Christ in the Old Covenant
Commandment Two, Week Three
Much of this week’s sermon depends upon material from the last two weeks – if you missed those weeks I would encourage you to go to gbcmenifee.sermonaudio.com and download the audio. READ Exodus 20:2-6
The first commandment forbids worshipping other gods.
The second commandment certainly forbids worshipping other gods with idols, but more specifically, the second commandment forbids trying to worship the true god, Yahweh, by using idols. Israel did it in Exodus 32 when they made this calf to worship Yahweh. Jeroboam did it when the kingdom divided, and he made idols for the worship of the true God. Last Sunday evening we considered Jehu, who drove out the idolatrous worship of Baal, yet allowed the idolatrous worship of Yahweh to continue.
This morning we’ll consider four ramifications or applications of the second commandment, and then consider how the second commandment relates to Christ, and to our Christ-likeness.
I don’t want to spend much time on this, but the second commandment does give us reason to be a little cautious about religious art that tries to give us a portrait of Jesus or the Father. You remember what we learned from Deuteronomy 4: Israel did not see any form or likeness on Mt. Sinai, so they were not supposed to use any forms or likenesses to worship God. It’s one thing to try to draw David or Moses – but what about when you start to try to draw Jesus? Or make a statue of Jesus, a crucifix? Or portray Jesus in a movie? Or paint God the Father, like on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel in Rome? Is it possible that in doing those things we could communicate wrong things about God, just like Israel did when they tried to worship him with idols?
If we’re talking about a children’s book that shows Jesus in the boat with the disciples, that is one thing. But when the picture is a close-up of Jesus’ face, like a portrait of Jesus, we may need to be cautious. When an actor portrays Jesus in a movie, we may need to be cautious. Even if the only words in the movie are words of Scripture, the actor playing Jesus still communicates a lot through his physical appearance and through the nonverbals: the attitudes, the facial expressions, the tone of voice.
There is certainly room for disagreement about exactly how this applies; you don’t have to go home and tear up your children’s Bible story books, but it is appropriate for us all to be aware of the second commandment and be careful about using visual portraits of the Father or Jesus.
TURN TO Deuteronomy 7. There is a second application here about guarding your heart through personal separation.
We can oversimplify and say that there were three stages on the path of idolatry:
Stage 1: worship the true God the right way
Stage 2: worship the true God using idolatrous ways
Stage 3: worship false gods using idolatrous ways
Stage 2 never seemed so bad to Israel – why is it a big deal to use pagan practices to worship God?
TURN TO, READ Deuteronomy 7:25-26 uses the word “snared” – do not go after those idols, or you will be snared by them. This is the word for a trap for a bird, the whole point is that the bird doesn’t see it until it is too late. So don’t mess around with idols – they are not something to play with – because they can be a snare, a trap, for your heart.
In Deuteronomy 4 God used the phrase “drawn away.” First you get snared, then drawn away from God.
So God instituted a measure of prevention. It was mentioned in verse 25, but we can see it more clearly if we go back and READ Deut. 7:1-6. Completely rid the land of any vestige of those idols, left you be ensnared and drawn away by them.
The principle here is separation: you make a separation between yourself and those idols, so that you will not be ensnared and drawn away.
We do not live in the promised land where we can drive out the idolaters; but there is a principle here that we can apply. It’s a principle of separation: when we are honest about those things that are a particular temptation to us, we will then be willing to create some distance between ourselves and those things. For a simple example, suppose someone has a problem with using their money wisely – they are tempted to covetousness and materialism, and getting into debt trouble. Well that person probably shouldn’t get their exercise by walking laps at the mall!
The Bible often illustrates sin as adultery: if a married lady starts going on dates with other men, she’s likely to commit adultery. Sometimes we go on dates with sin, and then we’re surprised when we commit spiritual adultery.
Instead of saying “I’m tough enough, I can take the temptation,” we should follow the principle that we see illustrated here, and make the separation, don’t date sin, lest our hearts be drawn away.
Prov. 4:23 With all diligence guard your heart.
In one sense, the second commandment is about worship. Idols are a means of worship, and Exodus 20:5 says You shall not worship them or serve them. Idols are a terribly inadequate way to worship God, deaf dumb helpless molten metal or carved wood can’t begin to portray the glory of God. Idolatrous methods are inadequate for God’s majesty. So the second commandment calls for worship of God that is appropriate for His holy majesty.
Remember that last week we traced the appeal of idolatry. Everybody was doing it, so Israel stuck out if they didn’t. Idolatry was convenient and easy; it was tangible, it was flashy or glamorous at times; it was sensual; it involved a lot of parties and fun. Who’d want to miss out on that? And so from the very beginning, right there at Mt. Sinai, Israel was tempted to break the second commandment and try to integrate the world’s worship methods into the worship of the true God.
That is still a temptation today: to try to incorporate some of the world’s methods into the worship of the true God. We’ll worship the true God, but we’ll make worship convenient and easy. We’ll take a survey to find out what you like, and we’ll design a worship service for you to enjoy instead of for God to be honored; we’ll make it flashy and glamorous; we’ll incorporate a lot of fun; and possibly even subtle sensuality. And people will like it, and people will get saved, and we’ll have big churches!
And it works! If you incorporate the world’s practices into the worship of the true God, people like it.
But the principle here in Exodus 20 is that God will not be worshipped in worldly ways. This is exactly what we saw in Deuteronomy 12:4 – you shall not act like this toward the Lord your God – He would not be worshipped by Israel in the ways that the pagans worshipped their idols. His worship is to be distinct, so that it distinctly communicates His uniqueness, His holiness, His greatness.
This is obviously a principle that must be factored in to church worship decisions. Every church has to face these hard questions about determining a philosophy of worship and then deciding how much of popular culture to incorporate into their worship.
This week I was contacted by a pastor who described himself as “theologically conservative, culturally liberal.” Which simply means that his church will try to incorporate the culture into their worship in every way possible without actually sinning.
Our church is not culturally liberal – and let me substitute another phrase: culturally progressive. Churches generally fall into one of two categories of philosophy: they are culturally progressive or culturally cautious. A culturally progressive church wants to use whatever is popular in the culture as much as possible without actually sinning. For the sake of reaching people for Christ, they strive to keep up with what is culturally popular. I call our church “culturally cautious.” Popular culture is largely driven by unregenerated people, who are trying to make life work their own way; and so instead of quickly embracing whatever is popular in the culture, we are pretty cautious about taking what is popular in the culture and bringing it into our worship.
A culturally progressive pastor would feel it is very important for him to stay current on all of the movies and TV shows. To be relevant, to be understood by the culture, he would watch the same things the world watches, and then pepper his sermons with illustrations from those movies and TV shows. If you don’t do that, he would say, you will never have any chance to make any kind of impact as a preacher, because you will be so irrelevant. You won’t be speaking the language of the culture.
A culturally progressive church music program would always be pursuing innovation, seeking to use worship music that keeps up with whatever is currently popular in the broader culture musically.
As you can tell, our church is not culturally progressive. We are not concerned about worshipping God in ways that keep up with the trends of popular culture. Instead we are a culturally cautious church: not cautious about being out in the culture for evangelism; but cautious about bringing popular culture into the worship of God.
We believe that preaching is relevant when it proclaims the eternal truths of God, not when it follows the latest trends in Hollywood. We believe that you make a difference by being different, not by adding more of the same. We believe that in the church people should find a refreshing alternative to the world, not a copy of the world.
Does this mean that our church does everything right, and every other church is messed up? Of course that’s not what I’m saying. There are hard questions here, and each church is responsible to consider what they can do that will most reflect God’s fame and accurately portray God’s character.
But this is one of the central meanings of the second commandment: God is telling them “Don’t worship Me the way the nations worship the things they worship. Don’t worship Me in a way that may snare you with the things of the toward the world. Do worship me in a way that is appropriate for my holiness, that appropriately communicates my majesty.”
THE CENTRALITY OFTHE WORD
God forbade idols to represent Him because they presented a distorted view of Him. But we can create distorted views of God in our own thinking. We can imagine God the way we think He should be, instead of the way He is. We can imagine a more user-friendly God, a God a little more like us. Probably the most familiar example is the line: “My God would never send anyone to hell.” OK, but that God doesn’t exist anywhere except in that person’s own mind. It’s a God they have imagined. That is idolatry – to make your own god in your mind.
But Christians can do something similar. We can base our understanding of God on our own intuition or our own experiences. We can emphasize certain Bible passages that talk about the parts of God we like, and minimize or ignore or explain away other passages that talk about things we don’t like about God.
The Bible is the only one place to find a perfect picture of God’s attributes and a perfect description of God’s character. Look back at Deuteronomy 4, and let’s READ 15-16a again. You see the word spoke. At Sinai they did not see any form, but they did hear God speak. God was not revealing Himself through idols or forms or likenesses - He revealed Himself through speaking His Word. They were to learn about God by listening to the inspired Word of God. Intuition is not trustworthy; experience is not trustworthy; the inspired word of God is the only place where we can be certain that we will find a perfect representation of the glory of God.
One of the classic Christian catechisms says “God will not have his people taught by dumb idols, but by the lively preaching of His Word.” When you come to worship here at our church, you will notice the centrality of the Bible. We sing the Bible, read the Bible, preach the Bible. Jesus is put on display in our services, but not by a statue on a crucifix up in front. Jesus is put on display in our services as we read and sing and proclaim the God-given Word about Christ. We make the Bible central because we believe that God has spoken.
So actually, one of the ways to obey the second commandment is to be a person who loves the Bible, and allows the Bible to tell you about God, instead of using your own intuition or experience to imagine what you think God is like.
CHRIST AND CHRISTLIKENESS
Two climactic truths for understanding the second commandment, and they are summarized in your handout:
Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15, II Cor. 4:4); in Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form (Col. 2:9); He is the exact representation of God’s nature (Heb. 1:3); and He who has seen Him has seen the Father (John 14:9).
Mankind was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Through the death and resurrection of The Image of God, the redeemed are now being transformed into the image of God through Christ (Romans 8:29; Gal. 4:19; Col. 3:10; II Cor. 3:18).
Nothing man could ever carve or paint or sculpt could possibly be an adequate representation of the glory of God – but when God sent His only Son, He provided the perfect representation of the majesty and holiness of God. Israel saw no likeness on Mt. Sinai because the likeness was going to come in Jesus Christ. Israel saw no form, because the form would be that of the Lord Jesus Christ. Israel should not make any images to represent God, because The Image of God was coming.
Idols cannot speak, they can’t hear, they can’t see. But when the true image of God came, he not only spoke, he gave speech to the dumb; he note only could hear, he gave hearing to the deaf; he not only could see, he gave sight to the blind. Idols have no life in them – but when the true image of God came, he not only was alive, he was The Life who could give life to spiritually dead people.
Jesus is the perfect image of God, because He is God. God did reveal Himself in a way infinitely more amazing than any carved image.
No wonder God didn’t want to be pictured with any idols – the exact representation of God’s nature was coming in the person of Jesus Christ. If you’ve seen Him, you’ve seen God. When you worship Him, you are truly worshipping God. When you listen to Him, you are learning from God.
What a miracle – what a gift!
But now, armed with this fact that Jesus is the image of God, we then are called to believe this staggering truth: Jesus has now ascended, He is no longer physically present on earth, and God intends to portray His character on earth through those He saves, as they are changed into the image of Jesus Christ. Through the saving power of Jesus, God is now changing His children into His image for His fame.
I would never say that, if God hadn’t said it himself. We naturally ask: “How can it be that God would allow weak, sinful human beings like us to be ambassadors for His fame; and more than that, to be bearers of His image in this world?! How can we ever begin to portray accurately what God is like?”
Let’s go to some familiar passages and remind ourselves that the Bible really does say this:
TURN TO, READ Romans 8:29
TURN TO, READ II Cor. 3:18
TURN TO, READ Gal. 4:19
TURN TO, READ Col. 3:9-10
So the Bible says it. Through the saving power of Jesus, God is now changing His children into His image for His fame. The power of the gospel is so great that through Christ God really can transform rebels like us into His image bearers.
We have a word to describe this: it’s the word “Christlikeness.” But we use that word so much that familiarity can breed contempt, and we can lose the wonder and the privilege that are encapsulated in that word. When we lose sight of the privilege of being changed into the image of Christ, the delight of being changed by the power of the gospel, the wonder of being God’s image bearers, we can slip into a mode where we almost resent this process of change into Christ-likeness, or we have a “grin and bear it” attitude: “Terrible week, but maybe God will make me more Christ-like through it all.” That sounds like: “Yea, the baseball game stunk but at least the peanuts were good.” “Yea, it was a terrible week but at least I grew in Christlikeness a little bit.” What? - we are missing it if that’s how we think of Christlikeness! Christ-likeness is bearing the image of God on earth. This is a great treasure! You have never been given any earthly privilege that begins to compare with this one. You are God’s chosen image-bearers!
Don’t resent the struggles of change into the image of Christ – delight in it!
Tim, snap out of the self-centered pity party, and get on board with what God is doing in the world! Embrace every moment of this opportunity to demonstrate Christ-likeness and grow in Christ-likeness. There is no greater privilege than that.
The ultimate outcome of our Christ-likeness is the fame of God. Romans 8:29 says it: conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. As millions of the redeemed are transformed into the image of The Image of God, Jesus Christ, He is magnified. He must be of supreme value if millions of people are being transformed into His likeness by the power of God. Christ is given the preeminence, exalted to this highest position, when this huge host of the redeemed are all being changed into His image – the very image of God. This magnifies God and spreads God’s fame.
So there are many applications from the second commandment:
- Be cautious about portraits of God.
- Be honest about the snares of idolatry, and practice personal separation
- Don’t copy the world’s methods to worship God
- Don’t form your image of God based on your own ideas or your own experiences, but be fully submitted to what God has revealed in His Word
But beyond all of those things, be a disciple of The Image of God, Jesus Christ. God sent the exact representation of His nature to be crushed for our iniquities. And now God is doing this magnificent worldwide work of changing people into the image of Christ for the fame of God.
So I say to you what I had to say to myself this week: “Snap out of the self-centered pity party, and get on board with what God is doing in the world! God is transforming His children so that they will be his image bearers here on earth. Embrace every moment of this opportunity you have been given to demonstrate Christ-likeness and grow in Christ-likeness. There is no greater privilege than that.”