August 13, 2017
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
“Idols in the Heart”
The Old Testament Lesson this morning is about idols. It is dotted with the word “idols” – six times does it appear, to be exact!
Let us examine the text in general, then move on to four brief observations.
We are told that Ezekiel brought the Word of the LORD God to his fellow-exiles who were with him in Babylon. But he also delivered it to his countrymen who still lived in Judea, and as the story plays out, would yet also be deported to Babylon!
Our lesson this morning deals with this latter group – a group of elders who traveled to Babylon to seek an audience with God’s prophet. As they were sitting before him, God tells Ezekiel to be careful. They had idols in their hearts, God told him – and further, they were engaged in iniquity over which they would surely stumble and fall!
He tells Ezekiel to “call them on the carpet,” as it were, and let them know just what God thinks about their idols and their iniquities. They were indeed brazen from the “get go” to seek His counsel while enmeshed in their idolatry and wickedness! It reminds me of a friend who years ago when someone would set up an appointment to meet with him to obtain his opinion regarding some problem would ask them, “Are you going to do what I say?” If they said, “No,” he then would reply, “I don’t have time for you.”
In the same vein, God says He will not answer these elders! Their first order of business is to repent! Because sin never ends well. Sin results in punishment and destruction. And if they will not repent, God will cut them off from being His people and make them a byword… a proverb. An avenue through which others will learn what not to do!
His goal for them is to be His people, but they must stop going astray – and they must eliminate the pollution of their transgressions with which they are destroying themselves (and those around them).
Now, observation #1. You cannot see it in the English, but in the Hebrew the word God uses for “idols” has been literally translated “rolls of dung.” Not very complimentary! Rolls of dung! That is what God thinks of idols! – whether belonging to those who are lost and perishing, or belonging to His own people through which they have become polluted! Rolls of dung!
Idols are fit for destruction! They are worthless. They are less than worthless! It was the Prophet Amos who issued the famous words when he saw what idolatry had done to Ephraim: Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone. Rolls of dung.
Observation #2. If you are going to be a servant of God, listen to His standards before embarking on that trail. Jesus said that His would-be followers should count the cost of discipleship before saying He is their Lord. Ezekiel tells us in verse nine that if a prophet does not do his job when push comes to shove regarding idols… if he does not speak the truth plainly and follow through with what God requires of him… if he equivocates, speaking out of both sides of his mouth at the same time… guess what? God says He Himself will reach out and destroy that prophet as well! The Bible tells us that the Almighty does not take delight in fools!
The punishment of such a prophet will be the same as that given to those he was supposed to correct, who had idols in their hearts!
If we call ourselves Christians, we ought to have some sense of urgency about fulfilling our duties before our Heavenly Father… worshiping Him properly and regularly… bearing witness to the truth… walking the strait and narrow… leading by example!
Observation #3. Just what is idolatry?
Humanism (the belief that man is all there is in this universe… and therefore heir to the “god-concept”) and those captive under its sway… would have us believe that idolatry is only but one important step in the evolutionary ascent of man. One innocuous step in Mankind’s emergence from superstition to critical, independent thought and liberation.
I ran across an interesting warning this past week to Christians that was cleverly expressed: Thinking critically about critical thinking… It reminded me of the famous quip from the wound-up professor who unthinkingly blurted out, “If there is one thing in this world that I will not tolerate, it is intolerance. He himself was being intolerant!
Just as man once believed in polytheism and outgrew it, so we are told that man once believed in idols and outgrew it as well. Man has ascended now far above idolatry, we are told, and left it far, far behind… never to be seen again! In his enlightened state he no longer needs such an antiquated crutch!
Yet hear the Word of the LORD. The Almighty tells us that idols originate in the fallen human heart! Idols emerge from the inner being of fallen men and women and children and young people. Jesus said, For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.
An idol is anything that is considered more important than God and His Word! In the final analysis, idolatry is still with us today! It is just with us in a different, more sophisticated, form! And, believe you me, idolatry is everywhere! Three of the biggest idols of history, of course, have been Wealth… Power… and Fame!
Woodrow Wilson a century ago had an idol in his heart akin to Moloch worship in the Old Testament (the Hebrew word moloch means “king”). He believed the key to a conflict-free world resided with the ability of world leaders to come together (without God) and chart a wise and prudent course for the world. It was called the “League of Nations.” And though it was well-intended, idols are in the final analysis always destructive, as Ezekiel pointed out! Wilson’s idol had the effect of undercutting the Christian Mission that had effectively taught the world that only through the Prince of Peace (Jesus Christ) would the world ever find lasting peace!
He sowed to the wind and we have now reaped the whirlwind! A bigger and more “powerful” idol exists in the hearts of millions today — The United Nations! A modern-day reconstituted Tower of Babel, if you will! And with it, another idol… a World Court that supersedes all national courts!
Socialism (with its promise of cradle-to-grave security) is a towering idol that has come into vogue over that last 100-years! Instead of reciting the LORD is my shepherd, socialists make their idol their shepherd! It was the former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher who so eloquently pointed out the problem with socialism is that it eventually runs out of other people’s money! It does not create wealth; it destroys wealth.
Observation #4. How do we know if we have idols in our hearts?
Is it just others who are susceptible? Or do we unwittingly suffer the same malignant disease, idolatry?
I suggest to all of us a simple test which was once more common among Christians than it is today. It is the test of “ultimate concern.” What is our “ultimate concern”? So we want to know if we have any idols in our hearts? Then just listen to what we say. To what do we appeal. Listen to what others say. To what do they appeal? Listen carefully… listen quietly… listen thoughtfully… to the ultimate concerns that motivate and drive and impel others. You will find lots of idols!
For example, is it public opinion to which an individual appeals as the obvious ultimate concern that should settle all debate? Public opinion is then revealed to be that person’s idol.
How about “equality”? Or as is now being set forth the idea of “equality of income.” Does the desire for “equality” trump all other considerations? That is then revealed to be a living and breathing idol.
Is it mankind’s self-realization and self-expression that outweighs everything else? If so, that, my dear friends, is then revealed to be an idol in the human heart! It is the ultimate concern!
Years ago, I once knew an otherwise very fine woman who asked one Sunday why we did what we did in the worship of Christ’s Church. I pointed out from the Bible why we held to that particular practice. Her response was that she disagreed. I calmly asked her, “Why do you disagree?” She replied, “Because I disagree. I do not believe that is right.” Her ultimate concern, in the end – when everything else was stripped away to expose it — was discovered to be her own opinion. She (and many others) are afflicted with a very big idol in their hearts (their own opinions) which needed to be removed. It has been said that many people have minds like concrete… thoroughly mixed up and firmly set!
The biggest and tallest and shiniest and most inspiring idol among worldlings is Man, with a capital “M”! He is ultimate!
Many people – even Christians, and those considered very fine Christians – have idols in their hearts! Many idols! Things they feel more important than God! What about you and me? Are we idol-free! I hope so.
Let us get rid of all of our idols and give our hearts back to God! And let us do it soon! Because idols are fit for destruction! World without end. Amen.