Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Command to Worship the Lord Exclusively

The Command to Worship the Lord Exclusively

Deuteronomy 5:7

Who is this God?

The Covenant Lord

“I am the Lord.” When God says, “I am the Lord,” he establishes himself as eternally self-existent, the One who is pure, infinite being himself. I am sure as Moses preached this to the Israelites his mind must have gone back to his encounter with the Lord at the burning bush (Ex 3:13-15; 6:-7). All of his attributes are eternal and infinite. This is the God who does not depend upon anyone or anything for sustenance. He knows everything that was, is, or ever will be. He has infinite, self-generated power to do anything and everything he wishes to do. This is the God who upholds all things by the word of his power. This is the God who has no plan B because his plan A is always right and good. This is the God who does not change, and in whom there is no shadow of turning. He is truly Lord of all.

But beyond that, the wonderful truth here is that this God is who he is for his people. He takes all that he is and puts it into this relationship with his people. Notice what he said to Moses, “I will be with you.” And this relationship is a covenant relationship in which he will be their God and they will be his people. He is not a distant, far-off deity who has no connection to what is going on in the world here and now. And because he is the eternal, unchanging One, his covenant promises are good, true, and unbreakable.

When Israel heard, “I am the Lord your God” before “you shall have no other gods before me,” they knew that this was the God they could trust. And the same is true for us today. We have stressed complete, unquestioning obedience to the Lord in our messages from D. But I would like to add that this unquestioning obedience springs from a heart that is entirely confident in God. We trust him. He is the great I AM who can never fail. All the commands of God are opportunities to put faith into practice.

The Creator God

The God we are to worship is our covenant Lord. But standing behind that is the reality that he is the creator God. This makes all men accountable to him. He is the one in whom we live and move and have our being. Men wander around today saying, We don’t know who or what we should worship. One man’s opinion is as good as another’s. But God says, I am the true God and there is no other. There is no one like me. And he has made himself plain to all through his creation. There is no excuse for atheism. Unbelief is a capital crime and a heinous sin. It should provoke us dreadfully. When was the last time you were angered by the idolatry all around us? (As an aside, until we understand true hatred for sin, we will not perceive fully the love God manifested in saving sinful men.)

Now there is one more point we must make about who this God is before we move on to consider what he commands us to do. This point stems from the fact that that great event we call the Incarnation has happened. God became flesh. And so as we look back on this command from our NT perspective, we must recognize that this God is

The Christ-like God

When Jesus was here on this earth, he made this astounding statement, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (J 8:58). Everything we spoke of a moment ago about the great I AM is true of Jesus Christ. That is why we call him our Lord Jesus Christ. He told the crowds gathered to hear him (J 5:21-23). Ever since the coming of Jesus, if you do not worship him, you are not worshiping the true God. You are worshiping some false god. We need to make it very clear to our pluralistic society that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father except through him. Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses all worship a false God. President Bush said, "I believe in an Almighty God, and I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God. That's what I believe." I’m sure he meant this sincerely, but he was sincerely wrong. Now we will certainly be called intolerant, bigoted, etc., for believing and proclaiming this truth, but in reality we are just being submissive to the one true God. If we take away this truth, we are actually damning men to hell. All men will stand before the one true and living God, the judge of the whole earth, and we are not doing them any favors if we do not uphold the exclusivity of Jesus Christ.

What is his command?

No worship, service, adoration, honor, allegiance, loyalty, or prayer may be given to anyone or anything other than the creator, covenant, Christ-like God. Israel had left a land of many of gods and they were about to enter a land of many gods. We, too, live in a land of many gods. Martin Luther in his Larger Catechism defined a god as that “to which your heart clings and entrusts itself.” He also said, “Whatever man loves, that is his god. For he carries it in his heart; he goes about with it night and day; he sleeps and wakes with it, be it what it may – wealth or self, pleasure or renown.”

So, what are the idols of our time and place in American history? We have an eclectic pantheon of idols, which fits with our fundamental idea of freedom as personal autonomy. Each person is free to choose which idols suit him best, as long as he doesn’t reject all of these idols for the one living and true God.

Many of the lesser gods in this pantheon relate to materialism or hedonism, which is why we live in a culture of consumption – retirement, vacations, bigger houses, more stuff, debt, constant entertainment, health, physical fitness, sports, therapy, and psychological wellness (self esteem, good feelings). Also included would be perpetual talk of personal rights and a fascination with sexuality coupled with a refusal to put any parameters on it.

But as we move up to the bigger gods, we find stark testimony that the creature is attempting to replace the Creator, just as Romans 1 describes. This humanism is revealed in many ways: Democracy with a capital D (our current war on terror has provided an opportunity to make this explicit, with multiple references to making the world safe through democracy); Equality defined in egalitarian terms; Freedom defined as self-autonomy or self-fulfillment. This is why there is such a deep attachment to positive law and such a desperate commitment to education and science as a savior. This also factors into the cult of youth and the youth culture which dominates the public arena. Yes, like Israel of old, we live in a land of many gods.

In fact, we must recognize that no one has any right to worship a false god. We tend to forget that and confuse things in our country. We often talk of America as a land of religious freedom, so that everyone is free to worship as he chooses. That is true, and it is good – legally. In other words, the state should not have jurisdiction to criminalize worship. Just because something is a sin does not make it a crime. I do believe that the church and the state operate in different spheres. But that should not confuse us to the fact that, while everyone has the legal right to worship as they please, they do not have a spiritual right to do so. This first commandment cuts like a buzz saw across all religious pluralism. It is absolute, and it is exclusive.

But what if we Christianize it a little bit? May we pray to and venerate saints or even Mary the mother of Jesus? Not in the least. Roman Catholicism has baptized idolatry in the name of Christianity, but it actually apostasy. This problem is not limited to Catholicism. The so-called evangelical churches in America are brimming over with self-focus and self-esteem and self-fulfillment worship. We idolize precisely the same things our pop culture idolizes. We must not give any allegiance to these idols whatsoever.

Positively, the command is to worship God in Jesus Christ. God says, “I will be your God.” God has designed and created us to be worshiping beings, and the only proper recipient of our worship is the Lord.

So how can you obey the first commandment today? Constantly surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The early Christians refused to say “Ceasar is Lord” because they would not even speak of anyone but Jesus as Lord. This is absolute allegiance and loyalty to him above all else – family, friends, country. Every area of life must be under his will or control. We must not reserve the right to do as we please in any area of life. “Not my will, but yours be done,” Jesus said. We should strive to have every thought taken captive to the obedience of Christ. We worship our Lord, Jesus Christ, exclusively.

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