The True God Ridicules Idolaters and Raises Up Cyrus (Isaiah Sermon 52 of 81)
October 12, 2014 | Andrew Davis
The Mocking Laugh
So the story I'm about to tell you is in no way commending a strategy for discipleship, but I'm just going to tell you something that happened to me, alright? Shortly after I came to faith in Christ, I was discipled very well by a guy at MIT. We met together really almost, I wouldn't say daily, but every couple of days we got together and he did a phenomenal job, Tim Shuman. And one day in particular though, I'll never forget this day. We were at the dining hall there on-campus, and it was Friday, and we were meeting together and having a meal. Now, like many Catholics growing up, I abstained from eating meat on Fridays. That put me into an immediate problem because I hate fish. So I was eating grilled cheeses especially during Lent, every Friday. So we were sitting down at the table and he got the usual, a cheeseburger and all that, and fries, and there I was with my grilled cheese, he said, "I thought you like cheeseburgers." I said, "I love them." He said, "Why didn't you get one?" I explained to him that I don't eat meat on Fridays. This is after I'd come to faith in Christ. He paused, and then he laughed in my face.
He just laughed at me, and he actually had trouble composing himself. It took a while. I'm like, "What?" And he said, "Look, that's not in the Bible. You're free to eat whatever you want on Fridays." And it's only been in the recent years as I've studied church history and found out where all that came from, but that was a superstition, really, that was part of my upbringing, but was no part of the Bible. But what I want to tell you is, there was an impact to that laugh, that mocking laugh. I think it was a mocking laugh. And as we come to Isaiah 44, I think we're going to hear God, God's mocking laughter concerning idolatry.
This is a humorous chapter about something that's actually not funny at all. And God's laughter is meant to get in our face, and make us realize how ridiculous it is to worship anything but the God of the Bible. How utterly foolish it is to think that we can concoct a god out of our own imagination and then our hands can skillfully shape and craft that god and then we can bow down and worship. The whole thing is ridiculous, and foolish. And yet, how many people do exactly that? We Americans may not struggle with shrines, and statues and altars, but I can assure you, millions of people around the world do precisely the things that are described in this chapter. They shape and craft idols and they bow down and worship them. But we Americans we have our idols too.
And so today what we're going to do is we're going to follow the Prophet Isaiah into the workshop of the idol maker, and we're going to hear from Heaven, the laughter of our Sovereign God concerning all of it, the mocking laughter about idolatry. But we're not going to stop in the workshop, we're going to go from the workshop to the hospital, spiritual hospital. And we're going to have the spiritual physician, Christ, sit down with each of us and tell us what our idols are and how serious they are, and then we're going to go to the operating room God willing and have them addressed. So that's the journey that's in front of us today, in Isaiah 44. John Calvin said, "The human heart is an idol factory." And we're going to have a chance today to look at that factory, we're going to look in our own hearts. And as I've said again and again in Isaiah, it is dangerous for us to say, "Oh those sinners out there, how they do that," etcetera. We are meant to be humbled by this, we're meant to be convicted by it and we're meant to be transformed by it.
Now, the idea of idolatry is going to hold this whole chapter together. Isaiah is a challenge because he goes it seems from one topic to the next, to the next. And finding a cohesive theme isn't always easy to do. But I think in this chapter, it's pretty easy to see that idolatry really holds the entire chapter together. The chapter begins in verses 1-5 with God's promise to pour out His spirit and create his children.
The Context of Isaiah
Now again, the immediate context of Isaiah the Prophet, 7th century BC, 700 BC. I think by then we can understand that the Assyrian threat was gone, Sennacherib had taken what was left of his army, and after 185,000 of his soldiers had been killed in one night, by the Angel of the Lord, he's gone, the Assyrian threat is gone, it's over.
But now, he's facing the future and the new threat is the idolatry that's going to come in under Hezekiah's son Manasseh, and then God's inevitable judgment on Judah and on Jerusalem for that idolatry. He's going to bring the Babylonians and the Babylonians are going to come in and they're going to destroy Judah and Jerusalem. They're going to raze the temple, they're going to level it, and they are going to kill most of the people in the land and a small remnant of the Jews are going to be brought into exile into Babylon. But then in the providence of God beyond that 70-year exile to Babylon, God is going to raise up an individual whom he names, by name identifies a century and a half before it happens, more than that probably before it happens. Cyrus the Great, identified in this chapter by name as the one who would allow a small remnant of Jews to come back from exile to Babylon and rebuild Judah and Jerusalem, to lay the foundations of the temple. All of this in the future.
And so, the idolatry that would cause this exile is yet in the future, and the remedy to it, yet in the future. And God's ability to predict the future so specifically sets him apart from the gods, all the counterfeit gods, as Tim Keller calls it, that there are. He's the only one who can do it. And so, as we look at his prophetic ability, we are going to see that only God can do this.
I. God Promises to Pour Out His Spirit and Create His Children (vs. 1-5)
Now, in verses 1-5, God promises to raise up that remnant of His children to be eventually a large nation who will populate the desolated Judah and Jerusalem. And God is going to do that by His Spirit. So that's the context here immediately, but I believe there's a larger context. And that these verses, in verse 1-5, speak also about God's sovereign ability to pour out His Spirit on Jews and gentiles alike who are dead in their transgressions and sins, and bring them to faith in Christ so that they can be the children of the living God. And God is able by His spirit to raise up eternal children, children of the living God, by his spirit. I think that's in view as well. So look at verses one and two, God softly calls Jacob to listen to him. He says, "But now, listen O Jacob, my servant. Israel, whom I have chosen, this is what the Lord says, He who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you. Do not be afraid O Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun [that means my righteous one] whom I have chosen."
So he's calling to His chosen people. And we know that faith comes by hearing, he says, "Listen to me, listen to what I'm saying, he wants you to hear God's word so that your faith can be strengthened." Then in verse three the Lord promises to pour out His Spirit on the dusty ground. He says, "For I will pour water on the thirsty land and I will pour streams on the dry ground, and I will pour out my spirit on your offspring and my blessing on your descendants."
Now, again and again in these 10 chapters of Isaiah 40 to 49, in this we get this image of a dry and thirsty land, a desert land that then suddenly flourishes and buds and blossoms and has rivers of water flowing through it. And I believe that we can take a physical side to that. There is a cursing that's happened on the earth because of Adam's sin, because of the Jews sin there was a cursing on the Promised Land and that's fine. And I believe in the new heaven and the new earth, we will see this world as it was meant to be. And how beautiful will that renewed almost resurrected earth be, the new Heavens and the new Earth.
But in verse three, we have some Hebrew parallelism. You see Hebrew parallelism a lot in the prophets, in the Psalms, in Proverbs where the same thing is said twice in slightly different words so you get an idea they... The verse interprets itself. So Isaiah 44:3 is a very important verse for me that says this streams and the wasteland image really has to do with the spirit of God. It has to do with the spirit's work on his people. Look what it says, "I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground, I will pour out my spirit on your offspring and my blessings on your descendants." So the idea of the pouring of the spirit, as I've mentioned before, the Spirit frequently likened to water. Like rain flowing from... Flowing down from the clouds or springs that you can drink from or rivers. Again, and the verb frequently used with the Spirit is "pour."
So the Spirit is poured out on us, we get this on the day of Pentecost. Remember when Peter quoting Joel two is explaining what's happened when the Holy Spirit has come on the church. And they are... They have just streamed out into the streets and he's trying to explain what's happening there and he quotes Joel two, in the last days he says, God says, "I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days." And in verse 21 there, in Acts 2:21, it says, "And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." That's Acts 2:21. But that image of pouring and when the Spirit is poured down from above, people cry out to God from below up. And we call on the name of the Lord and we are saved.
And so I think not only is God promising to restore a remnant of Jews and populate biologically The Promised Land, so that there will be children running in the streets like Zechariah talks about, there will be people there. Yes, yes, yes. But more than that, that God is going to send forth His Spirit in every generation, and he's going to raise up children for the living God. And that's an awesome thing, isn't it? He's going to populate the New Jerusalem, he's going to populate heaven with his spirit and his children are going to spring up. Remember how John the Baptist said that God is able out of these stones to raise up children for Abraham. And we are, are we not the stones that were brought to life? Are we not children of Abraham, who have believed in Jesus?
As it says in John 1:12-13, "As many as did receive Him, [Jesus] to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." And in that same book, in John 3, we find out we're born of the Spirit. Amen. So the Spirit comes, and He makes us children of the living God and I think that's what's going on here in verses 1-5. We are going to be in verse five among those Gentiles who say, "Hey I belong, I'm included. We'll, we'll like outdo each other to say how Jewish we are by we're honorary Jews."
Look at verse five, "One will say 'I belong to the Lord.' Another will call himself by the name of Jacob, still another will write on his hand, the Lord's, and will take the name Israel." I think this is talking about outsiders who become spiritually children of Abraham, that's us. And so God is going to pour out His Spirit and He's going to raise up children. Now biologically yes, through the remnant and that's important but the bigger picture has to do with the spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
II. God Alone Can Explain the Past and Predict the Future (vs. 6-8)
Now, in verses six through eight, God sets aside some verses to talk about his own greatness because he's about to address the issue of idolatry and he wants to say that he alone can explain life. He's the only one that can explain history. Look what he says in verse six, "This is what the Lord says, Israel's king and redeemer, the Lord Almighty. 'I am the first and I am the last. Apart from me, there is no God.'" First and last, that language is that language of the sequence of events. He is the Alpha and the Omega, He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end of what really? Of all of human history, of redemptive history.
You know, in the beginning, God created heavens and earth. So there's a beginning. God is the beginning, He is the first and he is the last. And there's a story unfolding here. He alone understands history, he alone controls history. He says, "I am the first and I am the last. Apart from me, there is no God. Who then is like me, let him proclaim it, let him declare and lay out before me. What has happened since I established my ancient people in the past and what is yet to come? Yes, let him foretell what will come." So he's saying, "Look, you don't even know the past. You don't know what's happened since I established my ancient people, from the very beginning. You don't even know the sequence of events that's led to the day you're at right now."
Historians will tell you how hard it is to know the past. It's actually very difficult. Professional historians can spend years and years studying a single event, a battle, Battle of Waterloo or The Battle of Gettysburg or something like that, and understand all the forces that went into it and what actually happened. And even if there's an eyewitness, he only has a small slice of the truth. Historians talk about the fog of war, and it's hard to see really what's going on. So he says, "You don't even know the past, you don't know what's happened up to this point. But now let's talk about what you definitely don't know, what you definitely cannot do, O idols, O gods of the nations. Let your idols come in, let your gods come in and let them predict the future, let them do what I'm about to do in this chapter. Let them name some ruler who's going to come 150 years from now by name and let it happen, let's see if your god can do something like that." And so, He's setting Himself apart as the great God who alone can do these things.
Now, look at verse eight. Here, he identifies his chosen people as his witnesses in this idolatrous world. In this god and goddess soldered world, we are the witnesses of the true God. Look at verse eight, he says, "Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other rock. I know not one." Now, you may ask, "What is he talking about?" At the end of the chapter, He's going to name Cyrus, by name. We've talked about this already for weeks. But this, and the next chapter, these are the two Cyrus chapters in which He is identified by name. Now we're going to do more with Cyrus God willing, next week. But it's at the very end that in Isaiah 44:28, he identifies Cyrus, and he says, he is the very one who's going to say, of the towns of Jew to let them be rebuilt. And of Jerusalem, let it be inhabited. And of the temple, that its foundations be laid. And so he does all of this. This is mind-boggling. He predicts the future and he says he's going to do this.
Now again, you think about the perspective. By then, there weren't any threats. People were back in their towns and Judah and Jerusalem was doing well and thriving under Hezekiah and none of these things had even happened, yet. And you're hearing from Isaiah the Prophet, "Oh, don't worry, God's going to allow Judah to be rebuilt. And the cities, the ruin of Jerusalem will be restored and it will be repopulated" and this is the clincher "of the temple, its foundations will be laid and there'll be a new temple build so don't worry." It's like, "Whoa, wait a minute now, we have a good temple, we have a really good temple. Solomon built us a good temple. What are you saying?" "I'll tell you what I'm saying, it's going to be destroyed. It's going to be destroyed. And the towns of Judah are going to be leveled. And Jerusalem is going to be stripped of all people. But through Cyrus, through this man Cyrus, all of that is going to be reversed and I'm going to re-populate this land." It's staggering what God is doing in this chapter, it's amazing. 100 plus years before Cyrus would have been born, 150, 160 years or more before these things would be fulfilled. That's what he's saying, and God alone can do this.
III. God Ridicules Idol-Makers (vs. 9-20)
Now, in verses 9-20, he takes us into the workshop of the idol makers, the idolaters, the idol manufacturers, and he shows us this process by which idols are actually made. Look at verse 9-11, idol makers and idol worshippers alike will be shamed. He says there, "All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind, they are ignorant to their own shame. Who shapes a God, who casts an idol which can profit him nothing? He and his kind will be put to shame. Craftsmen are nothing but men. Let them all come together and take their stand, they will be brought down to terror and infamy." So God here highlights the worthlessness of both the idols and the idolaters. "They're both worthless," He says.
Now you may think that is harsh but here's the thing, there's a basic principle here at work. You become like what you worship. You become like what you worship. We have an old saying, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." Well, the greatest form of flattery there could be, would be worship. And so therefore, it makes perfect sense that what you worship is going to have an effect on who you are, it's going to shape who you are. Now, for us as Christians, we worship Jesus Christ as God and we are being transformed. We're being conformed to the image of Christ by that, do you see? We're being transformed by the Spirit, little by little, made more and more like Christ, we're being conformed to Christ by worshipping Him. But idolaters gradually become more and more like the idols they worship which means in this text, more and more worthless. More and more worthless. Idols are worthless and if you worship them, you become worthless too.
That's what the text is saying. And the end result of that downward journey is wrath on the day of judgment, God's wrath against the idolaters on the day of judgment. He says they will be brought down to terror and infamy, they'll be stripped and shamed on that day for their idolatry. And so, in Verse 12-17, He ridicules the actual process by which idols are made.
Look at verse 12 and follow me. It says, "The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint. The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is man's fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, 'Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.' From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, 'Save me; you are my god.'"
So, we're led here into the workshop of the idol maker. The first idol is made out of metal, so it's a metal worker. You get the picture of this blacksmith in a blacksmith shop, and he's pounding away on the anvil and heating the thing up and pounding it some more. And he's sweaty, this man and he's getting weak as he works, and that's kind of a big feature here in the ridicule. He gets weaker, and weaker, and maybe he forgets to drink some water. He doesn't have a lunch, and so he's getting weaker and weaker as he makes his god. And what a contrast that is from Isaiah 40, where we're told God never gets weary ever. God's like a raging fire that can ignite infinite numbers of logs or trees and burn them to ashes and he doesn't get diminished at all by that, he never gets tired. But here's this god-maker, and he gets weary in the heat as he goes on, as he's making this. And at the end of the day, you can see him mopping his brow and feeling satisfied he's made a good god that can now sell well. It'll sell. Or he himself, maybe he made it for himself, and he'll bow down and worship it.
Or then we're led into the carpenter shop and we're given some different techniques some different tools, same thing though. He's working with... He's a wood worker, skilled craftsman. And it's funny, I read this once, I don't remember where it was or even who it was, but it was a famous sculptor and he was asked how he could make such a magnificent sculpture of a horse? And he said, "Well I choose a block of marble and then I carve away everything that doesn't look like a horse."
Or it's like Bach saying, "Music is easy, you just hit the right note at the right time. What's so hard about that?" But here's this skilled craftsman and he just carves away everything. Now, here's the catch. That doesn't look like a god. What is it that? What do you mean? Oh, so you get an idea in your head first of a god or goddess and you think of it, and then your hands move out and execute your internal vision and thoughts. Do you not see the hubris, the arrogance to that? Scripture tells us that we are shaped and created by God in his image. But now we've got an idol maker who's getting an idea of a god in his mind, and he shapes and makes it. Who's in control of that process? He is, and he's making the god. Do you see the wickedness of it and the evil of it?
And so that's what is going on here. The idol maker then makes this... And he ridicules the whole process. He says, he goes out, maybe he's got a grove of trees specially designed like you know chosen hardwoods. The hardwoods are harder to work, but they're going to be worth more money. And so you can make a better god or goddess out of it, sell a little bit better. So he's an expert at wood. And I love how it says he plants a tree and listen to this "the rain makes it grow." Do you love that? It's like, "Yeah, I made that grow," God's saying, "I give life to everything." But he's blind to that. And so, up comes this tree after some decades it gets big enough, round enough, and he says, "Okay, this is a good one," and chops it down. And he's got this log and I picture him having a hard time getting on the ox cart or whatever, rolling it somewhere. It's too big for the god he has in mind. The god he has in mind about that big, maybe. So I'm like, "How do you decide how big your god should be?" But that's about it.
"So actually I have some extra wood left over, fine. I'll make a fire and eat from it and warm myself." God is ridiculing all this. And he's very detailed, he says, "Okay, let's go back over what we talked about. Remember, half of it he used for the fire, half of it he used to make his bread or roast his meat and warm himself." And he says, he even says, "I'm warm, I see the fire," he's saying. But from the other half, he made a god, which he says bow down... He bows down and says, "Save me, you're my god." Absolutely ridiculous. Half for the fire, which he sees and enjoys. Half for a god, which he bows down and trusts. You know what I wonder? Imagine he had a helper who'd come in and clean up the shop and he only got like half-way done carving the thing. And the guy accidentally threw it in the fire, the god in the fire. And he comes in, and he's like, "No, no!" And he runs and grabs it and beats the fire. He's like, "That's my god, he's burning. Don't do that." So what is he really worshipping? What's the difference between that and the log he did burn? His own skill, his own ingenuity, his own craftsmanship. That's what he's worshipping.
God Exposes the Mindlessness of Idolatry
And so in verses 18-20, God exposes the mindlessness of idolatry. "They know nothing, they understand nothing, their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see. Their minds closed, so they cannot understand." You don't really know who he's talking about here. Is he talking about the idol or the idolater? Dear friends, he's talking about both. Don't you see it? Both the idol and the idolater, they're the same, they're blind, they're dead, they're motionless, they don't see anything, they don't hear anything. Their minds are closed so they cannot understand. No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, "Half of it I use for fuel. I even bake bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a de-testable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?" He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him.
Now that's right there in that verse, in verse 20, that's the key for us Americans. The essence of idolatry is in a deluded heart that misleads us, and we're going to come back to that at the end of the message. He doesn't have the ability to save himself. Do you know that? No idolater can save him or herself. They can't, they're trapped, they're in prison. And only Jesus can save them. Only Christ crucified, resurrected can save them. Only the blood of Jesus applied by the sovereign Spirit of God can rescue people and turn idolaters into children of the living God. They can't save themselves, they are becoming like what they worship.
IV. God Has Swept Away Our Sins Like a Mist, So Rejoice! (vs. 21-23)
Now, in verses 21-23, we have the incredible good news of God sweeping away our sins like a mist so rejoice. Verse 21, "Remember these things O Jacob, for you are my servant. O Israel, I have made you, you are my servant. O Israel, I will not forget you." So he says, "Look I'm committed to remembering you, I'll never forget you, would you please remember me? Would you remember who I am? Remember that I am the living God, remember to worship me? Remember these things?" Again, Isiah, at that moment most of the wickedness and the idolatry was yet to come, it hadn't happened yet. "So as you're going through it, remember me. And then when you're in exile, remember me. When you're trapped in sin, remember me for I will never forget you."
And in verse 22, he says, "I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you." Oh, friends, what an incredibly gracious God we serve. Amen. He can take our sins, did you see? I thought it was interesting. We had a morning mist this morning. It was kind of out where we were in Bahama, it was kind of swirling around and kind of misty, nasty and all that. And I was like, I was thinking about this exact verse, and I was thinking how it was such a block between us and the sunshine of a bright pleasant day which we had yesterday. And how it's a picture of how our sins separate us from God. And you can't get at them, there's nothing... Suppose you said, "I don't like this mist, I'm going to get rid of it." What are you going to do, how are you going to get rid of your morning mist? You cannot do it. And we don't tend to think of our sins like that, our sins seem massive, like mountain ranges. But to God, through Christ, they're like a morning mist. And he can burn it off with the bright sunshine, the heat of the glory of Christ at the cross. He can burn off our sins and we are free at last from all of our idolatry.
And so it seems reasonable for us that we should celebrate. Look at verse 23, "Sing for joy O heavens! For the Lord has done this. Shout aloud, O earth beneath. Burst into song you mountains, you forests and all you trees for the Lord has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory, in Israel." We should celebrate and not only us, but all of creation is going to celebrate. What is... How is the Earth going to sing when at last, the sons and daughters of the living God are fully revealed in resurrection glory? How beautiful will the new Heaven and new Earth be. And how much will it sing in some mysterious way, under our feet as we walked on it, and we see the beauty of this world, we should yearn for it, it's going to be magnificent. So all of this is amazing. God's, cele... We should celebrate God's ability to take our idolatries and our sins and wickedness and move them away like the morning mist, that we can celebrate his grace and his glory forever.
V. God Raises Up Cyrus to Rebuild Jerusalem (vs. 24-28)
Now, in verses 24-28, we have this section. I've already touched on it, I'm not going to do much with it now. Next week, we'll talk more about Cyrus, but go ahead and look at it briefly. In Verse 24, God says, He alone created all things. "This is what the Lord says, your redeemer who formed you in the womb. 'I am the Lord who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the Earth by myself.'" So God is the alone creator and He is the alone savior. By the way, this is a great, great verse to parallel with the verses in the New Testament that teach that God created everything through Jesus. "Through him, all things were made. Without him, nothing was made that has been made," John 1:3. Hebrews 1:2 says that God created all things through the Son. Colossians 1 teaches that it was Christ, who created all things. So if you get the fierce monotheism of this verse saying, "I am the only God there is, there is no one like me." And then Jesus comes in as the co-creator with the Father, you get the deity of Christ, the doctrine of the trinity very plainly from that.
But God says, He's the only one who creates, the only one who can redeem. And in verse 25-26, He foils false prophecies and fulfills true ones. Who foils the signs of false prophets, who makes fools of diviners, who overthrows the learning of the wise and turns it into nonsense, who carries out the words of his servants and fulfills the predictions of his messengers, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, and Hosea, and Habakkuk and all of the true prophets, God fulfills what they said but the false prophets go away.
And what is he specifically talking about? Well, Jerusalem shall be inhabited, the towns of Judah, shall be built, the ruins will be restored, he's going to have the foundation of the temple laid, that's what he says he's going to do. Verse 27, "He says of the watery deep, 'Be dry. And I will dry up your streams,' who says of Cyrus, 'he is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please.' He will say of Jerusalem, 'let it be rebuilt. And of the temple, let its foundations be laid.'"
Alright, so as we look at this chapter, what applications can we take from this? Well, I want to go immediately now to the issue of idolatry. Now, I've been in nations in which the idolatry was open and obvious and visible. I've been to India for example, there is no nation that I've ever been to in which the gods and goddesses are so plainly on display. But I lived in Japan for two years, same thing, same kind of thing.
So there are nations in which there are actual statues and statuettes and gods and things like that, the people bow down, they actually do bow down and worship. This goes on all over the world. But for us Americans, it's more the idols of the heart, and no one I think has thought so clearly and so well about idols of the heart as Tim Keller. He wrote a book called "Counterfeit Gods." He's a pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, and wrote a book called "Counterfeit Gods." I would commend it to you. But you've already heard Daniel give this definition, what is an idol? It's anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. An idol is whatever you look at and say in your heart of hearts, "If I have that, then I will feel that my life has meaning. Then I'll know I have value, then I'll feel significant and secure." That's what an idol is. Well, how can you identify it? Sometimes when you have a splinter, have you ever felt that? And you're trying to find it, you take your fingernail and you drag it, it's like, "There it is, feel it. It's right there. I know it's there," you can feel it. And so I want you to do that now over the next couple of minutes, I want you to hear some of the things that Keller says and says, "Maybe I have that kind of an idol at work in my life."
Can I just tell you a big picture? Remember I said we're going from the workshop to the hospital? We're in the hospital now, and the physician is going to talk to you about your aches and pains. He's going to ask you some questions and he's going to talk to you so he can find out. Now, is there anyone here who isn't laboring under idolatry? Do you think so? Do you think there's anybody here that isn't in some way being pulled by idolatry? I can't imagine that, I hope you know, this is something we all struggle with, all of us. It says in 1 John 5:21, "Dear children, keep yourselves from idols." It's a problem for all of us. So how do I identify it? Well, Keller recommends four ways. First of all, look at your imagination. "The true God of your heart," he says, "Is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there's nothing else demanding your attention."
When your mind's relaxed, what do you go to? What do you enjoy daydreaming about? What is it that occupies your mind when you have nothing else to think about? Do you develop potential scenarios about career advancement or material goods, like a dream home, or a relationship with a specific person maybe? Now, he says that one or two daydreams doesn't mean it's an idol, but it may be indicating some of that.
Secondly, how about your money, how do you spend your money? I think the way the money goes can show what's got a hold on your heart. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is there, your heart will be also." Your money flows most effortlessly toward your heart's greatest love. In fact, the mark of an idol is that you spend too much money on it. So it could be a hobby, it could be vacations, it could be cars, it could be a home, as he said, or home improvement, it could be any one of those things, but just look at how you spend your money.
Thirdly, he says, for the religious, what is it that frustrates you about God? What do you do when your prayers aren't answered. Frustrated hopes and unanswered prayers can show idols sometimes. Some of you if you don't get your prayers answered the way you want, you just go on, you trust God with that and you go on, it's not an idol. It's something you want, you desire, you're praying for, but it's not an idol, but others of you just can't move on and start to charge God with wrong-doing because he's not answering your prayer the way you want Him to. Its an indication of an idol, says Tim Keller.
And how about fourthly, your uncontrollable emotions, uncontrollable emotions like anger. Is there something... As you get... If you lose your temper with a family member, a spouse, or with a co-worker, or road rage, or any of that, is there an idol down below that? He would say there probably is. What about feeling strong feelings of fear or despair or guilt? Those feelings can be indicators of idols. And then he gives a list, and this is really helpful. I'm not going to give them all to you, we're almost out of time. But he has this saying, "Life only has meaning or I only have worth if this is happening for me," that's a language of idolatry. For example, life only has meaning or I only have worth, if I have power and influence over other people. I'm in charge, I'm in control. "Well, you have a power idolatry," he would say. Or life only has meaning or I only have worth, if I'm loved and respected by this person or this group, that's approval idolatry in that way. Or life only has meaning or I only have worth, if I have this kind of pleasure experience, like your team winning the National Championship. "Don't touch that kind of thing." Hey, I'm touching everything. May everything be touched.
Is it possible that some spectator sports in the US is idolatry? Is it even possible that there are 60,000, 70,000 idolaters gathering even this very day, in various places for whom, if their team doesn't win, they will display extreme negative emotions, thus revealing idolatry? Is it possible there are some Christians there too? Or any other pleasure experience? It could be a trip, again, it could be a lake home, it could be a vacation, it could be any... A pleasure experience, good gift of God, but so addictive you can't let it go. There are so many, he's listed 20 of them. I don't have time, look it up online. Tim Keller, 20 questions to probe idolatry. But it could be an individual, you could be single, struggling, not accepting that maybe there's an individual, but he or she hasn't... You haven't got their eye yet. And it's like the language of our songs, it's like, "If I don't have that person I can't live, I can't go on living if I don't have that person." You might even be married to that individual or they might be your son or daughter, they might be someone in your family. But, "If I lost my children, I couldn't go on living." That language is the language of idolatry.
I think in general, if you're a Christian and you are characterized by irritability or anger, or frustration, or fear, or depression, there's got to be idolatry at the heart of it, something is amiss. Christ crucified and resurrected is not enough for you. And this is a question I've asked my kids for years and myself, "Is Christ crucified and resurrected enough for you to be joyful today, no matter what happens?" Should be.
Alright, so we've been to the hospital, we've been diagnosed. Is there a cure? Yes, there is a cure. Is there a balm in Gilead? Yes, there is. The cross of Christ is the only remedy there is to idolatry. We can't save ourselves. Did you see that right in the text? He cannot save himself. We can't save ourselves, go to Christ crucified and resurrected. Trust in Jesus, and if you're a Christian, you have idolatries identified, take them to the cross, so he can kill them by the Spirit. Don't just accept these idols, don't just accept idolatry, let God by His Grace put it to death in your life, close with me in prayer.