The Ten Commandments Part 2
Refuse to Reduce God
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
January 9, 2005


Main Passage: Exodus 20:1-17 (NLT)


Top Ten Rejected Commandments: (Used earlier in the service)

10. Thou shalt not re-gift.
9. Thou shall not eat garlic & anchovy pizza before thine date.
8. Remember the toilet seat to put it down.
7. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's ride-on mower
6. Thou shalt honour the ten-second rule when thou droppest food upon the floor.
5. Thou shalt not mix stripes with plaid.
4. Thou shalt always use “I” before “E” except after “C”.
3. Thou shalt eat all your spinach.
2. Thou shalt exchange all gifts within 30 days of purchase.
1. Thou shalt separate waste from compost all the days of thine life.


Last week we started on a journey through the Ten Commandments, which will take us ten messages. Funny how that works isn’t it? We also handed out laminated cards last week that listed the Ten Commandments on them. Just a handy reference tool for you as we work our way through the Ten. Raise your hand if you didn’t get one or if you’ve lost yours already. We have a few more that we can hand out.

We started last week by discussing the first commandment. And it was fairly straightforward… not a lot of room for discussion, not much controversy. Most of us would consider ourselves monotheistic. That is, we believe in one God. So the first commandment isn’t real tough. It says:

Exodus 20:3 (NLT)
“Do not worship any other gods besides Me.”

How can you argue with that? And so last week I spoke a little bit concerning not putting anything else in the number one spot in your life for a number of reasons, including the fact that anything or anyone else we put in that spot will ultimately disappoint us when we most need it. Whether it be our job, family, money, sex, power, security… it will at some point let us down. And so God says, “Honour Me as God. Put Me first and you will never be disappointed.”

But that was last week, when we spoke on the first commandment.

The second one may be a little tougher. In fact, through the years there has even been a major disagreement whether or not this commandment should stand on its own or be included with the first commandment. If you have a Catholic background as some of you do, you may have spent the first 30 minutes here this morning wondering why I’m spending two weeks on the first commandment and only a week on each of the others. The reason is that Catholics and Protestants number the commandments differently.

[Show Ten Commandments in PowerPoint]

The list you see here is the list we kind of stick to in Protestant circles. In Catholic circles, the first two are combined, figuring that not making any idols is part of not worshiping any other gods besides Him. And then the tenth one is divided into… “You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife” and “You shall not covet your neighbour’s property/goods.” That’s the way the Catholics number the Commandments, whereas the Protestants number them… the right way. Only kidding. I don’t want to get any nasty emails over that. It’s only a joke.

And then the Jewish community has a slightly different combination still. So our numbering of the Ten Commandments is simply arbitrary. As we said last week, God didn’t list them for us by saying… “Here’s Ten Commandments… Number 1…” No, He didn’t number them for us, He just gave them to us. And later on someone looked at them and said, “Hey, there are ten of them.” So the important thing is not so much that we all use the same numbering system as it is that we understand and apply the words of God to our lives.


So on to the second commandment.

We know it as, “do not make idols of any kind.” Or more traditionally, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” Here it is in Exodus 20 from the NIV… Read it with me…

Exodus 20:4-5 (NIV)
“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them…”

So what God seems to be saying is that people should not under any circumstances craft anything with their hands and then bow down in worship of it, or even in worship of the true God through the representation of a created image. You can see this in these verse from Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 4:15-16, 19 (NLT)
“But be careful! You did not see the LORD’s form on the day he spoke to you from the fire at Mount Sinai. So do not corrupt yourselves by making a physical image in any form… Don’t be seduced by them and worship them."

Now I’m sure that when you realized that I’d be speaking on this commandment this week that you must have thought, “Great, this is going to be an easy week for me because I have no problem with commandment number 2 (or number 1 ½ or 1-b or however you want to number the thing). I have never ever built an idol and don’t plan to start now. This message won’t apply to me at all.” You might well be clean on this one, but just to be sure, stick with me a little bit as we look at what God had in mind when he gave the second commandment. We know what the “What is”… that’s don’t make or bow down to any graven images. But what about the “why”?


Why Are Man-made Images of God Wrong?

Well, if the first commandment had to do with keeping God in the right spot in our lives, the second commandment is there so we won’t reduce God to less than He is.


1. Man-made images reduce God.

Isaiah 42:8 (NLT)
“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else. I will not share my praise with carved idols.”

All around Israel the neighbouring countries all had their gods, and in each case they had a physical representation of what their god looked like. Large images that were housed in enormous temples where people could go and see their gods… and many of these statues still exist today. And it was tough for the Israelites to worship an invisible God. Others could point to idols and images and say, “Look! This is my god here. Where’s your god?” God knew that the temptation would be great for them to build or carve something that would represent Him, and He said, “Don’t do that.”

I’m sure that the Israelites must have had the same question as people do today… “Why not? What could possibly be wrong with having a tangible physical reminder of God?” Let me answer that this way. It was wrong because God knew that humanity in our finite state… in our limited ability… would never ever be able to truly and fairly convey an infinite God for who and what He is. And so God commanded his people to not make idols or graven images of false gods, or even of the one true God.

Who here has been to Mount Rushmore? I lived in South Dakota where Mount Rushmore is located for a couple of years and had the opportunity to see it three or four times. You’re familiar with Mount Rushmore… The hill with faces carved out of rock… the faces of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Al Gore. Just making sure you’re paying attention. Theodore Roosevelt, actually. Mount Rushmore is probably the most magnificent human creation I’ve ever seen. We’re talking about recognizable faces carved out of rock over the course of 14 years using dynamite, faces that are 60 feet high, 500 feet up, looking out over a setting of pine, spruce, birch and aspen with the Black Hills of South Dakota as a backdrop.

I have a piece of bubble gum here. Could someone who’s been there take this bubble gum, chew it up real good, and then using your fingers shape it into a representation of Mount Rushmore for all of us to see and marvel at its majesty? You say, “Greg, that’s nuts! You can’t make a fair representation of Mount Rushmore with a piece of bubble gum. It’d be easier to describe it with words than to do that. As a matter of fact it would be better to have no image of the Mount Rushmore at all than to try to portray it in such a limited way.” Hold that thought.

Who here has ever heard Beethoven’s 5th Symphony? It’s pretty famous, and even if you don’t know it by name, you’ve probably heard it. They say it took Beethoven two years to complete this work. And if you’ve heard it you will never forget it. Nothing can compare to hearing a world-class orchestra of 35-40 masterful musicians in the right music hall playing this incredible piece of music. And if you’ve never heard it, then, well… maybe someone who has heard it can come up and play it for you… on this whistle. Just so you too can experience the majesty of Beethoven’s 5th. Those of you who know Beethoven’s 5th… do you think you could do that for the rest of the folks who aren’t familiar with it?

You say, “Greg, don’t be an idiot.” Now that’s asking a lot. But you say, “That’s nuts, you can’t make a fair representation of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony with a whistle. It’d be easier to describe it with words than to do that. As a matter of fact it would be better to have no representation of Beethoven’s 5th at all than to try to portray it in such a limited way.” And that is exactly the point. Any attempt at all to portray Him using human means would be reductionary at the very least… it would reduce Him… because we would never ever be able to portray God in all of His splendour and all of His majesty. As a matter of fact it would be better to have no image or representation at all than to portray him in such a limited way.

People would rather just chew the piece of bubble gum than try to make it into Mount Rushmore. They would rather have no sound then a rotten sound of a whistle trying to display the majesty of Beethoven’s 5th. And God is saying the very same thing about any person who tries to convey who He is through a carving, a picture or a painting or an image or a statue. No earthly substance should ever be used to try and represent God. The scope and majesty, the splendour and the character of God could never be captured by an image of any kind. And any attempt at that automatically reduces God.

Isaiah 40:18-20 (NLT)
To whom, then, can we compare God? What image might we find to resemble him? Can he be compared to an idol formed in a mold, overlaid with gold, and decorated with silver chains? Or is a poor person’s wooden idol better? Can God be compared to an idol that must be placed on a stand so it won’t fall down?

1 Chronicles 16:26 (NLT)
The gods of other nations are merely idols, but the LORD made the heavens!

So man-made images reduce God. Man-made images also replace God.


2. Man-made images replace God.

When we start to elevate the things of our lives to the point that they become idols for us, they begin to push God to the sidelines. Essentially, they steal our hearts away from our First Love and we’re seduced by that idol, whatever it may be for us.

Ezekiel 23:37 (NLT)
They have committed both adultery and murder--adultery by worshiping idols…

So idolatry is really a form of adultery.

Idolatry = Adultery

The thing is, this is really quite stupid. Nothing that we could ever elevate to the point of being an idol could ever truly replace God. Not our career, not pleasure, not family, not financial security, not a hobby… nothing. Even the good things of life pale in comparison to God.

Jeremiah 2:11 (NLT)
Has any nation ever exchanged its gods for another god, even though its gods are nothing? Yet my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols!

It’s ridiculous to replace the glorious God with worthless idols. There’s an interesting verse that I came across in 2 Chronicles…

2 Chronicles 34:33 (NLT)
So Josiah removed all detestable idols from the entire land of Israel and required everyone to worship the LORD their God. And throughout the rest of his lifetime, they did not turn away from the LORD, the God of their ancestors.

Notice that King Josiah didn’t just require that the people worship the true God. No, the very first thing he did was take all the idols that could replace God and he had them removed from the entire land. I think Josiah did that for a reason. I think he knew that if the idols were allowed to remain, then even if the people began to worship the true God again, over time they would once again begin flirting with these false idols and false gods and eventually their hearts would be stolen away once again.

If someone is unfaithful to their spouse but wants to restore their marriage, they’re not going to be able to hang around with the one who has stolen their affections. Otherwise, they’re going to find themselves cheating once again. So whatever it is that you may struggle with, be careful. If it is something that should be removed from your life, do it. If it is something that is important but which can become an idol for you, something like your family or your career, you need to acknowledge that God claims first place in your life and submit all these other areas of your life to His Lordship.

Leviticus 19:4 (NLT)
Do not put your trust in idols or make gods of metal for yourselves. I, the LORD, am your God.

2 Kings 17:12 (NLT)
Yes, they worshiped idols, despite the LORD’s specific and repeated warnings.

1 Samuel 12:21 (NLT)
Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you--they really are useless!

Man-made images replace God. Man-made images reduce God. And man-made images reduce us.


3. Man-made images reduce us.

We said it last week...

We worship what we are inferior to.

We do not worship down, we only worship up. When we worship something or someone, we are saying that it is superior to us. And I don’t think it’s so much that we elevate them as it is that we reduce ourselves.

Jeremiah 10:8 (NLT)
The wisest of people who worship idols are stupid and foolish. The things they worship are made of wood!

Habakkuk 2:18-19 (NLT) ha-Bak-kuk
“What have you gained by worshiping all your man-made idols? How foolish to trust in something made by your own hands! What fools you are to believe such lies!”
How terrible it will be for you who beg lifeless wooden idols to save you. You ask speechless stone images to tell you what to do. Can an idol speak for God? They may be overlaid with gold and silver, but they are lifeless inside.

So submitting to any idol in any form is both stupid and useless. And it reduces you to the level of being foolish.


I know that you are thinking, “Okay, Greg, I got the message. I promise that I won’t make any idols or images of God. After all, I flunked shop class and never took ceramics, and I couldn’t carve the bark off a stick without endangering my life and even if I could I wouldn’t bow down and worship it afterward, so cut me a little slack, okay?”

Fine, I will. But before we finish up let me just touch on two points… two warnings that I think are implied in the second commandment. And I think they impact most of us here. The first deals with our use of religious symbols and the second concerns our mental images of God.


Two Warnings:


A. Be wary of religious symbols of God.

I believe that the second commandment would urge us to be very careful in the use of any religious symbols in our life together as a church. Obviously as long as we’re renting facilities we won’t be dragging in huge crosses or statues on a weekly basis. But even when someday we have our own facilities 24/7, we’re going to need to be careful on this one. Because we can easily start to use man-made objects as reductionary images of an Almighty God.

Now I have to tread carefully. For a lot of people, maybe even some here, the crucifix means a great deal. The portrayal of the crucified Christ at the point of death hanging on the cross is a powerful image, and the sacrifice that Jesus made on that cross is the only means for any of us ever getting into Heaven.

The cross and all that it symbolizes is very important to me. I would never want to say anything that would diminish the importance of the cross. So what could be possibly wrong with the crucifix or with a cross? Well, like any other images that we might use to portray God, they are reductionary. They don’t do Jesus Christ justice. They can’t portray everything that needs to be portrayed about Jesus and they can’t show him for all He was and all He is today.

When we look at the Jesus that is on the crucifix we see the Jesus that was human… the Jesus that shared our weaknesses. We don’t see the powerful Creator of the universe; we don’t see the power of the resurrected Christ who burst out of the tomb as conqueror of death and the grave. It reminds us of his pain and suffering, but it fails to remind us of his power and majesty. It speaks volumes about Good Friday, but says nothing of Easter Sunday. It tells us nothing of him ruling and reigning today.

Earlier in the service we sang the song, “God of Wonders.” Is that the image portrayed by the crucifix? Some of you came to Sunrise this morning with a heavy heart wondering, “Is Jesus really the God of Wonders? Is he able to help me today?” And if you were to look at a limp Saviour hanging on the cross at the point of death does that convey a Jesus who can help you right now? You need to be reminded that He is alive and that we don’t pray today to an almost dead Saviour; we pray to a powerful, living God. A life-changing, eternity-changing God.

You say, “Come on Greg; ease up on the crucifix. After all, an image like that can’t portray everything.” Exactly! It can’t and it doesn’t. Any image of God the Father, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit will fail miserably in conveying the essence of God to man. So if we begin to treat an object, any object, as if it tells us who Jesus is, then we are reducing Him to the level of that object. An object may be useful in teaching about one particular aspect of Jesus, but don’t start thinking that it is fully adequate and don’t you ever use it as the focal point of your prayer or worship.

If we were to have a cross portraying the death of Christ here, then to be fair and to represent the fact that he has risen from the grave triumphantly with power, we’d have to have something like an empty tomb to represent that. Because without his resurrection his death was in vain. Without the resurrection Christianity is nothing but a cruel hoax and Jesus was nothing but another misguided prophet with a messiah complex. So we can’t have a cross without an empty tomb to remind us of His resurrected power.

But His death and resurrection aren’t the only things that we need to remember about Jesus. We can’t forget that He was born of a virgin, which is significant. After all, He wasn’t an ordinary man and He didn’t have an ordinary birth. So if we are going to portray all of Jesus we should have something to remind us of the virgin birth. So maybe we could have a manger. And then we’d need to signify the fact that He is the Great Shepherd, which is important because it really helps define our relationship with Jesus as He cares for us and protects us. To keep that forefront in our minds we probably should have a large shepherd’s staff somewhere. And what would Christianity be without His teachings… without the Sermon on the Mount… The Lord’s Prayer… the Golden Rule. So maybe we need to have a giant scroll… maybe with some of His teachings listed on it… just to remind us that He was a great teacher.

But to be fair to Him, we should also remember the time that he became upset with those who were selling animals in the temple and cheating people on money exchange there… how Jesus took a whip and cleared out the temple, saying, “This should be a house of prayer and you’ve turned it into a house of robbers.” If we want to truly illustrate who Christ was through the use of religious symbols in our church then we ought to include something like a whip.

And so what would we have here? A cross, an empty tomb, a manger scene, a scroll, a shepherd’s staff and a whip. And we could go on and on. And by the time we got everything in we will have to start setting up at 4:00 a.m. and we won’t have any room in here for the band or for chairs. It’d be standing room only. And we still wouldn’t have been able to fully capture who Jesus is. Do you see why the Second Commandment warns against using religious symbols?

That’s why the Bible says,

James 4:8 (NLT)
“Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you.”

No need to use religious symbols or statues or beads or anything else. God simply says, “Draw near to Me and I will draw near to you.”

But it’s not only religious symbols that we have to be careful of. We also need to beware of the mental images that we have of who God is.


B. Be wary of mental images of God.

You know what I mean… the images that we create in our minds of God. Because mental images can be every bit as reductionary as carved idols and graven images. Here are some of the inadequate images of God that I think we sometimes create, and they do a great injustice to who God is. And the end result is that people are scared of God or think He’s too much of a softy or they simply think He is irrelevant.

[Images taken from Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door by Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler.]

  • The Cosmic Cop

    This is the image that tells us that God is watching us and ready to zap us if we ever start to have any fun. And a lot of people view God this way… as a cruel, vindictive God who abuses His power.

  • The Vending Machine God

    This is the image for people who think that God is only there to supply all their wants and wishes. They do their time in church, insert a few prayers, and God dispenses what they want. And the only time He hears from them is when they need something or want something.

  • The Luke Skywalker God

    I saw a guy on Larry King the other day who kept referring to God as the force of the universe. But God is not some impersonal force that we just learn to channel. No, God is the Divine Person… alive, loving, just, merciful, convicting, challenging, guiding, comforting, compassionate… He is much more than the image of the Luke Skywalker God would tell you.

  • Prophet Jesus

    This image of Jesus focuses solely on His teachings and ignores the rest. This image says that there is nothing divine about Jesus, He was only a good teacher who lived long ago.

  • Pink Jesus

    You want to talk about distorted mental images of Jesus? Let me ask you, when you picture Jesus, how many of you picture a Caucasian male with long flowing brown hair, a neatly trimmed beard, and a British accent? That seems to be the prevailing image of Jesus in North America and throughout Western culture. But need I remind you that Jesus was born and raised in the Middle East?

    Isaiah 53:2-3 (NLT)
    There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we did not care.

    Probably a little different than your mental image, isn’t it?

  • Pansy Jesus

    Is Jesus loving? Yes. Is He forgiving? Yes. Is He merciful? Yes. Is He a push-over? No. But more people will die and go to hell because of this image than any other. Because there’s nothing motivating about a Pansy Jesus. There’s nothing that sets a fire under you and forces you to examine your life and make things right with God. People who subscribe to this image believe, “Ah, He’ll let me in. The things I’ve done aren’t that bad. I’m sure He’ll just look the other way. How could a loving God ever send anyone to Hell?” Jesus may be merciful, but He is also holy and just. And He expects us to live in obedience to His Word. Jesus is loving in that He has provided the way for us to get into Heaven. But He still holds us to a high moral standard and His holiness will not let evil go unpunished.

    A variation of this image would be the Grandfather God. You know, a friendly old Grandfather who spoils us and would never deny heaven to us. We might do wrong but he overlooks it. We could never really do wrong in His eyes.

    Well, God might be a loving Father but he’s also a Holy God and there are demands that he places on our life. And so regardless what our mental image of God is, it probably needs to be filled out a little bit by studying His Word… Seeing him as his Word describes him and not just as we’ve chosen to see him in our minds.


So be careful how you view God. Do reduce Him to fit your manufactured images of Him. Realize that the invisible God is the Almighty God, the Creator of the universe, and at the same time He's intimately interested in you. He's the transcendent and the imminent God. Just that contrast should help you realize that you will never fully be able to capture Him in your own mind, let alone any man-made representation.




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