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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Worship the true God in his way alone
Text:LD 35 & Exodus 32:1-6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 2nd Commandment (No images)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 4

Psalm 106:1,8,9

Psalm 115:1,2,5,6

Hymn 1

Psalm 146:1-3

Scripture reading:  Exodus 32:1-6 (the sermon focusses on this passage)

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 34

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

Beloved congregation of Christ,

When you examine the life of Jesus on this earth, one of the things that becomes clear is that he was a worshipping man.  In several places in the Gospels you find him in the synagogue worshipping God.  In other places you find him worshipping God at the temple.  As a faithful Jewish man, he gathered for corporate worship on the Sabbath and at the other appointed times.  Worship was obviously really important to him. 

We ought to wonder why.  The answer has to begin with love.  He loved God perfectly, therefore he was compelled to worship God faithfully.  Love drove his worship. 

This is good news for us.  It’s good news because we often don’t worship God faithfully – we’re going to be confronted with that this afternoon with God’s law.  That’s bad news.  But the good news is that Jesus worshipped faithfully and he did it for us, in our place.  As God now looks at Christians, he sees them through the lens of his Son, so to speak.  He sees perfect, faithful worshippers.  If we have Christ as our Saviour, the law cannot condemn us for our failures.  Instead, we are righteous in the sight of God – what a great gospel truth!

That great gospel truth brings us right back around to worship.  We love this Saviour who worshipped faithfully in our place, and so we ourselves want to worship as faithfully as we can.  With the help of his Holy Spirit, we desire to worship God in his ways, just like our Master Jesus did.

The second commandment is about how we worship God.  We confess in Lord’s Day 35 that it teaches us that we’re to worship God only in his ways.  We’re going to look at how this is illustrated in Exodus 32.  That passage is going to be our focus this afternoon.  So I preach to you God’s Word:  Worship the true God in his way alone.

We’ll look at the Golden Calf incident in Exodus 32 and learn what it says about:

  1. Idolatry
  2. Self-willed worship
  3. The relationship between idolatry and self-willed worship

In Exodus 32, Moses has been up on Mount Sinai meeting with God.  By the time he comes down, it will have been 40 days.  The people of Israel had no idea how long he was going to be.  So after a certain period of time they started getting restless.  They started having doubts.  Perhaps they’d been mistaken to follow this man Moses and his God out of the land of Egypt.  Moses seems to have just disappeared and with him went their connection to God.  They thought they’d been abandoned by Moses and by God. 

They turned to Aaron to be their new leader.  They commanded him to make them gods who could go up before them.  They were abandoned by Moses and his God, so now they needed to have new gods.  If you make gods for yourself, then you can control them and they can’t abandon you.  They’ll always be there to serve your needs.  Makes sense. 

At that point, Aaron should have refused.  He should have said, “This is sinful and wicked.  This is idolatry.  We’re to worship the one true God and him only.”  But look at verse 2.  He tells them instead to take off all their rings of gold and bring them to him.  Some interpreters think he said this to test the people to see whether they were really serious.  After all, gold is worth a lot – do you want to give up all your gold to make idols?  This could be true, but it’s speculation.  We don’t know what was in Aaron’s mind at this moment.  All we know is what he didn’t do and what he did do.  What he didn’t do was rebuke the Israelites’ desire for idols and what he did do was stoke that desire.  A total failure of spiritual leadership.

That failure only became worse as the people of Israel brought all their gold.  He took it and made a golden calf.  In the Ancient Near East, a young bull or calf was a symbol of strength.  In Egypt and elsewhere, gods were sometimes portrayed as young bulls or as riding on them.  When they were in Egypt, the Israelites would have known about the Egyptian god Apis, the fertility god represented by a bull.  Perhaps that was in Aaron’s mind.  And we have to realize that the golden calf was probably not made of solid gold.  It probably had a wooden framework with gold plating.  This is why verse 4 says that Aaron “fashioned it with a graving tool.”  A graving tool would be used to mould the gold plating into the shape around the framework.

When he was done, some of the people cried out, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”  God had said, “You shall have no other gods before me.”  That was the First Commandment.  But they said, “No, we will have other gods and this golden calf will represent them for us.”  This was the sin of idolatry.  This was the people of Israel rejecting the true God and choosing to worship gods of their own imagination.      

But now look at what happens in verse 5.  Aaron reacts by building an altar.  What is an altar for?  It’s a place for making sacrifices – and sacrifices are an act of worship.  So by building an altar Aaron is preparing for worship.  Then he makes a declaration.  As the new spiritual leader of Israel he says, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.”  These words need a closer look. 

First off, notice that the “LORD” is in all capital letters.  That’s the personal name of God in Hebrew.  So Aaron literally says, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to Yahweh.”  So he doesn’t say, “A feast to the gods” or “A feast to your new god” or something like that.  He intentionally frames it as being directed to Yahweh.  And there is only one Yahweh.  No other deity was referred to with that name. 

Next, Aaron proclaims a “feast.”  That word is normally used in relation to the appointed feasts of Yahweh.  But here Aaron is acting on his own to add a feast day for the worship of Yahweh.

Taken together we have here an example of what’s called self-willed worship.  It’s willed by yourself.  Self-willed worship is worship that you want, not what God wants.  The people of Israel were going to worship idols.  But Aaron has a different idea.  Let’s take this golden calf and instead use it to worship God.  The people of Israel wanted to break the First Commandment, but Aaron says, “No, let’s break the Second Commandment instead.”  Instead of having the golden calf represent false gods, we’ll use it to worship Yahweh the only true God.  That directly contradicted the Second Commandment.  God said, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image…you shall not bow down to them or serve them.”  But Aaron said, “Let’s take this carved image and use it for the worship of Yahweh.”  As our Catechism explains it in answer 97, “God forbids us to make or have any images [of creatures] in order to worship them or to serve God through them.”  God wants to be worshipped in his way alone, and his way forbids images. 

Aaron’s self-willed worship proposal was taken up wholeheartedly by many of the Israelites.  The next day they got up early.  People get up early when there’s something important going on.  They were excited for the new worship.  That altar that Aaron made – it was soon put into action.  Burnt offerings were laid on it and so were peace offerings.  Elsewhere in the Old Testament these are offerings connected to the worship of Yahweh.

But then it got worse.  They sat down to eat and drink.  They were feasting, indulging to celebrate the new era without Moses.  Then at the end of verse 6 we find those curious words, “they rose up to play.”  Literally it means something like, “they went wild.”  They lost their minds and acted crazy.  However, most interpreters agree that it was more than just an insane party.  The word used here in Hebrew can sometimes have a sexual connotation.  That would make sense if there’s a connection back to the Egyptian god Apis – he was the fertility god and the way you get a fertility god to bless you is by, well, you know.  So this wasn’t just your run of the mill wild and crazy party.  That’s why verse 25 speaks about what they had done as being shameful. 

All in all, it’s an ugly picture painted for us here in Exodus 32.  It gets uglier as you read further and find out how Moses reacted and how God reacted.  This was a high-handed treasonous rebellion against God.  And there were consequences for that.  People died for their sin.   

But for our purposes this afternoon, we want to look at what we can learn from this in relation to the Second Commandment.  To do that, let’s think for a moment about the relationship here between idolatry and self-willed worship.  In other words, let’s look at the connection between the First Commandment and the Second Commandment.  There’s a difference between these two – one is about who should be worshipped and the other about how God should be worshipped.  But there’s also a connection.

The two are quite intertwined in this episode here in Exodus 32.  As we’ve seen, it starts off with a violation of the First Commandment, but it ends up also involving the Second Commandment.  But also when Aaron is leading the people to break the Second Commandment, the First Commandment isn’t totally out of view.  There’s a real sense where if you’re breaking the Second Commandment, you’re breaking the First as well. 

It works like this.  When you decide to worship God in your own way, like Aaron did, you’re deciding that your will carries more weight than his.  God has told you how he wants to be worshipped, but you say, “No, I’m more important than you.”  Which is a lie.  There is no reality in which you are more important or have more authority than God.  God is ultimate, not you.  But you reject that truth when you break the Second Commandment and engage in self-willed worship.  By rejecting that truth, you’re breaking the First Commandment as well. 

Also keep in mind that the First Commandment includes as part of it that we love God with all our heart.  Imagine you say you love someone.  Their birthday is coming up and they’ve made it clear what they’d really love to have for their birthday.  It’s not something expensive.  It’s not something hard to get.  You can easily afford it and you can easily get it for them.  You know what they want and you could get it.  But you choose not to.  Instead, you buy something for them that will serve you, something that you could use, or something they could use for your benefit.  That would be a strange way to show your love for someone.  I think most people would say you’re not loving that other person, you’re just loving yourself.  Well, it’s the same with worship and the relationship between the First and Second Commandment.  You say you love God.  God has told you how he wants to be worshipped.  Are you really showing your love for him when you worship him otherwise than what he’s commanded?  In that way, when you’re breaking the Second Commandment, you’re breaking the First Commandment as well.

Now you might be thinking:  well, how does any of that apply to us today as Christians?  We’re not going to set up a golden calf in church or anything like that.  In the elements of our worship services, we worship God only with those elements he has commanded.  We have the reading and preaching of Scripture, we have singing, we have prayer, we have offerings, and so on.  All of that is true and we can be thankful for that.  We should maintain that.  We should be watching for every temptation to change that.  The day could come when someone suggests that we sometimes have a sermon based on a TV show instead of on the Bible.  You might think that’s outrageous or ridiculous, but it’s happened in other places.  This happens when people forget what the Second Commandment means – we’re to worship God only in his way.  If God says preach the Bible, then we’re supposed to only preach the Bible. 

But let’s bring this a little closer to home.  The external aspects of worship are easy enough.  The heart is where we struggle. 

Prayer is part of our worship.  Praying together is hard.  It’s so hard to have your heart engaged with that prayer when someone else is leading.  But the Second Commandment calls us to strive for that. 

Singing is part of our worship.  It’s easy to sing anything without thinking about what you’re singing.  The words are coming out of your mouth but your mind is elsewhere.  The Second Commandment calls for us to focus on what we’re singing and if it involves praise to God, we’re to be conscientiously giving praise to God at that moment.  God doesn’t want his people to just go through the motions.      

The sermon is part of our worship.  Listening is hard work, especially today when attention spans seem to be getting so much shorter.  You can be looking right at me while I’m preaching, you can look like you’re listening, but your heart and mind can be somewhere else completely.  Maybe at this point I just caught you doing exactly that.  It happens so easily, but the Second Commandment tells us not to settle for it.  Don’t accept it.  You have to fight against it and strive to listen wholeheartedly to God’s Word.  Prepare yourself before worship each Sunday by asking God to help you with his Holy Spirit to worship not only with your outward actions and appearances, but also with your heart and mind fully engaged. 

Loved ones, if I look back over my time as a Christian, I know there have been many occasions where I’ve broken the Second Commandment.  And in doing so I broke the First as well.  I’m sure you can relate.  But let’s not end on that note of failure.  Instead, let’s be encouraged to know that all our failures have been addressed by Jesus Christ.  They were all nailed to the cross with him.  And, as I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon, we have his righteous obedience as ours too.  We’re forgiven and we’re righteous.  So we love God and because we love him, let’s strive to worship him alone in his way alone.  AMEN. 


Our great and holy God,

We worship and adore you as the one and only God.  We love you, especially because of what you have done in the gospel.  You’ve given us a Saviour who perfectly obeyed your law in our place.  Our Saviour took our place on the cross to pay for all the times we’ve broken your law, also for all the times we’ve broken the Second Commandment.  Thank you for Jesus our beloved Lord and Saviour.  Now Father, we pray for you to please help us to worship you only in your ways.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit so that when we gather for worship, we’d do so with hearts fully engaged with you.  Help us so that we don’t just go through the motions, but genuinely and conscientiously worship.  Please forgive us through Christ for every time we haven’t done so.  Forgive us for our sins of today in that regard too.  In the remainder of our worship service this afternoon here, please help us to confess our faith thoughtfully, bring our offerings worshipfully, sing praise to you heartily, and receive your benediction with faith in our hearts.  May it all be to your glory.                                       

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

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