Our Scripture lesson this morning begins with this warning, “watch yourselves very carefully”.
This is the type of warning you would give a person if they were about to walk through a minefield, sky dive or perform open-heart surgery for the first time.
One miss step or false move is the difference between life and death!
What danger is Moses warning us of?
He is warning us of the danger of idolatry.
I fear most Protestant Christians pay little attention to the second commandment.
They pay little attention to it because they are confident that they are avoiding it.
Unlike Roman Catholics, we do not have Crucifixes and statues of Mary and the saints in our churches and home.
We do not even have 2-D, pictures called icons like the Eastern Orthodox.
Yet all across America today, in church after church there is something missing—reverence!
Throughout Scripture, whenever a person meets the true and living God, they experience fear and trembling.
We see a picture of true worship at the dedication of the Tabernacle.
In preparation for the first worship service, we read the phrase “as the Lord commanded” seven times (Lev.
8:4, 9, 13, 17, 21, 29, 36)!
Because Moses and Israel had so carefully followed the Lord’s commands, we read this:
Clearly, God is pleased when His people obey His commandments regarding worship.
After such a powerful display of God’s power, you would think that no one who was there would ever worship God in a carefree, irreverent manner.
Sadly, this is not what happened, shortly afterwards (perhaps the next day), this happened:
No wonder Moses warns us to “watch yourselves very carefully”; worship is the most dangerous activity you will engage in this week!
Although fire will not fall upon you today, Scripture makes it clear that the Lake of Fire awaits every idolater!
Therefore, let us listen very carefully to our Scripture lesson this morning:
May God bless this the reading of His holy and infallible Word.
The first thing God tells us through the pen of Moses is that...
God Has Revealed Himself by His Words and Deeds
At Mount Sinai, there was an awesome display of God’s power; the sky became dark, a thick cloud smoke descended upon the mountain from heaven and from this cloud came fire, lightning and thunder.
The earth shook and rocks split!
Finally, then the most awesome thing of all occurred, from the cloud came the voice of God!
Moses makes it a point to remind them that they “saw no form” as God spoke to them on Mount Sinai.
God in His wisdom has purposely chosen not to reveal Himself to us in images.
This is a hard pill for us to swallow, because we love images.
As the old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words”.
We live in perhaps the most visually dominated culture that has ever existed.
From Sesame Street to Power Point presentations, from Graphic Novels to Social Media, images are everywhere; yet God purposely rejects images as the means by which He is to be worshiped.
In the second point of this sermon we will learn why this is so, but for now please note that God judged images unsuitable for His self-revelation to man.
You may be asking yourself, “If God has rejected images, how does He reveal Himself to us?” From our text, we see two things.
First, there was a manifestation of His power.
Paul speaks of this in Romans 1:
Do you hear what Paul is saying?
A person only has to look at creation and see that there must be a God.
The so-called “Big Bang” and evolution are utter nonsense.
Something cannot come from nothing!
Atheists, according to God are without excuse.
Creation is not the only mighty deed God has done.
In the context of Deuteronomy 4, we read of two others, the giving of the Law on Mt.
Sinai and the Exodus from Egypt.
As important as this type of revelation is, a fuller revelation is found in God’s Word.
Scripture is not primarily the words of men like Moses; it is primarily the Words of God.
In his second letter, Peter writes:
This is why Reformed worship is radically Word-centered.
Consider how often the Bible is read from in our worship service.
Consider my typical style of preaching.
Is it not Word-centered?
Why did God choose to reveal Himself to us by His Word and mighty deeds?
This is the question we will look at now:
The Problem with Images is They Bring God Down to Our Level
The problem with images is they always bring God down to our level.
In contrast, God’s Word and His mighty deeds raise our thoughts higher than ourselves.
A powerful example of this is found in our text this morning.
In verse 19, we read these words:
Now contrast this with Psalm 19:
When we make an image of a celestial object and worship it, as was common in the ancient world, our thoughts are raised no higher than the object itself.
The sun, moon and stars literally become our gods.
However, when we look at the sun, moon and stars with the eyes of faith our thoughts are raised higher than those objects to the Creator.
Again, let us look at Romans 1:20:
However, there are limits as to what natural revelation can teach us about God, for a full revelation we need the Word of God.
Psalm 19 continues:
Reading gives us a clarity of thought that images never can.
Biblical religion is a religion of the Book.
New evidence supports the idea that the Hebrews inventing the alphabet.
God in His providence made sure that His people were a literate people before they left Egypt, and this was true not only of the “educated”, but the common man as well.
Deuteronomy 6:9 commands that each household in Israel write the Ten Commandments upon the doorposts of their homes.
This commandment would be pointless, if the people could not read.
Illiteracy is always a sign that the church is not doing its job.
The great revival of the Reformation was fueled by the church putting the Bible in the hands of the laity and teaching them how to read.
The godly Puritans who settled America were perhaps the most godliest society that has ever existed.
The answer to biblical illiteracy today is not videos and graphic bibles; it is teaching people to read, so they can read their Bibles!
God’s Words lift our thoughts upward, but images draw our thoughts downward.
Sadly, our sinful hearts prefer images, and this brings us to the finally point:
The Human Heart is an Idol Factory
The opening words of our Scripture lesson today are the closing words of my sermon, “watch yourselves very carefully”.
It is a mistake to think that idolatry is an easy sin to avoid.
The reformer, John Calvin once observed, “the human heart is an idol factory”.
What John Calvin means by this is that our old sin nature will find a thousand ways to justify idolatry and create new idols.
To illustrate this, I want you to think of the two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu.
The text says they offered “unauthorized fire before the Lord”.
In the minds of most modern people, this seems like a trivial thing.
How often have you heard someone say, “all that matters in worship is sincerity”.
I have heard this hundreds, if not thousands of times.
In our modern, sentimental culture, this makes sense; but God does not judge by sentiment, rather He judges by truth, and by the standards of truth, Nadab and Abihu were committing idolatry!
What truth did they violate you ask.
They violated the truth that only God is wise enough to determine how we should worship Him.
A good reader notices patterns.
Do you remember that I told you that seven times in the previous chapter Moses and Israel did “everything the Lord had commanded”?
Seven is a very important number in the Bible; it is the number of completion.
By inspiring Moses to write this phrase down seven times, God is teaching us something very important about Himself—we much worship Him only has He has commanded.
This “word picture” gives us a more complex and complete revelation than any picture ever could.
When it comes to God, pictures (that is images) are worth a thousand lies!
Only the written Word of God can reveal to us who God truly is.
Our Scripture lesson this morning ends with this warning:
I will devote an entire sermon to this verse next week; but for now, I want you to remember something I said earlier in my sermon today, “worship is the most dangerous activity you will engage in this week”.
God in His love and mercy does not typically bring fire down upon idolaters.