Robert Jeffress - Worship The True God
Hi, I am Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Humans are creative by nature. It's one of the many ways in which we reflect the image of our Creator and as a result, human history is marked by great periods of art, music, literature and more, but there's a point at which our creativity can land us into trouble. Today we're going to look at the second commandment, and the dangers that lurk in letting our imagination run wild when it comes to God. My message is titled: Worship the True God, on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
I have always been fascinated with history, and the locations where that history took place. When I was little, my dad used to drag us down to the Alamo in San Antonio. Standing there in front of the Alamo I used to imagine what it would've been like for Santa Ana and his troops to scale the old mission. As an adult I've had the privilege of visiting the most famous house in America, the White House. As I've sat in the east room many times for different ceremonies, my mind would wander and I would wonder what it was like for John and Abigail Adams, who were the first residents of the White House and actually hung their laundry, and what is now the east room what it was like for them. But of all the historical locations I visited, the one that has meant the most to me is to visit the land of Israel.
There is something about walking on the stones where Jesus walked 2000 years ago. There's something about standing on the Mount of Olives, and realize this is where he ascended into heaven and where he's coming back one day. To stand in the front of the empty tomb, and realize this is where Jesus conquered death forever. There is something faith affirming. I hear it from people all the time, said my faith came alive after a trip to Israel. Why is that? There's something about being in that location that lifts our faith from what we sometimes think of as mystical and even mythical to actual events that happened in a time place location. We have a desire for physical, geographical representations of our faith because we are physical beings. In fact, when Jesus came, he came in the flesh.
1 John 1:1 says, "What we have heard with our ears, we've seen with our own eyes, we have handled concerning the word of life, Jesus". In other words, John was saying he wasn't just a spirit. We saw him, we heard him, we touched him. It's everything normal for us to desire physical representations of our faith. The downside of seeking physical representations of our faith is that if we're not careful, we start to worship the objects of faith rather than the God whom those objects represent. And that's not just a minor technical difficulty, it is a major issue as evidenced by the second commandment we're going to look at today.
If you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to Exodus 20:4. The second commandment flows naturally out of the first commandment. Look at it with me. "You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above, or on the earth beneath, or in the water underneath the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing loving kindness to thousands to those who love me and keep my commandments".
Now, you need to know there are some faith groups that actually believe all of this is one commandment. Both verse three and verses four to six, it's all part of the first commandment. "You're to have no other Gods before me," "And you're not to make any images of me and worship them". If they combine the first two, then how do they come up with 10 commandments? Well, these faith groups take the last commandment and separate it, the one about coveting. They say the 9th commandment is, "You shall not cover your neighbor's house", and then the 10th commandment, "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife".
I believe that's incorrect. I believe the coveting commands go together, but I believe verse three is its own commandment. "You are to serve no other God's before me," and verse four through six, sure not to make images of God. I believe these are two distinct commandments. Now, like most of the 10 commandments, this commandment starts out with a negative, don't do this. It prescribes the judgment, the consequences of those who violate the commandment and then it ends with a promise. I think the key verse is verse five, "You are not to worship these images or to serve them". What is the danger of images of God? There are two of them. First of all, images diminish the glory of God. They diminish the glory of God.
Remember the story I told you, well, first grader Johnny who's working on his art project the teacher says, "What are you drawing, Johnny"? He said, "I'm drawing a picture of God". She says, "Well, nobody knows what God looks like". And Johnny says "They will in a few minutes". You know it's a funny story, but it makes a point. The problem when we draw images of God is we reduce God, we diminish the glory of God. And a great illustration of that is Exodus chapter 32. Remember, the children of Israel had crossed the Red Sea. They were on the way to the Promised Land, but they stopped at the base of mount Sinai. And remember Moses went up to the top of the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights to receive the law of God, the 10 commandments is all the other law.
Interestingly, while God was giving the commandments to Moses, Israelites below were breaking the very commandments Moses was receiving, including this one. Israelites, they were discouraged that Moses had left them. They hadn't heard from him. They didn't know what had happened to him, they said maybe he's died. We're without a leader. So they go to Moses's brother Aaron and they say we need something we can worship and follow. We want you to make an image of God. And so they said, we need a God who will go before us.
And so what did Aaron do? He acquiesced to that command, and in Exodus 32 he said, "Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters, and bring them to me". And then the scripture says, "Aaron fashioned the gold into a molten calf. And when the people saw it, they worshiped it". And Aaron said, "This is your God, o Israel who brought you up from the land of Egypt". Now you have to think, what in the world happened to Aaron? Did he fall into idle worship? Did he start following prematurely the Canaanite Gods? Why would such a righteous man start worshiping the wrong God?
Well, he didn't. He wasn't worshiping the false God, he was worshiping the true God. He hadn't become a pagan all of a sudden. The reason I know that is in verse five, he says, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord," to Yahweh. He wasn't worshiping a false God. He didn't think this was a new God, he thought it was a representation of the true God. They wanted something visual that they could follow. He didn't think this was God, he thought it was a representation of God.
You say, "Well then what's wrong with that? God is like a powerful bull. He is strong and mighty and able. He is the one who just parted the Red Sea. What's wrong with depicting God as a powerful God"? Well, it's true, God is powerful, but he's other things as well. He's holy, he's just, he's forgiving, he's omniscient, he's sovereign and that bull doesn't represent all of those things. It just represents one aspect of God, it doesn't tell the whole story about God. Images not only diminish the glory of God, the second problem is they distort the truth about God. Once you diminish God's glory, it's easy to distort the truth of God. When you reduce God to something you can handle, or you can see once you have diminished God, it's easy to distort God and make him whatever you want him to be.
A great example of that is found in Romans chapter one. Remember, God is describing those who have rejected the knowledge of the true God, which by the way everybody has by looking at nature. You can know there is a God by looking at nature, but some people have rejected that knowledge of the true God and instead they have created a false God and made him whom they want him to be. Look at verse 22, "Professing to be wise," Romans 1:22, "Professing to be wise, they became fools and they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds, and of four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lust of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and then they worshiped and served the creature rather than Creator who is blessed forever".
They tried to reduce God to this image that they had made, and then they imposed upon this new God whatever values they wanted and you read Romans one, part of those values were sexual immorality. They imagined to be a God who approved of same sex relationships, men lusting for men, and women for women and every other kind of immorality. The pattern is you reduce God and then you distort his truth. And by the way, the same thing is happening today. Our society wants to diminish God, to downsize God into something manageable that we can understand, and control and then we distort the truth of the real God. I saw a great illustration of this just a few years ago in that popular movie that came out.
Remember "Evan Almighty"? Did you all see the movie? It's a comedy and it's an entertaining movie. It's a modern day riff on the flood story, in the movie God is portrayed, he's been reduced to Morgan Freeman. That is God. And he comes to Steve Carell, a modern day businessman, and orders him to build an ark, a massive ark and to have the animals get on the ark because a great flood is coming. And so in one key scene, the Steve Carell character is talking to God and ask him about the original Noah and the ark story and this is what God that is Morgan Freeman says. He says, "You know, a lot of people miss the whole point of that story. They think it's about God's wrath and anger". Evan says, "Well, if it's not about his wrath and anger, what is the story about"? And God answers and says, "Well I think it's a love story about believing in each other. You know, the animals showed up in pairs. They stood by each other side by side just like Noah and his family. Everybody entered the ark side by side".
Oh, ain't that a sweet story? If you don't like a God of wrath and anger and judgment, adopt this God. Let Morgan Freeman be your God. I like a God who doesn't judge people. I like one who encourages unity among people. Why worship God only and not images of God? He gives us the reason. In verse five, he said, "I'm the Lord your God and I am a jealous God". He goes on to say in Isaiah 42:8, "I'm the Lord God and I will not give my glory to another". Now, we read that negatively, say a jealous God, not sure your glory. What's wrong, God, are you that insecure? Are you that paranoid that you think somebody's going to take away your glory? Look, remember these commands are not for God's benefit, they're for our benefit. God has a holy jealousy. He loves us so much he doesn't want us to get distracted, and deceived by false Gods that can never meet our needs. He is a jealous God, but he is also a generous God.
Look at verse six, "But I show loving kindness to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments". So what's the application to me? How do we obey this second commandment? I want to remind you of that quote by A.W. Tozer who said "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us". When you think about God and hopefully you do, how do you make sure it's the real God you're thinking about and not the God of your imagination? How do you obey this second commandment? Let me give you three practical principles for obeying this commandment. First of all, don't diminish God through images of worship. Don't diminish God through images of worship.
Now, this is the most logical application of this. Be careful about your use of images and objects in your worship. For example, the cross. We have a cross in our church, a beautiful stained glass cross. There's nothing wrong with that. It's a reminder of the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf so that we could have the forgiveness of our sins. There's nothing wrong with cross. You should know that Christians didn't start using the cross as a sign of worship until 400 years after Christ. Did you know that? It's not a part of worship and the early church, but we use it today and that's fine. There are other images, but here's what the commandment is saying. Don't confuse the objects with the object of our worship God. Don't diminish God through images of worship.
Secondly, don't define God by yourself. Don't make God look just like you do. For example, I mean, I'm very proud that I'm a citizen of this great country. I think God has blessed America. We have patriotic service to celebrate God's blessings upon our country. But even though I'm patriotic and proud to be in America, I do know that when Jesus came to that feeding trough in Bethlehem, he didn't come wrapped in an American flag. He came wrapped in swaddling cloths. And when we try to define God by nationality and think of God as an American, we alienate a whole segment of our entire world. God is not an American, God is transcendent, and we need to be careful that we don't diminish him or define him by ourselves.
And finally, don't downsize God by traditions of worship. Don't downsize God by traditions of worship. The very first church I went to pastor, I'll never forget they had an order of service and part of the order of service was they sang the doxology right before they took the offering. Well, little innocent me, I decided after a few weeks that I would change the doxology and put it at the end of the service, there was an explosion. You would've thought I had denied the virgin birth of Jesus Christ by moving the doxology. They just went ballistic. And there are some people that, well you can't worship if the doxology is there, it has to be here in order to worship God. There are other churches that think God's word can only be heard from behind a Wooden pulpit. If it's plexiglass, God's word cannot transcend a plexiglass pulpit. It has to be.
Now you think I'm kidding, I am not kidding. There are churches that have split over whether the pulpit ought to be wood or plexiglass. Don't reduce God by your traditions of worship. That's what the second commandment of Exodus 20 is. Don't diminish him, don't define him, don't downsize him. Well, pastor then what is true worship? Do you remember in John chapter four, Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well. He was talking to her about her eternal soul, and he began to probe belittle too closely to the heart of the matter about her own morality in her marriage situation. And so she tried to distract Jesus with a theological question. And she said, "You know Jesus, our fathers, the Samaritan said that the right mountain to worship on is mount Gerizim. And you say that the right place to worship is on this mountain. Which mountain is the correct mountain to worship on"?
Do you remember what Jesus said? Here's the Jeffress paraphrase, "Lady the hour is coming. In fact, it's already here when that doesn't make any difference at all". And then he went on to say, "For God is", what? "Spirit". "And those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth". That's how we're to worship. We're to worship God in spirit. God can't be defined by a location, or a tradition or an image, God is a spirit. Worship him as a transcendent spirit and then worship him based on truth. Make sure when you worship the God you're worshiping is the God of the Bible, the true God, not the God of your imagination. For Jesus said those kind of worshipers, the father is actively seeking.