Top Ten Words: God in a Box

Top Ten Words: God in a Box

Jun 2, 2015

Top Ten Words: God in a Box

Sermon Series by Pastor Dusty Mackintosh

Next Step Christian Church, Thornton, CO

Sometimes our worship of God can be a difficult thing — maybe a little vague or mysterious. I have an idea to remove all of that difficulty and mystery.

Introducing: Yahweh in a box.

All the convenience of the Divine Yahweh

in a form factor that fits in your pocket.

Wondering where God is? Well, here He is, in my pocket. The convenience, the comfort of knowing right where your God is at all times. No more wondering, no more seeking the Spirit by faith, make your sacrifices at your convenience and be done! Speaking of sacrifices, you can forget all that righteous living and constant love stuff; character is hard, cash deposits are easy. Every time you press this button on your Yahweh idol, you make a $0.99 deposit to the Yahweh sacrifice fund. Eighty percent of your donation goes straight to unblemished lambs to feed the gods’ hunger and so guarantee his favor on you! Who can question the beautiful artistry of this piece? Be the envy of your friends… and the friend of your god. Pick up an idol at a store near you. We will be selling these out front — it’ll be the spot in the parking lot being constantly hit by lightning.


Two representative stone tablets with the ten commandments inscribed on them on an isolated dark ethereal background


That concludes the blasphemous part of this message! In our 10 commandment series we are now at:

The Second Commandment

Exodus 20:4-6

4 You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or 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.

5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the

Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of

the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth

generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast

love to thousands of those who love me and keep my


This second commandment follows right on the heels of the first and is really like part two of the first commandment. If you recall, the first commandment was “no other gods.” In fact, in the Jewish tradition they number the 10 commandments differently and verses 3-6 make up one commandment. No other gods, including no idols representing me or other gods. (Makes sense.) However, they are distinct enough to be considered separately. The first deals with the object of our worship. Our worship, our trust for the Unknown, our time, attention and treasure are to be directed to Yahweh alone, not to other gods. The second deals with the form or method of our worship. So what is this idol stuff all about?

Idol worship in the Ancient World

Idol worship was the primary means of worship in the ancient world. You would make an image or likeness that represented your god out of precious materials, with great artistry. With the appropriate rituals, it was believed that the idol actually took on the divine nature itself. In a sort of sympathetic magic, what you did to and for the idol was, in actual reality, being done to the god. So as you sacrifice meat or blood or anything to this statue, you are feeding the god — which is the one thing that gods usually could not do for themselves. So you gain favor or advantage to help you deal with the Unknowns in life. You “Hedge your Bets.” (see April SR, page 12)

No Idols

God flat out, with comprehensive repetition, outlaws this form of worship. Note that this includes, perhaps is primarily about, any representation of Himself. No idols, no images, it repeats — nothing in heaven…nothing in the earth…nothing in the water… nothing, nothing, nothing. There shall be no convenient idol worship of me or of mine…for I am not to be found in those idols. God absolutely refuses any identification with these idols. It is always “they.” Whatever name you place on those idols — and archeology finds idols inscribed as Yahweh — God takes no

association with them. He is not contained within them or by them.

All of those things I said in my commercial at the beginning are, I think, the rational for idolatry. If you make the idol, you put whatever god in that box. Now you have some control over it. You come to it to worship when you want. You create rituals around its care and worship. You can see and touch it, you understand the dimensions of it. You are in some control. Idolatry is…easy, convenient, guaranteed, normal, pleasing to the eye.

God refuses to be put in a box.

He flat out refuses. He doesn’t fit. Every attempt to do so is self-deceptive and dangerous. What happens when you squeeze too much mass and/or energy in an enclosed container? Explosion. God refuses to be put in a box.

There may be some confusion introduced here because God is about to introduce some objects to be used in worship: the ark of the covenant, the tabernacle, eventually the temple. He is always clear that this is representative and each emphasizes, in its own way, the invisible God, the God of Spirit. The ark, for example, has an empty seat on top, the mercy seat. No images. But even these are like worship training wheels. They are temporary crutches. Jesus reveals this to the Samaritan woman at the well when she asks the burning worship question of her people: should we worship in the temple as the Jewish people do or on the holy mountain as the Samaritans do. Jesus answers: Not on the mountain or the temple…

John 4:23-24

23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true

worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for

the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is

spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit

and truth.”

God refuses to be put in a box…because that would be neither in spirit nor in truth. In truth…He does not fit in that box or in that image. In spirit, He is beyond the constraints of the physical. Three dimensions do not contain Him; He is meta-dimensional. He is spirit. If we are looking for the image of God, our closest place to look is within ourselves, for we are made in His image. Except…that image is obscured and damaged by our sinfulness. We have trouble discerning what is the image of God and what are the remnants of sinful nature within us. So we look to Jesus Christ, the perfect image of God in human form, and He tells us when we see Him, we see God. But we don’t build statues of Jesus and bow down before them. Historically this is a big deal kind of debate and is responsible for the first and biggest church split in history. We don’t make icons or statues, even of Jesus, because the hour has come when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. We want to be the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

God refuses to be put in a box

Idolatry – insidious and destructive

We have this idea of idolatry. It works two ways, according to the first two commandments. It is the elevation of any god or thing into or beside the place of Yahweh — any attempt to put God in a box. There is a huge space between these two in our Bibles, but there are no carriage returns in the original text. This is one continuous thought, a continuity of idolatry. These two work hand in hand. You can confuse the object of worship. You can confuse the method of worship. Usually, you end up doing both. If you construct an idol or image, even if it starts as part of your worship of Yahweh, it causes you to miss out on the love relationship with God.

Terrifying and convicting

Two questions terrify and convict me, because these are a big deal:

Have I ever worshiped another god?

Have I ever put God in a box?

Or to make that a single question:

Am I an idolater?

Yes. Yes, I am. I am a wayward child; I am easily distracted; I am pulled by other gods and other options; I am tempted to chase after other things and other people…and always, I am always putting God into my nice convenient, understandable little tiny package. And so I miss out on God in spirit and in truth.

God Solution – Endless Pursuit

There is a tremendously comforting follow-up here that starts with a little explanation as to why this idolatry business is such a big deal:

for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the

iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and

the fourth generation of those who hate me…

Oh… that is comforting, isn’t it? Our God is a jealous God…

because He owns us, and He purchased us, and He loves us, and all of our worship belongs to Him, so He is righteously jealous of that love and worship. What is the active result of that jealousy? “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation…” Ouch. That seems unfair. And this is a passage easily misunderstood. We have to see how this operates in context.

Deuteronomy 24:16

16 Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children,

nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers.

Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.

I don’t think this passage means that God takes out punishment on successive generations solely because their parents rejected Him. I think it understands the powerful tendency of sin to echo generation after generation. We know how this

operates, even in chemical ways with things like alcohol and drug abuse — my uncle was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and struggled with addiction his whole life. In a particularly profound way, idolatry passes from one generation to another. You worship the god and gods of your fathers — that is how this thing works. God, as a Father, is not content that you should be trapped in generational idolatry, but administers punishment, as any good father would do, to correct self-destructive and damaging behavior. This is made absolutely clear in the follow-up contrast statement.

Exodus 20:6

6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who

love me and keep my commandments.

Or “thousands of generations…” The math here is hard. If He shows wrath or punishment to three generations…but love to a thousand generations, then all you need is one generation that loves God to every 997 ones that hate God. Certainly the love of God trumps the judgment, right? Since 1000 generations are somewhere on the order of 20,000 years, we should still be

riding off the love of all the Biblical greats back to Abraham and Noah…even the garden of Eden, maybe?

Math is hard.

It should be clear that the overriding prerogative here is God’s desire to show hesed, love. (Loving-kindness or, my favorite translation, covenant love and faithfulness). That is His whole desire. So the generation judgment to 3 or 4 generations is God’s refusal to give up on us. He will draw us back however He can, even if that means wrath and punishment. I will take God’s corrective wrath over the hell of life without Him all day every day. His goal always was, always has been, always will be to teach us true worship, worship of Him and Him alone, in spirit and truth — so that He might show us love, even to a thousand generations. Why is this comforting?

I am an idolater… but God will teach me true worship.

I turn to other gods…God will destroy all other gods. He can and will rip them off the throne of my life. Please do. I put God in a box, for my convenience, for my comfort, so that I can feel like I understand everything…God will break out of my box. He will surprise me; He will leave me questioning; and He will strike me again and again with awe. How great is my God? Greater. How big is my God? Bigger. How much does He love me? More.

Application – God, break out of my box

If the purpose of the 10 commandments is to show me the course of righteousness, what does breaking this commandment say about my relationship with God…and how do I grow?

Why do I turn to idolatry? Why do I put God in a box?

I put God in a box because His thoughts are not my thoughts; His ways are not my ways; as the heavens are higher than the earth, His ways are higher…and His thoughts are higher…and that is terrifying. I fear what I don’t control and don’t understand. So I prefer my God and gods small enough for me to control and understand. But…I want to know the real God, not the one I make up. I want to hear and see God as He reveals Himself to be…not as I imagine. I want to love and worship the Creator of the Universe…in spirit and in truth, the kind of worshiper He is seeking out. That He might find me, and delight in me, and say “I found one, a worshiper in spirit and in truth.” And that He might show love to me and mine for a thousand generations, for 20,000 years…for eternity. So we might pray this terrifying prayer:

God tear down my idols.

Break out of my box.

Teach me to worship You and You alone in Spirit and in truth.

Show me more of how and what You really are.

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