The God who creates - Jeremiah 10:1-16

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the evening service on 28th September 2003.

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This month the statistics organisation Mori took a poll to find out what the adult population of Britain thinks about religion. The results were rather intriguing. 60% of adults apparently say that they believe in God. But when you dig a little more below the surface, you begin to wonder to just what God it is that most people believe in. For example, 62% of people went on to say that their own experience of life had the most influence on what they believe, whereas only 17% said they were influenced by religious teachings. 46% said that they had had a personal experience of a medium or psychic, something the God of the Bible specifically forbids, and 41% said that they were most inspired by a walk in the country. If we can make one conclusion from these polls it is that we must be careful in drawing conclusions about what people believe, unlike the Irishman who when he heard that a certain gas heater would cut his bills in half, decided to buy two so he'd never have to pay a heating bill again. If we are going to get a more revealing answer from the British public, then the question shouldn't be' Do you believe in God?' but 'which god or gods do you believe in?'

And it's that question which Jeremiah is asking in our passage for this evening, Jeremiah 10. Jeremiah was an OT prophet whose job it was to address the people of Israel in the 7th century BC. Now Israel was a very special nation. God had revealed himself to this nation centuries before. He'd given them laws, a land, and wonderful signs that he alone was the true creator of the whole world, the only God worthy of worship and adoration. But Israel had rebelled against God. They'd committed spiritual adultery and they had made idols for themselves, modelled on the gods of the nations around them. These gods were literal idols, gods which you could make yourself, lumps of wood you could bow down to in your front room, gods you could polish and pamper. But the daft thing was these Israelites were forsaking the true and living God for lifeless lumps of wood. They were sacrificing true worship of the real God for false worship of unreal gods. And Jeremiah's book is a catalogue of dire warnings to Israel of the natural consequences of their idolatry. They are facing judgement at the hands of an invading nation, and unless they repent of their idolatry, they will all perish. And the one question that Jeremiah constantly has on his lips is this: Which God will you worship? The true God, or your false gods? Will you be true worshippers or idolaters?

Now if Jeremiah were here today, then I have no doubts that he would be saying exactly the same to the church today. Because idolatry is alive and well today. And before we turn to Jeremiah 10, it's worth taking a moment to think about 21st century idolatry. Because the fact is idolatry is a 21st century reality. Now we don't necessarily bow down to idols, because we're slightly more sophisticated aren't we? But if idolatry according to the Bible is having faith in the wrong things or putting other things in the place of God, then we are guilty as charged. If you don't think idolatry exists, then listen to this. Perhaps one of the biggest idols for many people, including Christians is sport. It's something that takes over vast amounts of time and energy and money to the extent that it can take over our lives. On Sunderland FC's website, they talk about their brand new multi million pound stadium in these terms: 'Sunderland has always been a city without a cathedral, but now has a spiritual home for its people to be proud of.' While we're in the North East, Newcastle United put it even more bluntly. They say on their website: 'Do you attend worship regularly? Then join the flock of St. James.' In fact in Thailand they've actually gone the whole hog. In one Buddhist temple there is actually an idol of David Beckham, though the staff of the temple have been quick to point out that Beckham is a minor deity. However, this is what the temple abbot, Chan Theerapunyo had to say: 'Football has become a religion with millions of followers. So to keep up with the times, we have to open our minds.' Is sport your idol? It's not that sport in itself it is bad, but when God gets the squeeze from our time, our money, even our adoration, something's wrong isn't there? Of course, there are plenty of other idols for our affection. The degree, career, job- nothing should stand in the way of good qualifications or promotion should they? Even to the detriment of you relationship with God? If they do, you're an idolater. What about family or relationships? Surely they are important aren't they? Absolutely. But if God comes second, it's idolatry. Or what about the all important home improvements. With church attendance declining then surely B & Q is the 21st cathedral, and home improvement magazines the new hymns books. And it's easy for Christians to drift into the same mindset. Of course we need homes to live in, but how many of us are consumed by the desire to get them just right to the detriment of the God who gave us them. Idolatry is a 21st century reality.

And if idolatry is a 21st century reality, then it has a 21st century attractiveness about it. What makes idolatry attractive? Well surely one reason is that we are in control, we are the bosses? We do want we want. Whereas if we completely submit ourselves to the God who made us, then we surrender the reigns of our lives to him. But of course the irony is that when you are in control, you are actually a slave to yourself. But if God is control, you are freed to be the person God meant you to be. And perhaps another reason why we love our idols so much is that there is short term gain, no doubt. Our idols give us pleasure, and we treasure them and guard them like children afraid to lose their sweeties. A 21st century reality with a 21st century attractiveness but with a 21st century emptiness. Because that's the problem with idols. They never ultimately satisfy. You're always left wanting more. Because we human beings were designed for relationship with God. He is meant to be the one at very centre of all our affections and desires. He's the one who's to be our king and Lord. And when he is dethroned, then whatever we put in his place will never satisfy. Yes, we might live 2,500 years after Jeremiah, but his words to us this evening are as relevant as the day he penned them.

So what is his antidote? What does Jeremiah tell us to do in order to spare us the bane of idolatry, in order to keep us from falling into that disastrous trap? Well his answer is simple. Remember your God. Remember how amazing and awesome is the one who made us and saved us. And that's what we are going to be doing for the rest of this term. We're going to be spending time pondering the very character of God. And the question Jeremiah asks is this: How big is your God? For if you have a small view of God, then you'll have a small faith. A tip pot deity leads to a tin pot devotion. But if you know God as he has revealed himself in the Bible, then you will certainly not want the pale imitations of him that the world offers. And that's what Jeremiah does in this chapter. He lays before us four staggering truths about the God of the Bible, the only true and living God, and compares them to the pathetic idols. And there is only one winner. So let's turn then to Jeremiah 10:

1) The True God is the Speaking God

And the first thing we discover is that the true God is the speaking God. 'Hear what the Lord says to you, O house of Israel. This is what the Lord says.' Now we might be tempted to think that verse 1 is all by way of introduction. But if we skip over it we are missing something of fundamental importance. And that is that God is a speaking God. He is a God who communicates with his image bearers. And that is what sets Christianity apart from the rest of the world's religions. Don't believe the lie that all religions are the same and that they all lead to God. They don't. Only one does. And we can know that because God has spoken to human beings. He has communicated. It's not about us trying desperately to get to God. It's about God graciously coming to us. And compared to idols there is really no comparison. Verse 3: 'Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak.' They are speechless. Utterly pathetic. So why on earth would you tempted to listen to an idol who cannot speak and forsake the God who does speak. And so God's application to us is not to listen to the world and her idols in verse 2: 'Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them.' It's probable that some of the gods and idols that Israel were worshipping were astral deities, gods who controlled the stars and the planets and who could supposedly tell you the future. And still today, millions bow to that god. And how many Christians read their horoscopes or worry about the paths of the planets. How many here waste time doing that? Well God says to you this evening, 'Don't be terrified by them. Don't be like the nations who are afraid.' Why should you listen to idols and non gods, when the true and living God has spoken clearly and relevantly in his word the Bible. No, this is the God you should be listening to. Idols and other gods are speechless. They are just like scarecrows. Have you ever had a conversation with a scarecrow, apart from in the Wizard of Oz? That, says God is what they are like. Don't waste time listening to scarecrows. Listen to the true and living God as he has revealed himself in his word and do what he says.

The story is told of a company director who went away for a few months to do some business in the Far East and he left the business in the hands of the Junior Director. Over the months the Manager sent letters telling his Junior how to direct and keep the firm going. Some months later he returned to a terrible mess. The building was in a state of disrepair, the secretaries were lying on their desks chatting and smoking and when he went into his office the young Junior was in the arms of his boss' personal secretary whilst slowly drinking his way through a case of Don Perrion 72. The Director was puzzled. 'What's going on?' he asked. 'Didn't you get my letters?' 'Oh the letters,' said the Junior. 'Yes, great letters. We spent hours pouring over them. We divided ourselves up into little groups for more open study, some of us memorized passages from them, we had a convention looking at the author's real intent, and some bright spark even translated them into French.' 'But what did you do about them?' asked the Director. 'Do?' asked the Junior quizzically. 'I didn't realise we had to do anything!' The fact that God is a speaking God is fundamental to who God is. He has revealed himself in his Word the Bible. And he continues to speak that same message to us today. And Jeremiah urges us: 'Hear the Word of the Lord.' So who are you listening to? Your idols or the true and living God. What gets most attention? The idol or the Word of God? Make it your aim each day, each week to read and obey the word of God. Because otherwise it's like taking advice from a scarecrow. For if God has spoken we need to listen to him. Whereas idols are speechless, the true God is the speaking God.

2) The True God is the Creating God

But secondly, the true God is the creating God. Verse 12: 'But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. 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.' Some of the nations surrounding Israel worshipped so called fertility gods. They would sacrifice to them to bring about rain and sunshine. But here God says that he is the one who brings rain and lightening. Why is that? Because he is the awesome creator of the world. He alone has the power to bring creation out of nothing. He made the world by his power. It was his wisdom that founded the earth. And Genesis 1 shows us how God did it. He spoke the universe into being. He simply spoke and the world was made. He spoke and the heavens were formed. It is extraordinary power that can create like this. I think myself pretty talented if I can build a wooden box from B and Q. That's about as far as my creative acts get me. But God speaks things into being. And that is awesome power.

Think for a moment about the amazing size of the world and the universe around us. It's said that if you were to hold out a ten pence coin at arm's length on a clear night and look up at the sky, the coin would block out about 15 million stars from your view, if your eyes could see with that power. To help us grasp the vastness of our galaxy, one scientist suggests we imagine a smooth glass surface. Shrink the sun from 865,000 miles in diameter to two feet and place it on the surface. Using this scale, Earth would be 220 paces out from the sun, and would be the size of a pea. Mars, the size of a pinhead, would be 108 paces beyond Earth. But to reach Neptune, you'd need to step off another 6,130 paces from Mars. By now you would be five miles from the sunbut there still wouldn't be room on the glass surface for Pluto! And you would have to pace off another 6,720 miles beyond Pluto to reach the nearest star. And that's just our galaxy, never mind the billions of other stars there are in the universe! The scale is just amazing. And our passage says that God stretched out the heavens by his understanding. How big is your God? Can you cope with a God this big?

And compare him to the idols, and they are utterly pathetic. For God is the one who gave life to the universe, but these idols are utterly lifeless. See how pathetic the scene is in verse 3: 'For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.' How stupid the whole exercise is. They create their own idols from the trees around them. They chisel out the figures and then nail them to the floor so they won't fall over. They paint them with Ronseal so they won't rot! How pathetic. And how daft it is when we trust in our idols and not the God who made us. It's not that we sit around nailing wooden idols down in our front rooms. But we prefer to rest on the things we have made, and delight in, the idols of our lives, the careers, the relationships, the sporting success, our own talents and ourselves, rather than on the One who gave us life. That's the problem with the human race. Worshipping created things, rather than the creator. Paul puts it like this in Romans 1: 'Although humans claimed to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like men and birds and animals and reptiles.' So why is it that we put our trust in our idols rather than the living and creating God? This is the God who spoke the whole universe into being. This is the God who made you and knows everything about you and who is completely trustworthy. Do you not think he has the power to keep you and help you in the circumstances of life? Do you not think he knows how you feel as you struggle with problems at home or work or college? Do you not think he can bring us through the spiritual battles we face with non believing families and friends? Trust him. Don't trust the idols. They are lifeless. Trust the true and living God. 'No-one is like you, O Lord. You are great, and your name is mighty in power,' says Jeremiah. The true God is the creating God.

3) The True God is the Judging God

But thirdly, the true God is the judging God. You see not only is this God the one who has revealed himself by speaking to us, and the one who made us, he is also the one before whom we will one day give an account. Verse 6: 'No one is like you, O Lord;

you are great, and your name is mighty in power. Who should not revere you, O King of the nations? This is your due. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is no one like you.' God is the only God who should be revered by the nations, by all the people of the earth. Why? Well verse 10 tells us: 'But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath.' God should be revered and honoured, because no-one can endure his wrath. God's wrath isn't a selfish anger. It's an anger which burns against everything that dishonours him. And the Bible makes it clear that each and every one of us will have to give an account before him. And there is no point clinging onto idols because they will be of no help whatsoever. Verse 14: 'Everyone is senseless and without knowledge; every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. His images are a fraud; they have no breath in them. They are worthless, the objects of mockery; when their judgment comes, they will perish.' God's verdict on idols is that they are worthless, so don't cling on to them. It's like putting up an umbrella in a hurricane. Utterly useless and worthless. What Jeremiah urges us to see is that God alone is God. He is eternal, whereas idols are passing, and our hope must be placed in him if we are to stand on that final day.

I wonder if you have that long term judgement day perspective. Do you live life knowing that one day you'll stand before your maker and that he'll ask you some searching questions about where you have put your hope. He's not going to be very impressed if we say to him: 'Well hang on God look at my credentials. I've got a 2.1 in French, I played darts for the university, I became a really good accountant, and fathered three lovely children.' Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not saying that being a good student, or worker or parent are irrelevant. On the contrary, it's very important to do our best in everything. But the key question will be why you have done it. If you have done it because you have been driven all your life to get that degree, to get the job, the family, the safe financial position, and God has had little or no part, then your idols will be show up for what they are. Worthless and useless. Because remember an idol is anything or anyone which you put in the place of God, whether it be consciously or subconsciously. Whereas if God has been your passion, your driving concern, if you have sought to honour him in your studies, your work, your family life, your relationships, if he has had the glory that he deserves in your life, whether or not you reach your own particular goals, then you will have been building for heaven. Build for this life, and that's all you'll get. Build for the next, realising that God is your judge and King, and you'll find that the sacrifices you've made for your King have been worth it. And the key is the end perspective. Because it's only as we see life in its proper perspective that we will avoid the trap of idolatry, and we'll see how worthless and futile our idols really are.

In 1715 King Louis XIV of France died after a reign of 72 years. He had called himself 'the Great,' and was the monarch who made the famous statement, 'I am the state!' His court was the most magnificent in Europe, and his funeral was equally spectacular. As his body lay in state in a golden coffin, orders were given that the cathedral should be very dimly lit with only a special candle set above his coffin, to dramatize his greatness. At the memorial, thousands waited in hushed silence. Then Bishop Massilon began to speak; slowly reaching down, he snuffed out the candle and said, 'Only God is great.' The trouble is for many of us human beings is that we shake our puny little fists at God thinking we are the kings. We cling to our worthless and hopeless idols thinking they will save us. They won't. Rather cast your idols before the King of kings. And bow before the only God, the eternal one. For idols are worthless, but the true God is our judge and King.

4) The True God is the Saving God

But there is one final point that is made at the end of our passage and that is that the true God is the saving God. And once again this is what sets the God of the Bible apart from all other so called gods and idols. For the God who revealed himself to Israel is the God who steps down into this world and saves his people. Verse 16: '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.' It's one thing for God to speak to humanity, it's one thing for God to create the universe and everything in it, it's one thing for God to judge the world, but it's quite another for God to step in and save us. For the fact is we cannot stand in judgement day on our own two feet. We have not honoured God as we should have. But this verse reminds us that God is willing to save us despite that fact we don't deserve it. For Jeremiah reminds the people that God is the Portion of Jacob. Jacob was one of the founding fathers of the whole people of Israel, and it's Jeremiah's shorthand for saying the whole people of God. And Jeremiah is telling the people that God is their King and Saviour, their Portion, the one who has rescued them and taken them to be his people, not because they were especially lovely, but because he is a God is incredible mercy and grace.

And the fact that God is a merciful and saving God is something that is finally and fully seen in one who performed the ultimate rescue act, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, the one who came to this earth to die on a lonely blood-stained cross for you and me. He died to rescue us from the penalty and slavery of idolatry, to release us from the fear and oppression of serving false gods, to give us the freedom and joy of serving the true and living God. Can idols give us freedom and joy? No. Not according to Jeremiah in verse 5: 'Like 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.' Idols cannot even walk or speak let alone save. They are completely useless. But the God of the Bible is the God who saves and releases us from captivity. Do you know that for yourself? Or are you still enslaved by your idols. Maybe you're too sacred to come to God for freedom. Maybe you're worried about letting go of your idols.

CS Lewis paints a lovely picture of this in his Chronicles of Narnia. Jesus is represented by the Lion Aslan, and he's in discussion with one of the children called Jill. Jill, is desperately thirsty and she comes across a stream, and yet lying between her and the stream is the large lion, Aslan. The story goes on: 'Are you not thirsty?' said the Lion. 'I'm dying of thirst,' said Jill. 'Then drink,' said the Lion. '[W]ould you mind going away while I do?' said Jill. The Lion answered this only by a look and very low growl'Will you promise not to- do anything to me, if I do come?' said Jill. 'I make no promise,' said the Lion. Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. 'Do you eat girls?' 'I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,' said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it. 'I dare not come and drink,' said Jill. 'Then you will die of thirst,' said the Lion. 'Oh dear,' said Jill.. 'Then I suppose I must go and search for another stream.' 'There is no other stream,' said the Lion. If you are to know God as your Saviour and stand on that judgement day, then you must renounce your idols and lay them before him. He is the only one who can help. Come to Christ for freedom from slavery. Serving him is true freedom and his burdens are light. For whilst idols are useless, the true God is our Saviour.

So would you say that idolatry is alive and well in the 21st century? Jeremiah would say yes, and not just in the world at large but in the church as well. But here he provides us with the perfect antidote. A knowledge of the true and living God. So what do you prefer? Idols, which are speechless, lifeless, worthless, and useless? Or the true and living God, the one who speaks, creates, judges and saves. Put like that there's really only one option.

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