The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost July 12, 2015
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
19(1-4), 346, 41, 19(5-6)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
“You shall have no other gods.”
Ask now concerning the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether any great thing like this has happened, or anything like it has been heard. Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live? Or did God ever try to go and take for Himself a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord Himself is God; there is none other besides Him. Out of heaven He let you hear His voice, that He might instruct you; on earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words out of the midst of the fire. And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power, driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land as an inheritance, as it is this day. Therefore know this day, and consider it in your heart, that the Lord Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.
I’ve been trying to find a good pair of headphones to wear while I’m exercising. The ones on my desk right now look the part. They’re a decent size and color. They store lots of music. But after three days of using them, the power switch stopped working and I couldn’t turn them on or off. So my wife said, “Maybe they quit working because you paid $4.14 and they came from Hong Kong.” “But they look just like Sony’s,” I thought. But they weren’t. They were imitation headphones, and they worked—sort of—for a few days.
Imitation electronics. Imitation jewelry or purses. Imitation watches. Sometimes imitations work well enough to get you by. Other times, if the stakes are high enough, using imitations can have serious consequences. For example, using imitation construction products on a building site can later causes the structure to collapse.
There’s another situation in which we dare not accept imitations, namely, when it comes to the God we worship. If we follow an imitation God, the consequences are disastrous.
Who would follow a fake god instead of the real thing? Many people, actually. In fact, it was the greatest spiritual problem the nation of Israel faced. The people were tempted to make idols for themselves—forms and shapes that they could see and worship.)
Following false gods was such a danger to Israel that God went to a lot of trouble to show them the difference between the real God and the imitation gods. God wanted them to avoid the fakes and to recognize what was true. He showed them what it was that made the true God different from the imitations, what it was that made the Lord the “genuine article.”
The first proof of genuineness is the voice of God: “Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live?” [v.33] At Mt. Sinai God had spoken from heaven to the Israelites when He gave them His commands (cf. Exodus 20:22). No imitation god had ever been, or would ever be, able to speak to the people. Some of the imitations may have had what looked like mouths, but they could not talk. The Lord alone had a voice that could be heard.
The next proof for genuineness is, the power of God in the great Exodus: “Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like the things the Lord your God did for you in Egypt?” [v. 34 NIV]
A whole nation of people was in captivity, enslaved by Pharaoh. The people of Israel could not escape by themselves. They had no strength to run away or to defeat their oppressors on their own. But God raised up Moses to lead the people, and He brought His own power to bear, and the nation was led out of Egypt by great signs and wonders—plagues that descended upon Pharaoh, waters that parted at the Red Sea. “The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!” (Exodus 15:1). No imitation god could have this kind of power. No fake god could destroy armies or cause hundreds of thousands of people suddenly to go free. The Lord alone has power like that.
A final proof of genuineness is the love of God: “Because he loved your fathers and chose their descendants after them…” [v. 37] The true God did loving acts for Israel. He showed them kindness and mercy in making them His own special people. He did what was good for them. Psalm 103:8 says, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (NIV).
The Lord’s love went far beyond merely helping them escape from Egypt, for He had set in motion a plan to save them from the captivity of their sins too. Their greatest problem was their guilt toward God—the greatest problem any of us faces. They disobeyed God daily and deserved only His wrath and punishment. But a Savior was coming through the “forefathers” and “descendants” of the nation of Israel which God had chosen. A Savior who would bear the burden of the people’s guilt and set things right with them before the Lord. This Savior would be the Son of God, the Lord in human form, offered up for the people in love.
But the imitation gods were not loving like the Lord. They showed no mercy toward their people when they did wrong. They did not reach out to save them. The imitations were cold and heartless, simply condemning all who transgressed and showing fickle and careless behavior toward their subjects.
A voice which spoke to the people, a power which led and guided the people, a love which cared for them and showed them mercy, especially when they had sinned—these three things set the Lord apart from the imitation gods.
“So don’t you dare,” the Lord said, “mess around with the fakes.” And He put it this way: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—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; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them” (Exodus 20:2-5a). We know these words as the First Commandment. It says, “Accept no imitations—the Lord is God.”
Why is the Lord so concerned about this? Why does He put it in the form of such a strong commandment? Why does He insist that people stick with the real thing? It’s not hard to see why. It is because the imitation gods cannot do anything for anyone. They cannot speak. They cannot lift a hand in power to help. They cannot love. Above all, they cannot save any from his sins. The imitations send no Savior, so to follow them will result in disaster. To trust in them will lead to judgment in Hell—punishment for your wrongdoing. This is a situation in which an imitation god is not at all good enough. It will not “get you by,” but, instead, it will mean the death of you.
Imitation gods are all around us. Some are easy to spot. The idols carved of wood or sculpted of metal, the trinkets and the talismans, the sun and the stars and other objects that some bow down before.
Other imitation gods are not so easy to see. We set up imitation gods ourselves when we give the Lord a lower place in our hearts and let other things have a higher place—things like family and friends, a job or a house, money or goods. When those things start to become so important to us that we are concentrating on them more than on the Lord, then they have started to become our gods. Beware! for they are imitations. They are not the real thing.
We set up an imitation god when we decide for ourselves what God should be like—even if it is different than what He tells us. For example, when we decide for ourselves what things He should allow and what things He should not allow. When we think, “God would let me to do this or that even if it’s not quite right. I think He would overlook this sin under these circumstances.” Or when people say, “God wouldn’t care about that.” Sometimes we want to make God into the way we think He should be. We want Him to act and behave the way we think He should act and behave. Our sinful natures want to follow imitations we have made up in our own minds.
Also when people put their confidence in themselves, feel they have been “good enough” without God’s help, excuse their wrongs on account of their own good deeds, make themselves the final authority in matters of judgment or morality, and so forth. In so doing, they make themselves into their own gods. Imitations to be sure!
“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols…the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true. And we are in Him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:21, 20 NIV). ACCEPT NO IMITATIONS—THE LORD IS GOD!
The genuine God saves. The genuine God sent His only begotten Son into the world. He sent the Son “of the same substance” as the Father, who stretched out His hands on the cross and bore the penalty for all your sin. Christ has suffered for your every act of disobedience against this the very first and most important of all the commandments. He has suffered for every time you have set up an imitation god in your heart or in your life. The Lord is the only one who saves. He is God.
So keep yourselves from idols. Do not replace the real God with a fake! The fakes can do nothing.
Instead listen to the Lord’s voice and follow what He asks you to do—things that are for your good and for your blessing. Follow Him when He tells you to resist the Devil and honor Him alone in everything you do.
Trust in the Lord’s power to help you as He helped Israel. Turn to Him for mighty acts. Call upon Him and ask Him to heal and to help.
Rest confidently in the Lord’s love, a love which remembers your sin no more on account of Jesus Christ, a love which has made Heaven your home, a love which will surely take you there.
Fear—honor and respect, love, and trust in the Lord, the true God, above all things—and accept no imitations—ever!
Praise to the Lord! Oh, let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him!
Let the Amen sound from His people again;
Gladly for aye we adore Him. Amen.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of Ministry by Mail sermons on the 10 Commandments. We thank the writers for applying their study and gifts to this series which we pray will be a blessing for all.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.