As we said last week, the reason that we want to study the ten commandments is that it is easy to lose our way and to forget that God has given us some very direct instructions for how to live our lives. Knowledge of and obedience to the commandments can make our life well-ordered but also well pleasing to God. What we don’t want to do however is to imagine that following the commandments is enough. The commandments are meant to instruct us and relate us to Jesus Christ who is Himself our salvation. This brings us to the second commandment in the books of Exodus chapter 20, which says “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.”
These commandments were given to the Hebrew people who had just come out of slavery in Egypt, a nation of idol worshipers. One of the chief characteristics of idol worshipers is that they make idols. Idols are statues that are created and then prayed to or sacrificed to as to a god. This commandment was given in order to remind the people that the idols of Egypt did not save them, the living God had saved them and it would be unwise for them to give their attention and devotion to stone and gold objects made by men, when God is not stone or gold or any other material.
One of the issues with this commandment is that it must be understood properly. Some readers of the Bible would perhaps come into this church and see the icons all around and think immediately that we had broken the second commandment. After all we are picturing heavenly and earthly things such as angels and apostles and even the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. But let’s remember something important; we don’t make icons to pray to them or to worship them or to bow down to them to serve them. The commandment is not meant to stop the creation of images.
If the commandment was meant to stop the creation of all images we probably would not have visual arts such as painting or photography. But each of you has photos and paintings and sculptures in your homes and that doesn’t make you idol worshipers. In fact the Lord told Moses and Aaron to make images for the decoration of the Ark of the covenant. The purpose behind the image is important. For us in the Church, icons are meant to inspire and direct our thoughts to Jesus Christ and His kingdom. We don’t worship wood and paint, we look past them towards the subject of the image. In fact we notice that St. Paul calls the Lord Jesus “the image (icon) of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).
Another aspect of this commandment is to remember that sometimes we fall into patterns of behavior that resemble dedication and worship to material things that are not God, and those things provoke a form of idolatry. We have to ask ourselves where our focus of attention is constantly. God is not created by the hands of man, He is in fact, uncreated. That means that we do not owe an allegiance to any material, or created thing. Our allegiance is only to God. Our use of materials shouldn’t be one that makes us slaves to those things, it should be a use that glorifies God and makes Him the center of our existence. The icon is a great example of just that. We use paint and wood not to create something that we will serve and worship. We create. We take raw material in order to form it into something that glorifies God and turns us towards and not away from Him.
As Christians we are forced to examine the way we interact with every material thing, even with other humans. We find that sadly a human can become worshiped like a god or venerated because of their beauty or form or popularity. If we don’t have our senses stabilized, we are likely to find ourselves serving and worshiping others and that is a form of idolatry. The mainstream media has understood this for ages. It is so telling that girls were screaming and fainting at the sight of the Beatles. It is no wonder that John Lennon remarked that they were more popular than Jesus Christ at the time. It may have come off as blasphemous but it was sadly, sometimes true.
Could the Beatles forgive sins or redeem lives? Could they heal the sick or feed the multitudes? Could they love us and offer their lives for us? Could they rise again from the dead and bring us salvation? We know the answer to those questions and we are encouraged to ask similar questions anytime we find ourselves looking to material objects with love and devotion.
We are the children of God and we’re expected to control our hearts and direct our lives to the service of the One true and living God and His Son Jesus Christ, forever and ever AMEN.