“And God spoke all these words, saying …“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. You shall not bow down to them or serve them ….” (Exodus 20:1, 4-5)
The Ten Commandments are the ABC’s of righteousness – the fundamental rules of behavior given by God to His people at a time when they were not yet ready to understand the grace and truth that Jesus would bring. (Exodus 20:1-20; John 1:17)
Commandments #5-10 are concerned with how we treat each other. Commandments #1-3 are concerned with how we treat God. Commandment #4 bridges those two concerns by having us set aside time for both God and rest.
Our focus today is on how we treat God, and most particularly, how we should understand the 2nd Commandment.
Remember that our original sin was the desire to be our own god, deciding for ourselves what is good and evil. (Genesis 3:5-6) The 1st Commandment addresses this problem by assuring us God is God and we are not. It adds that we should also not make anyone or anything else our god.
The 2nd Commandment appears at first glance to be simply an adjunct to the 1st – a prohibition against making and worshipping wooden, stone or metal statues as gods, or as the representation of gods. However, this fails to take into account why mankind would do such a thing. As Isaiah so sharply pointed out, why would man grow a tree, cut it down, burn some of it to warm himself and cook his food, and then carve the rest into a statute and call it god? (Isaiah 44:14-19)
Our pagan ancestors made images and likenesses to worship as gods because they wanted gods that could address their daily needs and explain the many issues of life. There were gods of fertility, gods of war and death, gods of the harvest and the hearth, and many more. These gods might look like animals, or man, or a combination of both, but they always behaved like a more powerful version of man. In other words, and in every case, man was making god in his own image and likeness.
God gave the 2nd Commandment because He knew the instinctive heart of sinful man is, like with every two-year-old, to do what we want to do when we want to do it. If we cannot accomplish this by being our own god, our alternative scheme is to have gods who will be whoever we want them to be. This will justify our existing behavior and desires.
As Christians, we recognize God made us in His image and likeness, not the other way around. (Genesis 1:26-28) The clay does not get to shape the Potter. (Isaiah 29:16) The Father reveals to us who He is because we cannot figure it out on our own. (Isaiah 55:8-9; Matthew 11:27) He has done so through His Spirit-inspired Scriptures and, most completely, through Jesus Christ. (Psalm 119; John 14:9)
Unfortunately, our departure from worshipping statues has not put an end to our violations of the 2nd Commandment. Time and time again over the course of human history, Christians have edited or distorted the revelations of Scripture and the image of Jesus Christ so they could justify ungodly behavior. Men in power made Jesus in their image so they could commingle the Church and the Roman Empire, and declare a divine right to a throne. The Church conducted bloody wars like the Crusades and the Thirty Years War, and pogroms like the Inquisition, all in the name of Jesus.
Closer to home, distortions of Scripture and the image of Jesus were used in the South to justify slavery and the superior position of the white race. Other distorted images of Jesus were used in the North to justify murderous abolitionist raids. When war broke out, most soldiers in both blue and gray prayed in the name of Jesus before they fought and died, and this carried over to the difficult struggles of the Reconstruction Era and the Civil Rights Movement. Some, like Martin Luther King, got it right with a Christ image of love, non-violence and value of all people. Others on both sides did not.
Today in our nation, we face many cultural and political challenges: marriage, abortion, poverty, terrorism, healthcare, racism, sexism, law enforcement, religious freedom, immigration, environmental stewardship, and even constitutional authority. Some of our citizens will be purely secular in their approach to these issues, but there are also many professing Christians on both sides of virtually every aisle. We are supposed to follow Jesus, and He is not double-minded, so why are we? (James 1:8, 4:8)
My friends, we must all be very careful not to make Jesus in our image. On each issue, we must prayerfully study the character and teachings of Jesus as revealed in the whole of Scripture, and determine where He wants us to stand. Christ is not a Democrat or Republican, nor a progressive or libertarian, and He doesn’t ask us to simply pick the lesser of two evils.
Jesus is Lord, and He commands us on every issue to follow Him.
God bless you, and God bless our community.