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The Image of God

Scripture: Exodus 20:4-6, Acts 17:22-31
Date: 04/06/2003 
The second commandment forbids worshiping an image of God. Attempting to represent God by material objects lowers our conception of Him and we begin to worship the creation rather than the Creator.
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Note: This is a verbatim transcript of the live broadcast. It is presented as spoken.

It’s always encouraging to have the young people involved and participating in the worship service. And today, if you’re visiting, you’ve noticed that today is an Adventurers’ day, when our young Adventurers are helping us with our worship service, and we thank them for that.

Well, it’s good for us to be home. If you were here for Sabbath School, you heard we gave a little report on our recent trip to the Philippines. The Lord blessed above and beyond what we expected there, and we just are very thankful. Still struggling a little bit with the jet lag from the time difference between here and the Philippines, which is, Karen corrected me earlier, it’s 15 hours. I don’t know how you could be more than 12 hours, because if it takes—. Anyway, we won’t go into that.

This morning we are continuing with the series that we began a few weeks ago, talking about the law of God. This would really be the third presentation, but today we’re dealing with the second commandment. We had one Sabbath we dedicated to an introduction, and then we talked about the first commandment. Today we’re going to be talking about the second commandment, and it deals with the subject of the image of God. That’s the title that I’ve given to today’s message.

I did a little research and found out that there’s a real danger, more than I thought, with texting and driving. Twenty-three percent—I had no idea it was so high—23% of auto collisions involve cell phones now. Just think about that! Texting while you’re driving makes your crash, same number, 23% more likely. Thirteen percent of teens admitted to texting or talking immediately before a wreck. Thirteen percent! Yet 77% of young adults think they can text safely while driving. We all are sure that we can do it safely. You know what the real danger is? When you are texting when you’re driving or when you’re giving your attention to the screen of your phone, even if it’s just for a second, if you’re driving 55 miles an hour, you will cover the distance of a football field in the time it takes to read and send a text. A lot of things can happen during that time where someone changes lanes, or you could swerve out of your lane into oncoming traffic.

I read the testimony last night of a news reporter in Texas who said, “I was one of those people that just constantly had my phone,” and even when her kids were in the car, she’d be texting and talking and sending messages and receiving them, kind of driving on the side while communicating with her device; wasn’t paying attention, swerved, hit a guardrail, flipped, rolled up against a tree, car caught on fire, and she was 20 minutes in the car while it was on fire. They finally extinguished it. She had severe burns. She survived, and she’s going to be okay, but now she’s dedicating her time to educating people about the danger. She had no idea, and she said she was thankful her kids were not in the car that day. She’s thankful she didn’t hit somebody else. Didn’t realize that she was playing Russian roulette.

The danger is that if you’re texting when you’re driving, you lose your situational awareness of the panorama of what is going on around you. To be a good driver, you need to have your head up, and you need to be driving five cars. You need to be driving the car in front of you, you need to be driving the car on your right and on your left, you need to be looking in your rearview mirror and driving the car behind you, and you need to drive the one you’re sitting in. And when you for a moment put your head down and you look at the phone, well, it’s a form of idolatry. Because you’ve lost the big picture and you’re focusing on something very small, and you lose the big perspective of what’s going on around you. You might think that’s a strange illustration to introduce the message of idolatry, but I think it gives you an idea of the radical difference between being focused on God, who is a Spirit, and bringing Him down to a little wooden object or porcelain or plastic Jesus on your dashboard. You kind of lose the big picture when you get involved in idolatry. And that’s what it talks about there in that commandment. So, if you have your Bibles, appropriate to go to Exodus 20, and we’ll read that commandment together.

Now, the second commandment is not that far away from the first—obviously, but what I meant by it is in its theme. First commandment, He tells us in verse 2 of Exodus 20, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.” Now, that’s a separate, distinct commandment. The second commandment, then, says in verse 4, “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; 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 third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

One thing unique about this commandment is that it uses the word love. In this second commandment, you find where God says, “Love Me and keep My commandments.” So in this commandment is a key to the whole law, in a sense. You can’t keep God’s law unless you love Him. And idolatry basically reduces the picture of who God is. Now, for every negative in the Bible, it’s followed or connected with a positive. The negative implies the positive. The command to abstain from false worship is really also a command to participate in true worship. So, when God is saying, “Do not worship idols,” it’s implied, “so that you can worship Me in spirit and in truth.” God is a living God.

Now, you should probably know right at the beginning of this subject on the Ten Commandments and on idolatry in particular, that when you talk about the Ten Commandments, all churches agree there are ten commandments. Not all churches agree on how to divide the Ten Commandments. I’ve got a picture here, for instance, out in front of a Catholic church, of how the Catholics officially divide the Ten Commandments. I want you to notice something. And I took one here in town also. This is from one of our evangelists. In the Ten Commandments, they’ve got the first one, “I am the Lord your God.” The second commandment says, “You will not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless…,” and you’re going, “Now, wait a second. Where’s the commandment on idolatry?” Well, in the Catholic churches, they believe that the first commandment that says, “Don’t have other gods before Me,” that sort of encompasses everything else, and then they jump to the third commandment, and they call it the second.

Because there is so much idolatry, and there are so many images and idols and praying to statues in the Catholic church, it’s a little bit embarrassing, and so they say, “Well, that sort of is covered in a sweeping way in the first commandment.” And they’re not the only ones. There are some other denominations that divide the ten this way, and you say, “Well, how do they come up with ten commandments, then?” Well, what they do is they basically eliminate the second commandment and they split the tenth in two. Where it says you are not to covet, they say, “Well, half of it is don’t covet your neighbor’s wife and your neighbor’s house, and the other half is don’t covet his donkey and his other things.” And so they split that in two, and they make it two different commandments, but I think that defies logic.

I think it’s pretty clear that God says first, “I am the Lord”—it talks about who, the second commandment tells about how, tells about His name when it talks about the third commandment, and it tells about when when it talks about the Sabbath for worship. So, everything is covered about worshiping God in those first four commandments. And I have more to say about the division of the law at another time, but just so you’ll know-you might wonder, “Well, I thought I saw the Ten Commandments posted somewhere, and this part about the idolatry didn’t appear.” Check your Bible. It’s in the Bible. It’s not out in front of some churches. And that’s because there is some compromise happening there and it’s embarrassing and so they try to avoid it.

Now, again, these are not the Ten Suggestions, they’re the Ten Commandments. God commands us not to make idols and bow before them.

Revelation 22:15, speaking of those who are saved and those that are lost, it says, “Outside”-outside the New Jerusalem—“are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.” So, idolatry is sandwiched right between lying and murder. It obviously is something that God is discouraging. So, we need to know what that is.

When we talk about idolatry, there are two extremes I often find that people go to. One is they read the commandment partially, and they think that this is a mandate against making a photograph or any kind of a representation of anything, any kind of a likeness of anything. So they take it to that extreme. Then others read it, and they say, “Well, as long as you know it’s not really Mary, I can pray in front of a statue of Mary. I know it’s not really Mary; it just helps me think of Mary.” And that’s the other error. There’s not a Buddhist in the world, when they bow before a statue of Buddha, that really thinks that that golden or porcelain object is the actual Buddha. They all know that it’s just a representation. And that’s the very thing God forbids us from doing.

It doesn’t mean if you think it’s really that being, because even among the pagans, when they had all these statues of Apollo all over the kingdom, they knew when they were bowing to those statues, that wasn’t actually the sun god, because their neighbor had one in his living room. They knew it was a representation. So, you have some people who will argue, “Well, I know it’s not actually St. Peter,” or “It’s not actually Mary” or St. Joseph or one of the other saints. But if you’re making something and bowing down before it and praying in front of it, that’s where it turns into idolatry. So those are the two extremes.

I want to take you to a story in the Bible that helps set this up. Turn with me to Acts 17:22. Idolatry is a big problem. If you read through the Old Testament, you’ll see that that’s where Israel kept falling, and Judah. For Jews, it was easier for people in the Greco-Roman empire to accept a lot of the teachings of Jews—they could give up the unkosher foods; they would submit to circumcision; there are all kinds of things they really appreciated about Judaism. The thing that was one of the hardest things for them to embrace was to give up their idols, because they thought, “How can you worship a God that you can’t see—an invisible God?” So Paul dealt with this everywhere he went. One of the principal battles they struggled with with the Christian religion was helping people get the victory over their idols.

If you look in Acts 17:22, it says, “Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said….” Here he is in Athens, Greece. He sees an opportunity to talk in the theater there, and he seizes his opportunity to preach. They figure here is a Jewish philosopher; what’s he got to say? He said, “‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious [or superstitious]; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship,” lining the roads—the Roman roads in Athens. Even though Athens was Greek, the Romans had built the roads there. They had these pedestals, and they had gods dedicated on all the pedestals. There were more gods in the Roman Empire than there were trees in the forest. They had gods to everything, and they had multiple copies of the same god. And as Paul is passing down, he said, “I noticed one that was dedicated to, an inscription, THE UNKNOWN GOD.”

I’ve actually got a picture on the screen right now. You can see a picture, an artist’s depiction, of Paul preaching there in Athens, and then there’s a pedestal. Now, that pedestal that you’re looking at is a photograph of a very real altar that can be found on the Palatine Hill in Rome. It was an area once dedicated to the Caesars, and the inscription on that pedestal says, “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.” Now, this one is in Rome. The one that Paul is talking about is in Athens, so I doubt it’s the same one, but just to show you, they actually said, “We’re trying to worship all the gods, but we don’t want to offend any.”

Have you ever had someone stand up, and they’re getting ready to thank everybody for winning an award, and they say, “I’d like to thank this person, I want to thank that person, I want to thank… and if I’ve forgotten anyone else, I want to thank them, too.” So, to cover all the bases, they thought, “There might be a god out there somewhere that we’re neglecting, and we don’t want to incur the wrath of that god. We don’t want to offend that god that we’re not knowing about or we’re forgetting about,” and so they dedicated an altar to the unknown god. So there was a pedestal with no statue on it. And Paul said, “You’re worshiping a god you know nothing about. Let me tell you about that God.” Paul was very, very clever. Paul said, “I’m going to talk to you about Jehovah. Since you’re worshiping a god you don’t know, let me declare Him to you.”

Go back to Acts chapter 17. He says in verse 23, “As I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it,” “let me tell you about this God you don’t know.” “[He] made the world and everything in it, [and] since He is Lord of heaven and earth, [He] does not dwell in temples made with hands.” (Notice “made with hands.”) “Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not [very] far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.”

He emphasizes three times, “made by man’s hands,” “by man’s devising,” “by man’s hands.” He said you can’t make a god. And that’s what idolatry is—manmade religion, and that’s why God forbids it. It really turns things around so that we start creating our God instead of God creating us. See, right in the Ten Commandments, it says, “in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth,” and we worship Him because He created us. As soon as we start making idols and bringing food and fruit and burning candles in front of the idol, it’s like God is suddenly somehow dependent on us, and we forget that we are dependent on Him for everything and we can’t make anything to sustain Him. He’s the One that sustains all of His creatures.

So, there you have Paul declaring who that real God is. He took advantage of the altar, and they didn’t know who the unknown God was. The first commandment deals with the question of who is the true God. The second commandment deals with how He is to be worshiped. The first prohibits false gods; the second, false forms of worship. Idolatry will always take the worshiper away from God.

Another case where you see Paul dealing with this, we jump from Acts chapter 17 to Acts 19, where Paul and his friends were thrown in prison, and that was because of idolatry at one point. That was Acts 16, and then in Acts 19, they got upset because Paul’s preaching was hurting the idol business. They had stores where they sold their idols, and because Paul was preaching, “We don’t need these things, and these are not real gods, and they’re just wood, and they’re stone gods,” it created a riot in the town. And there they were, all gathered in the stadium, chanting, “Great is Diana! Great is Diana! Great is Diana of the Ephesians! Great is Diana,” and it went on for two hours. And finally the local constable had to get everyone to simmer down, and he said, “What’s the cause for this concourse? Look, if you’ve got a problem with these Jews who are preaching, well, the courts are open, file a claim, and we’ll deal with it that way, but we don’t need a mob riot.” But the people got so worked up, and here’s what the constable also said, Acts 19:35. “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus?” An image from heaven.

Now, there you see, this is a painting by John Steele, and in the background, he got it right. You see, there’s a statue in the background of the goddess Diana. It was the worship of Artemis. And you go to the next picture, you’ll see a little closer very much what these idols looked like. They claimed that they fell from heaven. I know, it looks like a woman covered with a cluster of grapes, but those aren’t really grapes. It’s supposed to be the all-nourishing mother of the peoples, that she’s all-supplying. It was a fertility goddess, and the worship of Artemis, or Diana, the goddess of the Ephesians, was very popular there in Asia Minor, and they had all of these statues that they say were modeled after the original that fell from heaven. Somebody made up this story that they’d found a god, and they said this is what it looked like, and they all got excited and created an icon and a whole cult out of it, and all these artists had a business. They said, “If our idols are going to be worshiped, for them to have the power, we need to be artists that are able to look at the original, and these are the only ones that are made after the original,” and so they sort of had a monopoly on the idol business. But after Paul and the Christians came through town, their business dropped off the cliff, because they said, “These are nothing. You can’t be saved by these.” And so they had a riot. They were making them out of silver, too. These are just of marble.

But the Bible tells us that it’s not idols that fall from heaven we’re to worship. The image that came from heaven we’re to worship was a living Image. God came down from heaven in the form of a man. His name is Jesus. He’s the One we’re to worship. In the gospel of John, chapter 3 verse 13, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” You see, for us to worship God, the only way you can really see God, because God is a Spirit and God is invisible—.

You know, you can’t see light if you’re out in space and you shine a flashlight; you can’t see anything. If you’re in the high desert, and you shine one of these powerful beams, you can’t see anything. Some of you maybe have been to Las Vegas. I won’t ask you what you were doing there, but maybe you’ve been to Las Vegas. They do have legitimate conventions there, and there at the top of the Luxor Hotel, they’ve got the brightest manmade light in the world, and it shoots directly straight up in the sky. They’ve got, I don’t know, like 25 of these xenon lights. Each one is as big as a washing machine, and their electric meter just spins around. And it shoots this beam of light straight up in the sky, but sometimes after a rain in the dry desert there, the air is so clear, you can’t see the beam of light. The only time you see the beam of light is when the light hits dust particles. Otherwise, it’s invisible.

And the way we really see God is as God ricochets and reflects off of people. And it was especially through Christ. That’s why Jesus said, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.” If we want to know what God is like, He is reflected in the life of Christ, and if people are going to find out what Christ is like—His light, He says, “You are the light of the world.” His light is to reflect off of us, right? And that’s the problem with idolatry is you take your eyes off the living God, that He should be seen in Jesus and we who look at Jesus, and it says that we’re going to look at this statue, piece of plastic. I always say that, because if gods have different value, can you imagine how cheap a plastic god is? But haven’t we all seen people that had little plastic figurines of Jesus or Mary or something like that that they pray to? What does that do to your concept of the ever-living God? All it could do is bring it down and lower it.

Makes me think about the story in the Bible, where Moses, after communing with God on many occasions—Moses talked to Him at the burning bush; Moses talked to Him as he was leading the people out of Egypt. Finally, after the Exodus has begun, the Lord is communing with Moses, and Moses says this. Go with me in your Bibles. Exodus 33:18. Here is where Moses asks to see God’s glory. And he said (Moses is speaking to God), “‘Please, show me Your glory.’ Then He said, ‘I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you.’” But He says in verse 20, “‘You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.’” And the Bible says no man has seen God’s face. No man has seen God in His undiminished glory. And that would be principally God the Father. “‘You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock.” You know that song we sing, “He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock”? Based on this verse. “I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand.” How big is God if He can cover a man with His hand? Bigger than you. “I will put you here,” and it said, “[I] will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face [you will not see].”

Then you go to Exodus 34 to see where this story is fulfilled. Go to Exodus 34:6, if you’re following. And it says “the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation’” of those that hate Him. But remember, He says, “and showing mercy unto thousands of those that love Me and keep my commandments.” So, when Moses said, “Lord, I want to see Your glory,” did God say, “Okay, we’re going to have an unveiling, Moses, and I’ll unveil it and you will see this shining, burnished gold picture of who I am”? Or, “You’re going to see I’m silver,” or “I’m bronze or wood or marble or variegated hummingbird…” What could you see with your eyes that would make God the greatest? Do you realize it’s nothing that you see that makes God great? It’s who He is.

I think it’s deliberate that the Bible says virtually nothing about what Jesus looked like. It doesn’t tell us how tall He was. We don’t know what color His hair was. I frankly think He was bald. But I don’t know. Now, probably not. But He might have been! I challenge you to prove me wrong. It says they pulled out His beard. I could grow a beard! But it doesn’t tell us what color His skin was. He was probably Mediterranean looking. It says He was Jewish. We don’t know what color His eyes were. There are Jews with brown and blue and green eyes. We don’t know how tall He was. We don’t know how wide He was or how thin He was. Probably strong; He was a carpenter. But everything is speculation. It says there is no outward form that we should desire Him, in Isaiah 53. So, people were not attracted to Jesus because of His movie star like appearance.

In fact, He frequently had the ability to disappear in a crowd and look like everybody else. When they came to arrest Jesus, they had to get Judas to say which one of them is He because He looks like one of these other Galilean shepherds, tax collectors, or fishermen. He didn’t wear a white uniform like some charismatic preacher. I know we always portray Him that way, in some priestly garment. It doesn’t say that. He may have been very average outwardly, which gives you and me hope of getting to heaven, right? You don’t have to look like a movie star to get there. What changed the world about Jesus was not the visual, it was what He said. It was the message. More than that, it was the character.

Idolatry takes our attention off the character of God and the name of who He is (the name, we’ll get to that in our next study, is really talking about the reputation), and it fixates us on something physical and tangible that is really of no value. And people worship those things. He said, “Show me Your glory.” John 4:24, Jesus said, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” God reveals Himself through Christ. It’s through His character. He’s meek, and He’s lowly, and He’s kind, and He’s strong, and He’s good, and He’s patient, and He’s fair, and He’s just, and He’s patient, amen? It’s the character of God.

And then we are forbidden from worshiping foreign gods; that lowers our concept. Just think about a god that you could pick up and hold in your hands. Genesis 35, in your Bibles. It says, “Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me in the way which I have gone.’ So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree,” and the word hid there means he covered them over or buried them, “under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem.” As they were dwelling surrounded by all the pagans around them, you remember, they conquered the people of Shechem. They took a number of the people of Shechem into their household. It tells us that the sons of Jacob slaughtered the men of Shechem because one of them had slept with their sister Dinah. The problem was, when they took all these other people into their household, they brought their gods.

Now, notice something about their gods. Their gods were something—it says their “gods that} were in their hands.” Do you want a god that you can hold in your hands, or do you want a God that will hold you in His hands? And so these are idols. These are idols that can be buried. They’re handy gods, portable gods. If you can put your god in a safety deposit box or bury it somewhere, then you’ve got the wrong god. Your God is much bigger. And you know what? The Bible tells us one time Laban, Rachel’s father, got upset because he said, “Someone stole my gods.” Do you remember that? It would be terrible to have a god someone could steal.

Some of you probably saw this on the news yesterday. Some poor individual, I didn’t get the town, but in the Greater Sacramento area, he’s had problems with burglars. I guess he had a coin shop or something, and they kept breaking in and stealing, and finally they broke in. He thought he was safe because he kept it all in the safe; they stole his whole safe. The poor fellow is just totally dejected, and I could understand why because he said, “Everything I’ve spent years saving is gone.” Store not for yourself treasures on earth where men can break through and steal.

If your gods, and let’s face it, some of us have idols that are here on earth. Some of us have idols that are in the bank, some of us have idols that are in the garage. Some of them are hanging in the closet on several different hangars. Some of them are in the kitchen, might be in the refrigerator. A lot of us have our gods in storage. Say “Amen.” They’re idols. We’re worried about them. We’re afraid someone’s going to steal them. We’d feel like, “I’m ruined. They’ve stolen my gods.” Jesus said, “But put your treasure in heaven where rust and moth doesn’t corrupt and thieves do not break through and steal.” I can guarantee you that if your God is the living God, then no one can steal Him from you. Your God is safe. You don’t carry Him in your pocket or in Your hands; He carries you in His hands, and He’s bigger than any thief. You don’t have to worry about it. A.W. Tozer said, “Don’t try to imagine God or you’ll have an imaginary God.” God is bigger than we can imagine, the Bible tells us.

Now, I told you there are two extremes. One extreme is making excuses and saying, “Well, I know I pray before this picture or this idol, and I know it’s not really God or Jesus or Mary, it just helps me visualize them.” That’s one extreme. God says, “Don’t make them.” The other extreme is, the Bible does not say it is wrong to make a facsimile of something. Not every statue is an idol. Not every photograph or painting is an idol. You can make an idol of about everything. Not every car you drive is an idol. But let’s face it, some people idolize their cars, right? So, it’s not that God was forbidding making a replica of something, because God told them to do it.

Moses was commanded to make engraved and embroidered figures of angels, oxen, lions, trees, fruit, and flowers in the temple. And furthermore, Solomon, when he dedicated the temple later, his version of the temple, under the instruction of God, he carved out figures of angels, lions, oxen, palm trees, open flowers within and without. By the way, that’s 1 Kings 7:29. Furthermore, God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and have everybody look to the serpent. Was that because he wanted them to worship the serpent? Or that was because they had a specific problem with serpents that day, and that was a picture, it was a golden image, of a dead serpent on a pole, and it was showing that God could defeat—.

You know, when a shepherd lifted up a serpent, when he killed the snake, he whacked it, and he carried it around. The idea of a serpent lifted up didn’t mean worship the serpent. Shepherds lifted up serpents once they killed them and carried them off for burial. So it’s just saying this is a dead or defeated serpent. God can defeat the venom of the serpent in your lives if you look in faith. Jesus refers to that before you read John 3:16, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world…” People always know John 3:16, and they forget John 3:15. So Jesus even refers to as Moses lifted up this bronze replica, idol you might call it, of a serpent, but they weren’t to worship it.

As a matter of fact, if you read in your Bible in 2 Kings 18:4, speaking of Hezekiah and the revival that he effected. “He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image…” The people were involved in idolatry several times in the history of God’s people. They would automatically drift to idolatry. “And [he] broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made.” Now, was there a disagreement between what Hezekiah did and what Moses did? No, Moses would have supported what Hezekiah did. When Moses made the serpent, he never intended, nor did God intend, for people to worship it. It was for that purpose that day to help them understand visually that God would destroy the power of the serpent, and after they did that, he took it off the pole, and they threw it into a chamber somewhere. It was later in a chamber in the temple. Someone dug it out, and they made a god, a relic, out of it, and they were praying to it. It tells us that Hezekiah broke it into pieces “and called it Nehushtan,” which means “thing of bronze.” It’s just a piece of bronze, that’s what he was saying. It’s just Nehushtan, and you’re praying to it. Why would you take your eyes off the road and text? That’s what he’s saying. You’re missing the picture of the living God, and you’re looking at a piece of brass.

Some people get inspired. I admit, I’ve seen some incredible works of art, both paintings and artwork, and if I see the sculptures of David by Michelangelo and things like that, you have to say, “Wow, that is an incredible skill of the artist!” But it’s something else when you start bowing down before them. Isn’t that what the commandment says? Let’s look at that one more time just to make sure. “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,” and the commandment doesn’t stop there. Don’t make those things; “you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.” That’s the big issue. It doesn’t mean that if your kid is at home with play dough and he makes a snowman, that all of a sudden he’s an idolater. Does everyone understand? Or if you go and you eat in a restaurant, Chinese food, and there’s a little Buddha at the entrance, that by eating that chop suey, you suddenly have participated in idolatry.

Now, the reason I say that is that was a problem for the Jews in the time of Paul and for the Christians. All over the Roman Empire, they did not butcher an animal, clean or unclean, without doing it—. The slaughter houses all had idols, and they would dedicate every one. They thought, “We’ll get all the credit we can out of these slaughters; we’ll dedicate it to different gods.” And some of the very strict Jews said, “You can’t eat anything that is sold in the regular marketplaces.” It only must be bought in the kosher salesman, meaning it hasn’t been offered to an idol, because otherwise you’re participating in idolatry. You run into this a lot in the New Testament. That’s why Paul said, in Romans 14, he that’s weak eats only vegetables. It has nothing to do with food. It means he that is weak in faith will not eat anything because he’s afraid it’s been offered to a god. So Paul said, “What you buy in the marketplace, eat asking no questions for conscience’ sake.” He’s not talking about clean or unclean food—never mentions any kind of food. It means if you’re buying sheep or goat or chicken, don’t say, “Was this offered to a god?” Don’t ask. If you don’t know—. If you walk past that little Buddha in the Chinese restaurant, don’t get nervous. Well, if it bothers your conscience, then don’t eat there. That’s what Paul said. If it’s going to make your brother stumble, go somewhere without the porcelain Buddha. Now, this is very practical because it’s the exact same kind of thing that we deal with this day. And you know what? I don’t know too many people—. Oh, I’ll stop there. No, I’ll save it. I’ll share with you later, but I’ll just think it through before I say it. Sometimes I blurt things out, and then I have to edit the tape. So, not everything is an idol.

One of the principal messages that God has in the Bible is all idols and idolators will be destroyed. You find the idols all get destroyed. You remember in Daniel chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. What is the dream of? It’s a gigantic idol. Its feet are iron and clay, and it’s got legs of iron and thighs of brass and chest of silver and head of gold, and what is it destroyed by? It says, “You watched in the vision until you saw a stone that was cut from the mountain without man’s hands.” Now, why did it say that? A stone that was cut without hands strikes this image on its feet, and it blasts it to smithereens, and it blows away, and no trace of it is found anymore. It’s ground to powder, and it blows away.

What did Moses do with the golden calf? Didn’t he grind it up? You know, if there was only a little piece of it left, they’d worship that. Haven’t you seen a lot of broken statues in museums? Sometimes they don’t even have a head. People stop and say, “Ah, look at the art!” It’s got only half its arms, no head! What exquisite art! So, he thought there’s not going to be anything left. They completely ground it.

But it says this stone that grinds him was cut without man’s hands. Let me tell you why that is. If you look in Exodus 20:25, notice this is right after the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20 is the Ten Commandments. Look at verse 25. “And if you make … an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone.” Don’t use carved stone. “If you use your tool on it, you have [polluted it, you have] profaned it.” Do not lift up man’s hands on an altar that you make. You notice that when Elijah built the altar of the Lord, he took stones; he piled them up, 12 of them, just stones right out of the field. They were all kind of haphazard, bumpy, irregular stones. The Bible says that you and I are living stones. We’re all kind of bumpy and irregular, too. This is how you make up the church of God.

It meant as soon as you start to put man’s works into it, you pollute it. You’ll start worshiping what you did—“Look at my exquisite artmanship”—instead of who I am. The only time they were really given permission to do this, in the temple of Solomon, it was a unique situation. It was to represent the God of heaven, and it was a different category. All the other altars that Jacob and Abraham and the others built, they just took rough stones. When Jacob saw that ladder reach into heaven, he tipped a stone up, poured oil on it, made a vow, and says, “This is an altar to God.” But he didn’t lift up a chisel and a hammer on it. That’s one reason that stone cut without man’s hands that destroys everything, it represents Christ and the people of Christ, the coming of Christ.

It’s not only Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. It says all the idols ultimately get destroyed. Tower of Babel, what happened? It got destroyed. The golden calves that were up in Bethel and Dan in the kingdom of the north—remember King Josiah? Children’s story talked about King Josiah. He destroyed them. They were all ground down. How many of you remember the story of the altar of Dagon? You find this in 1 Samuel 5:2. It tells us that the Philistines captured the ark of God, and they brought it and they put it in the temple of Dagon, basically to say, “Our god is bigger than Jehovah because our god conquered their God.” Well, when the priest got up in the morning to go check on his idol, this great big statue of Dagon had toppled over. As a matter of fact, I think I’ve got a picture of that. There it is.

There’s an ancient temple of Dagon, and there’s kind of what the god Dagon looked like. It toppled over, and that was a bad omen. They didn’t know what to do, and the only thing they could do is they got all the priests together, and they worked and hoisted it—it was probably as big as one of these Easter Island statues; it was big. They hoisted it back up into place again, and they thought, “Well, there must have been some seismic activity during the night. We don’t know what caused that, but we’ll just pretend it was a fluke.” And the next day, they came back, and the idol of Dagon was fallen off his pedestal again, and this time his head and hands had broken off on the threshold, and it had fallen down before the altar of God as if to say, “All these gods are made out of stuff made by the God that’s in that box there”—the God Jehovah, or at least who it represents.

I thought it was interesting his head and his hands broke off. Where is the mark of the beast? Is that going to be an issue? Is idolatry an issue in the last days? Don’t we read in the Bible that it’s something connected with the final test? You remember when King Nebuchadnezzar told them in Daniel 3:6, “Whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the … burning fiery furnace.” Worship what? Worship the big idol that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then you jump, with that in mind, jump to Revelation 13, and it says, “He [the beast power] deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast” (this is talking about the second beast in Revelation 13), “telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast” (that’s the first beast) “who was wounded by the sword and lived. [And he had] power to give [life] to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.” Now, that’s a different kind of idol.

You go to Pompeii (I’ve been there); they’ve got this statue to a god, and behind this statue to a god they’ve got some pipes coming out of the god’s mouth that lead back behind the wall. People would come to this god, and they’d pray and they’d pay money to the priest and ask for a message, and there would be a priest that was talking through a pipe, and they heard this noise coming out of the statue’s mouth. So they would make it sound like it could speak. There were all kinds of antics and crazy things that they did throughout the Roman and the Egyptians and the Babylonians we know now from antiquity that the priests—. There was one god that was full of rats, and they always heard all this motion, these sounds, coming from inside the god, and it was actually just the rats that were running around in there. But they made the most of it. They had gods that would cry, and they would squeeze something and the water would come out at these artificial tear ducts. They did everything they could to make their gods look like they were alive.

But the Bible tells us the devil is going to have a real deception in the last days because he’ll have power to cause the image to speak. We have got a whole set of Bible studies on what that is. It may not be exactly what you think. Does idolatry play into the last scenario? We need to know that we don’t have these idols in our life. It’s pretty serious. Revelation 14:11, it says, “The smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

I’m out of time. I’m not out of sermon. There’s so much more I could say about idolatry. I think you get the idea that our God is a Spirit. He wants us to worship Him in spirit and in truth. Let me tell you principally why I think it’s a danger to drift, and we always need to be reminded about idolatry. God’s people in the Old Testament, New Testament, one of the last things John says, “[My] little children, keep yourselves from idols.” Over and over they had to remind the people of God about this. God is all-knowing, God is all-feeling, He is all-powerful, He is universal, and He is eternal. An idol knows nothing, feels nothing; it’s powerless, temporary, stationary. An idol is the antithesis of what God is. It is the ultimate opposite of what God is. And so, whenever we try to look at something in order to think of God—it’s one thing to look at His creation, but something manmade; we’re starting to really put our trust in man—it then starts to be righteousness by works and trusting in the creation of the artist, and instead of giving glory to the living God, who is unseen, we give it to that which is seen.

So, this is much deeper and wider than it appears on the surface. Idolatry, really, can be anything that you put in the place of God that you worship, that takes your time. We’re praying that you’re not distracted with the material. Materialism is a god, isn’t it? Do we all know that we’re living in the most materialistic age? There are more things that you can buy than any other time in history. That’s why it’s important we don’t get distracted with the things, the tangible, and neglect the spiritual. Our God is a living God, and that’s a good point for us to remember when we sing “He Lives.” Amen? So, why don’t you turn in your hymnals to 251. We’ll stand and sing to the living God as we close.

[Hymn]

That really summarizes the lesson on idolatry just in that hymn. It’s not something out there that you worship, it’s Someone in here that you worship. The way we know He’s alive is not because you visualize Him in some statuette or icon or painting, it’s because He’s a living God. If people want to know, “Where is your God?” say, “Right here, out there…” He’s everywhere. That’s the point for us to remember today, that we serve a living God. Amen? Do you know that He lives in your heart? Have you sensed His presence? We know that He lived in Jesus, amen? And Jesus wants to live in you. Is that your prayer, your desire, to have that living God in you?

Father in heaven, as we’ve taken some time this morning and talked about Your wonderful law, those eternal principles in Your commandments, we just briefly have tried to dig into the principle of what idolatry is and what real worship is. I pray that we can exemplify these things in our lives and that we will worship You as a real, a live, a living God. And help us, Lord, to not only know how to live these things and how to worship You in a way that pleases You, but how to share them. There’s so much confusion, there are so many idols in this world. Help us to show that You are a living God and to worship You in our hearts and in our lives every day. If there are idols in our lives, Lord, please show us, forgive us, and cast those things down. We know that when You come that all of that will be cast to the rats and the bats and the moles, and we want to be the ones who will look up and worship the living God. Bless us, Lord, to know what that really means and practice it in our lives. We thank You and praise You. Go with us from this place. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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