The Sanctity of Worship
Reverend Anthony R. Locke
November 20th, 2011 www.FirstPresTucker.org
at the First Presbyterian Church of Tucker
Ten Commandments Sermon Series 04
Exodus 20:4-6 English Standard Version
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,
6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
If the Lord is with you then He will incline your heart to obey His commandments.
And the more we obey God’s commands, He fills our soul and life with His glory, just like the Temple was filled with the glory of the promised Messiah. Praise the LORD!!!
In the Ten Commandments God speaks direct language to guide our life in the paths of divine peace. This morning we are considering the second commandment and how God will bring a blessing to our life as we obey His spoken words.
Never forget the preamble to the commandments. God said I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
In Egypt they worshipped over a hundred carved deities. There were gods to ferry you to heaven, to give you fertility, for harvest, war, protection, healing and beauty. And if you expected the deity to help you, then you had to have some sort of image of that deity in your home or as part of your possessions.
You honored the deity, you showed respect to the god, by bearing the image of the god in your home.
People who did not show honor had no right to expect a blessing.
Actually, that’s true of the one living and true Triune Deity. We have no right to expect anything from the Lord if we dishonor and disrespect Him or His image.
And Yahweh, The I am of the Old Testament and the Heavenly Father of the New Testament, wants the opposite of the false gods of Egypt.
God does not want us to make images to show respect and honor to the Lord. God wants us to honor the images He has given: the image of God in the Church, in the family, and in human nature. We will have to cover these in a future sermon.
This morning we are focusing on the commandment.
We are never to refashion God to enhance our worship experience.
John 4:23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
God is seeking for you to worship Him in your spirit and according to the truth of the Bible. God will not go gentle if we try and worship Him through a false mechanism.
Aaron and the Israelites discovered this when they made the Golden Calf.
Moses had gone up on the mountain forty days and nights to receive the Ten Commandments. The person who knew God, and had the ability to teach about God, was absent from God’s people by necessity.
And in the vacuum of true spiritual leadership the immature leaders became insecure. They became fearful they would not hold the attention of the crowd. They didn’t know God well enough yet to lead God’s people in meaningful worship.
So the solution, and this is always the solution for insecure ministers, was to make a spectacle to draw people in to worship. This is the great temptation for a minister, is to transform the experience of worship into a spectacle that will help the followers focus on something amazing, but that something amazing is never God.
When I visit the worship of my extended family, I am always amazed at the worldly spectacle that seeker churches make of worship. There’s the blood red – sexy hot guitar, the steam and smoke machines which fill the stage every time celebrity musicians appear, there’s the rock star lights and dancers, and I am just waiting for the golden calf to get rolled out with the rest of the spectacle as the spiritual leaders say, behold the glory of your God!
But here’s the trouble, no image of God’s glory can be made with human hands to represent the true nature of the perfections, holiness, wisdom and glory of Almighty God.
Our worship is to bring us into the glory of God by the preaching of Scripture. The Holy Spirit illumines the Scriptures to open our spiritual eyes so we can be transformed.
And the more we over stimulate the audience with a spectacle of worship, the more we distract them from true worship.
Ministers cannot WOW the audience into a spiritual awakening with loud music and overly impressive programs.
Aaron thought he could enhance worship to Jehovah with a golden calf and God judged all of them severely. We would be naïve to think that God feels any different about it during this New Testament era.
The Second Commandment stands. We should not enhance the communication of the glory of God through earthly means. We are not supposed to understand the glory of God the Father in physical terms.
Now this is not to say that God can’t be understood by the world He created.
Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
But the heavens and the earth are not God. Don’t be distracted by the spectacle of the creation and miss the God of the creation.
Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Not to confuse you, but we are allowed to imagine God in human terms.
Deuteronomy 33:27 And underneath are the everlasting arms. God is a Spirit and we worship God in our spirit, and yet, God has arms.
Exodus 7:5, “And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.”
Psalm 33:6, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.”
Psalm 34:15, “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry.”
Even the worship benediction says, Num. 6:24, “The Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you.”
And why are we allowed to think of God with physical attributes even though God doesn’t have physical qualities?
First, we are made in the image of God. There are things about our being, our soul, that reflect the divine nature of God. We can love, create, judge and plan just like our God. We enter into relationships like God. We have emotions, good and bad, joyful expectations and sadness, just like God.
So the Bible helps us to understand God by making these connections between us and our God. We call these anthropomorphisms. We morph what we understand about man into a beginners understanding about God to help us grasp the unimaginable.
The Second reason we are allowed to think of God in human attributes is that Jesus was made human. Jesus entered our world with human flesh. The Divine nature of the Second Person of the Trinity was united with a human nature. One will, one person, but two natures.
We call this the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ.
And the Divine became common. The eternal took on the temporal. The invisible became visible.
And now when we worship Jesus, sometimes we worship Him with an image in our head.
We carve out in our imagination an image of what we think God looks like. And this is natural. We imagine Jesus according to a physical likeness because that’s how humans relate.
And Jesus is still in that human form. Glorified and perfected. Lifted above the rest of the creation. He is given a name that is above every name. The Father has set Jesus over all things, but Jesus eternally abides in human form.
Jesus is the only person, angelic or human, that will abide forever with scars. All other tears and scars will be removed, but Jesus will bear the scars of His love forever in His earthly resurrected, ascended and glorified body.
And the early church knew what this body and face of Jesus looked like. They sketched His face on the tombs of the dead saints in the catacombs. They made floor murals of His likeness. They painted His face to illustrate and beautify the scriptures.
And I have a book by an artist who was granted access to all these early church paintings and assembled the “likeness” of the Lord. And the assumption in the book is that the early church would see the rendered likeness of Jesus and recognize the appearance of the man that they knew as Jesus.
My mom is an artist and has taken some of those historic paintings and recreated them for me. I have a request that she recreate all of them for me eventually.
Now am I breaking the Second Commandment by making a likeness of Jesus? Are the Children’s Bibles we all purchase for our children, are those Bibles evil because they have pictures of Jesus in them? Our church office has a picture of Jesus on the wall.
This all gets very confusing very quickly. There must be a clear distinction to help us understand our limitations.
If we are not allowed to think of an image of Jesus when worshipping then we have all broken this commandment. We can’t help but think of an image that some artist has placed in our head. It’s the power of suggestion.
Don’t think of an apple. Don’t imagine a car. And whatever I suggest – you will imagine. Imagine going into glory and seeing Jesus!
Now did the image in our heads just break this commandment. Of course not. So why not? What is the distinction between the image in our head or painted on the pages of a Bible and the image that will get us cursed?
It is my opinion, as informed and educated by over two dozen commentaries, that the difference is explained in the commandment.
Verse 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them.
- If the image becomes a talisman, good luck charm, then we are breaking the commandment.
- If we feel like our worship is enhanced by the image then we are wrong.
- If we feel like we haven’t worshipped until we have stared into the eyes of our image, or kissed the image, or burnt incense to the image, then we are severely breaking the commandment.
- If throwing away the image causes our mind and heart distress, then our heart felt worship is connected to the image in an inappropriate way.
Let me illustrate that. How do you feel when you see an image of Jesus as a black man? Can you discard the blue eyed white guy you think about when you think of Jesus and not have it bother your sensibilities? Can you throw away a worn out Children’s Bible?
If not, then the image in your mind is being used as an aid to your worship and you need to move away from that.
Listen to 2 Corinthians 5:16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.
The disciples saw the physical Jesus and bowed down to worship Him. We don’t do that anymore. We worship God guided by the Holy Spirit using Bible truths. This is God’s will for our life. Anything else, on one level or another, is the breaking of the Second Commandment.
 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.