24 January 2011

A Survey of the Old Testament Law-"I am a Jealous God"

We saw last week that not only does God prohibit us from making idols to use in worshipping false gods, He also prohibits us from making a statue and claiming that the statue represents God. Because, if we do that, we are actually creating another god and worshipping that god. And it’s not just statues we have to worry about making—there are all kinds of things we are in danger of worshipping if we’re not careful. Exodus 20:4-64 You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the 3rd and 4th generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Whenever we create something and claim that it “represents God” we are committing idolatry. A person who practices idolatry is an idolater. Any time we create an image and say “This is what God looks like” we are changing the glory of the incorruptible God into an image like corruptible man and we are worshipping the creation rather than the Creator. It’s not a harmless practice; it carries with it grave consequences, and we see these consequences in Romans 1:22-2522 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Notice that—because people tried to make an image of the perfect, sinless, holy, invisible God using imperfect and sinful and visible stuff by way of their imperfect and sinful and wicked and visible hands, God will actually give them over to uncleanness. Right now, although it may not seem like it, God has His hand on all of creation, holding it back from being as wickedly sinful as it could possibly be. If He didn’t then all of creation would destroy itself. But for the one who tries to make an image of God and worship that image, He will pull His hand back from restraining those people and He will let them plunge into whatever depths of wickedness and sin they want. And believe me, that is not a good thing!

That said, it is possible to worship something that is not a statue and that we don’t think of as an idol—but that really is. That is this thing called “stuff.” We all like “stuff.” We all want “stuff.” We drive by billboards; we read ads in magazines and watch TV commercials that drill into our heads, day after day, the fact that we need more “stuff.” And don’t get me wrong; it’s not the “stuff” that’s bad. But, if we’re not careful, “stuff” can become our god, and we will wind up devoting so much time and effort to our “stuff” that the “stuff” takes the place of Almighty God. 1st Timothy 6:9-109 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. Paul does not say that money is the root of all evil; he says the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. There is a difference. Money is like a torque wrench—is a torque wrench evil? It’s a tool. Money is not evil—it’s a tool. But, how we look at money and how we use it is where we run into the danger. If we want a clear picture of how the rest of the world values “stuff” more than they value the things of God, we could take a trip on a Sunday morning during the summer and drive up to Norris Lake or out to Cherokee or Douglas, and find all kinds of people enjoying their “stuff” rather than enjoying the fellowship of believers and hearing the word of God. And many of those will be professing Christians.

I also want to point this out: there’s a reason the name of the show is “American…IDOL.” Something to think about. Those people that go on that show are saying, in not so many words, “I want to be an idol!” I remember seeing a picture in a magazine once, and I call Heaven and earth as my witness, it was a picture of Gloria Estefan, at one of her concerts, and this fellow managed to jump up on stage, and he’s on his knees, and he’s getting ready to bow down, and the caption read like this: “Johnny Jump-up worships his idol, Gloria Estefan.” Something to think about.

Which, oddly enough brings us to this little passage where God says “For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God.” First, He is jealous for us. I want us to see why it is so important that we have a firm understanding of the Scriptures. Because if we don’t, it doesn’t take much to send us spinning in the wrong direction, and doing a death spiral into Hell. I'm not going to say that Oprah Winfrey is there, but she is on that path, and it is my hope that she sees that before it’s too late and she perishes. I hope that one day she will see the truth, and come to know God for being the Almighty and loving God—and Jealous God—that He is. We’re gonna see a clip from her show in which she explains how she got started down the road to her New-Age…… mystical……spiritual……whatever you want to call it beliefs and how she quote-unquote “reconciles” those beliefs with her beliefs about Christ—her false beliefs about Christ.

A couple of things I want to point out—did you notice the girl on the phone with her? Just smiling away and not questioning one iota of what Oprah was saying; just full of glee and fawning admiration. Oprah is a religion. Make no mistake, there are many who worship this woman. But, more than that, did you notice how Oprah thinks that God is jealous OF her? TIME OUT!!!!! What would make a person think that God is jealous OF that person? Do we have anything that God cannot create? He created this whole universe, we saw that over the last couple weeks. He didn’t ask for input on how He should do the creating—He did it according to His own will, and His own counsel. What could possibly make God jealous OF us? Well, that’s the thing. God is not jealous OF us—He is jealous FOR us! We do have one thing He wants—and that is our devotion, our worship. He will not share us with another god. We either worship Him and Him alone, in a way that He desires and which brings glory to Him—or we might as well not try to worship Him at all. He is jealous FOR us. In fact, one of His names is ‘Jealous’. Exodus 34:12-1412 Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it be a snare in your midst. 13 But you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images 14 (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God).” God is telling Moses, “The land you're going into—the people are pagan, they are wicked. And I want you to destroy every single shred of their heathen practices. Right down to the dust! Utterly and completely destroy it! Don’t leave anything standing; I won’t have it!” If this were today, He would have said something like, “Just carpet-bomb the whole place! Blow it to smithereens.”

What that means for us now we see in 1st Corinthians 8:5-7 (NASB)5 For even if there are so-called gods…6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father…and one Lord, Jesus Christ…7 However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. These Corinthians were coming out of pagan religions, where meat would be sacrificed to idols, and after the sacrifice that meat would be sold in the market. Some of the new Christians would be afraid to buy that meat and eat it, since it had been used in a pagan ritual, and their conscience would be troubled if they ate that meat. However, there were some more mature Christians whose conscience wasn’t affected one way or the other. But what happened was, we see in 1st Corinthians 8:10-12 (NASB)10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol's temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined…12 And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. In other words, the weak brother—that is, the new Christian—isn't quite sure of what do about this meat that was offered to idols. So he sees the more mature Christian eating this meat and the young Christian says, “Well, I guess it must not be that bad,” so he too eats the meat.

But what happens is, because he isn't mature, he falls back into his old ways and eventually returns to worshipping idols and winds up in Hell. And who does Christ hold accountable? The mature Christian. So, what is Paul’s solution to this? 1st Corinthians 8:13 (NASB)Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble. That is, if by me exercising my liberty to eat that meat, I cause my weaker brother to drift back into worshipping idols—then I will never eat meat again! I will cut it off, so that the person worships God and God alone! Because God is a jealous God, and He is jealous for us.

Second, He is jealous for our worship. He doesn’t want us worshipping other gods—He wants all our devotion and all of our worship to be to Him—as well it should be! After all, He is God! Joshua 24:19-2319 Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. 20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the LORD!” 22 So Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD for yourselves, to serve Him.” And they said, “We are witnesses!” 23 “Now therefore,” he said, “put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD God of Israel.” To put it in context, Joshua is reminding the people of Israel about all the good things God has done for them—brought them out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea, destroyed Pharaoh and his army—reminds them of how they were always surrounded by people who worshipped pagan gods, and yet God was still with the people of Israel. But he also reminds them of the times when they strayed from God, served other gods, and that even now they weren’t right with God. And he tells them, “You can't worship God! He won’t put up with you trying to serve Him while you're still worshipping idols!” And he pretty much lays down the gauntlet, saying “put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD God of Israel.” These people were swearing an oath that they would worship God and God alone, and Joshua tells them, “OK then, you are your own witness, it has come out of your mouth!” What he’s saying, in other words, is “Put your worship where your mouth is!”

It is completely irrational to worship idols. Are idols able to do anything? That scene in “The Ten Commandments” when God sends the Angel of Death to kill the firstborn in Egypt, and Yul Brynner lays his dead son in the arms of that big statue? And for however many days, just keeps calling on that god, “Oh, great Anubis, give life to my son!” Nothing! Because there is only one God who can do ANYTHING. There is only one God who can truly be called “The Living God”—which is what He is called nearly 30 times in the Bible. Psalm 42:2My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Jeremiah 10:10But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. 1st Timothy 6:17Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God. What happens to most people who win the lottery? What happens to all that money? As it says in Proverbs 23:7Riches make themselves wings and fly away toward Heaven. “Jimmy Joe Crabshack won $137M in the Tennessee Lottery, and now he lives in a run-down trailer after blowing it all on…” Those people worshipped and served their riches and their human desires rather than serving the Living God. When we choose to worship someone other than God—and that includes worshipping our own self—we take the glory that belongs to God and we give it to another. Hebrews 10:31It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. You could run afoul of any pagan god you could imagine. You could do everything to displease Allah or Buddha or whatever other false god you can think of—and nothing will happen to you because of it. BUT—we should take every precaution to not stir up the Living God to anger.

Because when God is angry—and His anger is always under control; He doesn’t just fly off the handle into a blind rage—considering how powerful He is, do you really want to be on His bad side? He doesn’t want to destroy anyone, Ezekiel 33:11“As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” He does not want us to die in our sins and spend eternity in Hell. He will send us there if He has to, but He doesn’t want to. He is jealous for our worship so that we may live eternally with Him. The apostle Paul expresses the same sentiment in 2nd Corinthians 11:2-32 I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 3 But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. Paul is saying “I don’t want to see you serve anyone but Christ. And I will do everything I can to see that Satan does not deceive you the way he deceived Eve.” That should be our attitude toward each other. We know how Satan is; we know how smart and how powerful he is. But we know someone who is even smarter and infinitely powerful, and will come to our aid when we call on Him—and He will help us because He is jealous for us, and does not want to see us worship another. I, for one, am glad that God is jealous FOR me! OK, so He is a jealous God. Next week we’ll take a couple minutes and talk about the rest of verse 6, and the MYTH of the “generational curse.”

Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.