Sunday, August 6, 2017
The Limitations of Idols (Psalm 115, John 1,17)
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Singing Together: Mighty to Save (Morgan, Fielding)
Invitation to Communion: We Will Feast in the House of Zion (McCracken, Moore)
Hymn of Sending: To God Be the Glory
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Today we look at another Psalm in our Psalm+1 series, along with a New Testament passage which connects that Psalm to Jesus Christ. Psalm 115 contrasts the idols of the surrounding culture with the one true God of Israel. Though the particular idols have changed, we are in many ways still surrounded by idols and faced with trusting those false gods or the one true God. Today I want to specifically look with you at several limitations of idols as described in Psalm 115, then we will see the contrasting power and truth of the one true God, all the more demonstrated and made known to us through Jesus.
Limitation #1: the gods we make are all about us (vv. 1-3)
The Psalm begins pointing away from ourselves: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory.” (v.1) What a counter-cultural perspective, not just then, but for today as well: it’s not all about me! What’s the point of Christianity? of religious faith? Is it to secure a better life for me and mine? Is it wish-fulfillment? With this opening, the Psalmist sets up the first limitation of false or man-made gods. We tend to create or be drawn to gods that are all about us. That’s why even within the Christian faith the prosperity theology runs so strong.
The Psalmist quotes the teasing of the surrounding culture: “Where, now, is their God?” What has your God done for you lately? Where is this invisible God of yours? The Psalmist’s response: “our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” (v. 3)
That might even rub you a little the wrong way. But think about it… do you really want a god so small that it lives on your mantle or in your checking account or on your wish list? If God is really GOD – maker of Heaven and earth, we follow Him, not the other way around. We go bask in the sun; we don’t ring it up and tell it we are ready for it to shine. While it may initially feel distancing, a true God cannot be all about what I want and what I need.
If we make gods in our image or according to our needs, then really we are posing as creators and gods ourselves.
Limitation #2: the gods we make are only as strong as you are (vv. 4-8)
Related to that limitation is another: the gods we make are only as strong as we are. Do we really want to call such a thing ‘god’? The Psalmist plays with this a bit. Yes, you can see and touch such gods: they are “silver and gold, the work of man’s hands.” (v. 4) But even though they look familiar and present, they are not alive; they cannot speak, see, hear, smell, feel, walk, or make a sound. (vv. 5-7)
Are you picturing a tiny golden statue as an idol? That was certainly one version. But isn’t “silver and gold” – not in statue form – one of our common false gods as well? In money we trust (ironic, since it says “in God we trust” right on it!). If we don’t have it, it’s the thing we think will save us. If we do have it, we think just a little more will secure us against the uncertainties of the future.
Or what else do we make into false gods? The right relationship… the right neighborhood… the right friends… a strong military… a good security system… good health? Those things, which are desirable and often good, are still only as strong as we or our circumstances are. They cannot bear the mantle of divinity; they cannot be God though we sometimes serve and pursue them as if they were.
The gods we make are only as strong as we are, which in the face of this world and darkness and death is not very strong at all.
Limitation #3: idols cannot help or protect us (vv. 9-11)
Building on the second limitation, the Psalmist points out a third: if false gods are all about us and subject to our human limitations, then they cannot truly help or protect us. The Psalmist doesn’t say this outright, but uses the contrast with the God of Israel to make the point. It is only the God who made us, the Heavens and the earth, who does whatever He pleases, who has the power to help and protect us.
So the Psalmist makes the appeal to trust the Lord as help and shield. Over and over he says it:
“O Israel, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield.” (v. 9)
“O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield.” (v. 10)
“You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield.” (v. 11)
It is only such a powerful and self-determining God who CAN help and protect us. A man-made god – a false god, an idol – cannot do such a thing.
Limitation #4: man-made gods are not capable of originating blessing (vv. 12-18)
And here’s the hope: God is powerful and self-determining, but He has also “been mindful of us; He WILL bless us… Israel… Aaron… those who fear the Lord, the small together with the great.” (vv. 12-13) God has been compassionate in the past, so our hope is that He will be so again.
The fourth limitation of an idol is that they are not capable of originating blessing. They are neither living nor God. They are just our meager creations and subject to our limitations.
And so the Psalm ends where it begins, pointing away from US and giving glory and praise to God, thanks for a powerful, self-determining God who chooses to reveal Himself to and bless humanity.
The Great Contrast: Jesus, the Glory of God Revealed (John 17)
I chose the John 17 passage which we heard as the Call to Worship because it makes a connection with the first verse of the Psalm. The Psalm begins with “Not to us, but to Your name give glory.” That word ‘glory’ is the same word used in the Gospel of John to describe Jesus.
In chapter one of John, John writes that Jesus was in the beginning with God. “All things came into being through Him… in Him was life… Light [which] shines in the darkness.” (John 1:1-4) John goes on to say that the Word [Jesus] “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (v. 14) Later, in John 17, Jesus is praying and all throughout that prayer is the idea of ‘glory’ ending with “glorify me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:1-5) Jesus showed us the glory of God, the face of God through his work and words and existence.
What does all that have to do with idols and Psalm 115? Jesus serves as a vivid contrast to the idols and the limitations of idols described in the Psalm.
Limitation #1: idols are all about us
==> Jesus was there in the beginning and all things came into being through Him
Limitation #2: idols are not alive and are only as strong as we are
==> Not only was Jesus alive, but in Him was LIFE. He was Light to shine in the darkness.
Limitation #3: idols cannot help or protect us
==> Jesus made a home among us to bring the very glory and presence of God into our lives; in terms of help, his name means ‘rescue’ which is what he accomplished on the cross and through his resurrection
Limitation #4: man-made gods are not capable of originating blessing
==> Jesus is precisely God originating blessing when we could not help ourselves; truly originating – from the beginning of creation itself.