None Like You
November 09, 2008 | Randy Smith
None Like YouJeremiah 10:1-10
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Pastor Randy Smith
It is almost impossible to believe. It is beyond our wildest imagination. If it weren't in the pages of Scripture, we would never accept its reality.
The very nation that God called from all the people in the world. The very nation that obtained God's special care and compassion. The very nation that witnessed God's power and majesty. And the very nation that received God's written revelation, had turned away from the living God and had begun to worship idols. Apostasy, immorality, carnality, debauchery and idolatry had perverted the land. The people were no longer serving the true God to whom they had pledged their allegiance. They turned from Him and committed spiritual adultery with their false gods. So finding no toleration for rivals, God once again was forced to speak to the people.
The individual He chose as His mouthpiece was a man by the name of Jeremiah. It was Jeremiah's responsibility to announce that judgment was coming if the people refused to repent of their wickedness. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was already led off to captivity by Assyria, and now the Southern Kingdom of Judah was about to suffer the same fate at the hands of the Babylonians.
Commonly referred to as the "Weeping Prophet," Jeremiah's heart was broken for the people. Yet through forty years of faithful preaching, the people cared not for his message of repentance. They treated him harshly. His message to avert God's wrath was met with severe opposition: isolation, beatings and imprisonment.
A few key verses summarize our setting: Jeremiah 7:23-24, "But this is what I commanded them, saying, 'Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.' Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward." Jeremiah 8:11-12, "'They heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially, Saying, 'Peace, peace,' But there is no peace. Were they ashamed because of the abomination they had done? They certainly were not ashamed, and they did not know how to blush; therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time of their punishment they shall be brought down,' Says the LORD."
Jeremiah had his hands full. Rather than contemplating God's anger, the people wanted to believe a false message of peace. Rather than obedience to God's word, the people chose to follow their own desires. Rather than repentance, the people preferred to continue in their sins. And rather than total fidelity to the true God, the people took greater pleasure in false gods, namely, idols.
Roughly 2,400 years have passed, and people have changed very little. God's judgment is resting upon all who have gone their own way. As our Creator, He is expecting our loyalty. He has provided us adequate knowledge of Himself, but humans and nations have rejected Him in favor of false gods. Today we will see how this is the height of stupidity and foolishness.
As God said through Jeremiah, "'Has a nation changed gods when they were not gods? But My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, and shudder, be very desolate,' declares the LORD. 'For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water'" (Jer. 2:11-13).
This morning we will compare the futility of idolatry against the backdrop of the living God who is altogether incomparable.
1. THE SPORT OF FOOLS
I am calling the first point, "The Sport of Fools." Let's begin with an examination of Israel's idolatry.
It is quite common when we consider the idolatry of antiquity that we absolve ourselves of such a primitive and unattractive practice. As we stroll though the modern museum and observe the pagan artifacts, we think to ourselves, "Why would anybody cherish something so ugly and meaningless as that?" "How could these people have thought that this object formed by the hands of a person would ever bring them satisfaction and comfort?" "If this is idolatry, surely I am immune from the practice!" Don't lose that thought.
God through Jeremiah in the same way derides the people for their foolishness. Verse 3 of chapter 10, "For the customs of the peoples are delusion; because it is wood cut from the forest, the work of the hands of a craftsman with a cutting tool." Folks, wake-up, you are worship a piece of wood! You are worshipping something you created with your own hands!
This particular sarcasm is seen thought the prophets (cf. 1 Ki. 18). Consider Isaiah as he too dealt with this topic: "Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, 'Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.' But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, 'Deliver me, for you are my god…I fall down before a block of wood!'" (Isa. 44:14-17, 19).
Jeremiah continues in verse 4, "They decorate it with silver and with gold" (cf. verse 9). Can't have an unattractive god! "They fasten it," he says, "With nails and with hammers so that it will not totter." I'm sure there is nothing more embarrassing than a god that keeps falling over! But what's the reality? Verse 5, "Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot walk! Do not fear them, for they can do no harm, nor can they do any good." Why in the world are you placing your trust in something that is so ridiculous? Who's making who? Who's depending on whom? Who's serving who? Who's helping who? What benefits are you deriving from this ridiculous practice?
No wonder Jeremiah said in verse 8 of those who worship idols, "But they are altogether stupid and foolish in their discipline of delusion - their idol is wood!"
Very humiliating! But is there any application of this text for the modern age? This judgment is not only upon the Jews. Unfortunately the times have not changed.
Number one: Do we still worship idols today? Yes! Different forms, but yes. As it has often been said, the human heart is a perpetual factory of idols. Perhaps a working definition of idolatry will put that statement in context. According to Ken Sande, "Anytime we long for something apart from God, fear something more than God, or trust in something other than God to make us happy, fulfilled, or secure, we worship a false god" (The Peacemaker, p. 109). Origen, from centuries ago, remarked, "What each one honors before all else, what before all things he admires and loves, this for him is God." Based on those definitions, idolatry is running rampant. Listen to D.L. Moody from over 100 years ago, "You don't have to go to heathen lands today to find false gods. America is full of them. Whatever you love more than God is your idol." In the eyes of God, the overwhelming majority of individuals are idol-worshippers. And in the eyes of God they are (and I'm only quoting Scripture) "stupid and foolish."
Number two: What forms do our idols take? Since an idol is anything we substitute in the place of God, an idol can be anything that captures our primary heart allegiance. Oftentimes the idols of today are not bad in and of themselves; the problem is just that they are desired and depended upon too much. An idol can be something immaterial like a dream or a role or a hope or a desire or an image. Material items like a family or a spouse or a future spouse or a child or a car or a house can easily become idols. We can make idols out of our activities like a job or a ministry or a hobby. Think to yourself, what are the common idols in America? Food, sex, exercise, diets, athletics, leisure, shopping and money would be a good list for starters.
Number three: What is the attraction of idols? It is the same attraction that captivated the hearts of the Israelites.
Verse 2 of chapter 10, "(Idols are) the way of the nations." The Jews wanted to be like the other nations. We too worship idols because we want to be like everyone else. Peer pressure didn't end with puberty. We don't care to stand out. We like to fit in. We like to be accepted. That is our first sin, to have our hearts sinfully driven by acceptance from the world. Our second sin is to then adopt their idols so we can cherish what they cherish.
Another attraction is found in verse 9 of chapter 10. Paraphrasing here, idols are made of "silver" and "gold" (their most precious metals). They are clothed with "violet and purple" (their most precious colors). Bottom line: their idols were visually impressive! Our idols are visually impressive too - a week on a Caribbean beach, a new sports car, a promotion at work, financial security, a leaner body? You tell me it's easy to overcome an improper desire for these things! If you think it is, you have given in too often to the battle. Eyes off the Lord for just a moment and the disciplines of the Christians faith are very unattractive in comparison. A seven-day cruise or seven Sundays serving in the nursery? A thousand-dollar tax rebate or a good sermon? A romantic novel or the Gospel of Luke? Where is our attraction?
Number four: Why do we create idols? Here is what A.W. Tozer said: "We want to get God down to where we can use Him - at least we'll know where He is when we need Him! We want a God we can in some measure control. We develop a God who is a composite of all the religious people we've seen. The best people we've known or heard about and all the sublime ideas we've entertained!" (The Knowledge of the Holy).
As verse 5 says, "(Idols) do us no harm." We can domesticate our idols. They are user-friendly. We control them. They submit to us. They make us happy. They never teach or correct or rebuke or discipline. We can give them our hearts and still fulfill our natural inward desire for worship.
No different than the Israelites. We create idols because we have a distaste for the living God. Paul put it this way in Romans 1, "For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over…" (Rom. 1:21-24a).
Are there any idols in your life? Is there anything that has been substituted for the place that belongs to God? Ask yourself a few questions: What monopolizes your thoughts and your time and your money and your affections? How do you determine your net worth? Is it your "net worth" or is it a life pleasing to the Lord? Where do you find your significance and your confidence and your security and your identity? What overrides your God-given responsibilities? What causes you to covet? What do you find difficulty parting with? What makes your angry? For anger usually erupts when our idol is knocked off the shelf. What are you living for when you get out of bed in the morning? What are you putting in the place of God?
Verse 8 again, "But they are altogether stupid and foolish in their discipline of delusion - their idol is wood!" How could we chastise the idols of the twenty-first century? What would God through Jeremiah say to us about the way we determine and live-out our priorities centered around the man-made, false, impotent, temporary and worthless things of this world? I will let you come up with your own scenarios.
1. THE SPLENDOR OF GOD
Deep down inside I believe we all know that cherishing idols is foolishness. They do not bring satisfaction, meaning, purpose or fulfillment. They have short shelf lives. They demand our constant attention and drain us of our most precious resources. But the primary reason following false gods is foolish is because in doing so we are settling for half-rate treasures while rejecting the true God who surpasses anything we can create. As Isaiah said, "To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him?" (Isa. 48:19; cf. Psm. 89:6). As we move to the second point let's consider the far surpassing excellencies of our matchless God.
In the beginning of verse 6 and end of verse 7 Jeremiah says, "There is none like You." The best this world can produce put-together fails to compare with God. God has no rivals. No one is more powerful, more loving, more compassionate, more attractive, and more knowledgeable. No one can is a better savior, friend, helper and confident. No one has more patience, wealth and glory than God. "Blank" is better than God. Only one word answers that question: "Nothing!" Anyone who can answer that question with another answer reveals their woeful ignorance of God's character. Listen again to Isaiah, God speaking, "Do not tremble and do not be afraid; have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none… I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God" (Isa. 44:8; 45:5).
Listen carefully to Jeremiah's glorious seven-fold description of our awesome God:
Verse 6, "You are great, and great is Your name in might." First, God is great. He is the best, supreme, exalted. There are no imperfections in His character. He never is in need of new information. And all that He does is exactly in line with His perfect plan. His total nature is beyond human comprehension. He is without beginning or end. And he receives the eternal praise of the subjects in heaven.
Verse 7, "Who would not fear You, O King of the nations? Indeed it is Your due!" Second, we see that God is "King." Though most fail to submit to Him, He is still and always will be King over all. And though most fail to submit to Him, one day everybody will. His power is manifested everywhere. He is worthy of our ultimate allegiance.
Third in verse 7, we see that God is wise. "For among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, There is none like You." All the wisdom in the nations could never approach the wisdom of God. He knows all, and the application of His knowledge is perfect.
Fourth, the Lord is true. Verse 10, "But the LORD is the true God." Literally, He is the God who is Truth. He does not lie. He is faithful to His promises. His words and standards are absolute.
Still in verse 10, "He is the living God." Fifth, God is alive (Jn. 5:26). He expresses emotions such as joy and anger. He speaks to us, listens to us, heals us and willingly enters into an intimate personal relationship with us. He Himself is the source of life for all humanity (Ac. 17:25, 28).
Still in verse 10, "(He is) the…everlasting King. Sixth, God is everlasting. He is without beginning or end. He is never voted out of office. He is always the same, yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8)
And finally, still in verse 10, "At His wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure His indignation." Seventh, God is just. Nothing escapes His notice. He will repay every injustice that is committed. Every wrong will be made right. Those who ignore His Word will face a day of reckoning.
Do you see what Jeremiah did for us this morning? Do you see how he drove home the futility of idolatry? Idols are a product of this fallen world. They need our constant care, but God is GREAT! Idols demand our allegiance while they enslave us, but God sets us free as the true KING! Idols are foolish as they are the product of foolishness, but God is WISE! Idols are known as "false gods," but God is TRUE! Idols are dead and impersonal, but God is LIVING! Idols have a short shelf life. They go in and out of fashion. They often end up in the junkyard, but God is EVERLASTING! Idols are partial to their lovers. They don't incite fear in us, but God is JUST and "at His wrath the earth quakes" (Jer. 10:10).
When we see the ocean, we will have a distaste for mud puddles. When we see God, we will have a distaste for idols.
Do you know this true God? Can't you see how foolish it is put anything above him? Do you have a relationship with Him that can only come through Jesus Christ? Have you received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through faith and repentance to have your sins taken away?
For this description of God is also the description of Jesus. Jesus is GREAT. Titus 2:13, "Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." Jesus is KING. Matthew 27:11, "Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, 'Are You the King of the Jews?' And Jesus said to him, 'It is as you say.'" Jesus is WISE. First Corinthians 1:24, "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." Jesus is TRUE. John 14:6, "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.'" Jesus is LIVING and EVERLASTING. Revelation 1:18, "(I am) the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades." And Jesus is JUST. John 5:22, "For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son."
When we consider the truth of Scripture, how can we neglect so great a God? How can we be so foolish to cherish idols? How can we commit spiritual adultery against the One that has purchased us by the blood of Christ? The answer is simple. The moment we take our eyes off the Lord, it is only a matter of time before we start to find false gods attractive. As John Calvin put it, "God renders His glory everywhere. Ignore it and you will wander away into various superstitions."
Speaking for my own heart, I can clearly see what happens when God ceases to be first place in my life. It doesn't take long before television takes priority over reading the Bible. It doesn't take long before my spiritual service is affected by the comments of others over the pleasure of God. It doesn't take long before the couch on Wednesday evenings looks more attractive than Prayer Meeting. It doesn't take long before grieving over a sports team loss exceeds grieving over my sin. It doesn't take long before unholy thoughts begin to crowd out meditating on God. It doesn't take long before sleeping in on Saturday morning is a greater desire than meeting with other men to study the Bible. It doesn't take long before complaining and grumbling is easier than encouraging and thanking. It doesn't take long before serving myself is a greater desire than serving others. It doesn't take long before it's easier to avoid people than share my faith with them.
Maybe you're doing much better, but I see the awful weakness of my own heart. Faithful time in the Word and prayer, regular fellowship with other believers and a consistent commitment to this local church is the only prevention I have to reduce and cease the idols my heart so easily produces. Despite all that I know about the greatness of God, it's not easy for me to keep Him first. But when He does occupy first place in my heart as He commands (Col. 1:18), I also know from experience that I am never more content and satisfied with life.
Listen to how John Piper put it, "If you don't see the greatness of God then all the things that money can buy become very exciting. If you can't see the sun you will be impressed with a street light. If you've never felt thunder and lightning you'll be impressed with fire works. And if you turn your back on the greatness and majesty of God you'll fall in love with a world of shadows and short-lived pleasures" (Sermon: Malachi 1:6-14, November 1, 1987).
Oh that we might fall in love with the greatness of our God. For there is truly no one like Him.