Opening Prayer: Almighty God, you know that we are no better than the children of Israel who were so quick to forget you. You know that left to ourselves we are quick to devise ways by which we think we can manipulate you. We justify our sin and make excuses. But we know that you are faithful to your promises, and therefore we bow before you and your word, and we ask that you would speak to us and heal us. Amen!
Where the first commandment focuses our attention on who we are to worship, the second commandment focuses on how we are to worship. As with the first commandment, we will take two weeks considering this law.
Negatives Always Imply Positives
One of the things that we need to recognize is that all of the negative prohibitions of the ten commandments have implied positive commands, and the two positive commands (forth and fifth commandments) have implied negative commands. We already assumed this when we considered the first commandment. One of the implications of this kind of hermeneutic is that ‘nature abhors a vacuum.’ This means natural, fallen man always reveals his heart when the law comes. When the law is received with faith as gospel grace, then the prohibition is received and the positive command comes naturally. When we see the emptiness of all other gods, we do not need to be told twice to worship the God who brought Israel out of Egypt, the Triune God who reveals himself to us in Jesus. The same is true of all the other commands, but this is something which doesn’t happen automatically, it happens by the grace of God and the working of his Spirit. This is why it is so important to teach this to our children early on. It is not enough merely to say no or yes; every no has an implied yes, and every yes has an implied no. This is teaching our children wisdom.
The Right Thing the Right Way
There is an old discussion in the history of the church regarding how worship ought to be conducted. The second commandment is particularly concerned with images, but it also establishes the principle that God does not leave worship up to our own imaginations. It is not good enough to identify the true God and then offer up whatever comes to your mind. Cain and Able is at least an example of this truth. And this also establishes the principle of ‘what and how’. Both of these aspects are important to God. It not only matters what you are doing but how you are doing it. In other words, it’s always possible to screw good things up in a fallen world. Sometimes we think there are only two options in life: doing the right thing or the wrong thing. But there are actually two more hidden options: doing the right thing the wrong way or doing the wrong thing meaning well. Ideally, we are aiming to do the right thing the right way. But this takes wisdom and patience. Another way to say all of this is that there are no automatic blessings in life. It is a great blessing to be shown the truth; but it is a great curse to take that truth and beginning walloping everyone around you over the head with it.
Worshipping God’s Way
The Second Commandment establishes that we must worship the True God in the way that is pleasing to Him. This has already been suggested previously where we insisted that having no other god’s before the living and true God means appearing before this God where and when he calls us. This principally occurs on the Lord’s Day when God’s people gather together to renew covenant. But the question naturally arises: how is the worship service to be conducted? It takes no more than a couple of minutes for even new Christians to recognize that not all churches worship the same way. At the same time, this should not be cause for apathy or consternation. The Reformers, following the early church before them, insisted that the marks of the church were centrally the word and sacrament (and often a particular application of the word being church discipline). This is derived from all of Scripture, but specifically can be found in the Great Commission. This commission is the marching orders of the church and includes the command to baptize (sacrament) and to teach (word). All of this means that we are not to devise our own methods for worship. Rather we are to do those things that God has asked us to do: pray, read and search the Scriptures, preach and hear the Scriptures declared, sing psalms, receive the sacraments, fasting, instructing our children, talk about the things of God, meditation, keeping our vows, and swearing lawfully.
Conclusions and Applications
At the center of Dt. 9 is a recounting of the golden calf incident (9:12-21). One of the important things to remember about this episode is that Aaron and Israel are primarily breaking the second commandment, worshiping the true God with an image (Ex. 32:4-6). But the focus of Moses’ sermon is on the hard hearts of the people. The point of this review of Israel’s sin is to teach Israel to trust and fear. You’ve blown it before and there’s no reason why you can’t blow it again apart from God’s kindness. There is a kind of introspection that is morbid and unbelieving because it does not believe in God’s forgiveness, but there is an equally dangerous way of glibly confessing sins that does not begin to fathom the horror of them. The fear of the Lord believes the promises of forgiveness and walks circumspectly, having learned wisdom and discernment.
Finally, notice that this is the one command that God ties to generations. We must not only teach our children who to worship; we must teach them how to worship. This is why children are welcome and encouraged to be here in our service. This presents its own sets of challenges: we want to avoid the stuffiness that gives cranky looks every time a youngster squawks on the one hand, and on the other, we want to be teaching our children to worship with us, not merely keep quiet, not merely sit still. This calls for a certain amount of love and grace be extended to one another. But when we teach our children to worship the true God in the right way, we are teaching them that they are Christians.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Almighty and most merciful God, you have blessed us beyond measure, and we know that eye has not seen and ear has not heard what you have planned for your people. We thank for the great privilege of worshipping you and that you are teaching us to do this rightly.