The Many Faces of Idolatry

Scripture: Exodus 20:4-6, Romans 1:20-23, 2 Corinthians 8:4
Date: 08/11/2007 
This sermon focuses on the second commandment on worshiping idols. Idolatry covers anything that means you are giving your first love to anything other than God. Some churches worship relics. Some peoples worship animals. Other worship "saints".
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Note: This is an unedited, verbatim transcript of the live broadcast.

“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.” --Psalms 115:4-8

Good morning. Good to see each of you here. Seems like summer is already beginning to wind down, families are getting ready to head back to school, and I missed summer vacation. Something happened. I feel a little bit cheated. I think the kids probably feel that way every year.

This morning I’d like to share with you a very important Bible subject that can be found all the way through the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation and it’s dealing with the issue of the second commandment and more specifically something that’s known as idolatry. We’re going to be talking about the many faces of idolatry. So often when people think about idolatry they picture somebody from a far distant pagan land who is bowing before some wooden tiki or totem pole or statue and bringing a garland of flowers and praying. But idolatry really is something that is a lot more common even among Christians than you might think. I think that because we don’t understand what real idolatry is, as people read through that commandment they often go right by it. I thought it’d be a good idea to begin with the familiar passage in the law of God. Go with me in your Bibles to the book of Exodus. You can also find this in Deuteronomy chapter five, but we’re going to go to Exodus 20:4. This is the second commandment. It is the second longest of the Ten Commandments, and it is an interesting commandment if for no other reason it’s the only place in the Ten Commandments where it talks about loving God. This is where you find the phrase “to love God” is in the second commandment. Now read this with me. Verse four, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or 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 on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me” (there it is) “and keep My commandments.” It’s interesting. A commandment God says, I’m jealous, and it’s the commandment where He says, I want you to love Me. In other words, do not give your devotion, do not give your love to another, implying that idolatry encompasses anything that means you are giving your first love to anything other than God.

I’ve been struggling to better understand the definition for idolatry and I’ll give you a few. If you go to the dictionary it will simply say “Idolatry: the worship of idols, blind or obsessive devotion to something.” I sort of summarize idolatry as loving the creature or the creation more than the creator. I like that one. Idolatry is any example of giving supreme love to the creature, that means somebody, or the creation, some thing, more than the Creator of the creation and the creature. That would be idolatry. Now that manifests itself a number of different ways. Martin Luther said, “Idolatry is not only the adoration of images but it’s also trust in one’s own righteousness, works and merits and putting confidence in riches and power.” Idolatry is, in other words, the supreme example of selfishness. Bill Gotherd said it this way, “Idolatry is trusting people, possessions, or positions to do for me what only God can do.” Did you get that? That’s good. “…trusting people, possessions, or positions to do for me what only God can do.” Now when you think about the practice of religious idolatry in the world today it’s very common especially if you go to other countries. You don’t have to go very far in India, no offense intended, but it is a fact that in India especially among the Hindus there (and around the world there are 900,000,000 Hindus) that idolatry is a core part of the practice. Matter of fact, in the Hindu religion they’ve got 330,000,000 gods. That would be about two gods that are totally unique for every family when you figure out that families have more than one person in it. Everywhere we went in India you can see the Hindu temples that are just totally plastered with a variety of gods. Virtually all of them are unique and they’ve got little stories and specialties connected with them, and the people show such devotion and they give to these gods.

If you’ve traveled in some of the eastern countries, when we went to Japan and in China you can see the temples to Buddha there. Buddhists, bless their hearts, 376 million in the world. Matter of fact, there is one temple to Buddha that supposedly has the only remaining article of Buddha’s body supposedly from the funeral pyre, the ashes where the Buddha was burned, Saariirikacetiya, oh, a couple thousand years before Christ. They got a tooth and the most sacred Buddhist relic in the world today is this temple where they’ve got a tooth of the original Buddha. The pilgrims come from all over the world and they pray there. Keep in mind, if you ask the average Hindu or the Buddhist when they’re bowing before the tubby little Buddha, “Do you think that’s really Buddha?” They’ll say, “Of course not. We know that’s not really Buddha.” So some people say, “Well, if you don’t think that the idol is really the person or the subject then is it idolatry?” I’d say absolutely. All of the idolaters around the world typically know that is not the god. There are some who actually revere the plaster or the plastic or whatever it is, but most of them know that it’s just to help them conceive of it. But there they do their devotions before it. Some of you might wonder what about any artwork or depictions of Jesus? I’ll get to that later. There are a lot of idolaters even in the Christian faith. Well, to start with I think most of us know that in the catholic faith and many of the orthodox churches if it’s a Roman Catholic it’s statues principally. If you’re a Russian Orthodox they pray to icons or paintings. I guess the Greek Orthodox may be somewhere in between. I’m really not sure. But it’s amazing as you travel around much of the catholic world we saw a lot of this in Colombia. Just was down there a few weeks ago. You step into any of the many chapels and cathedrals there you’ll see the images of the saints and the paintings of the icons all around there and people are kneeling before them and weeping and burning candles and praying to them. Though they know that is not actually Mary there or that is not actually John the Baptist or a statue of Jesus is not really Jesus it still constitutes pure unadulterated… it’s idolatry.

The command the way I read it says don’t make these images and don’t bow before them. Isn’t that what it says? So when you do that, that’s idolatry. Some of these temples and these churches like the temple of Buddha that’s got the tooth of Buddha and in the Christian churches they’ve got different relics that are supposed to be sacred pieces and people go to these locations because they think there is more value in this particular church over another because this church actually has something special. This church has a relic. Now that relic could be a piece of the cross that Jesus died on. How many of you have heard of the Shroud of Turin? Many have said this was the actual grave cloth that Jesus was wrapped in. It is something of an enigma because most of them are easy to debunk. This one’s interesting. They actually date it back to about the twelfth century, but they’re still wondering how did this impression get on there. It doesn’t look like it’s painted so they wonder was it actually the grave cloth of one of the crusaders that was embalmed. They don’t know. It almost certainly was not the grave cloth that Jesus was wrapped in because it says right in the Bible his head was wrapped up separately and the Shroud of Turin has got the whole body wrap, front and back. But just to give you an example, that’s condoned by the church. Some of you are acquainted a little bit with church history. If you read about the council of Trent, 1545 to 1563, they decreed that images were not only to be… By the way, you notice the dates here? 1545, 1563, this was taking place during the birth of the protestant reformation and Luther that were beginning to say idols were idolatry and there was a big debate over that so they needed to address the question what do we do about all of the idols in the churches up against the accusations of the protestors or the protestants. This is what they finally decreed. “Images are not only to be placed in the temples but also to be worshipped.” This is from the Catholic Council of Trent. “They are to be worshipped as if the persons represented thereby were present.” Pope Pius the Fourth said, “I most firmly assert that the images of Christ and of God and also of the saints are to be retained and that due honor and veneration are to be given them.” Well, that’s idolatry according to the commandment.

Now I think most of you were aware that in the Ten Commandments that during the dark ages the Catholic church tampered with that a little bit, and they took the second commandment and basically removed it, and they split the tenth commandment so that the first commandment says you’re not to have other gods. They said that swallows up all the other words there about idolatry and they just sort of deleted it so the people wouldn’t ask too many questions. Some of the examples are, you can go to a church in Naples and Rome. I’ve been to Rome. And they’ve got a church that has the hair of the Virgin Mary supposedly. I don’t know when she donated that along her life, but they’ve got it there according to them and it’s a special church and special offerings and special virtues are gained by going there because that church has got some of the hair of Mary supposedly. Her girdle is in another church in Rome. I didn’t know that Mary wore a girdle, but there’s a church there that claims they have it. There are two churches, one in Naples and one in Rome, and I’m not trying to be sacrilegious but the Bible speaks against idolatry. This is supposed to be Christian religion and it’s not right. Church in Naples and Rome they claim to actually have drops of Mary’s milk. True. Check it out. Her wedding ring is in the Cathedral of Perugia. I don’t know where it says she ever wore a wedding ring. That came about later. The holy basin used at the Last Supper is kept at the Cathedral of St. Lorenzo in Genoa. When Jesus washed the feet, somebody collected it and put it in a church and kept it all that time. The lance which pierced Jesus’ side and the head of St. Andrew, they’re kept in the four massive pillars that support St. Peter’s dome in St. Peter’s Basilica. This is where it gets really interesting. John the Baptist… Oh, before I get to John, I started telling you about churches that have pieces of the cross. Someone calculated one time that there are so many churches around the world that claim to have pieces of the original cross that Jesus died upon, you could probably build an ark. It’s just phenomenal. I’ve already seen some of those churches in the Americas. They claim to have splinters from the cross, pieces of the cross. People come and they venerate there. But when it comes to John the Baptist, he really is the Olympic winner when it comes to relics. There are churches enough to compose three shoulder blades of John the Baptist, four legs for John the Baptist, five arms, this is just in Europe. Fifty churches that have his index finger and they say this is the finger that pointed to Jesus when he said “This is the lamb of God”. They’ve got a finger encased usually in gold or something or it’s a bone and they say this is the finger of John the Baptist, and people come and they burn candles and they pray and they think their prayers will have more merit or credit. It’s very sad. Oh, and you know John the Baptist was beheaded. There are thirteen churches that claim to have his head. I actually put one up on the screen. I don’t know if you still have that, Sherle, but the first picture that talked about church relics, that’s one of the many churches that’s got a gold encased picture (That’s it. Yeah.) of John the Baptist’s head. There is one of many that you’ll find all over the Europe and people come and the dear folks really believe that this is the head of John the Baptist. Now you and I sort of say, “Ah, we’re not like that. That’s idolatry. Anyone would recognize that.” But there are other ways that idolatry manifests itself.

Well, creepy images. Romans 1:20 listen to what Paul says. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed” listen “…changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things.” People actually all through the world today and through history have made gods out of creeping things. You know my computer crashed this morning and I probably shouldn’t be telling you this because I’m just going to tell you what you’re missing. But I lost quite a bit of the presentation. I had captured through the week images from around the world that people worship of frogs and snakes and bats. Matter of fact, even in India they’ve got temples dedicated to monkeys. There are people starving but they feed the monkeys. They’ve got temples dedicated to rats that ransack the country and the silos and they feed the rats, and it’s a god. You can go to just about any part of the world. Reading an article this week about New Guinea, actually it was an article about birds of paradise and they were talking about how the people in New Guinea, they dress up and it’s a god for them. The men dress up and they take the beautiful birds of paradise feathers, and they are remarkable birds and feathers, and there is worship there. There are people who dress up like monkeys and they worship monkeys. Even among the Native Americans they would worship the wolf and the bear and the eagle and we think, “Ah, how natural. How majestic.” But God doesn’t want us worshipping pets which we do in our country. Do you know that we spend more on pet food in North America than many countries have on what they spend in the whole country on their humans? We spend more on our pets. That’s true. Paul is talking about instead of worshipping God they become fools and they worship the creature instead of the Creator, creeping things. “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.” That’s what I was saying was I thought a good definition for idolatry. Paul says in Acts 17:29 “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. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent…” Somebody once said, “Oh, senseless man that cannot make a worm…” On the way to church this morning I was listening to a Christian program where they were talking about the origin of life. They said that in spite of all of our knowledge and theories about how life originated we can’t reproduce the conditions to produce a single cell of life. Man “cannot make a worm and yet he makes gods by the dozen.” We cannot make a worm; we cannot make a single cell, and yet we make gods by the dozen.

You know the Bible says that when we’re involved in idolatry, even though you might be praying before what you think is a statue of Jesus, if you’re worshipping that as an idol you’re really worshipping the devil. It doesn’t matter if it’s a statue of a hummingbird or what it is, if you are praying to it, it’s devil worship. The Bible says that. I Corinthians 10:19 “What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? But I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.” Revelation 9:20, You might write these down. I’ve got a lot of verses here. “But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk…” When we worship any thing above God it’s really worshipping devils because if you’re giving your adoration, it always gets absorbed somewhere, and if it’s not absorbed by God then it’s absorbed by the enemy. Psalms 106:36 again calls idolatry devil worship. “They served their idols, Which became a snare to them. They even sacrificed their sons…” It’s talking about the church here. This is what Manasseh did. They “sacrificed their sons And their daughters to demons…” When they were worshipping the idols they were offering their children to demons “And shed innocent blood, Even the blood of their sons and daughters, Whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan…” Again it’s calling idolatry devil worship.

Now why is this so important? You become like what you worship. Why does the devil want us to worship creeping things? Why does the devil want us to worship animals? You become like what you worship. How did the Lord feel about it when the children of Israel made a golden calf? Did it make the Lord happy? I mean, they actually pointed to a golden calf and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.” A calf? Why would you worship a cow? I’ve got a little more respect for the Native Americans worshipping a bear or an eagle or a wolf, but cows are really dumb animals. Who would want to aspire to be a cow? Again, I’m not trying to be disrespectful. I’m just being honest with you. You walk the streets of India and so many starving people and yet they’ve got millions of cows that walk the streets free that are adored. They paint them and they cover them with garlands and they worship them and they say if you’re good enough in this life, your karma will pay you back, you can come back as a cow. That’s true. That’s where you get the expression holy cow. Isn’t that right, Dale? Dale was a Hare Krishna for how long? Thirty-seven years so you know what I’m talking about idolatry, don’t you? They worship cows. You are lowered to… our souls are something like a photographic plate that takes on the image of what we worship. That’s not my words. Psalms 115:8, this may have been in our scripture reading. “They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.” You become like them. Again, II Corinthians 3:18 “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” It is very important that we are sensitive to what gets our worship because we become transformed into what we idolize. We become like our god. That’s why the Lord says if we worship anything other than Him then it’s a downgrade.

In America we have movie stars. We call them our… They had a magazine Teen Idol or they’re screen idols. Matter of fact, they’ve got a program, I don’t know if it’s still on, but I know it was on, American what? See, you know about it. “American Idol” and people are aspiring to be a what? An idol to be what? To be worshipped. People vote on who they want to be their idol. Oh, no. We’re sophisticated. We don’t pray to statues in America. We’re above that because we’re modern. We’re civilized. Lord, help us when you consider some of the things and the people that we hold forth as our idols. It’s kind of pathetic. Amen? Worshipping movie stars and become preoccupied with it. Psalms 24:3 and 4, “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?” Who is going to be in God’s presence in heaven too? “Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol…” It’s something that happens inside you when you aspire to be like or to worship or to give your love to another person. Some people idolize others and it doesn’t need to be a movie star. I don’t think Bill Gates considers himself a movie star, but there are people who idolize him for another reason, because of the money. A. W. Tozer said, “The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. Very few consider that anything that is more important to a person than obeying God is considered an idol.” We don’t hear the word idolatry very often anymore; we’ve got a lot of more politically correct words such as misplaced priorities or skewed perspectives, but whether we like it or not there is an awful lot of idolatry even among protestant Christians in north America. It just manifests itself differently.

Now why am I sharing this? Why do I think this is so important? I want you to be blessed. The Bible says that idolatry is especially offensive to God. In the New Testament, when they gave the gospel from the Jews to the gentiles, one thing they specified, the first thing they specified is for them to abstain from things offered to idols. First thing they said for the gentiles that were converting to the God of the Bible is don’t get into idolatry. One of the things John says, one of the last messages, he says, my little children, what does he say? Do you know this? He closes his letter, “My little children, keep yourself from idols.” Paul says in I Corinthians chapter 10, “Flee from idolatry.” What is flee? It’s like run for your life in the other direction. Flee from idolatry. I think the feeling that I get as I interact with protestant Christians principally is that idolatry, oh yeah, that’s for those people in foreign lands that pray in temples, Hindus and Buddhists and our Catholic and orthodox brothers and sisters that carry paintings or statues up and down the streets. While I was in Colombia, I think I shared with you when I gave a little report that several times traffic would come to a standstill. I’d ask the driver what’s happening, and he’d say, “Oh, today is one of the days of one of the saints.” And they had this plastic or porcelain saint that they had somehow attached to a vehicle and they were driving up the street and this vehicle was festooned with all of these decorations and followed by a train of other vehicles. Nobody had died. It wasn’t a funeral procession. They were parading. This idol was on the hood or on the cab up and down the street. Everybody stopped and the horns honked and the people all crossed themselves and it was this plastic saint being driving up and down the streets causing absolute gridlock. We think, “Oh, we’re above that. I’m glad we don’t have that.” We’ve got our own gridlock, right? We’ve got other things that cause us to hit our brakes here. Deuteronomy 7:26 Moses said, “Nor shall you bring an abomination into your house…” He was speaking about an idol. “…lest you be doomed to destruction like it; but you shall utterly detest it and utterly abhor it, for it is an accursed thing.” Now if you were God, and you were speaking through Moses and you wanted to find the strongest language possible to tell how you feel about idolatry, could you find a stronger statement than you will be doomed, utterly detest, utterly abhor it, it is an accursed thing. Do not bring it into your home. Is he being too soft in the way that he’s saying this? Bringing anything into our home that receives our adoration above God is idolatry, and God is a jealous God in that He made us, He loves us and He wants our love.

Let me see if I can put this in terms that are easier for us to relate to. Think for a moment, if you will, about this man who finds a gal he’s smitten with. He tells her how much he cares. He says, “I love you. I want to get married.” She says, “Great, let’s get married.” They set a date. He then spends the next few months doing everything he can and investing everything he’s got in a honeymoon house, beautiful dream home to make her happy because he loves her and he wants to do everything he can to make her happy. After they get married he finds out that instead of getting in the limousine and driving off with him, she gets in with his best man and drives off with someone else. Do you think that’s going to hurt him? Is he going to be jealous? Is that abnormal? Will he be angry because he’s paid so much and had such aspirations and to be totally spurned like that kind of hurts? What if you die to save somebody and you die to save them from their enemy and after you die and you suffer to save them from their enemy they run back to their enemy? Would that hurt? Does God have a right to be jealous? What if you create somebody because you love them and you want them to love you? Wouldn’t it hurt if someone kidnapped your child and your child grows up loving somebody else that kidnapped them and then when you finally get them back they say, “I don’t love you. I love the ones that kidnapped me.” Wouldn’t that hurt? We do all of this and more to God. He created us; He redeemed us. He’s paid for us, supplies all our needs, and when we give our love to the devil it hurts Him. Do we understand that? Idolatry is the epitome of that dynamic.

Some people make an idol of money, and we laugh about it. Pastor White talked about that during the offering appeal. But let’s face it, some people worship money. How can you tell that there are some people that worship money? All you’ve got to do is look at the commercials. What is the modern idea of success? It’s expensive. So people, in order to achieve their concept of happiness and success, they really make a god out of money to do it. Now does the Bible say money is evil? No, it says, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Some having strayed aside from that have pierced themselves with many sorrows. Jesus said, Luke 16:13, no one can serve two masters. There is no middle ground. You can’t say, “I’m going to live to accumulate wealth, and I’m going to serve God.” You can’t make both the priority. No one “can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Jesus said it is nearly impossible (this is a paraphrase) for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Isn’t that right? It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. I always hear folks who say, “Now after all there were exceptions. I mean, you’ve got Abraham in the Bible was wealthy and Jacob” and they’ll name some others. They’ll point out the exceptions in the Bible, and by the way, a lot of them got in trouble because of their wealth too. You can’t name Solomon, yeah, he had a lot of money and he bought a lot of wives and he got in a lot of trouble. You can’t name David, he was fine when he was a poor shepherd; he got wealthy, became powerful and power corrupts and he got into trouble. Money represents a lot of influence and a lot of power and people use it to manipulate to get what they want. They don’t mean to, but they do. It corrupts. Everyone wants to think I can still worship money and the power and influence that it will acquire for me and still be faithful to God. That is the very rare exception when people can be successful in that way and still keep God the priority. There are exceptions, but it troubles me that so many people that claim to be Christians all want to be that exception. It makes you wonder if they’re really worshipping God first or if money has become an idol.

If you want to know what your idols are, check your bank statement. People give to their gods. If you spend… Some people have no problem at all taking the family to the theater and spending thirty or forty dollars but you bring them to church and God will get five dollars. Isn’t that right? They don’t have any problem going to a concert or a football game and they’ll spend seventy or a hundred dollars, sometimes a hundred dollars for one ticket. They come to church, ten dollars for God. You can tell what people worship sometimes by where they direct their offerings. Even in the Bible the people who worshipped pagan gods they’d sometimes, they were more loyal to their pagan gods than Christians are to the true God. They would offer the life of their children to these pagan deities because they were sincere. Sacrifice their children to pagan gods. They would never come before their god without an offering. You can tell sometimes what a person’s god is by what they give to.

Now before we could leave this subject there are a couple of little sidetracks I think we need to explain. Does the Bible say that any kind of reproduction or art is an idol? Is that what the command says? Let’s read it again. Some people read it and stop. “Thou shalt not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in the heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth…” and people stop right there and so they think any facsimile, any recreation of anything that exists in the world is idolatry. That’s not what it says because you can’t stop the commandment halfway. You’ve got to keep reading. “… you shall not bow down yourself to them nor serve them.” So if an artist paints a picture of Jesus or for that matter if he could paint a picture of Noah’s ark and according to this definition a reproduction of anything they could say that’s idolatry. You could paint a picture of a flower. It’s a reproduction of an image of something on earth and I suppose there are people who would pray to and worship nature. We know there are folks who worship trees, at least in America. But there are people who worship the creation instead of Creator. But it’s not a sin to paint a picture. It’s not a sin to take a photograph. Is that clear to everybody? Oh, let me give you some proof. Did God ask the children of Israel to engrave angels in the sanctuary? Were they supposed to worship the wallpaper? No, it was to help them understand that in heaven God is surrounded by angels. Did the Lord have the laver in the courtyard, in Solomon’s day, it’s resting on the back of these twelve bulls? Did Moses make a bronze serpent? That’s something of a conundrum. That actually is one I could probably talk about. When Hezekiah became the king… Let me back up. When Moses first made the bronze serpent it was for a specific purpose to teach a specific lesson that they were all being bitten by these serpents, God was going to show them mercy, the serpent would be defeated and as a symbol of the defeated serpent they put a serpent on the pole. Whoever looked up at that defeated serpent on the pole, they were healed from the disease and that of course has implications of Christ and healing from sin. But what did they do with that serpent? Evidently somebody saved it, and they put it in the temple next to the tooth of Buddha and John the Baptist’s head. I don’t know what they did, but they kept it and years later you read about this in II Kings 18:4. Hezekiah becomes king and it says, “He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars…” They were worshipping these pillars of Asherok and he “cut down the wooden images and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made…” Wait a second here, Hezekiah. What are you doing? Moses made that, and now you’re busting it up. Isn’t that some form of desecration? “…or until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan.” That word Nehushtan means a piece of brass. Hezekiah said it’s just a piece of brass. They had made a god out of it; that was never the Lord’s intention. So here you can see there’s a distinction between making something for a purpose and then making something that you begin to revere the thing. I think it’s so sad when I see people driving around and they’ve got these little statuettes of Mary or Jesus stuck or Velcro to the dash of their car for good luck and somehow they think that there is some merit or virtue in having a plastic figurine of Jesus or Mary or it could be Buddha stuck there and that it’s going to somehow give them some redemptive value. People do it with crosses. Where in the Bible does it tell us to wear the cross? Nowhere, but don’t a lot of people, I mean, I always thought Christian jewelry is something of an oxy-moron. A lot of people think, I met one guy, picked up a hitchhiker one time and he had all these different crosses. I brought up the subject that I was a Christian, and he said, “Well, look! I’m a Christian. See all my crosses?” He began to tell me all of the different stories behind all these crosses. He wore them all like Mr. T as though that they’re just… there’s a lot of let me show you. Talk about wearing your religion on your sleeve. That there was some kind of like good luck charms. That’s idolatry really, isn’t it? People, they pass a cross and they make a sign and they kneel down and they say a prayer as though you’re supposed to give some reverence to some porcelain or gold or silver object. The Bible calls it idolatry.

No, I’m not saying that I support what the Taliban have done in blowing up these Buddhist statues that may have some artistic or historical value. You know where the word vandal comes from? When idolatry began to become more prevalent in the church in the third and fourth century, the Vandals were the Christians in North Africa. They said that that’s idolatry and they went and they desecrated these statues to the different gods. The Christians after Constantine began to call the gods of Mercury and Venus and Zeus and Diana. They began to rename them with Christian names and call them Peter, James, John, Mary, and so forth. The Vandals said this is idolatry, and they would go break off the heads, bust off the noses, break off the arms. That’s why you go through the museums to this very day and you see all these Greek statues that look like they’ve been dismembered. They call that vandalism. That’s where the word comes from. The Vandals said it was idolatry. Well, the Pope actually sent an army to conquer the Vandals and they were decimated as a people. That’s one of the three horns that was plucked up there in Daniel chapter 7. So, there’s nothing really wrong with art. Do you know that in some religions some Christian religions they think that because reproducing an image is an idol they think even having a photograph of your family on the wall is idolatry? Did you know that? I don’t know, I may have mentioned this once before. I was standing out there in the foyer, and we’ve got the glass walls there, you can look in, and I was walking by and there were two sisters that were standing there looking in. They were talking to each other and back then I could hear better than I hear now and I overheard their conversation and the one snippet of the conversation I heard was, “They make a big deal about the fourth commandment, but they don’t have any problem breaking the second one.” And they were looking up at our mosaic. And later on I found out they were two Jehovah Witnesses that came in for whatever reason. I don’t know if they were gathering information or what they were doing here, but I sometimes have regretted that we have our mosaic there. I mean I don’t think anyone here comes to worship it, but could a person? Yeah, you could. You don’t want to do something that makes people stumble. You could worship a photograph. Do you know when photos first came around many conservative protestants thought it was idolatry to have your picture taken? I’ve even got a quote from Ellen White on this, in 2nd Selected Messages, page 319, she said all these people were becoming fanatics. They were going through their houses and throwing out all their photos because they thought it was idolatry. “The second commandment,” this is 2nd Selected Messages, page 319. “The second commandment prohibits image worship, but God Himself employed pictures and symbols to represent to His prophets lessons which He would have them give to the people which they could thus better understand if given in any other way. He appealed to their understanding through the sense of sight. Prophetic history was presented to Daniel and John” and you could also add to Ezekiel “in symbols and these were to be represented plainly upon tables that he who reads might understand.” So God didn’t say that making a picture or an image of something was idolatry because then God is a hypocrite. Making these things and worshipping them is idolatry. And by that definition you could make an idol out of a Van Gough of flowers on your wall. There probably are art collectors that do make idols out of Van Gough paintings. Did that make sense? I’m trying to just keep some balance here. Where am I? Oh, food idols.

Now something I want you to understand. You’re going to read a lot about this in the New Testament and I don’t have all of the references I could give you on this. There’s quite a bit of discussion in the New Testament about idolatry because of things offered to idols. Let me give you the backdrop for this and then I’ll read you some verses; it’ll make more sense. In the pagan world, in the Roman, the Greek culture, and many of the pagan cultures they realized that when something died something sacred had been lost and so whenever they butchered an animal for food whether it was a chicken or a goat or a pig, whatever it was, they did it in a slaughterhouse that was dedicated to a god. There was a lot of blood there and they thought, “Well, if we’re killing all of these animals, let’s get some merit out of all this blood that’s being shed.” So it was always done in temples. The slaughterhouses were temples. So whenever you went to the market, if you’re a Jew and you’re traveling through any of the pagan marketplaces and if you wanted to buy lamb chops, and lamb was clean food, but if you wanted to buy lamb chops, you knew very well that lamb, unless it was slaughtered by some farmer on his farm, he’d butchered it himself, if it was done on any mass scale it was probably butchered in one of these temples and offered to a pagan God. The Jews in the time of Christ were extremely hypersensitive about buying any food in the pagan marketplace because they could be supporting idolatry, even though it might be the second-hand way, by buying lamb chops that had been butchered and offered to Jupiter. Okay, you got the background? This was a terrible problem for them. Some said it doesn’t matter. Some said don’t do it; it’ll make others stumble. Some said don’t do it if others know you’re doing it. It just created quite a stir. Alright. Romans 14:1 “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things…” It has nothing to do with the essence of the food. It’s talking about food offered to idols. “…but he who is weak eats only vegetables.” What’s it talking about? That’s not very good scripture for vegetarians if you don’t know the background. Weak people eat only vegetables? That also goes against modern science to say that. What he’s saying is those who had weak faith said, “I can’t eat any meat that’s been offered, fish, nothing because it’s been offered to these gods.” Paul is saying, “Look, their faith is weak because it troubles them so all they eat is vegetables to play it safe.” Why did Daniel say when he was given the Babylonian food, “We can’t eat this food. Just give us vegetables to eat.” Was Daniel weak in faith? Matter of fact he said, “In ten days give us a test.” They were ten times stronger and they ended up being stronger. It had nothing to do with physical weakness or mental slowness, it had to do with people who said, “Oh, maybe if I buy this in the Wal Mart back there, I’ll be supporting some pagan deity.” Paul was saying, “Look, you can’t control that.” Let me give you an example. How many of you have been to a Chinese restaurant? Show of hands, be honest. Hold your hands up. Hold your hands up. Okay, and you ate the food there?

Did any of you notice that most Chinese restaurants have a little Buddha when you come in? Alright, we’ve got some repenting to do because you were, maybe not directly, but indirectly you were supporting idolatry to Buddha by eating. You walked right by that Buddha. Matter of fact, sometimes it’s right there by the cash register. Isn’t that right? Okay. How many of you ever lsot any sleep over that? Those who are weak in faith, I have met people before where I was in the restaurant and they thought, “Oh, man. I don’t feel so good about this. First thing you see, walk in, two big Buddha you have to walk right between them to get into the restaurant. We’re supporting. These people are Buddhists. How can we eat this food?” Well, you’re not offering it to Buddha. That’s between them and Buddha. It’s not your problem. You see what I’m saying? This is what Paul was talking about. It had nothing to do with vegetables; it had to do with idolatry. All of the food in Babylon, there were two problems that Daniel had. One, it was probably offered to a pagan god so it was wrong in that respect and they knew. They were wondering, will these Jews eat the food that we’ve offered to our gods? Daniel said, “I can’t eat it because you know and I know and I don’t want to be a bad example.” Secondarily there were things that were things that were unclean that the Babylonians ate. We know that from history. I Corinthians 8:4, this makes it clear, “Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one.” That Buddha in the restaurant isn’t anything. “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords),” there’s many names for many gods, he’s saying. “…yet for us there is only one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. However, there is not in everyone that knowledge…” Some people, they’ve got weak faith. “…for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol….” If they eat anything in the Chinese restaurant their conscience bothers them because they think they’re supporting Buddhism. See how I’m trying to give a modern application to what was happening back there? “…and their conscience, being weak…” So when Paul says eating vegetables and things weak, what’s he talking about? It’s a weak conscience. It doesn’t mean a weak body. “…and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.” Daniel said, “I will not defile myself,” not because he had a weak conscience, but he didn’t want to be a bad example.

Notice I Corinthians 10:25. This brings it all home. “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake…” When you go and you say, “I’ll have that lamb” or that chicken or that fish whatever it was, it was clean food. These are Jews and Christians eating clean food, don’t say, don’t ask any questions. Don’t say, “Was this offered to a pagan god?” You might hear something you don’t want to know. It’s not going to change it. I went to this Mexican restaurant for years and enjoyed it very much. Then I went to the restaurant one day with a friend who had a hyperactive conscience, and when we were getting ready to order our vegetable fajitas he said, “Now do you cook the vegetables on the same grill where you cook the beef?” They looked at him like he was crazy and they said, “Yes.” He said, “Oh, well. I’ll have chips.” He’s with me and I’m thinking, “Oh, man. He’s going to think I’m an idolater now.” It kind of ruined it for me. I said to him, “Why did you have to ask that?” Do you know what I’m saying? Now some of you, you probably don’t want to ask that question. It might bother you. “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness. If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you…” He’s talking about you’re going to eat those things that are clean, “asking no question for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, ‘This was offered to idols,’ do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake…” Do you see what Paul is saying? Once you know, you don’t want to be a bad witness and say, “Oh, well, I don’t care that you’re worshipping idols with this.” You’d better not eat it now that you know, or you could be supporting the idolatry. If I go to a Chinese restaurant and as they bring me the menu they say, “We want you to know that we’ve offered everything here to Buddha,” I will say, “Thank you very much. Excuse me. I worship Jehovah.” See what I’m saying? But I don’t ask that question and you don’t either. Once you know, it’s different. Well, I’m running out of time and I’ve got a lot of things left that I want to share.

You know the Bible is clear that ultimately all idols are going to be destroyed. What happened to the Tower of Babel? That was an idol. Let’s build a tower to heaven, work our way to heaven, and what did God do? He destroyed it, confounded their efforts. What happened when Samson with his dying breath, what did he do? He bowed himself and he brought down the temple of Dagon, isn’t that right? Before Gideon, and this is one reason this message is so important, I think God wants to use a lot of us more than He’s using us, but there’s still idols in our life and He can’t. Before God could use Gideon, He told Gideon, “I’ve got a great work for you to do. I’m going to use you to deliver God’s people, but you’ve got a problem. You’ve got an idol in your home.” He says, “It’s an idol to Baal.” His father set it up. His father sounds like a good man because later his father defended taking it down. He didn’t realize that he was getting swept up with Baal worship like everybody else. So during the night Gideon took his oxen and they pulled down the altar to Baal. Then in the morning all the people in the town (these are believers) they come and they say to Gideon’s father, “Who tore down the altar of Baal? Bring him out that we might kill him!” Gideon’s father said something pretty profound. He said, “Look, who is going to plead for Baal? If Baal is a god, let him plead for himself.” That’s how Gideon got his name Jerubbaal. Gideon, his other name was Jerubbaal. It means who will plead for Baal? It’s just a dumb idol; let him plead for himself. That’s what Elijah was doing on Mt. Carmel. He said, “You pray to your god.” They all prayed to Baal all day long, nada. Then he prayed a short prayer to God, fire and rain. It was a battle between the real God and the false gods that they were worshipping. You remember the story when the Philistines captured the Ark of God. Who did the Philistines worship? Dagon. And they brought the Ark of God and they placed it in the temple of Dagon. They came back the next morning and the statue of Dagon had fallen on his face before the Ark as though it is worshipping Jehovah. And Jehovah’s was a golden box with rocks inside. They just couldn’t figure that out. How do you worship a box? That didn’t make sense to them. They said, “Well, maybe there was some seismic activity last night that knocked him down. Let’s set him back up again. Who knows what caused it? It could have been a fluke.” So they set up the idol of Dagon again. They came back the next day. What happened? The idol fell over again. I think we even have an artist’s rendition of that. The idol of Dagon fell, and his hands and his head broke off. That’s very interesting. You know when Jezebel fell? They only found two pieces of Jezebel left, her hands and her head. Where is the mark of the beast? The hands and it’s in the head.

What’s the last issue? What happened to the image of Daniel two? Matter of fact, that’s exhibit A of what I’m talking about. In that image, in that vision of Daniel chapter two, the whole vision is about all of the pagan religions in the world and they’re symbolized by a great big what? It’s an idol. What happens to that idol at the end of the vision? A rock, a plain rock. It doesn’t say what the rock looked like other than it’s just a rock destroys it. When the children of Israel made their altar they would make it out of rough stone, plain old stone. Matter of fact, Moses said God said, “Do not even lift your chisel up upon it.” Don’t try to reshape it at all because as soon as you pick up your chisel and you begin to shape those rocks, you have polluted it. You will be tempted to make an idol out of the altar stones and they’re just rocks. So this rock that comes out of a mountain that destroys this big image, that’s a symbol of Christ the living God that destroys all the idols of the world and all the pagan things that we tend to worship. It was a big idol and in Daniel chapter three the big issue was the king says, “You fall down and worship my image or you die.” They said, “That’s idolatry. We’re not going to do it.” They were willing to die rather than give their love and their worship to a golden statue, and tell you what, if any statue ever evoked those feelings of worship, sixty feet tall in the gleaming morning sun with the sun ricocheting off that gold, six feet wide… well, actually sixty cubits. Six, six, six, isn’t it? Yeah. And then you get to Revelation, whoever does not worship the what? Image to the beast. It all comes about worship. That image is going to be an institution. Idolatry is not just statues. Idolatry could be a relationship. It could be a hobby. Some people have made idols out of hobbies. It takes their time, it takes their attention, it takes their money, and it absorbs it so they don’t have anything left for God. I’m not saying hobbies are bad, but some hobbies have become idols. Some people, sports is their idol. Some people, they’ve brought music into their home and it’s an idol. They worship it. They live for it. It’s idolatry. Anything that takes your affections away from God, it needs to be destroyed because all idols will be destroyed in the end. Some of you remember the story of the man of Judah who came to Jeroboam who had made golden calves, and this one, we don’t even know this prophet’s name. He stretched out his hand, he pointed at this altar with these calves on it and it was split in two, and ashes spilled out. Just with a point of his finger, by his voice it was destroyed. All of the idols will be destroyed. You read in the Bible that when the Lord comes the rich people are going to cast all of their idols of gold (and some people, their idols are gold and silver) and they’re going to cast them to the rats and the bats and the moles in the rocks and the clefts and call for the mountains to fall on them. They’re going to realize they’ve been worshipping vain, creeping things instead of the living God.

Now God is alive and He is real and He is big and anything that you and I do to try to reproduce Him is a downgrade. He is so glorious that there is no way for you and I… I mean, what would my wife think if she came home and I’m sitting there staring at a stuffed bat on the dining room table? Stay with me. She says, “What are you doing?” I say, “Well, you were gone and so I’ve got something here to help me think of you.” But it’s a new stuffed bat; it’s not an old stuffed bat. I would never call her an old bat. And she’d think, “Well, Doug, isn’t there anything? A flower would make me feel better. A stuffed bat? I mean, is that how low you think of me?” Now I’m just using that illustration to say anything we do to try to plastic figurine of Jesus, and we say, “This is Jesus.” Anything we do… I’m always disappointed with any Hollywood recreations of Christ, even when we did the Final Events. Any, there is no way to depict the real Jesus. He is so much bigger and better and glorious and powerful and majestic. That’s why God says, “Be careful.” Anything that takes our love, that takes our attention, steals it from God, that’s idolatry. This is the final issue. Revelation 22, last chapter of the Bible, last book in the last chapter, speaking of separation of the saved and the lost. “But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.” Well, I’m out of time.

I’m glad that we can have a relationship with a real God, a living God, that we don’t need to worry about were our gods broken? Were our gods stolen? You know, Laban one time chased after Jacob. He said, “You stole my gods.” How pathetic that someone could steal your god. How pathetic that your god could be broken, someone could topple it like Baal. I’m glad we don’t have that kind of god that can be stolen or damaged or dented, that we serve a real God a living God. I’d like to invite you to just examine your life and examine your heart and find out does God have first place in your life or is there some vestige of idolatry that has crept in? Let’s return our worship and our allegiance to the Creator and not the creature and not the creation. Amen? Our closing song is number 251 I believe. Is that right? “He Lives!” Let’s stand together as we sing that.

I serve a risen Savior, He's in the world today; I know that He is living, whatever men may say; I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer And just the time I need Him He's always near. He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way. He lives, He lives, salvation to impart! You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.

Before we sing the last verse, I’d just like to ask for a show of hands. I think the message was so broad today that the appeal should probably include just about everybody, yours truly included. The Holy Spirit may have spoken to your heart and you recognize that there is something, someone in your life. It might be an object, it might be a practice that is really becoming an idol. It could be music or TV or some reading or something that’s really taking your love and time and attention and means away from the Lord, and you need to cast these idols down and set up Jesus where He belongs in your heart and you’d like to ask for His help to do that, to give Him that preeminence. Would you like to pray for that? Is that your desire, friends? Let’s sing the third verse together and we’ll close with prayer.

Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian, lift up your voice and sing, Eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King! The hope of all who seek Him, the help of all who find, None other is so loving, so good and kind. He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way. He lives, He lives, salvation to impart! You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.

Dear Father, Lord, we come before You and we ask You to forgive us if there is any area in our life where Your face, Your reality, our relationship with You has been eclipsed by anything else, Lord, whatever it might be. Forgive us for hurting You. You have told us that You’re jealous and that’s because You love us. You’ve paid so much for us. You give everything we need, and it grieves You when we then direct our love somewhere else. Lord, forgive us for that. Help us to give You the first place in our lives, to seek first Your righteousness, Your kingdom. Lord, if there is any area in our life, we pray the Holy Spirit will right now bring that to our minds. Help us to cast down every idol and every vain thing. Help us to flee from idolatry. Help us to keep ourselves from idols that when You come, You’ll recognize Your own reflection in our hearts because we’ve been transformed into Your image by worshiping You. Bless every person that we might experience that. We thank You and pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

You may be seated.

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