[THEME MUSIC PLAYING]
Let's open our hearts this morning in prayer. Father, we want to invite you now to have full capability in our own free will, where we invite you to speak to us about key issues of our lives. We want the Holy Spirit to have absolute freedom to remind us, convict us, encourage us about anything. And so now we open this book and we open our hearts to you. In Jesus' name, amen.
I read something lately that the American Atheist Association desires to have their own holiday like Christians have Christmas and those of the Jewish faith have Hanukkah. And they've actually kicked around a couple of ideas. One is a date in December on the 14th known as Agnosticus. Or, is it Agnosticus. No, it's Agnostica, and it's already celebrated by some, and they think it's kind of rally around that and make it public and make that our holiday, Agnostica.
Another idea they've had, they've talked about, is a holiday that really was invented in the 60s and came to be known on a Seinfeld episode called Festivus. Others have suggested Halloween. My idea, perhaps, is April 1st. Well, if you think about it, the Bible does say, "The fool has said in his heart, 'there is no God.'"
Now understand something about that text of scripture. That is Psalm 14. The phrase there is isn't there in the text in the original. It doesn't say, "The fool has said in his heart, 'there is no God.'" It's literally, "The fool has said in his heart, 'No God,'" as if to say there may be a God, there may not be a God. I'm not particularly interested. But if there is, I don't want Him. That's a foolish person.
When the Bible opens up, it assumes that the reader already has a working belief in God, because it simply says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." there is no argument for His existence, just the assumption that anybody in their right mind has figured that out. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
Adrian Rogers says that down in the south around Atlanta one trucking company, a man who owns it, anybody who wants to work for the company has to take a lie-detector test, and one of the questions on the test is, "Do you believe in God?" And this man says that even the most avowed atheist, if they answer the question no, the polygraph reads lie. Do you believe in God? No. Lie. It is a lie.
The question is, how do we relate to God? What does He really want from us? What does He require of us? We discover in the Ten Commandments that basically God expects two things from us. Number one, that we supremely love Him, or a supreme devotion to Him. And number two, a sincere affection for others. Supreme devotion for God, sincere affection for others.
That is why the Ten Commandments are divided into two sections-- the first four and the second six. The first four are vertical, the second six are horizontal. The first four are theocentric, God-centered, have everything to do with us relating to God. The second six are anthropocentric, man-oriented, how we relate with other people. That's the whole of the commandments.
So when Jesus was asked, hey, what's the most important commandment? He said, "That you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it, that you love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus said, "There is no greater commandment than these."
So this becomes our focus today and in the following weeks. Last week we gave some introductory preliminary remarks. Today we want to look at the first commandment. First things first. And God said, verse 1, or "God spoke all these words saying, 'I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.'"
So we begin where God begins, with Himself. That is the top priority it's number one on the list. Some years back, the Encyclopedia Britannica issued a 55-volume set of alternate books called The Great Books of Western Civilization or The Great Books of the Western World. It's a compilation of essays and writings of what they consider the greatest minds and contributors to law, science, medicine, art, etc.
And it was noted that the longest essay in this 55-volume set is the essay on God, and when asked about that, the publishing chairman, the executive director, Mortimer J. Adler at the time, answered the question by saying, "It's because more consequences for life follow from this one issue than any other issue."
Makes sense. The stakes are so high, no wonder the largest essay would be about God. Well, if the fool says in his heart no God, what do you say in your heart? Yes God. Of course, yes, I invite you. I want to relate to you. So we come to this first commandment and we discover there's really three parts to it, or you might say two parts before the command is given, and the first and second component form the rationale for the commandment.
So we have God's claim, God's care, and then God's command. Basically God says this is who I am. This is what I've done. Therefore, this is what I want. This is who I am to you. This is what I've done for you. This is what I want from you
So go back to verse 2, where the remark begins. The first words that God speaks is His claim. This is who I am to you. "I am the Lord your God." I did a little digging this week and discovered that that little phrase, "I am the Lord," or "I am the Lord your God," is mentioned 164 times in the Old Testament, sometimes as I am the Lord your Go, I am the Lord their God, I am the Lord who does such and such.
164 times. Sometimes it's an introductory remark, as if to say, hi, I am the Lord. But more than often, it's not an introduction, it's a rationale or a basis for what follows as a commandment.
You remember as a kid when your parents told you to do something and you had the gall to say, why? And oftentimes your parents would say, because I said so. I'm the parent. You're not. Now that was sufficient. If you were smart you'd stop there in your questioning.
So that's really all the authority that God needs in giving any commandment at all. I am the Lord. In Hebrew, [SPEAKING HEBREW]. Now I'll admit it. We don't exactly know how the name of God is pronounced. I just said Yahweh. Some think it is Jehovah or Yavay or Yahovah. There's a number of different guesses at it.
And the reason we don't know how it's pronounced is because the Jews never said it for so long, they only wrote the four consonants, called the tetragrammaton, that we can only guess. But it was what God said to Moses when Moses said, OK, you want me to lead the people of Israel. Who shall I say sent me? And the Lord said, I am that I am." Or "I will be that I will be." Yahweh.
The name signifies the self-existing one, the self-sustaining one, the one whom nobody made up, nobody invented. This is really who I am. I made everything, I sustain everything, and I reveal myself. So GOD stake's His name on His claim in giving any of these commandments. There is no apology, no explanation, no argument for God's existence, no philosophical clarification, just a bold declaration, "I am the Lord your God."
Several years ago I took a bunch of classes in philosophy. I was working toward a master's degree, and that was a prerequisite. You have to study these philosophy courses and philosophers. I discovered that philosophers are the most confused bunch of folks that ever lived.
And I poured through volumes of all sorts of philosophies, and some of it was, frankly, a waste of time, because most of them have more questions than they have any answers. Somebody once said philosophers are people who talk about things they don't understand, but they make it sound like it's your fault. That's not too far off.
We speak to people all the time who swear they are spiritual people. They claim to be spirit-oriented folks. They claim to talk about God in their own fashion. Very typically it's stuff that is made up. You know what I mean. Well, you know I've always pictured God as-- My view of God is-- Well, you know as I think about it, God must be--
And what you have is people who aren't working off the revelation that God gave but the imagination of their own minds. And whenever you push away what God said about Himself, you've got to fill it with something. If you throw out revelation, you're left with your imagination.
There was a golfer who was frustrated with his golf game, so he went to a psychiatrist. Now here's the deal. If you've ever played golf, you know it can be the best sport in the world or the worst thing on the face of the Earth. Because you get a great shot and you think, I'm going to do this next week. And then you just play another hole or two and you slice or you hook, you, I hate this game.
Well, this guy would go out and play golf to relax, and he'd end up at the end of the game frustrated and angry, so we went to a psychiatrist. The guy said, look, what you do is you go play a game of golf. This time use an imaginary ball. The golfer thought, I've never done that.
The guy said, trust me. Go out there and go through all of the motions, take all of the right clubs out, but use an imaginary ball. Just imagine your ball going down the fairway. Visualize where you want it to go. So the guy thought, OK, I can do that. Golfer went out to the country club, took out his driver, teed up his imaginary ball, swung, and he imagined it going 260 yards right down the fairway, perfectly straight. And he stood there. That was a great shot.
See, he made it up. Went down there with his five iron and then his approach shot and he parred the hole up here. He played a whole round of golf till he got to the 18th hole and he saw another guy playing exactly the same way with an imaginary golf ball. So he went to talk to him and, true enough, they had both seen the same shrink.
So golfer number one says the golfer number two, hey, why don't we play the last hole together? And I'll bet you $20 on this hole. The guy says, deal. So they get out there, and the first golfer gets up, swings, and he announces, did you see my shot? 280 yards straight down the fairway. Second guy goes up, tees his imaginary ball, swings and goes, look at my ball right next to yours.
They get down to the fairway and first golfer takes out his five iron. Nice, beautiful swing. And then he waits a while and says did you see what happened? My ball hit the edge of the green then that reverse spin brought it back and it went right in the hole. I win. No, you don't, said the second golfer. You just hit my ball.
You see the point. When you use an imaginary golf ball, you can make anything up. And so many people go through life with an imaginary God, one that they've concocted, they've made up. It's their own imagination. It's not true revelation. And you may wonder why are there so many different ideas about God in the world? Short answer is because men throughout history have suppressed the revelation that God gave about Himself.
Romans chapter 1 tells us, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness." Paul says, "They're futile in they're thinking. They have vain imaginations. And they suppress the knowledge that God gave at creation." So when God begins His commandments, He stakes His claim based upon His name. "I am the Lord your God." That's His claim.
Now look at His care. He goes on to say, "I am the Lord your God," verse 2, "who brought you out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of bondage." Now that's redemption. That's redemption. It's redemption that set Israel apart from any other nation in the ancient world. It's redemption that the Jews celebrated and still celebrate every Passover.
You can go from Exodus, which is where the Passover begins, throughout the entire Old Testament, and you discover they always point back to what happened at the Exodus in delivering Israel, through the wilderness, from the Egyptians. So it's the historical hinge that they often refer to, and this will set the stage for the first two commandments.
Now remember this. It's God's deliverance from Egypt that will set the stage for commandment number one and number two. Number one, no other Gods besides me. Number two, no graven images. They had come from a culture that worshipped many gods.
It's as if God is saying, look, 90 days ago you were slaves in a land that oppressed you and tortured you and ridiculed you. But I delivered you from that land. Can you name any other god that did that? Did Osiris, the god of the Nile, help the Egyptians when I judge them? Did Hecket, the frog goddess, protect you or the Egyptians for my wrath? Did Geb, the earth god, intervene when I smote all of the cattle of the land with lice? Did Apis, the strong bull god of valor protect anybody? No. I am the Lord God who delivered you, like no other deity, from the hand of the Egyptians.
This event of redemption becomes so paramount, that the entire Jewish calendar gets reoriented. When the Passover was taking place in Exodus 12, the Lord said this, "This month shall be the beginning of months to you. It will be the first month of the year to you." So the entire Jewish calendar gets centered around redemption. It's a new beginning for Israel.
It's not unlike what some Christians do. I remember the first time an adult, probably around 30 years old, said to me, congratulate me. I'm two years old today. And I thought, well, you're a wing nut today, that's for sure. What do you mean you're two years old?
No, two years ago today I gave Jesus Christ my life. I was born again two years ago, and the Bible says if any man is in Christ, he's a new creation. Old things are passed away, all things become new. I go, I get it now. What you're doing is reorienting your entire earthly composition around the redemption from your sin through Jesus Christ.
So who God is and what God had done made God of supreme value to the children of Israel, and that's the basis for the commandment we're about to read and consider. I've always loved what Dennis Avery shared about a Sunday school class. He's the musical director of a Sunday school class in Ohio.
He was walking through the halls on a Sunday and he heard this particular class praying, and an 8-year-old boy was at the head of the class, and he bowed his head and Dennis Avery heard the boy say, And God bless our mommies, and bless our daddies, and bless our teachers, and our brothers, and our sisters, and God bless our pets, our dogs and our cats, and God please, please take care of yourself, because if anything happens to you, we're sunk.
That's an 8-year-old's prayer, but I like his thinking. Who God is and what God has done in blessing us with moms and dads makes God of supreme value to him. So what has God done for you? Who is God to you? That forms the basis of this commandment in verse 3. Here it is, "You shall have no other gods before me."
God says, this is who I am to you. This is what I have done for you. Therefore, this is what I want from you. And notice the commandment itself is just a very short, compact, straightforward sentence, as most all of them are. Most of the commandments have no or little elaboration. The commandment itself is a very short, punchy, straightforward saying.
God is the master of the simple. I won't make it complicated. No other gods. No graven images. Honor your mom and dad. No adultery. No murder, etc. So we go, I think I can get that.
There was a woman whose husband died, and she had to put an obituary in the newspaper, so she called the newspaper and she said, print this. Bernie is dead. That was it. That was the obituary. Bernie is dead. The editor said nervously, ma'am, if it's money that's an issue, you get six words for $25. You could say a little more.
She said, OK, print, Bernie is dead. Toyota for sale. She's a practical gal if you think about it. God is very, very practical in these commandments. I am God, you are not, do this stuff, keep me first. Like Corrie ten Boom used to say, "Don't bother to give God instructions, just report for duty."
So the commandment, the number one at the top of the list, no other gods before me, or besides me you could translate that. I stand alone. I'm not one among many. I want all of your devotion, all of your worship, all of your praise, and all of your obedience. You're not to worship angels, you're not to worship people-- dead or alive-- you're not to worship theological systems. You are to worship and serve me alone.
Well, that is the commandment, and I want to, in closing or working toward closing, sort of like Paul, you know, he'll say "finally," but he'll say that in the middle of his letter and then he keeps going and then says another "finally," at the end. I've learned from him.
I want to frame this for you three ways-- historically, pragmatically, and personally. You see, historically we can understand why God would give this commandment as the first commandment. Because historically they had come from Egypt and were going into Canaan, and there was something going on in Egypt and in Canaan that forms the basis, historically, for this commandment.
Number one, there was polytheism, the worship of many gods, in Egypt and in Canaan. In Canaan there would be people who worship the sun god, the moon god, the sand god, the sea god, the river god. There were all sorts of different gods that controlled that land.
Now there was a twist in polytheism that was part of the worship system in Canaan. Here's another ism. Henotheism. Henotheism is polytheism with a twist-- that is, there are many gods and goddesses, but each one has a limited jurisdiction. Sort of like a neighborhood drug lord. This is my hood. Stay out of it. I'm in charge of this section. So that when nations would fight each other, they saw it as the gods behind them of that area duking it out.
And now that helps you understand certain portions of the Old Testament. An example, 1 Kings chapter 20, when the Israelis are fighting the Syrians, and the Israelis win the first couple of battles in that war and the Syrians wonder why are the Israelis winning and we're not? And the king has Ben Hadad, and one of his advisors comes to him and gives this explanation.
Here it is. First Kings 20, "Their gods." notice plural, they only had one God, but he says. "Their gods are the gods of the hills; therefore, they were stronger than we. But if we fight them in the plain, we will be stronger than they." Hey, we're fighting this battle in that god's jurisdiction, the hills. Let's move the battle down to the valley, because we serve the valley gods. And if we fight in that jurisdiction, we're going to win.
So that's henotheism. So polytheism, henotheism, there's a third, and this was the worst of all. Syncretism. And this was the sin of Israel. They took God, Yahweh, the only true God, and added Him, in many cases, to the worship of other gods, reducing the only true God to the same level as Baal, Ashteroth, Molech, and all of the other false deities of Canaan.
So they worship God and other things. That was the big problem. That's why Elijah the prophet would stand on Mount Carmel and sort of put the gavel down and say, listen, how long will you falter between two opinions? If Baal is God, then worship him. If God is God, if Yahweh way is God, then worship Him. But you can't have both. It's one or the other.
So we get the picture pretty clear historically. God wants no rivals. He wants no competition at all. No other gods before me. Now some, in hearing that, might say, boy, God is pretty insecure.
No. It's just the very opposite. You see, God is so secure that He can say, I want no other gods worshiped for this reason. There are no other gods. They don't exist any god that somebody would have is one they made up on their own. It's all their own imagination. They're all contrived.
And folks every other god worshiped even today is exactly the same way. They're not real. The best that could be said is there is some demonic entity conspiring in the background to deceive people to worship that god or goddess to distract them from the real reality. But there aren't several gods. There is only one, and everything else is a miss. So God can say I am God. and I want supreme and utter and total devotion. Everything else is an exaggeration of their own minds.
So historically God would say this. We can understand that. We can also understand pragmatically why God would give this commandment. God's very practical. God understands, because He made us, that nothing is going to satisfy the human heart except our relationship with the true and living God. He made us that way.
The Bible says we're subject to vanity or subject to emptiness. We're never going to be totally fulfilled until we're in right relationship with the right God. Nothing else will satisfy our hearts.
You might say worshipping anything or anyone else other than God is sort of like hugging a mannequin. Would you go up in a store and say, just a minute. That mannequin looks very lonely. I need to hug it, spend some time with it. It's not a real person. A modern doll has more response to you than an ancient pagan god. At least you can pull a string on a doll and it goes, I love you.
Now in Psalm 115, David does something really clear, really brilliant. He does something in a song form. He makes a contrast between the living God and the un-gods in the culture around him. And so he's contrasting the true and the living God with all of the pagan deities that were worshipped in statue form, in stone form and wood form.
And this is what David says concerning the other gods, "They have eyes, but they can't see. They have ears, but they hear not. They have feet, but they can't walk. They have hands, but they can't handle. But our God, he says, is the living and true God.
I've been in the subcontinent of India. I've been to different places in Africa and in Asia. And I have watched long and hard people bow before false deities. Never once has that deity responded to the worshipper.
You see, in real life you need a real God. In real life, you need a God who can hear. In real life, you need a God who can respond in some capacity. In real life, you need a strong God. In real life, you need a God who will never leave you or forsake you.
And so historically, pragmatically, we understand why God would give this as the first commandment. Now personally. Let's close on that note, personalizing this. We need to understand its importance. The Lord is saying, I'm your God by creation. I'm your God by redemption. I want to now be your God by your devotion. This is who I am to you. This is what I've done for you. This is what I want from you.
So in personalizing it, I want to ask you a personal question, and then I want to call on you to make a personal choice. Here's the personal question. First of all, what do you think about in quiet moments? Where does your mind go when you're alone?
You know you can take a compass and you can go in all sorts of different directions. Turn it upside down, go around in circles, but when you just put it down on the table and let it sit, if it works, it'll find true north. Always points to true north.
Or our minds are sort of like the needle of a compass. They can focus on a number of things during the day, but when left to settle, where does your mind point? What do you think about? A girl? A guy? A goal? Having something? Accomplishing something? The Bible says as a man or a woman thinks in his heart, so is he.
So what do you think about in quiet moments? And then if you discover, you know, I don't think about God much, then it's time to make a personal choice. Now granted most everyone here has already made the personal choice to exalt Jesus Christ, to be a Christian, to follow Him. But from time to time we need to re-evaluate our lives and ask is it true that first things are first? Is God first in my life?
And maybe you need to make a choice today. Jesus said, "No man can serve two masters. He's going to love one and hate the other, be loyal to one and despise the other. You can't serve God and mammon." One or the other.
Joshua said that in his last state of the union message to the people of Israel, last part of the book of Joshua. Remember what he said? "Choose you this day whom you will serve, whether you're going to serve the gods that your fathers served on the other side of the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you now dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the," one, singular, "Lord." Yahweh. Going to serve the Lord. Making a choice.
Some people may be here this morning and you're still thirsty. You're on a search still. You've tried to fill your life with so much stuff and you've even thought, OK, I know what I need. I need church. Point is that a mistake, because every church on the face of the earth, at some point, will let you down.
And some people who go, I know what I need, I need church, and what I need is maybe a deeper involvement in church. I'm not discouraging that, trust me. But I'm saying you can do all of that and get even involved and still be empty, still feel thirsty. Because it's even simpler than that. It really comes down to a man or a woman or a boy or a girl in relationship with the living God just on a personal level of commitment.
Saint Augustine said it beautifully in a prayer, "Lord you have made us for yourself and we are restless until we find our rest in thee." Who's your God? Who delivered you? Who shows up when you have a need? Who's number one?
Elvis Presley, six months before he died, was interviewed. The interviewer said, "Elvis, when you first started playing music you said that you wanted to be rich and famous and happy. Mr. Presley, are you happy?" Interviewer knew he was rich and famous. He's Elvis. He's the King.
But you said you wanted to be rich and famous and happy. "Mr. Presley, are you happy?" You know what Elvis said? He said, "I'm terribly lonely." Of course he said [IMITATING ELVIS PRESLEY] "I'm terribly lonely at the Heartbreak Hotel. Thank you very much." No, but you get the point. I kind of ruined the whole story with that.
He didn't say he was happy. He was rich and he was famous, but he was terribly lonely. God made us in such a way that we'll never be satisfied, ever, until we come into a right relationship with I am the Lord your God. You will have no other gods, rivals, competition besides me. And so let's bow our hearts.
Father, we contemplate that. We think of that. That's the claim that you make in conjunction with the care that you give, and thus the command that you issue forth. We are to have none other beside you. Some don't worship other gods like people or things, but some, frankly, worship themselves. Lord, I pray that you'd occupy first position in the life of everyone here. In Jesus' name, amen.