Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Man-made Religion

Bible Readings

  • 2Timothy 4:1-5
  • Judges 17:1-13

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, we are commencing a new sermon series today under the topic “The king is dead; long live the King!”

This phrase was first declared when Charles VII ascended to the French throne after the death of his father Charles VI in 1422.

The Royal Council in England proclaimed: “The throne shall never be empty; the country shall never be without a monarch.”  So, in 1272 when Henry III died while his son, Edward I, was fighting in the Crusades, Edward was immediately declared king.

Our sermon series will not have as source the British kings, but the kings of Israel.  They lived and died, but the promised Messiah King (capital “K”), Jesus Christ, lives forever.  The Israelite kings failed and as such were precursors for the perfect, righteous, all-powerful, sovereign King who overcame the power of hell, sin, death and Satan.  Of Him the Bible declares:

“You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” (Psalm 2:7–9, NIV)

Today and next week the Word will come from the last few chapters of Judges, and the messages will help us to understand that we should focus, not an earthly king to guide us, but on God in Jesus Christ, our King.

Just as a margin note this:  God assigned to the king (or governments), to the church and to families separate spheres of authority—all of them are under God because this world belongs to Him, the Creator. But the church does not rule over governments; in the same way governments do not rule over churches, and let it be clear, neither government nor church has authority over families. In an ideal world all three these spheres of authority would be in harmony as they are governed by Christ through his Word and Spirit.

This is a bit of a long introduction, I know.  Moving into the sermon, let’s bring into focus the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.  Without going into detail it is safe to say that the Reformation was needed because the church lost its direction when they lost the Bible as the authoritative Word of God for life and worship.  Foreign elements were dragged into worship and the tradition of the church was given equal authority alongside the Bible.

Our reading from Judges 17-18 provides a perfect example when man makes his own religion—and still call it worship.

God’s command to Moses

The phrase “as the Lord commanded Moses” (and variations of it) is repeated about 100 times in the Old Testament.

The way the Lord wanted to be worshipped was spelled out very clearly, in detail.  God is holy, and his people had to keep that in mind. Wilful worship, fashioned around personal preference, have no place in the Bible.

The book of Judges repeatedly records how the people did evil in the eyes of the Lord—which is another way to say they shunned the commands of the Lord for their own interpretation—they did as they saw fit.  Things got so bad, so quickly, that priests in the direct family line of Moses, maybe even his grandson, led a whole tribe of God’s people into idol worship.  We’ll get to that shortly.

False, man-made religion

As soon as the authority of the Word is swept under the carpet, man quickly replaces it with something he conjures up from his own sinful mind.  Interestingly, men never quits worshipping; he only fashions false worship in the place of true worship.

Judges 17 tells the story of a man called Micah.  First he stole silver from his mother.  She pronounced a curse over the silver, and maybe over the one who stole it too, which made her son worried, so he gave her the silver back.  Usually when people of old prayed a curse over something they consider it the property of the entity in which name the curse was pronounced.  Should it found it would then be dedicated to that entity.  This was the reason why she dedicated the silver.

But listen to what she said:

I solemnly consecrate my silver to the Lord for my son to make an image overlaid with silver. I will give it back to you. (Judges 17:3, NIV)

Give it to the Lord?  To the Lord who forbids making idols?  Well, it sounds like a good idea to give something to the Lord, even if it is lottery money!  No ways!

This event was most probably what stirred Micah to think that he was some special person too.  Sometimes mothers, or parents, need to be careful with the way in which they encourage their children!  Many are on their way to destruction because Mom and Dad can’t see anything wrong in things they do.

So he built a shrine, and put his silver idol in it.  For good measure he added a few more idols.  He declared his son a priest and made an ephod for him—the vest the High Priest wore when entering the Most Holy.  So, here we have an own private man-made religion!

Very poignantly the Bible records:

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. (Judges 17:6, NIV)

The story goes on.  When a young Levite from Bethlehem, whose task it was to teach the people in Law of the Lord, found himself in Micah’s house, he got a job offer: “Live with me and be my father and priest, I will give you ten shekels of silver a year, your clothes, and your food.”

Private gods, private shrine, private priest, private religion.  When Alice was conversing with Humpty Dumpty, she rebuked him for misusing words. Humpty replied, ‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less’.  Alice protested, asking if she could really make words mean different things, to which Humpty answered, ‘The question is, which is to be the master – that is all’.

Micah was the master.  And he was satisfied with his choice.  Listen:

“Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.” (Judges 17:13, NIV)

It’s like a bank robber that gets away with the loot unscathed and then go to the prayer meeting that night to thank God for his safety and provision for his family!

The tragedy of this chapter in the Bible is that people all along thought they worshipped God.

People in our day do the same.  They worship, and even call on the Name of God, but they have long left the Bible on the shelve as a forgotten book written for people thousands of years ago, not for modern people.  Someone writes:

I cannot stomach the whole notion of hell by conservative Christians today. Such a punishment, however conceived, does not fit the crimes (“sins”) I have done. I am not consciously rebelling against God because I sincerely do not believe he even exists. I’m following what I have come to believe to the best of my abilities as a thinking and educated person.

He continues:

How is it possible for God to foreknow the future? How is it possible for a being to never learn anything, and to always and forever exist as three-in-one without ever growing incrementally into something more and more complex? How is it possible for there to exist a being who is 100% man and 100% God with every essential attribute necessary for both?

He comes to this conclusion:  “… we must believe the writings of ancient superstitious people to do so?

But we should not only point fingers to people far away—it is sometimes much closer than we think.  How do we know and apply the Bible into our daily lives?  Is the Bible our sole authority for life and worship?  How many times do I hear the expression, “I think God would be happy with …”  Or, “I don’t think the Bible is against …” How can people make claims like this?  On what basis?  Our Confession says “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.”

Never can we carry something into our worship and life which cannot stand the test of the Word of God.

The fruit of man-made religion

The tribe of Dan had still been looking for a place to settle and in their journey to the north—a land they proclaimed to be God’s provision for them!— they came to the house of Micah and his private priest.  They offered the Levite promotion.

Come with us, and be our father and priest. Isn’t it better that you serve a tribe and clan in Israel as priest rather than just one man’s household?” (Judges 18:19, NIV)

He accepted and with his idols they carried him away.  Not only did they have a very unbiblical view of God, their worship was nothing short of an abomination in the eyes of God.

And Micah.  Well, they stole his god.  Listen:

You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have? (Judges 18:24, NIV)

After a 2011 decision allowing gay ordinations, 270 congregations left in 2012 and 2013. And church analysts estimate upwards of another 100 churches may leave as presbyteries vote on a proposal to rewrite the church’s constitution to refer to marriage as being between “two people” instead of the union of “a man and a woman.”

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, some 600 congregations left in 2010 and 2011 following the denomination’s 2009 decision allowing the ordination of pastors in same-sex relationships.

If it was the true God of heaven and earth the Danites worshipped, losing Him would be impossible.  Anyone who worships any god other than the Almighty stands to lose it—if not in this word, then in the one to come!

The Bible has a word to say about the clan of Dan:

There the Danites set up for themselves the idol, and Jonathan son of Gershom, the son of Moses, and his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the captivity of the land. (Judges 18:30, NIV)

They lived in Israel, but they were never of Israel!

Conclusion

My dear friends, this year we will celebrate the Reformation of 500 years ago when the Bible was rediscovered, which led to the light of the Scriptures to shine in all its facets, predominantly over the western world.  It changed the face of education, health care, care for the aged, financial systems, governments, and most importantly, it changed people’s lives for eternity.

What if we lose it again?  What if it once again gathers dust on shelves?  What if we end up having our own private religion.  As Paul writes:

“…the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3–4, NIV)

If a church lose the Bible, it loses Christ.  If if loses Christ, it has no King.  All others are dead, but long live King Jesus!

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 21 May 2017

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