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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The LORD is God and there is no other
Text:LD 34 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 1st Commandment (God alone)
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-12-20
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 96:1,2                                                                                

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – Deuteronomy 4:15-40

Ps 115:2,3,4,5

Sermon – Lord’s Day 34, part 2 (Q&A 94, 95)

Ps 135:2,7,8,10

Hy 77:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, I think we’ve all seen idolatry: an image of some other religion’s god. For example, back when I was in university I took a course in world religions. And for an assignment I had to visit a Buddhist temple. Inside were many large stone and gold statues of the Buddha. Maybe you’ve been to a Hindu temple, or visited a country where there are shrines everywhere to the various local gods and goddesses.

What do we think of this idolatry? In a way, we have hard time understanding it, since images play no role in our worship. We might even find it amusing, how other religions conceive of their gods: in the form of elephants, as old men with big bellies, multi-armed women, and so on. But we should also be careful. What’s the reason that so many religions make images of their god? Is there something going on here that could also mislead us? Are there gods—maybe of a different form—that could ruin our relationship with the LORD?

When we get to the heart of the matter, we see that faith always calls for vision. Faith is always about where we’re looking. Where do we direct our expectation? Where do we turn our eyes in days of trouble? And so often, we rely on what can be seen. We prefer things that we can control. Indeed, who do we really trust, and from where do we expect our good things? Today we learn how God teaches and exhorts us in the first commandment of his law, which I preach to you on this theme,

The 1st commandment says that LORD alone is God.

  1. the glory of God
  2. the folly of idols
  3. the duty of God’s people

 

1) the glory of God: If every disease cries out for a remedy, then the disease of idolatry cries out for one too! What is idolatry? “Idolatry is having or inventing something in which to put our trust instead of, or in addition to, the only true God who has revealed himself in his Word” (Q&A 95). So what is the solution how we often misplace our trust? How do we develop a proper focus on the LORD as the true source of our life and hope? It comes through the true knowledge of God.

This is the answer we see in Deuteronomy. In this book Moses is addressing the people as they prepare to enter Canaan. He’ll warn the people about idolatry, but before that, he shares the one solution for our tendency to worship other gods. And the antidote is quite simple: a right knowledge of the living God!

Actually, it makes sense that we would turn to idols if there was something lacking in God. We’d find another god if the LORD had some shortcoming. If there is a way God can’t provide or He wasn’t fully reliable, then we might be excused for looking around for more security.

Conversely, if we really see how holy God is, if we learn to delight in how majestic and awesome He is, if we remember the great things God has done in Christ, then what room will there be in our hearts for idolatry? It is so much less likely to become entrenched.

So at the beginning of the section we read (entitled in some Bibles as, “A Warning Against Idolatry,” or something like that), Moses reminds the Israelites of who God is: “You saw no form when the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire” (v 15). In this chapter Moses has just been reminiscing about the marvelous revelation of God at Sinai. Then the mountain had “burned with fire to the midst of heaven, with darkness, cloud and thick darkness” (v 11). There’s no way you could have missed God’s presence that day, for his voice was unmistakably heard, his nearness was powerfully felt.

God was revealing his great glory, yet there was no form “of any kind.” See how that truth is put very first: the God whom we worship is invisible. He is spirit. Our God has no form that can be outlined with a pencil or described with words. He remains hidden in his splendour, and He dwells in unapproachable light.

Such is the overwhelming glory of the LORD. But this God isn’t so far away that He doesn’t care about us. For what was the greatest thing about Mount Sinai? God spoke to his people, and He spoke because He loves. As Moses asks a bit later: “Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and lived?” (v 33). Israel had a unique status, for they experienced the earth-shaking glory of God—and they survived it! More than that, they’d been blessed by it.

For see what this God did for them: “The LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace out of Egypt, to be his people, an inheritance, as you are this day” (v 20). Israel had been stuck in the furnace, a place of intense suffering, and they were powerless to get out. But God delivered them from Egypt so they might belong to him.

As God’s people, we can tell the same story. For God has spoken to us by his life-giving Word. In his grace, He has delivered us from “the iron furnace,” saved us from captivity to Satan and from a sure destruction. In Christ, He redeemed us to be his very own.

This is the glory of God, that even when we get enamored by the false gods we choose, the LORD won’t let us go. It’s in his very nature not to let us go: “For the LORD your God is a merciful God, He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers” (v 31). Unfailingly, God is ready to receive his people back to himself. This is the glory of the God whom we’re allowed to know, as his covenant people.

So Moses calls the people to reflect. He wants them to think about the whole panorama of human history. Has there ever been such a great god, or such a privileged people? This points us to the Triune God alone as Saviour and Lord. This points us to the only One who is worthy of our praise and trust. Yes, why would we ever seek another?

Look at all the gods of the nations, all the gods crafted by the corrupted human mind. And look at whatever we trust in—as we’ll talk about in a moment—anything or anyone we dare to put ahead of the LORD. Do any of these material things, do any of these mortal people, do any of these passing pursuits, compare with him? Do any of these gods have a history like God’s history, a record of great works and gracious deeds?

Have your idols ever saved you from distress, or have they given you true comfort in sorrow? On the worst day of your life—or on the last day of your life—will it be enough to say, “Well, at least I have my money. At least I have a lot of friends. At least people think I’m good looking.” These will be hollow words. No, sooner or later we will find that next to the LORD all other gods are useless, powerless, and lifeless.

For the Israelites, Moses wants to drive home this point. If it’s true that only God is the God of covenant, that only He speaks, and delivers from sin, then this has a massive consequence. If this is the glory of the God we worship, “Therefore know this day, and consider it in your heart, that the LORD himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other” (v 39). Fix it in your minds, remember the glory of the LORD, and stand in awe of him! God alone is worthy of worship and adoration. “There can be no other!”

And that gives us an action item: we need to know this God! The antidote to idolatry, the  vaccine for our heart trouble, is the true knowledge of the God of glory. See how the Catechism says the same thing when speaking of what God requires of us in this commandment: “That I rightly come to know the only true God” (Q&A 94).

Because when you really know him, you love him. When you know him better and better, you slowly start to trust him more and more. When you know God and a little of what He has done for you, in thanksgiving you want to do his will.

And the opposite is also true. When we don’t know God through his Word, you can be very sure that the idols our heart craves will start to look more and more attractive. Take it as a spiritual rule, a spiritual given: If you’re not daily delighting in God, then you’re already looking elsewhere for your delight. But if you know God well—if you’re getting to know him—then you’ll also know how worthy He is of our trust, our submission, our love, fear and honour.

 

2) the folly of idols: Have you ever gone into an area that was contaminated? Maybe when they were tearing down a building made with asbestos products, or an area at your work that’s off-limits unless you’re wearing special gear?

In a way, that’s what Israel was stepping into. Canaan was a good land, but it was a land littered with pagan shrines and high places. It was also populated by the worshipers of all these gods. Contamination was everywhere, so the temptation was very real, to adopt some of the gods they saw: whether Baal, or Ashterah, or Molech, or Dagon.

So Moses warns about those images made to look like man or woman, animals of the earth, birds of the air, creatures that move along the ground or fish from the sea (vv 16-18). Religions in that time would portray their gods in all these ways: as cows and crocodiles, bulls and beetles, even combinations of human and animal forms.

Again, we’ve probably seen the kind of idolatry Israel encountered: gods made to look like all kinds of creatures. But before we dismiss it as entirely laughable, take a closer look at the mirror of God’s Word. Do we see ourselves in this text? If there were idols in our life, would be able to identify them?

Remember first the nature of faith. Faith calls for vision. That is, where do we direct the eyes of our heart? When we’re worried, or stressed, or unsure, in whom do we place our trust? What comforting words do we preach to ourselves? Or what is our idea of a good day? Something to do with fun, or work, or drinks, or family? Let’s admit that the heart looks for security and meaning in all the wrong places. We all cherish the things we can touch. We crave the things we can control. We seek whatever seems to us most real and present.

In the unbelief that comes naturally to our hearts, we don’t see the reality and nearness of our God, and we think that we need some extra help. Because we’re not walking in the fullness of fellowship with God, we look for satisfaction in other places, in other things—things “instead of, or in addition to, the only true God” (Q&A 95). Can God alone give me a solid joy on this earth? Can I really find fulfillment in him, apart from anything else?

The fact is, every person on earth is a worshipper. We’re all worshippers—ready to give our praise and love to whatever we think is worthy. Maybe we’re really full of ourselves, our position in life and our character, our knowledge and zeal. Or maybe we can’t get enough of pleasure—entertainment and good times every weekend are what keeps us going. Or we’re so impressed by those people renown for their skill, their looks, their fame. For they seem to have it all, and they do things that we only dream of doing.

But bring it closer to home. Maybe it’s a human relationship that gives us our deepest feelings of worth. Maybe our family, our children, our spouse is our greatest treasure. More than anything, we want to be loved, or we want the approval of other people—and we’d do anything to win their favour.

Maybe it’s a damaging habit that gives us our security. When we’re drinking, or when we’re online, or we’re eating, we feel protected from the stress and unpredictability of life—for a little while we’re safe. Maybe it’s a preoccupation with luxury that consumes us, or a constant focus on our body and fitness. We want to attain something, acquire something, be or do something, and that gives our purpose. Maybe all we can do is work. Then we’re the happiest.

Maybe it’s best if we fill in the blanks for ourselves. Idolatry is anything we allow to come between God and us. It’s what prevents us from living in a devoted relationship with him alone. Our gods suck our energy and zeal and trust away from where they should be in the first place: with the LORD. Instead, so much gets poured into something else, offered to another.

This world is littered with idols, just like Canaan was. But true contamination isn’t just external. It’s close at hand—in our hearts. We’re bent on worship from the day we’re born, wanting to give our devotion, our life, our best, to something. So we embrace very tightly the things that we love, both the good and the bad.

So we need to search out the idols in our life. Idols are revealed by our securities. We need to ask what we are trusting in for this next year? Where’s my confidence?

Idols are revealed by our priorities: What’s most important to me? What’s driving me today, and what will drive me tomorrow? Honestly, what gives me the most enjoyment?

Idols are also revealed by our fears. What do we most fear? Do we fear being alone? Do we fear sickness? Do we fear poverty? Do we fear rejection? What if this possession or activity was taken away? What is this person wasn’t around anymore? Could I still be happy in the Lord? Could I still be thankful?

I understand that it’s hard to answer questions like this, but it should make us pause. What is my treasure? What do I consider as my identity? Is it in Christ, in Christ alone?

Never presume we’re immune to the infection of idolatry. Think of the people whom Moses addresses. The Israelites had been at Mount Sinai as children, and had seen there the mighty display of God’s glory. Yet even for them, choosing other gods was a real danger. Moses has to warn them, and he warns us, because God takes this very seriously.

He uses this description of the LORD: a “jealous” God (v 24). Compare it to a marriage, how if you’re married, you just don’t tolerate sharing your partner with someone else. You are jealous for their loyalty and affection. Allowing someone else “in” goes against the whole nature of the relationship. In the same way, God is jealous for the affection of his loved ones, and tolerates no rivals. He wants our whole-hearted dedication.

So if Israel was unfaithful, God had the right to “scatter [them] among the peoples” (v 27). We know the later history of Israel, how so often they turned from God, and how eventually his patience ran out, and they were carried off into exile. And even in those foreign lands, says Moses, “You will serve gods, the work of men’s hands… which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell” (v 28). Here Moses slips in some mockery. Think about it, he says: What can these idols ever do for you? They can “neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell.”

In the Buddhist temple I visited, the worshipers even presented bowls of fruit and sweets to the lifeless Buddha—little treats for the one they adored. They also placed cups of tea in front of the stone statue, in case he was thirsty! They were friendly and otherwise normal people, but who could think that a god like this has any power, to save, to help, to respond? No eyes, no ears, no hands…

But let the Word do its work, beloved. Let’s not be afraid to turn that scorn on ourselves. Don’t we often find our deepest joy in things that are dead, things as lifeless as houses or books or cars? Don’t we often love created things that are fading as we speak? Don’t we devote far too much of our attention to trivial stuff and minor pursuits that bring no eternal benefit? It’s foolish, yet we all do it.

Instead of folly, we should remind ourselves of idolatry’s remedy: a knowledge of the great glory of the one true and living God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Who is like the LORD our God? What thing, what person, what experience can take his place? Unlike gods who can neither see, or hear, nor talk, God sees us. He hears us. He speaks to us. He cares for us. So it’s our duty to love, fear and honour him!

 

3) the duty of God’s people: As Israel stepped into that contaminated land, what did they need to do? As we start another week where toxic idols are lurking in every corner, what must we do? There is the protective gear we can put on: the armour of God. But even so armed, there’s no new requirement. The one true God calls his people to faith. Faith means seeking him alone, looking to God for all things, and walking with him daily.

In the first commandment, God requires that we “trust in him alone, submit to him with all humility and patience, expect all good from him only, and love, fear, and honour him with all my heart” (Q&A 94). So also Moses exhorts us to do this, urges us to turn to the LORD, to seek him, for “you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul” (v 29).

“Seek the LORD your God.” This is one of the simplest, yet richest ways Scripture describes our communion with the living God. Seek the LORD! Seek him in earnest prayer. Seek him in the truth of his Word. Seek him in public worship.

And for the sake of Christ, God promises that those who seek him will find him. Though He has every reason to, God doesn’t leave his unfaithful bride in her shame. The LORD takes us home, and He washes away our filthiness.

Having been forgiven and renewed, we must seek God “with all our heart and with all our soul.” God wants us to be moved with adoration for him, our hearts to love him for who He is and what He has done. If we truly love God, we’ll say it. We’ll sing it. We’ll share it. If we love God, we’ll put him first in our thoughts, first in our prayers, first in our plans. If we truly love God, then we’ll act like it too.

So seek the LORD. Seek the God who has told us all about himself as our Father, the God who has given his own Son as our Saviour, the God who sends his Spirit as our wisdom and strength. Seek him daily, and you will find him.

“Know this day, and consider it in your heart, that the LORD himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other” (v 39). Know that you can trust this God in everything, at every time. Know that this God is all you need, that there is no other! Let him be your highest joy and your greatest delight.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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