True or false? - Jeremiah 10:1-16
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
'Do you believe in God?'
If you were to ask a colleague at work or a neighbour, or someone else you see regularly this question they would probably answer 'Yes'.
Consistently surveys of beliefs & Opinion Polls show that over 70% of Britons do believe in God. Belief in God is very popular.
If you were to ask another question; 'What kind of God do you believe in?' What answers might be forthcoming then?
I suspect a whole range of responses. There are a great many different beliefs around those overtly religious seeing God in various ways, there are pastimes, people, possessions that motive human lives as gods & there are the 'Secular gods' the mind sets, world views, ways of understanding reality which have enormous practical implications for the way we see the world & live our lives. In this sense everyone believes in God or a god of some kind.
50 years ago the Christian author JB Philips wrote a book where he sought to analyse commonly held views about God. He called it 'Your God is too small'.
That title is fitting because when we are confronted by the true God our own human constructions of God or reality seem puny & pathetic.
The passage before us this eve Jer 10 is God's word to us through his brave & passionate prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah confronts God's special covenant people around 600 years before Jesus with a verdict Your God is too small.
The people were in rebellion against their God, they were tempted & perhaps had fallen into idolatry giving allegiance to humanly created gods. Jeremiah's long ministry was to warn the people that continued rebellion would mean judgement from God they would be removed from their promised land & taken to serve the world superpower Babylon.
Jeremiah contrasts the idols of their times, to the true living God The LORD, YHWH of the special relationship. God speaks in this passage to his people, tempted by idolatry & to those who weren't his, involved directly in idolatry. That means he has a message for all of us tonight over 21/2 thousand years later; Christians or seekers after truth. We'll find that in many ways our God is still too small.
The Sermon notes show where we're going as Jeremiah contrasts pathetic idols with the powerful, true LORD God;
1) Idols are powerless, the LORD is Mighty v2-7
One of the constant threats to God's people is to simply absorb the attitudes of the world around & thus to become little different from those who ignore the true God; 'worldly'. This is where Jer's warning begins; v2'Do not learn the ways of the nations' . Danger lies, v3 with 'The customs of the peoples
Men & Women are made in the image of the true God but when we turn from him & substitute our own ideas (whether religious or otherwise) for what he has made known of himself, then humanity slides into superstition & stupidity.
We see here 2 egs;
(i) v2 The ways of the nations in the 6th & 7th C BC involved godless, evil interpretations of natural events in the heavens; eclipses, comets etc v2 'Do not (like the nations) be terrified by signs in the sky' God warns.
21st C AD people would not be like this, would they? Well how many of our friends read their horoscopes despite being based on dubious ideas?
Even what would be considered major world faiths show these characteristics.
It's been a momentous week in India. The terrible earthquake in Gujerat (prayers) was preceded by an incredible gathering in Hallalabad. The Kumb Mella festival at a sacred Hindu site was organised because astrology had suggested this was the most spiritually auspicious time for over 100 years to take a bath in the Ganges.
Reports said between 25 & 40 Million people congregated & believed they would be blessed by a simple dip. One man interviewed on TV said now he had taken part in the Kumb Mella he was certain he would go to heaven when he died!!
When the true God is set aside the natural mind (religious or secular) will do & believe ridiculous things. We in the Western world are the same. GK Chesterton's comment from the 1st half of the 20th C seems even more true in the 1st half of the 21st; 'When people stop believing in (the true) God they don't believe in nothing they believe in everything'. Witness the rise of Fung Shui, crystals, Tarot & the like the!
(ii) Jeremiah's 2nd eg of what happens when people reject the true God is his main target; the overt idolatry seen in literal physical idols to whom were ascribed deity & power.
The customs of the peoples involved, then as now, man made, designer, gods. The true God is scathing in his ridicule;
V3b-5 'cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
4They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.
5Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried
because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good.'
God is quite prepared to be sarcastic in order to help his people see sense; 'Here is this glorious deity you have made yet it has to be nailed down to stop it falling over how ludicrous!
Even when it is secure this model god is no more useful as a god than a scarecrow in a field; It can't speak there is no message of life & encouragement to the needy here. It can't walk there is no help for the harassed. In fact instead of bearing the burdens of people in their need they have to carry the god as a burden on their shoulders themselves!
But we all know that idols are not limited to statues & models of gods. As theologian Jim Packer puts it;
'What other gods could we have besides the Lord? Plentyare still the great gods Sex, Shekels, and Stomach (an unholy trinity constituting one god: self), and the other enslaving trio, Pleasure, Possessions, and Position. Football, the Firm, and Family are also gods for some. Indeed the list of other gods is endless, for anything that anyone allows to run their life becomes their god Your Father Loves You by James Packer, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986,
We men & women so quickly find ourselves plunging into the classic fallen human problem; The Apostle Paul's analysis of the human condition is the same; Rom 1 'Although they claimed to be wise they became fools & exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man & birds, animals & reptilesworshipped & served created things, rather than the creator.' (1:22,23,25)
Why do people do this? Isn't it so obvious made to measure Idols, compared to the true God, are empty?
When you're thinking straight yes, but they remain a great temptation to us today as they were to God's people in Jeremiah's time.
Why? Idols then as now are often very impressive v9 'hammered silverin blue & purple all made by skilled workers.' The idols of our time are in a contemporary way attractive, sumptuous, desirable.
There is a great appeal in what 'everybody does & thinks'. Idolatry & false ideas were after all V2 'The ways of the nations' v3 'the customs of the peoples'. This was mainstream thinking, not out of the ordinary it was 'normal', what everyone was doing. This is what one Sociologist calls a 'plausibility structures' a way of thinking that because it is often repeated, enforced by the media & education becomes to the majority the norm, & so seemingly obvious & reasonable but of course if it is not God's way it may seem right to people but it can be profoundly wrong.
Reminder here that such is the power of the attractive & the popular that God needs to speak & call us back from being seduced. This is yet another reason why we need to expose ourselves regularly to the Bible. If we don't have our thinking shaped by God's word taught on Sunday, absorbed as we read it personally or with others in groups, we will end up being shaped by the world what seems normal to us will be what we pick up from the bombardment of ideas that assault us from a world rebelling against God. Our God will be too small.
In contrast to the pathetic powerless idols religious or secular, ancient or modern the true God, the LORD, YHWH is mighty in power.
V6 'No one is like you, O LORD; you are great, and your name is mighty in power.'
God is incomparable 'No one is like you', says Jeremiah. Literally 'no particle of nothing' is like you. Nothing whatever can compare to God.
God is incomparable in his ability to get things done.
Unlike idols he can speak his word creates & restores.
Unlike the idols that can't even walk, God is supremely capable, able to do 'immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine' (Ephs 3:20). As Jesus said 'With God all things are possible' (Matt 19;26),even overcoming the rebelliousness of stubborn human hearts. God is great, 'his name' the essence of who he is, is mighty in power.
God is incomparable in the scope of his powerful rule. V7 'Who should not revere you, O King of the nations'. The idols of Jeremiah's day were often associated with particular countries like some kind of lucky national mascot. But the true God is 'King of the Nations'.
We're accustomed to look at our world & see the great leaders, dictators, empire builders, we see Monarchs, Presidents & Prime Minster's & sometimes tremble at the power they wield & the extraordinary abilities they posses. Yet the LORD God is the true 'King', the whole world is ultimately under him, whether it recognises him or not.
In comparison to the LORD God, Idols are not only powerless, they are false.
[2) Idols are false, the LORD is true v8-10, v14]
V8The people making idols 'are all senseless and foolish; they are taught by worthless wooden idols.'
How can anything of moral or spiritual significance be expected from something that is essentially man made? No human skill can turn wood into an intelligent creature!
The images crafted by the human god maker are V14, nothing but 'a fraud'. Idols may seem attractive (as we've seen) but being of human origin they can never posses genuine reality like the true God.
Idols are essentially lifeless v14 'they have no breath in them'. Humanly constructed ideas & gods may offer much by their attractiveness or plausibility, but in reality they are without life & are false.
And we see here that it isn't that human choices about devotion & allegiance are equally valid as the current idols of relativism & religious pluralism would teach. No, loyalty to idols is dangerous, it impoverishes our humanity.
v14: 'Everyone is senseless and without knowledge; every goldsmith is shamed by his idols'.
Those who make idols & follow them demean themselves when they give allegiance to what is false & opposed to the true God. We are made to know God & live his way falsehood & disobedience in the end is damaging. v14 is literally the goldsmith 'is rendered brutish by his skill,' When we sever connection with God & instead trust idols we become 'senseless', less human than we were made to be.
It has been pointed out that it is really no surprise that most of the mass murdering dictatorial leaders of the 20C; Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot & so on had consciously rejected the true God & lived by man made, idolatrous ways instead.
In contrast to the falsehood of idols the Lord God is the true God.
v10 'But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King.'
God the LORD, YHWH is true. In great contrast to the empty fraud, which all idols are, He is truth in His essence.
Indeed, the reality of things as they really are is defined by referring to God. He is truth in himself & he shows what is true. This means that there is right & wrong, truth & error. That's why v10 'When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath'.
[And the true God is the living God. Idols are dead, without breath. All creatures are given life by God. But God has life in Himself . He is the living God.]
Finally Idols are powerless & false they are also transitory. Idols may well be here today, but in a real sense they will be gone tomorrow
[3) Idols are transitory, the LORD is the eternal, loving Creator v10-13, v15-16]
God tells Jeremiah to bring a message to those engaged in idolatry & interestingly it is recorded in a different language. V11 is written in the Lingua Franca of the day Aramaic. Here is a message the masses could here; v11'Tell them this: `These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.' '
One day these false gods will perish, they will be destroyed. History is littered with idols that have toppled, ideas that seem to have been invincible have gone out of fashion or proved to be failures. And many literal idols that once held sway are now museum pieces.
Idols are v15 'worthless, the objects of mockery; when their judgment comes, they will perish'. Ultimately this points forward to a final end;
God will one day judge all idolatry. When Jesus returns & his Kingdom comes in all its fullness his people, rescued because of Jesus' work on the cross, will live in God's new heaven & earth & all evil will be seen as evil & done away with (Rev21:8) 'the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral those who practice magic arts the idolaters & all liars their place shall be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur.' In the mean time idolatry is allowed to continue, God doesn't snuff out all falsehood now (who of us would be left?) but one day his judgment will come, it will be no good then saying that all religions are the same & that each should be considered a way to God!
In contrast to the transitory idols the true God is eternal v10 'But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King'.
Idols are made whether by human manual skill or intellectual ingenuity, but they don't last. The true God is the one who was & is & is to come, he is the everlasting uncaused cause.
Jeremiah tells us The LORD God is the one who has made everything in the 1st place v12 'But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom'
Just think of the earth in its astonishing beauty & intricacy. The magnificence of a mountain range, the stunning complexity of the human body, the vastness of the oceans & the remarkable characteristics of the earth that support life Did you know for example, that water is the only known substance that is more dense as a liquid than a solid?
So what, you might ask? If it wasn't then water would freeze from the bottom up of Oceans, lakes, & rivers killing everything in them. But water actually freezes top down thus allowing life to continue. Without this 'anomaly' there would be no life on earth. God certainly did v12 'found the world by his wisdom'.
Then beyond the earth, there is space. To us, the universe is utterly mind-boggling. Light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles per second, and astronomers measure space distances in light-years: that is, the distance a beam of light will travel in one year. That's about 6 million million miles.
If you look through the most powerful telescopes on earth, the furthest objects you can see are about 10,000 million light years away. And that's not as far as it goes; that's just as far as you can see! It is God v12 who 'stretched out the heavens by his understanding.'
God hasn't just made it all, he keeps it all going; the eternal God is the one who controls the created order & sustains it second by second; v13'When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth. He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.'
What is more this God the incomparably powerful God, this true & living God, this eternal creator God is also the God of strong committed love for his people.
V16'He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these (Idols) for he is the Maker of all things,
including Israel, the tribe of his inheritance-- the LORD Almighty is his name.'
God in his love chose a people for himself a people to belong to him & enjoy an intimate relationship with him. Whenever you see 'LORD' in the Bible you know it's the translation of the special covenant name. That name he originally made known to Moses (Ex3:14). YHWH, the God who rescues, the LORD God who shows his love ultimately (as we know with NT eyes) in the giving of his Son dying for our sins on the cross.
Our God is the 'Portion' of his people the all-sufficient Good of those he calls to himself.
Tonight we've tried to glimpse something of the greatness of God in his power, truthfulness & eternal nature & we could conclude he was disinterested in the mundane & ordinary things like us.
But he is the LORD God, whose love, for his people endures forever. As someone has put it: 'The wrong thing to conclude from God is that he is too great to care; the right conclusion is that he is too great to fail'. To be particular about it, the Covenant LORD God is too great to fail us. He will not let us down.
Do you believe in God?
What Kind of God do you believe in?
We live in an age of idols It's so easy for us to be taken in by them, yet when we catch something of the vision of the true God in his power, truth & eternal nature as maker & rescuer, we have to admit that 'Our God has been too small'.
If we have any sense we shall cling to Him, rather than worthless idols.
Prayer: John 'Little children keep yourselves from idols'.
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