Living God

Jeremiah 10:1-16

29 April 2007

Woodley Baptist Church

Morning service

[Show Monty Python's Pet Shop/Dead Parrot sketch]

Never mind the parrot. What about your God? Is he dead or alive?

Let's read what Holy Scripture says: Jeremiah chapter ten verses 1 to 16.


Our theme today in our continuing series on the nature of God is "Living God"

Surprisingly, perhaps, the actual phrase "living God" is used only 28 times in the Bible, and three of those times are direct quotations of previous uses. The phrase may not be used much, but the truth of the living God is written on every page.

Where the description "living God" is used, it is nearly always used to set the Lord, Yahweh, apart from all the false gods of the world around. For example, in Acts chapter 14 Paul and Barnabas healed a crippled man in Lytra. It says there,

When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted..., "The gods have come down to us in human form!" Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes... The priest of Zeus, ... brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: "Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them." ref

Paul contrasts the living God with their worthless idols. We see exactly the same contrast in Jeremiah chapter 10 which I want to turn to now.

I want to use just two headings today, and the first is don't worship what's worthless.

Don't worship what's worthless

In this chapter of Jeremiah we find the Lord warning his people against idolatry and superstition. They are following signs in the sky; they are building elaborate idols out of wood and metal and making them their gods.

they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold;ref

It all sounds pretty primitive, doesn't it? Not something many of us are likely to get up to today. I doubt that many of us are in the habit of going round museums bowing to ancient statuettes.

But we mustn't be fooled! Idolatry is still very much alive and well in the world, and in the church today. They expressed it one way — by creating wooden statues — we simply express it in others.

Our idols are simply the things in our lives that take the place that ought to be God's.

Some idols are crass and obvious, aren't they. The man who takes on crippling debt to buy a sports car has an obvious issue; or equivalently, the woman determined to look 20 years younger, whatever it takes. The workaholic driven to succeed; the sexually promiscuous; the alcoholic.

Someone told me recently about one of his housemates who is in his early twenties. In a frame on his wall is a cheque he's written to himself for a million pounds. He's post-dated the cheque until his 30th birthday, and he intends to be in a position to cash it by then. There's an idol for you.

Other idols are much more subtle, even things that seem to be good but are taken to an excess that ends up excluding God. Our families — our hopes and fears for our children — how much we invest in them, how easily they become an idol, a goal in themselves without reference to God. Another example, owning a house seems to be the 21st century middle-class idolatry. Some people are prepared to make crushing sacrifices to get the home they want, aren't they?

It's sad to say, but religion itself can easily become an idol. Religious duty and religious activity can actually become a barrier between us and the living God. A religiously observed daily quiet time can become an idol, because you come to depend on that activity to clear your conscience before God rather than coming to the living God himself.

Basically, anything we invest in that keeps us from God is an idol in our lives, and every one of us has many of them.

Where do we invest our lives and resources? How do we spend our time? What do we think about? Where do we spend our money? What takes up all our emotional energy? If we were to draw up pie-charts of these things and look at the biggest slices, these are likely to be our idols.

And the people of Jeremiah's time were prepared to invest a great deal in their idols: in verse 4 they decorate them with silver and gold. In verse 9 we find that they are going to the edge of the known world, to Tarshish to get their silver. The idols are made by craftsmen, and are dressed in blue and purple, the finest of fabrics.

Why were people so attracted by idolatry that they would invest so much? Why would it be a temptation for the people of Israel?

The first reason Jeremiah gives that idolatry is attractive is because everyone is doing it. Look at verse 2, This is what the LORD says: Do not learn the ways of the nationsref.

Idolatry is attractive because everyone is doing it. The church in this country is at its most materialistic because society in this country is at its most materialistic. The church in this country is at its most sexually immoral because society in this country is at its most sexually immoral.

We are influenced by peer pressure just as much as any teenager.

But God says, be different from those around, Do not learn the ways of the nationsref. In verse 7, the Lord is described as King of the nationsref. We must lift our eyes above what we see going on around us to the one who is King over it all. If we are not to be idolaters, we need to put the King back on the throne in our lives.

The second reason Jeremiah gives that idolatry is attractive is because it looks powerful. In verse 2, it is connected with signs in the sky, astrology, which to a non-scientific people must seem incredibly persuasive and powerful. They were terrified by them! And the idols themselves were no doubt very impressive. It's an attractive proposition, isn't it: sacrifice to this idol, and he will sort out your problems. Idolatry looked powerful.

And we follow our idols today precisely because we believe that they have the power to meet our needs: our deeps needs for security, or approval, or comfort, or achievement, or power itself.

But in verses 4 and 5 Jeremiah rubs in the actual powerlessness of the idols. Verse 4 literally says they are nailed down so they cannot move, so we get this sequence of hammer blows: they cannot move, they cannot speak, they cannot walk, they cannot do harm, they cannot do good.

The reality is that their idols are as powerful as a dead parrot, nailed to its perch so it looks alive.

Cosmetic surgery promises so much, but it's never truly going to meet your real need to be loved. A first class academic degree might promise a good career, but it's never going to meet your real need for approval from God. As for the sports car — well it makes a powerful statement, doesn't it? Unfortunately the statement is so often that the driver has deep unmet needs. Perhaps I'm just jealous, I don't know.

The fact is that any idol is powerless to meet our real needs. By contrast, in verse 6 we meet the living God, who is mighty in powerref, and in verse 12 he made the earth by his powerref. Only he can meet our needs and satisfy our longings.

Superficially idolatry is attractive because it looks powerful, and everyone's doing it, but scratch the surface and we can easily see it's pointless and worthless. That's what Jeremiah says three times. Verse 3, the customs of the peoples are worthlessref; verse 15, They are worthless, the objects of mockery;ref and verse 8, They are all senseless and foolish; they are taught by worthless wooden idols.ref

Actually, In the light of verse 8 it's entirely appropriate that "Real idiot" is an anagram of "I, idolater".

Don't worship what's worthless.

Now, this isn't supposed to be a sermon on idolatry, so before I get carried away I'd better get on to the other heading from this chapter which I've called love the living Lord.

Love the living Lord

In verse 10 Jeremiah utterly humiliates the idolaters by announcing the character of the real God: the LORD is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King.ref He is true, living and eternal, in contrast to the idols, which are false, dead and perishing.

Jeremiah goes on to describe some of the characteristics of the living God. What I want to do in under this heading is mostly application: how can we make sure that we are loving the living Lord, and not worshipping what is worthless? How can we be sure that our God is the living God; that we haven't been sold a dead parrot?

There are three particular things Jeremiah adds to what he's already said.

First, the living God can be angry: he judges and destroys. Look at the second half of verse 10: When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath.ref Obviously, the living God is many things, but Jeremiah focuses here particularly on his anger.

Of course, that's another great attraction of idolatry, isn't it? Our idols never judge us do they? They never put moral demands on us. Your valve amplifier stereo equipment is never going to tell you you're wrong, is it? A man-made idol is ultimately under our control. But the living God judges his people.

Does the God you believe in ever challenge your behaviour or lifestyle? Is your God capable of anger or wrath?

Is your God concerned about whether about whether you keep the speed limit, or tailgate the driver in front? Does your God care that you are sleeping with your girlfriend? Is your God bothered about the bad language you use at work? Does your God get angry with you when you get angry with your children? Does your God care about what you look at on the Internet?

If you think he isn't concerned then according to Jeremiah, he's not the living God, just another foolish idol. The living God is a moral God: sin makes him angry. As the book of Hebrews in the New Testament reminds us, It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.ref

Don't worship what's worthless; love the living Lord.

Second, the living God is creator, not created. We see this in verse 12 where Jeremiah draws a contrast between the living God and the obviously man-made idols, But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.ref

There will be some here who will have disagreed with my last point. You might be saying, "I don't believe that God can ever be an angry, judging, destroying God" . If so, you're far from alone in the wider church in this country.

But, the reality is that, because God is the creator God rather than created, we are not in a position to make up what God is like. Rather, we depend on him telling us what he's like.

Personally, I like to think of X as a man who likes to go out on a Friday night, have eight pints of lager followed by a curry and then get into a fight. The X I believe in would consider a quiet night in an evening wasted. Look, you're entitled to your opinion about X, but that's the X I believe in [X: Is any of that true? Can you set the record straight?]

It's absurd, isn't it? I can't sit around and make up whatever I like about X, but it's exactly the kind of thing people do with God all the time. And what they end up with is not the living creator God of the universe, but just another man-made idol.

If you find yourself saying things like "I like to think of God as..." , or "The god I believe in would never..." then you are in danger of idolatry: of creating the God that you want to believe in rather than loving the true and living Lord who created us.

Because God created us, we have to let him tell us what he is like, rather than the other way round. If we want to know what God is like, we've got to read our Bibles. There's plenty to learn about God in here without having to make stuff up.

Don't worship what's worthless; love the living Lord.

The third thing Jeremiah says about the living God is that he is a God whom we can have a relationship with.

We see it in verse 16: He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these, for he is the Maker of all things, including Israel, the tribe of his inheritance — the Lord Almighty is his name.ref

The living God and his people have a relationship: they belong to him; he belongs to them. Elsewhere, the Bible describes God's true people as being sons of the living Godref.

You can't have a relationship with a dead piece of wood, but we can know the living God day by day in our lives. The apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians chapter 6 says of the church, we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.ref

If we are Christians then we know God, he is with us, his Spirit is in us, and that is proof enough that he is the living God.

A real relationship with the living God is much more demanding than serving our idols, but only a relationship with the living God can meet our deepest human needs. Whatever our idols are they can never really satisfy us. That's why the Psalmist writes My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.ref and my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.ref

Don't worship what's worthless; love the living Lord.


I just want to finish with two final applications, one for those who know the living God, and one for those who don't.

For those of us who know the living God — who enjoy a relationship with him — Jeremiah has a challenge. We see it in verse 11. Now, verse 11 is very unusual because it is one of only a very small handful of places where the Old Testament uses the Aramaic language rather than Hebrew. The point is that Aramaic was the common language of all the nations around Israel at the time. I do business across a number of countries in Europe, but whatever the native language of the country we are in, we always end up speaking English, which is just as well for me. English is the international language for trade and commerce, and so it was with Aramaic in Jeremiah's day.

So the message of verse 11 is clearly a message from God to the idolatrous nations around. Tell them this, God says, These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.ref

Today, we are equally surrounded by people who have substituted worthless activity for the living God in their lives, and God's command to us is the same. We must challenge idolatry wherever we see it, and in a way that people must understand. We have a command, a need to bring people into relationship with the living God, to rescue them from investing their lives in what is worthless and perishing.

How can we do that? Well, that's the second application

It may be that you have come to realise at some point that you do not know the living God at all, and with the Psalmist your soul has begun to thirst for God, the living God. You've realised that what you've been sold is just a dead parrot, and now you want the living God himself.

How can you come to know him? Well, as ever the key is Jesus. He says of himself I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!ref

Jesus' resurrection from the dead proves that he is the living God. If we want to know the true God, the living God, then we must come to him and make our Lord. There is no other way.

There is an often misquoted saying of Jesus in John's gospel. People often quote what Jesus said as "I am the way, the truth and the light", but it doesn't say that, it actually says I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.ref

If you want to stop worshipping what's worthless and start loving the living Lord, then come to Jesus, the Living One.