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1-20 God’s Wrath Against Idolatry

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MBC - 7/25/2004 - Pastor Doug Thompson

“God’s Wrath Against False Worship”

Romans 1:22,23

ROM 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

ROM 1:19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

ROM 1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

ROM 1:21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

ROM 1:22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,

ROM 1:23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

ROM 1:25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Let’s put this passage in context: Why is the gospel such good news--why is it so urgent and necessary in this world? Because the wrath of God is continually being displayed against the sinfulness of man as a merciful warning of the great Day of Judgment to come. And why is God angry at unbelievers? Because even though they know Him, they willfully reject Him, and instead of giving Him the honor and worship He deserves, they devise their own religions to escape from Him.

There are two facts that are imbedded in the heart of every person: one is the fact that there is a God--it’s evident within us--we know. Ecc.3:11 says that God has set “eternity in our hearts.” Augustine said this: "For you have made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee."

But the second fact imbedded in our hearts, is our own sinfulness--we know that we are wrong in rejecting God! But when natural man is confronted with these two conflicting truths: “there is a God who should be honored and worshiped--but I like my sin, and I don’t want to,” instead of changing his actions to match his beliefs, he changes his beliefs to match his actions. I.e., First, men willfully reject God, and then they seek to justify their decision after the fact, by constructing a system of beliefs--a false religion that will accommodate their sinfulness and hide them from truth about God.

That’s what we’re going to see this morning.

I. The invitation sent.

Our family received an invitation in the mail this week to attend a wedding and reception for some people who are very dear to us. And there was an envelope and card, marked R.S.V.P. It’s common courtesy to respond. And since I am performing the ceremony for this couple, I’m sure they will be relieved to know that we plan on being there!

Ø      But I want you to imagine receiving in the mail a very formal looking envelope addressed to you, and bearing the Presidential seal! Inside you find a personal handwritten invitation from President Bush and Laura to you and your family to join him at his Crawford, Texas ranch for a Bar-B-Q. All of your expenses will be paid, and you will be hobnobbing with govt. officials and celebrities, discussing like nukuler energy, & stuff like that. And inside the envelope is a card and another envelope, marked R.S.V.P.

Ø      Imagine what a shame it would be to toss the invitation aside and miss the opportunity to go because you forgot to respond.

Ø      But how much worse it would be if you not only missed the event, but deliberately chose to do a dump run that day instead of attending the President’s Bar-B-Q!

This is what unbelieving mankind has done with the invitation it has received from God!

Look with me at vv.19,20: This is God’s personal invitation to worship Him! It doesn’t come in the mail--it is written in the skies, on the mountains, on every flower, on every bird. It comes through every one of our senses--this is an invitation that we see, touch, smell, hear, and even taste--remember the peach!

And notice that this invitation is delivered straight to our hearts--it is innate, it is inside. No one--no one--can say they didn’t get the invitation to worship God. And no one can claim that they didn’t know they were supposed to R.S.V.P. They know that too--deep inside--that what God has revealed of Himself cries out for worship and praise. Look at v.21: God’s glory, displayed in creation, should lead us to “honor Him as God and give thanks.” That word, “honor” is doxazo, = glorify! The entire creation is a billboard, inviting men and women to respond by singing a doxology to God!

That’s what they are doing continually in heaven. Listen to the song they sing--

Ø      REV 4:11 "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created."

II. The invitation rejected.

 

What does v.18 say that unbelievers have done with the invitation?: They’ve suppressed it: They’ve stuffed in with the junk mail to be recycled. Then v.22 says that they brag about it, “Professing to be wise, they became fools”--“Hey, look how smart we are! We aren’t paying any attention to God!”--but what could be more foolish than that?

But beyond all of this, v.23 says that they exchanged this invitation to worship a good and loving Creator God, to accept a counter offer: to worship images of men, animals, reptiles, and bugs, and bow to them, pray to them, and serve them--instead of God--

Ø      ROM 1:25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

It’s worse than rejecting a personal invitation to a Presidential Bar-B-Q for a counter-offer to go to the county dump and spend the day wading in rotting garbage and filth.

But beloved, that’s the way God views false worship! No wonder it brings on His wrath.

Ø      I want you to leave here this morning without absolute clarity on this: All false religion is a manifestation of man running from the true God, not seeking the true God. (repeat)

I know that it’s our natural inclination is to see all of the thousands of religions and cults as expressions of mankind’s sincere, honest desire to worship God--

Ø      “Sure, maybe some of them are misguided, but they mean well. It’s certainly better to be a sincere Buddhist or Muslim than to be an atheist! Religion represents mankind doing its best with what it knows.”

But what we learn here is shocking! All false religion--whether it is the gilded sophisticated versions, such as Roman Catholicism or Mormonism, or the most degraded, animistic paganism--is an expression of man’s rebellion against God, his running from the truth, and substituting a repulsive counterfeit in the place of true God!

If any of you have taken a secular college class on comparative religions, you would be told that when man finally evolved enough to become superstitious and religious, he was animistic--he began to worship the spirits that he believed inhabited animals and trees and rocks. This evolved into polytheism--the worship of many gods, and eventually, he became more sophisticated and intelligent--again, due to evolution--and developed monotheism--the worship of one God.

That’s not true. Let me read you something fascinating from a book entitled “Origins and Ideas,” by Robert Brow:

Ø      “Research indicates that the tribes are not animistic because they have continued unchanged since the dawn of history. Rather, the evidence indicates degeneration from a true knowledge of God. . . Animal sacrifices were a way of acknowledging that the worshiper had offended God and needed to make atonement for his or her offenses. In time, polytheism entered, providing a pantheon of gods and goddesses who were worshiped not because they were imagined to be higher or greater than the original true God, but because they were lesser and therefore less to be feared. At this point priests emerged to take over the functions of sacrifice, and the religions degenerated even further. . . At the root of all pagan religions and mythologies, there lies an original monotheism, which is the historical starting point in religion for all mankind.

Ø       “All false religion proves devolution, not evolution! “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”

Do you see the downward spiral here?

1.) Revelation: vv.19-20

2.) Suppression: v.18,21

3.) Speculation and rationalization: vv.21,22

4.) Substitution and idolatry: v.23, resulting in--

5.) Wrath and less divine restraint on sin.

And the ironic thing about this is that “Professing to be wise, they became fools.”

Ø      When Socrates was dying from the hemlock, he requested that his friends bring him a rooster that he could sacrifice in his dying moments to the god of healing, Aesculapius. The wisest man in Athens, died making a fool out of himself.

Someone wrote this: “All too often in the history of mankind a high level of philosophy has been found consistent with all the degradation of polytheism. The ability to think clearly does not necessarily deliver from superstition.”

Ø      We know of super-intelligent world leaders who read their horoscope and consult psychics. One famous female politician even claimed to channel conversations with Eleanor Roosevelt!

Ø      And many of our supposedly brilliant celebrities belong to the church of Scientology, founded by Science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard, where people like John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Jenna Elfman, and Kirstie Alley, go through a religious exercise of holding two metal cans in their hands hooked up to a phony machine called and e-meter that is supposed to read their thoughts! Professing to be wise, they became fools.

III. The counter-offer--and who is behind it.

Look at--

Ø      ROM 1:23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.                                    

“Crawling creatures” is herpeta. Do you know what a herpetologist studies? Reptiles and amphibians, and snakes--serpents. Can you imagine people worshiping serpents. . . ? Can you imagine a serpent wanting to be worshiped? I can--

Satan was behind the serpent in the Garden of Eden, right? And Satan showed what he wants more than anything in the universe when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness:

Ø      MAT 4:8 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory;

Ø      MAT 4:9 and he said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me."

Ø      MAT 4:10 Then Jesus said to him, "Go, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.'"

Satan craves worship. He wants to be worshiped in place of God. This was the sin that caused Lucifer, the most beautiful of all the angels, to become Satan, the prince of darkness:

Ø      ISA 14:13 "But you said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north.

Ø      ISA 14:14 'I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.'

Now when Satan appeared as the serpent to tempt Adam and Eve, what was the essence of the temptation? To take the place of God--to make their own rules!

Ø      GEN 3:5 "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

And when Adam sinned, this process we have been talking about, went into action: Because he suppressed the truth about God, he became a fool, his heart was darkened--instead of honoring God, he was honoring and serving the creature--himself--rather than the creator. Adam was the first idol. He was the first false god. But do you see that, indirectly, Satan was getting his way? Adam had served Satan, rather than God, and God was robbed of the glory He deserves.

And as the effects of Adam’s sin have grown more depraved over the centuries, his offspring have actually worshiped animals, bugs, snakes--you name it. And Satan loves it all because, indirectly, he is getting the worship that God deserves, as people worship and serve creatures rather than the Creator! All false worship is ultimately Satan worship!

Ø      Do you see how twisted and diabolical this all is? God gave us creation, include creatures to show off His glory so that He would be worshiped, and Satan has turned it upside-down so that people worship the creature rather than the Creator. Listen to this quote--listen for the exchange:

“Do you feel a deep sense of peace and belonging and wonder in the midst of nature, in a forest, by the ocean, or on a mountain top? Are you speechless with awe when you look up at the sky on a clear moonless night and see the Milky Way strewn with stars as thick as sand on a beach? When you see breakers crashing on a rocky shore, or hear wind rustling in a poplar's leaves, are you uplifted by the energy and creativity? [so far, so good, but it goes on--]

“In the World Pantheist Movement we take the real universe and nature as our starting and finishing point, not some preconceived idea of God. We feel a profound wonder and awe for these, similar to the reverence that believers in more conventional gods feel towards their deity, but without groveling worship or belief that Nature has a mind or personality that we can influence through prayer or ritual.”

Do you see how their foolish hearts are darkened? How Satan is robbing God of His honor and taking it for himself? And he loves to watched man make an absolute fool out of himself in his idolatry:

ISA 44:12 The man shapes iron into a cutting tool and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with hammers and working it with his strong arm. He also gets hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no water and becomes weary.

ISA 44:13 Another shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house.

ISA 44:14 Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow.

ISA 44:15 Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it.

ISA 44:16 Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, "Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire."

ISA 44:17 But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god."

ISA 44:18 They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend.

ISA 44:19 No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, "I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!"

“They exchange the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man.” And they still do:

Ø      When I went to Communist Romania in the mid-80’s, I was amazed to see statues of men everywhere, but that’s because under Communism, they worship the worker (We’ve got one of those in Lower Lake now!)

Ø      Jacquelynne wrote this in an e-mail: “In North Korea, the majority of people believe that Kim Il Sung is God, and his son, Kim Jong Il is now reigning in his place. The people of North Korea bow to Him Jong Il’s statue, thank him before meals, etc. His dead body is kept in a glass case.”

Natural man is driven to create a substitute for God that they can see and worship. It’s not incidental that the Ten Commandments begin with: “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them” (Ex. 20:3–5). But as Moses was receiving the 10 commandments and the instructions to never, ever make any image of God--what were the Aaron and the people doing down below? Making an image of Jehovah--a stupid golden calf. And they worshiped it through drunkenness and debauchery.

Would people ever do that today--make an image of God--or the Son of God? And then worship that image? News item:

Ø      ACTOR James Caviezel has been swamped with requests to perform miracles by Mexican fans who believe he really is Jesus Christ. The 35-year-old, who played Jesus in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, was on a one-week tour of the east Mexican state of Veracruz. According to Mexican newspaper Reforma, dozens of residents from villages throughout the state asked Caviezel to heal the sick and perform other miracles as he passed through. The actor said: "The belief of these people really moved me."

I told you so! But then again, James Caviezel and Mel Gibson are both staunch Roman Catholics, and Roman Catholicism is thoroughly idolatrous. When some of us men went down to Mexico City a few years ago, we were shocked at the thousands of statues and images that were being sold at the Basilica. But even more shocking was to see poor, ignorant people crawling on their knees to worship these pieces of wood and plaster.

But idolatry goes downhill from there, Paul said man will even worship disgusting animals and creeping things rather than honor the true God.

Ø      No doubt Paul had Egyptian religion in mind here. The Egyptians worshiped 20,000 different creatures, including frogs, crocodiles, birds, wolves, hippopotami, and beetles. (Although when my wife was in HS, she worshiped the Beatles too.) The Egyptians also worshiped the sun, moon, and stars. And we borrowed their gods for our days of the week: Saturn-day, Sun-day, and Moon-day! And Tues.-Friday are all named after Norse gods: Woden, Thor, and Freya--Woden’s wife.

Beloved, we haven’t grown more sophisticated. The downward descent has continued to this day.

Ø      Some of you have read about the festival held out in the Nevada desert for the last 18 years called “The Burning Man.” It’s like a pagan/satanic Woodstock, and it attracts 10’s of thousands of people from all over the world. It’s been described this way: “Wiccans, Satanists, goddesses, nudists, and consortium of other party-goers attend the festival for a Labor Day weekend of “glorious hell on earth.” In past years they have featured attractions like “Lost Vegas,” “Motel 666,” “the Chaos Cabaret,” and “Crucifixion with a Celebrity,” where you could purchase a picture of a crucified obese Elvis and eat hamburgers sold by satan-worshipers at the McSatan café.

You see the stickers on cars in Middletown: The goddess is alive and magic is afoot! If you have never seen a catalog of what goes on up at Harbin Hot Springs--our own New Age retreat center just down the road--you would be amazed at the foolishness!

“Healing the Father wound for women”

“Enlightened Warrior Training for men”

“Awakening the Sacred Masculine”

Ø      Heart Consciousness Church owns and operates Harbin Hot Springs, and the grand poobah is a man who calls himself “Ishvara”--the Master of the Universe. “It is not a church in the traditional sense of buildings, structure and congregation. It is an embodiment and a manifestation of the New Age: that common thread uniting the Human Potential Movement, the Holistic, Natural Movement, and Universal Spirituality. . . .The bottom line is the miracle of existence itself and the magic that comes from cultivating a grateful awareness. All world views can find a home and an expression in it, including science and atheism. You need not give up your own religious traditions - it is inclusive.”

Don’t be fooled by the intelligent sounding blather, it’s just a lot of pagan nonsense. These poor people don’t even have enough sense to wear clothes or take a shower before they come into town.

What have we learned?

1.) All false religion is a manifestation of man running from God, not man seeking God.

It’s not evidence of man’s affection for God, it’s evidence of mans rejection of God. And beloved, that holds true for your sincere, devout, religious friends who are trapped in Mormonism, or the Watchtower society, or Roman Catholicism. And if you doubt that, simply put them to the test--confront them with the clear non-negotiable truths of Scripture: Do they believe that the Bible alone is the Word of God? Do they believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man? Do they believe that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? Do they believe in the once-for-all substitutionary atonement of Christ? And when their faces get red and they go into a rage--you know why: they are hiding from the true God in their false religions.

2.) All false religion is man-centered and auto-soteric (you save yourself).

Whenever people reject the true God, they in effect take the place of God for  themselves--they make the rules instead of God. And they will always substitute their own good works for God’s grace--always. Every false religion teaches salvation by works--they might add in Jesus and the cross--but they never subtract good works.

3.) Satan is the ultimate origin and object of all false religion.

Whatever men exchange for the true God, it’s Satan who is behind it and Satan is the object of their worship. They don’t do it knowingly. They think they are worshiping Allah or the false god of Mormonism, or the Jesus who turns into bread and wine, but Paul said, “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God” (1Cor.10:20). Don’t be deceived, beloved: Unless worship is directed to the true God, through Jesus Christ, in spirit and in truth--it’s received by Satan!

How do we respond?

1.) We must proclaim the gospel to those who haven’t heard.

This goes back to what we saw last week: general revelation is enough to condemn a man, but it’s not enough to save him.  All it does is reveal his sinful, rebellious heart, because he doesn’t respond to what he knows about God. People won’t be saved apart from the gospel. They must hear the Word of God.

ACT 17:16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. [statues of their gods]

ACT 17:22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.

ACT 17:23  "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.

ACT 17:24  "The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;

2.) We must worship God according to His Word.

Beloved, nature alone will only foster idolatry in the heart of fallen man. Your friends who say, “I don’t need a Bible, I don’t need church, I can worship God in the woods,”--are wrong. We cannot worship God acceptably apart from special revelation--this Book. It should be a lifelong pursuit to purify and elevate our thoughts of God--through Scripture--to worship Him.

but--

2.) All of creation should move us to praise and worship God.

What have you done with the invitation to worship that God has written in His creation? We are not nature worshipers, but we should worship the God of nature--the God of the Bible, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ! Get outdoors and look around! Ponder the peach! And then give God praise. When we, as Christians, adore God for what He has made, we are reversing the curse, and taking back for God what Satan stole for himself in the Garden!

A.W. Tozer wrote this 50 some years ago: “Man was made to worship God. God gave to man a harp and said, “Here above all the creatures that I have made and created I have given you the largest harp . . . you can worship Me in a manner that no other creature can.” And when he sinned, man took that instrument and threw it in the mud.”

Let that image sink into your mind . . . . in Christ, you take back your harp! Don’t ever let it fall into the mud again!

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