Exodus Lesson 15 - No Props, Please!
God takes worship seriously. So if we find ourselves coming before Him frivolously and apathetically, we should take a look back at Exodus 20 and be reminded of how frightening His holiness is. Just because we can now come boldly before Him through the Grace of His Son doesn't mean we should come comfortably.
“NO PROPS PLEASE”
(Exodus 20, Romans 1)
A few years ago, the “Chicago Tribune” reported the story of a New Mexico woman who was frying tortillas when she noticed the skillet burns on one of her tortillas resembled the face of Jesus, whatever that looks like. She was so amazed that this represented, what she felt, was the face of Jesus that she showed it to her husband and to her friends, her neighbors. And they all agreed that it definitely did resemble the face of a man and they concluded, it must be Jesus. So she took the tortilla to her priest. And though he was not in the practice of blessing tortillas, he agreed. And she took it home and she put it in a glass case on mounds of cotton so that it looked like it was floating. And in the process of just three months, 8,000 people came to worship at the shrine of the Jesus of the tortilla. One newspaper reporter, however, from America, went over. And, in classic American style, he came back saying it seemed to resembled the former heavyweight boxing champion Leon Sphinx. We’ll never know. But you wonder, how could that happen? Very easily. In fact, we’re going to discover this morning what the scriptures have to say about worship. Turn to Exodus, chapter 20. We’ll pick up our study as we move through this book. We are centering our thoughts on the Ten Commandments and how they apply to the 21stcentury. Exodus, chapter 20, if you have your Bibles. And your study notes, I think, will be helpful as well.
The second commandment begins with verse 4. And it is really a logical progression of the first commandment that reads, in verse 3, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” That is, God is to be prominent, He is to be preeminent. Because He is prominent, because He is preeminent, this Elohim, this Yahweh of the Israelite, then verse 4, “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 under 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 the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing loving kindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
Before we get into exactly what I think is the application of this commandment, I want to note two things. The first thing is the importance of a role model. Perhaps you saw that. It said, in verse 5, a phrase that, I think, is often misinterpreted. He says, “I” - “am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me”. I have heard this taught that, what He is saying here is, that, if a father sins, the consequences of that sin are passed down from generation to generation and it will normally take four generations before that sin, or the consequences of that sin, is finally abated. However, in the context of this passage, what He is saying is, that the way the father worships is translated to the way the son worships and the grandson worships. Normally if a father is an idolater, if a father refuses to acknowledge God, that is picked up by his son and his grandson and his great grandson. And, I think, what He is teaching here is the tremendous importance of a role model in worship. Those of you who are fathers and mothers, you are rearing your children and they, by observing you, are determining, perhaps, how they will worship God.
Not only is it important to have a proper role model but He also stresses the importance of correct worship. Turn over, if you would, to verse 24. I love this part. In fact, this is often overlooked. Chapter 20, verse 24, He specifies, begin with verse 23. “You shall not make other gods besides Me; gods of silver or gods of gold, you shall not make for yourselves.” Here’s how you are to do it, “You shall make an altar of earth for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you. And if you make an altar of stone for Me, you shall not build it of cut stones, for if you wield your tool on it, you will profane it. And you shall not go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.” Now let me back up and help us realize what He is saying here. It’s fascinating, when He says to build an altar, He wants them to build it out of rough stones; that is, the boulders that they are to dig from the ground. He doesn’t want the stone mason to come along and cut away at it and, in a sense, reveal the beauty of it. He doesn’t want our focus on the altar. He wants their focus, and our focus today, on what is DONE at the altar. We aren’t to come and admire the vehicle of worship. They were not to come and say, “Boy, didn’t the mason do a tremendous job on that altar? Look at the way this stone lays. Look at the beauty. Look at the sparkle.” They are to come, not looking at that but, looking at the God that they are worshipping through that vehicle. In effect, God is saying, “I don’t want any props in worship.” They were guilty of that later and, I think, we are guilty of that today. We get so caught up in all of the props. We get so impressed with the stained glass. We get so impressed with all of the vehicles, that we focus on them and forget, it is God that we have come to worship. We are not to be attracted to the things we make to the exclusion of the character of God. He says, “Don’t go up by steps to the altar.” It was the practice of the Canaanites to build high steps and high altars and the priests were normally naked. And they then, by that activity, drew attention to themselves. God didn’t want the priests drawing attention to themselves, or the modern day preacher or expositor. That isn’t the focus of attention. It was on the God who was worshipped. So He says, “Do away with the stairs. Wear clothing. Don’t draw attention to yourself. And worship Me.”
Now the Bible has a lot to say about worship, as we all know. It also has a lot to say about how not to worship. This morning, with the time that we have, I want to give you what we find in scripture as to three ways to worship incorrectly. Your notes will be helpful. The first is this, the worship of false gods. Now you would say, here in America, we have no difficulty with that. Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, a person is not born idolatrous. A person is not necessarily born an idolater; that is, of some stump or some piece of stone, some object. A person becomes an idolater. And I want to show you how it happens. Turn to Romans, chapter 1. Romans, chapter 1, and I want to give you three steps toward idolatry. He’s writing to a New Testament church. He’s writing to a contemporary scene that we are finding today in our own community. And I want you to notice what he is saying.
Three steps toward idolatry. The first is found in verse 21, he’s talking about the unbeliever, he’s saying, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God” - that is, they did not glorify Him. The word “honor,” is “doxazo,” from which we get our word “Doxology;” that is the simple, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” These people were not acknowledging the glory of God. He was NOT prominent. He was NOT preeminent. And that is, in itself, the first step downward that will, ultimately, lead you and I to worshipping some stump, some false god, some out-of-the-body experience, and all of the contemporary idols of today.
Secondly, they did not thank God. If you don’t honor Him, you won’t thank Him. “Nor did they” - “give thanks”. You know, the interesting thing about an atheist is, they have a dilemma. Whenever he feels grateful for something and he wants to give thanks, he doesn’t have anybody to give it to.
And one of the problems of not acknowledging God is, you come to the point where you do not thank God for what He has done and that, ultimately, leads to step number 3. That is, they did not acknowledge God in their lives. It says, “but they became futile in their speculations”. The word “futile,” is the same word the Jews used for “idols.” They became idolatrous in their speculations. If you don’t acknowledge God, if you don’t thank God, you have to put something else there, something else has to fill up that void in your life. And if it is not God, it must be something else and, because of that, they become idolatrous in their thinking.
Those are the three steps toward idolatry. Now let me give you, in this chapter, the four results. And I want you to pay careful attention. The first is, a loss of discernment. A loss of discernment. And, I think, this is characteristic of our nation. I think this is characteristic of the individual who does not acknowledge God. It says, “their foolish heart” - verse 21, the last part - “was darkened.” “Darkened” is, literally, “without insight, unintelligible.” You know, the wisest person, men and women, in our society today are people who know Jesus Christ. Because the foundation for wisdom is a vertical relationship with Jesus Christ. And, if that relationship is right, then the horizontal relationships, the horizontal judgments, the horizontal decisions are taken care of, we can make sound judgment. What we want to see is someone on the Supreme Court bench that knows Jesus Christ because that relationship is established and then they can have insight in making decisions. That’s the individual we want in political office. That is the kind of individual who will make an impact in this society. It is someone who knows Christ, who acknowledges God and, by that, is given the basis for insight. Without Him, we should not be surprised at the decisions that are made. It says here, when you do not acknowledge God, as a nation or as an individual, you become foolish and without insight.
The second thing is, there is an increase of selfishness. Verse 22, “Professing to be wise, they became fools”. “Why, if God doesn’t have the answer, then I must.” So they become the center of their lives and they become fools. The word “fool,” is “moraino,” which we get our word “moron” from. I think that’s a classic way of viewing the people who do not acknowledge God and make decisions and they stand back and they say, “Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that wise?” God says they are morons and their decisions are moronic.
I was cleaning out the church shed, the rental shed, last winter and I’ll never forget an experience I had. There was a fellow that was cleaning out the shed next to us and it was cold and it was drizzling. And I thought, “Well, Lord, you put him next door for a reason.” And so I went over and I started talking with him. And the kids were in the truck waiting but I wanted to just ask him if he knew the Lord. And usually I begin the conversation by asking that person where they go to church and that gives me a little bit of a clue as to where we stand. And he didn’t really go anywhere and he asked where I went. And I said I went to Colonial Baptist Church. And he said, “Oh, are you a Christian?” And I said, “Yes, I am.” I didn’t want to tell him I was the preacher. They may not be synonymous in society’s eyes. I said, “Yes, I am.” And he said, “Great! I love to discuss the theory of Christianity with people.” And I thought, “Oh brother.” It started to drizzle, the kids are ready to go. I thought, “Why did I have to be an evangelistic this morning?” He finally ended the conversation with saying these words, “I worship whatever I believe is acceptable to me.” That is the statement here, “Professing to be wise, they became” - moronic. That is, they become so self-centered that they will worship whatever they think is acceptable to themselves. Ladies and gentlemen, if you and I do not worship God according to His revelation, we have not worshiped God. If we worship anyone other than the God of this book, we have not worshiped God. We have become foolish.
And the third step is in verse 23, they create a religion without a creator. They create a religion without a creator. Verse 23, “and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for” - note - “an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” If you had ever told this individual, months ago, that, ultimately, you will be worshipping some object, you will be worshipping your front lawn, your automobile, your career, your expectations, your spouse, your child, whatever finds first place in your heart, they’d say, “No, I don’t worship that.” But yet, they do. Why? Because they began, way up in verse 18, by not acknowledging God.
And then, finally, fourth, this is more a statement, I think a summary, and that is this, they lead unaccountable lives that produce uncontrollable sin. Unaccountable lives produce uncontrollable sin. And there are three times the scriptures say, “God gave them up”. Verse 24 is the first. We’ll call this the excess of natural function. It says, “Therefore” - as a result - “God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them.” Why? Because they are immoral? Yes. But, what is the root of the problem? Verse 25, “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.” Ultimately, the problem in someone’s life, who is living without the values of this book, it goes back to the problem that they have exchanged GOD as prominent with themselves. And then the loss of their hearts. Why not? Where is accountability? Where is authority? “I do what I please.” So they experience the excess of a natural function.
And what I find happening in this country is startling. Let me read you a couple of things. This is a survey that was written up in “Straight Talk to Men.” There was an interview of college students, Christian and non-Christian. All college students, who did not claim the name of Jesus Christ, felt that pre-marital sexual relations outside of marriage, sixty-nine percent of them, thought it was all right. Christians, those who named the name of Jesus Christ, thirty-nine percent of them believed it was all right. Of those individuals having five or more partners, those who knew Christ, ten percent. Here is a startling statistic, men and women, those who did not know Christ had between two and four partners, twenty-six percent of them. Those who knew Jesus Christ, and claimed Him, twenty-three percent. There’s only three percent difference. College students, who did not know Christ, twenty-three percent of them had one partner. Those who knew Jesus Christ, twenty-six percent. More. One of the problems in the sexual revolution that is sweeping this country is, there is no longer the distinction between those who are known and admittedly idolatrous and those who say they know Jesus Christ.
James Dobson wrote, in his magazine recently, the fact that fifty-six percent of all females and eighty percent of all males experience sexual relations; fifty percent of them between the ages of eleven and thirteen. Why? It goes back to this. Whenever you or I exchange God for ourselves, we open the door to immorality. There is the excess, in this country, of a natural function and I think there is an excess in the church as well.
There is a second, “God gave them over” - verse 26 - “to degrading passions”. We’ll call this the indulgence of unnatural affections. “God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” The indulgence of unnatural affection. The reason that I would say America is an idolatrous nation is because we are having a surge of homosexuality and lesbianism that has never before hit this country. And what scares me more than anything, ladies and gentlemen, is the fact that this is the second step toward total idolatry.
I was reading, also, a survey that bothers me but I get these magazines to keep current. It talks about the advances of homosexuals. They, in New York City, have already organized a homosexual public high school, at tax payers expense. They are controlling many state run educational efforts and using public dollars to print brochures and other materials that are in the schools here in Cary, North Carolina. Encouraging elementary school students to think of perverted acts as normal. They’ve convinced mayors, in a half dozen of the nation’s largest cities, to participate in gay pride days to celebrate their deviant behavior. I also got this in the mail, it was the “Newsweek” special edition, winter/spring 1990, and it’s called, “The 21stCentury Family.” If you want to look at it, it’s available. What was startling is, they have re-written the family now to be anybody who says they want to live with anybody. And, in fact, they highlighted two couples. One couple, two women, another couple, two men, who have already adopted children and raising them in that kind of life-style. And the audacity of it is that the two men, who were interviewed, said that they had the same values of their mom and dad but they just expressed it in a different way. You look at that and your blood could either boil or be overwhelmed with pity and compassion for individuals who have replaced God with something or someone else. And God says, “Why is this happening? Because” - “they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer” - look at verse 28.
Third time, “God gave them over to a depraved mind”. We’ll call this the acceptance of sinful attractions and practices. “to do those things which are not proper,” - verse 29 - “being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful” - right across it, our country. The tragedy of this passage though, ladies and gentlemen, is it is speaking, not just to a country, obviously, it is speaking to individuals. And the context indicates that these are things that are not only being practiced, they are being accepted. They are being applauded. Murder, whether it’s cold-blooded or by an abortionist who will take the life of an unborn child, that is being accepted. We live in a state-istic state. That is, whatever our state says is legal is now legal, whether it be murder or whatever. But God’s word is supposed to re-write our culture but here murder is being accepted. It’s interesting, as you go through this list, “disobedient to parents,” is another one. A philosopher came over from the Soviet Union and he left saying these words, “It is very fascinating to me that moms and dads in America have learned the art of obeying their children.” “Disobedient to parents”. “Unloving”. That’s the fourth Greek word, that we never hear a lot about, when we talk about the words for love. This is the word “storge(?),” which refers to family love. They are “unloving;” that is, they have no family connections, no family love. A husband loves his career more than his children, or a wife. There is no relationship that is engendered under that roof anymore, and that is acceptable. “Unmerciful”. Verse 32, “and, although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” The acceptance of sinful attractions.
Ladies and gentlemen, there has never been a time than today that you need to win your next door neighbor to Jesus Christ, that individual you work next to. That little girl next door is going to grow up in a society that will, ultimately, give her the choice as to when her Mom and Dad die. Abortion has opened the door to infanticide, the killing of the unborn based upon sex. “Oh no, I didn’t want a boy, I wanted a girl.” There are doctors now propounding that parents ought to be given three days after the child is born to determine whether it will live. So that it goes through genetic tests to find out if there are any disabilities. That little girl growing up next door will make some awesome decisions and we need to win her, and him, to Christ.
A second way to worship incorrectly is this, the worship of the true God in a wrong form. Look up Exodus, chapter 32. Exodus, chapter 32. The worship of the true God in a wrong form. Exodus, chapter 32, look at verse 4. “And he took this from their hand,” - this gold that Aaron had said, “Give it to me,” and they had wanted a god - “and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it into a molten calf” - literally, a bull. That was the symbol of power, that was one of the chief gods in Egypt and they had never gotten it out of their minds. “And they said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said,’” - now note this - “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” - to Yahweh. It was the worship of God but they wanted some form. They wanted a prop. They wanted something that they could see and touch. And so they created this bull and fashioned it and what it turned into. It was obviously idolatry.
In Numbers, chapter 21, we won’t take the time to look, the Israelites, because of disobedience, received God’s chastisement and God sends serpents to bite them. Do you remember that story? They came and they bit many of the Israelites and they began to die. And Moses went and interceded on their behalf to God and God said, “Okay, fashion a bronze serpent, put it up on a pole and, if anyone will look at it, they’ll live.” Now, don’t misunderstand, that was not an act of worship, that was an act of obedience. It was also a beautiful type of Jesus Christ who would, one day, be on a cross. Because of their obedience then, they would live. And that’s usually where we finish the story. But II Kings, chapter 18, you’ll have to see this for yourself. II Kings, chapter 18, verse 4, tells us what happened to that snake on a stick. II Kings, chapter 18, verse 1, says that, “Hezekiah . . . became king.” That gives us a time element. Verse 4, he did something for God, “He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan.” Do you know what that’s saying? For 800 years they’ve been carting that bronze serpent around. It was never intended to have incense burned to it. They had created an idol. They were worshipping God but they wanted this prop. And they were using it as a vehicle to worship Him and burning incense in front of it. And finally this king broke it up and threw it away. Can you imagine, 800 years carting that thing around?
We are exactly like the Israelites. We love the fetish. We love the tangibles. And God has given us so little. In fact, He says, “Our experience is one of faith.” How tragic that these Israelites became idolaters. God is not in a snake. He is not in a tortilla. He is not in a shroud. He is not in a splinter from the cross. He is not in all of those things. He’s not in the relics. He isn’t in the stained glass. If we do not worship Him according to this book, in Spirit and in truth, we have not worshiped.
Thirdly, the worship of the true God, this is the third and final incorrect way to worship, the worship of the true God with a wrong attitude. Now let’s get real practical. There are two problems that I see in relation to this form of wrong worship. Number one, Christians coming to church to be entertained. Thomas Beecher once substituted for his famous brother, Henry Ward Beecher, who pastored Plymouth Church in New York, well-known. And when the people saw Thomas Beecher approach the pulpit, many of them got up and began to leave. So Thomas raised his hand and he said, “All those who have come to worship Henry Ward Beecher may leave. All those who have come to worship God, may remain.” It kind of reminds you of the little boy who was praying and he said, “Dear God, we had a great time in church today but, I wish you had been there.” A. W. Tozer used to lament, he would cry, he would say, “Oh, it is so difficult to get people to come to church where God is the main attraction.” We get so caught up. We come into church and if the hymns are the ones we like, we have worshiped. If the special is one that pleases us, we have worshiped. If the sermon is entertaining, interesting, we have worshiped. We could do without all of those things and worship God. I entertained the radical idea of getting rid of all of the stuff, closing the curtains, getting on the floor, having you stand while I speak. (laughter) Now you know why I didn’t do it. Christians come to church today to be entertained and they will choose the church with the greatest show.
Christians also come to church out of fellowship, is the second problem. Christians coming to church out of fellowship. Men and women, you and I bring, to this service, a heart that we have cultivated all week long. You cannot live throughout the week as if God didn’t exist, selfish. We cannot live lives focusing on ourselves and come in at 10:30 on Sunday morning and say, “Now I shall proceed to worship.” We bring into this auditorium a heart of worship that we have cultivated throughout the week and we collectively unite our hearts and continue what we had done on Saturday. I John, chapter 5, verse 21, is an interesting passage where the apostle John says, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” Is he talking about stumps, stone? No. He is talking about anything that will replace the prominence of God in your heart. If you live through the week worshipping something other than Jesus Christ, you will never be able to worship Him on Sunday morning.
What is the New Testament challenge to the second commandment? I’ll show you. Turn to Colossians, chapter 1, verse 18. If you care not to turn, just listen, I’ll read. He’s talking of Jesus Christ, a fantastic passage of scripture that seems to pull worship out of every pore. It says, “by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things” - consist, or - “hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead;” - now note this - “so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything.” Men and women, are we today breaking the second commandment? Are there idols in our lives? Or, are we in the process, daily, of breaking the idols before they ever reach the mantel place of our hearts. Let’s pray.
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