wood or stone. We don't worship Baal or the god of thunder. Our twenty-first century scientific mind doesn't fall for idols like these anymore. Or do they?
Aren't horoscopes found in every big city newspaper today? When it comes right down to it, astrology is nothing but the ancient worship of the stars reincarnated in new packaging. Talk to Rev. David May of Good News Jail & Prison Ministry sometime. As a prison chaplain, he gets requests for Wiccan literature so that people can practice witchcraft. I am sure you have heard of healing crystals. Shirley MacLaine does not stand alone with her belief in channeling, new age spirituality, and reincarnation; hundreds – maybe thousands – of people have signed up on her website.
Maybe your unbelieving neighbors don't fall for the weird things I have just mentioned. Yet, a study of our culture shows a hosts of other gods: money, beauty, arts, learning, exercise, sports heroes, rock stars, possessions, power, sex, and work. Isn't it the same old thing: man continues to worship what is created rather than the Creator?
We have given names to man's modern day idols. I am sure you will recognize them:
Materialism – the god of the almighty dollar, the god of wealth and possessions, the god of advertisement and wasteful consumption, the god of more more more.
Rationalism – the god of reason, the god of science and technology.
Naturalism – the god of evolution, what you see is all that is real; there is no spiritual or supernatural realm, no angels, no demons, no life after death.
Hedonism – the god of pleasure, whatever feels good, whatever avoids pain and suffering, the god of drugs and alcohol and sex.
Everything I have mentioned so far violates the first commandment. According to the Catechism, this commandment means "That I ... avoid and shun all idolatry, magic, superstitious rites, and prayer to saints or to other creatures."
F "You shall have no other gods before me." Let's make sure we don't feel smug or self-righteous when it comes to this first commandment. Because we often serve the same idols as our unbelieving neighbors: money, pleasure, work, sports, and so on. Furthermore, did you hear the Catechism's 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.Before an operation do we trust in the doctor's skill? Before a long trip do we trust in new tires? Do we trust in insurance in the event of our death? To put bread on the table do we trust in our job or business?
Of course we trust all of these. But, tires do blow, insurance companies go bankrupt, doctors make mistakes, and jobs can move overseas. We are never to trust in these alongside of or in place of our trust in God. These are all to come under our trust in the Lord.
Again, our hearts are idol factories – idol after idol rolls off the assembly line.
II Worship Only God
A "You shall have no other gods before me." According to the Catechism, the intent of this first commandment is not just negative. It also has a positive dimension. Negatively, I am to "avoid and shun all idolatry." Positively, the commandment requires
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.
The great lesson God brought into the world through Israel is that God is one. "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one" (Deut 6:4). He alone is God. There is none other than Him. All other powers are subject to Him. He alone is worthy of worship and praise and thanksgiving and honor and glory.
This God, our God, is very intolerant; He does not tolerate anybody or anything receiving the honor due His name. And, He is very jealous; He is the jealous lover of His people. Which means God is more than willing to fight for His place in the hearts and lives of His people.
B "You shall have no other gods before me." God alone is God. He alone is the God Who made us, Who saves us, and Who sanctifies us. When it comes right down to it, what has any other so-called god done? To paraphrase R.C. Sproul, "Moses could meditate on the law. Mohammed could brandish a sword. Buddha could give personal counsel. Confucius could offer wise sayings. But only Jesus could make atonement for the sins of the world."
Did you notice how the Catechism makes the exact same point? "That I, not wanting to endanger my very salvation, avoid and shun all idolatry ..."
When I worship other gods, though they are false and dumb and can do nothing, do you know what I am doing? I "endanger my very salvation." Why? Because when I worship other gods I leave the only source of salvation – the one only true God Who loves us in Jesus Christ (cf Ps 97).
C "You shall have no other gods before me." This commandment means God is to come first in my life. Says the Catechism, "In short, that I give up anything rather than go against his will in any way." Give up anything and everything that gets in the way of God: work, family, school, leisure time activities, sports. If they come between us and God, they have become an idol and we need to give them up. There is a song we sing that speaks to this:
The dearest idol I have known,
whate'er that idol be,
help me to tear it from thy throne
and worship only thee.
(PH # 551)
Martin Luther said, "Whatever your heart clings to and confides in – that is really your god." And, Jesus said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Mt 6:21).
So let me ask, what do you treasure? What does you heart cling to? What is the most important thing in your life? If your answer is anything but God, you are guilty of idolatry and you need to get rid of your idol.
Don't forget the setting of the Ten Commandments and the Catechism. We are dealing with the life of gratitude. We are talking about those who have been born-again by the Spirit and blood of Christ. We are talking about those who are saved from their sin and misery.
Those who are saved by the blood of the Lamb avoid and shun all idolatry, worship God alone, and give up anything that comes between them and the Lord.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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