Things As They Really Are
Things as They Really Are
February 3rd, 2008
Way of Grace Church
Pay No Attention to the Man behind the Screen
Promptly at nine o'clock the next morning the green-whiskered soldier came to them, and four minutes later they all went into the Throne Room of the Great Oz...Presently they heard a solemn Voice, that seemed to come from somewhere near the top of the great dome, and it said: "I am Oz, the Great and Terrible. Why do you seek me?" They looked again in every part of the room, and then, seeing no one, Dorothy asked, "Where are you?" "I am everywhere," answered the Voice, "but to the eyes of common mortals I am invisible. I will now seat myself upon my throne, that you may converse with me."
..."You must keep your promises to us!" exclaimed Dorothy...The Lion thought it might be as well to frighten the Wizard, so he gave a large, loud roar, which was so fierce and dreadful that Toto jumped away from him in alarm and tipped over the screen that stood in a corner. As it fell with a crash they looked that way, and the next moment all of them were filled with wonder. For they saw, standing in just the spot the screen had hidden, a little old man, with a bald head and a wrinkled face, who seemed to be as much surprised as they were. The Tin Woodman, raising his axe, rushed toward the little man and cried out, "Who are you?"
"I am Oz, the Great and Terrible," said the little man, in a trembling voice. "But don't strike me--please don't--and I'll do anything you want me to."
Our friends looked at him in surprise and dismay.
Have you ever found yourself in this position? No, I don't mean taken up by a twister and dropped on a yellow brick road.
I mean have you ever found yourself surprised and dismayed when that in which you had placed your trust, on which you had pinned your hopes, was revealed to be a fake?
This was the very revelation that the prophet Jeremiah hoped his audience would experience when they heard the message we possess today in Jeremiah chapter 10, verses 1-16. Turn there if you will.
Israel, beloved of God; chosen to be His people. Redeemed from bondage by God's mighty arm and blessed with the abundance of the Promised Land. Yet, they were wayward and obstinate. As the seventh century before Christ came to a close, Israel was in trouble, and yet indifferent. Most of the tribes who lived to the north had already been removed from their homes by the ravaging Assyrian army.
But this northern devastation was no geo-political fluke. These tribes were punished according to the terms of their agreement, their covenant with God: serve Him and him alone and they would know life. Turn from Him, and He would eventually turn them over to their enemies until they came to their senses.
And now the two remaining tribes in the south faced the same kind of devastation and exile. Enter the prophet Jeremiah; a man sent to speak God's word to this stubborn people and reveal to them the error and the consequences of their foolishness.
Look at Jeremiah 10 and listen as God speaks through the prophet about things as they really are:
Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. 2 Thus says the Lord: "Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, 3 for the customs of the peoples are vanity.ï»¿ A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. 4 They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move. 5 Their idolsï»¿ are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good."
The problem with Israel is clear, isn't it? In spite of their pact to serve God and God alone, in spite of this covenant, they are looking to, and fearing, and following, and being deceived by the gods of the peoples, the gods of the other nations surrounding them.
Like the Babylonians, and the Egyptians, and the Philistines, who all believed comets and eclipses and other "signs in the sky" were omens of supernatural disaster from the gods, Israel was also following this misguided way of thinking.
But look at how God, through Jeremiah, confronts this foolishness. He begins, not by reminding them of his clear directive about who they should worship, but by mocking the nations and exposing the reality of their gods.
I.The Reality of Their Gods (10:1-5)
Baal. Molech. Marduk. Ashteroth. Enlil. Tiamat. Ishtar. Shamash. Horus. Anubis. Aten. Sehkmet. Ra.
Names that inspired fear. Names that evoked power. But as the prophet Jeremiah reveals, these Babylonian and Egyptian and Philistine gods were not worthy of fear. They were worthy of the fireplace. These gods were nothing more than glorified art projects.
What men and women worshipped, feared, and obeyed was nothing more that a piece of wood that a craftsman carved and decorated. As God seems to ask in verse 5, "What's the difference between these gods and a scarecrow that someone has made and put out in the cucumber patch? Should we go out into the field and worship that as well?"
What were the Israelites thinking? If they wanted a sense of divine security why would they turn to a god who needed to be nailed down so he didn't tip over? If they wanted to hear words of heavenly comfort, why would they turn to a chunk of cedar that couldn't talk? If they wanted a god who would come to them in times of need, why would they serve gods who couldn't even walk?
Not only did these so-called gods deserve nothing in terms of reverence, but also, they were incapable of any goodness, of any grace, of any love.
But what really is an idol? As God reveals here, it is something that we create. It is a human projection. As one writer put it, it is something that we shape and then allow to shape us.
With this idea in mind, I think we can build a bridge from the seventh century to the twenty-first. The biggest mistake we can make about a passage like this is to label it as irrelevant because of it primitiveness. Bowing before idols? Modern people don't bow before idols?
In some ways we're worse off, aren't we? We're even more deceived because not only do we bow to idols, but we hide our idols. They aren't made of wood or stone, and thus, they aren't easy to spot.
Listen to what the Apostle Paul said over six hundred years after Jeremiah: Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)
Paul states that greed equals idolatry. What is greed? Greed is a human construct, a human invention that says, "More wealth equals more life, more meaning." And what happens if someone believes this? They are shaped by it. They serve this idea. They obey its directive. Greed is a god.
No matter in which century you were born, all of us are idolaters. As the French pastor John Calvin put it, our heart is a "perpetual factory of idols".
What are the names of your idols? They won't have names like Baal or Ashteroth. Just as those names were familiar to people in the seventh century BC, our modern idols are very familiar.
They have names like Greed, Reputation, Distraction, Indifference, Laziness, Bitterness, Lust, Fear, Control, Entertainment, Criticalness, or maybe Arrogance.
But how can we know if such things have become idols in our life? Well, typically, idolatry takes place when we give what belongs to God alone to something other than God. This could include many things, but if we stick with our passage we find that what we fear is a good indication of who we serve.
As verses 2 and 5 indicate, the Israelites were terrified by certain astrological events that they interpreted as omens predicting a particular god's judgment against them. What is it that you fear?
Are you ever afraid that you will not have enough things to make you happy? Maybe you're serving Greed.
Are you ever afraid that others will not see how great you really are? Maybe you're serving Reputation.
Are you ever afraid that you will have to stop and really think about what matters? Maybe you're serving Distraction?
Are you ever afraid of forgiving someone else; afraid that they won't pay for what they've done? Maybe you're serving Bitterness.
Are you afraid that things in your life won't go just as you've planned them? That people will not be just how you know they should be? Maybe you're serving Control.
What are the names of your idols?
Like the travelers in Oz, God wants us to surprised and dismayed as we see the truth behind our man-made gods, those human ideas in which we so often trust, to which we so often pin our hopes. Jeremiah exposed the idols of his day. We need to do the same.
Greed might decree, "More wealth equals more life!" But in their despair and emptiness, the richest people our world has ever known have, like Toto, pulled down the screen and revealed the truth.
Lust might decree, "Lasting satisfaction through sexual stimulation." But addicts of pornography who have ruined their lives and the lives of those closest to them are living proof that this is a lie.
And we could go on and on. Idolatry is inherently flawed.
But we can't leave it at this, can we?
II.The Reality of Our God (10:6-10)
Sometimes it's easy for us to expose the wrong. What we often miss is a passion for talking about the right.
You see, we may decry the foolishness of idols, but do we, even more so, passionately declare the majesty of God? Well, thankfully Jeremiah did: Look at verse 10:6:
6 There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might. 7 Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? For this is your due; for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like you. 8 They are both stupid and foolish; the instruction of idols is but wood! 9 Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz. They are the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the goldsmith; their clothing is violet and purple; they are all the work of skilled men. 10 But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation.
In hearing about the foolishness and powerlessness of these counterfeit gods, the prophet is driven to declare the truth about God and bring us back to the ultimate rebuttal against idolatry.
Yes, idolatry is vanity. Yes, it is useless and can make no difference because it is based on lies. But this argument is incomplete, isn't it. The pinnacle of this argument against idols comes in verse 6: "There is none like you, O Lord" (x2)
Jeremiah seems to ask, "How can you exalt anything else to a level of worship when our God is utterly incomparable?"
Unlike the worthless, lifeless idols of the nations, the true God is great and His name is mighty in power. Remember, that word LORD in capital letters in verse 6 and all throughout this chapter is the personal name of God, Yahweh. "There is none like you, O Yahweh; you are great, and your name is great in might.!"
While idols have no power, Yahweh has all power; power that had been demonstrated time and time again throughout Israel's history.
Because of this Jeremiah must ask, "Who would not fear you, O King of the nations?" Here is the same word translated fear in verse 5 where God is talking about fearing idols. Remember we said that idolatry is giving what is God's due to something other than God. Look at what Jeremiah asks: "Who would not fear you, O king of the nations? For this is your due."
Not only did the Israelites need to see the foolishness of their choices, but they needed to see the foolishness of their choices in light of the greatness of God. As God had proclaimed through Jeremiah earlier: "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." (2:13)
The purity and refreshment of the true God was traded for the broken emptiness of idols.
There is a very precious and powerful truth exemplified by the prophet here, and it is this: Delighting in the unique greatness of God is the only antidote for our idolatry. (x2)
There is none like you, O Lord; There is none like you!
You see, the scary thing about out idolatry is not that we could be or have been dominated by things like greed, despair, or indifference. The scary thing is not that we are following lies. The scary thing is thing is that we have turned from the truth.
The horror of idolatry is that we are blind to the beauty of God.
How are you delighting in the unique greatness of God? Are you learning more about Him? Are you remembering His goodness to you? Are you looking for His power in creation and His hand in your circumstances? Are you walking with Him each day, meditating on what He has revealed about Himself? Are you stepping out in faith and then watching His faithfulness in action?
Delighting in the unique greatness of God is the only antidote for idolatry.
III.The Reality of Our Hope (10:16)
It would be easy at this point, after what we've seen concerning our idols, to feel pretty defeated and hopeless. Which of us is innocent in this? Which of us delights in the unique greatness of our God in the way that we should?
But l want to conclude this morning with verse 16. Verses 11-15 confirm the fact that our human creations will perish. But listen to another declaration by the prophet of our God's unique greatness. Verse 16:
ï»¿16ï»¿ He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these, for he is the Maker of all things,
including Israel, the tribe of his inheritance- the LORD Almighty is his name.
But notice how Jeremiah describes God in this verse. He is the Portion of Jacob. This is not a name we typically use for God, but in this name is the reality of our hope. The name Jacob here refers to the people of Israel. Remember God changed their forefather Jacob's name to Israel. But what does it mean that God is Israel's portion?
Well someone's portion was their allotment of land, which in an agricultural society like ancient Israel meant everything. Your share of the land, your parcel, your portion was your livelihood. It's what established you and kept you alive.
So Jeremiah uses this title to point his hearers back to the glorious truth that Yahweh, the living and true God, has given himself to Israel, to prosper them and give them life. They are, by His grace, the tribe of His inheritance.
Unlike the other nations, Israel stood in a covenant relationship with the living God. They were the recipients of His promises. And because they had this relationship with God, they were not immediately judged for their idolatry. Instead, in His mercy, God sent Jeremiah to speak to them, to call them back, to instruct them, "Do not learn the ways of the nations". This was God's plea in grace.
Well, this morning, those of us who know God's love through Jesus Christ stand in the fullness of those promises. Since Jesus bore the punishment for our idolatry on the cross, for those who trust Him, He has made a way to worship the one God in spirit and in truth.
As Paul reminds those of us who are not of Israel, but of the nations: remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
Through Jesus, there is mercy and hope for idolaters.
My prayer for all of us, including myself, is that we would seek to be surprised and dismayed as the screens come down in our life; as the so-called gods of human wisdom are revealed for what they are: worthless.
There is no one like our God, and thus, there is nothing, there is no else who can bring us that life for which all of us long.
How will these false gods be revealed for what they are? When the true God is revered for who He is.