Songs of Greatness is a sermon series on the greatness of God from the Psalms. Our God is in Heaven — Idols are created things people worship or serve in the place of their Creator God. Even today, idols are everywhere. But in the end, only the power of God is able to give us what we long for in Christ. Recorded on Aug 29, 2021, on Psalm 115, by Pastor David Parks.
All year, we’re focusing on The Greatness of God. And this summer, we’ve been working through a sermon series from the Psalms in the Bible called Songs of Greatness. And we’ve said that the psalms cover the whole range of human emotion/experience, but a number of the psalms are all about the greatness of God, which is why we included this with our annual theme. Today, as we approach the end of our series, we’re considering Psalm 115, which is a psalm that calls us to trust in the one true and living God, the God of history and the God of the Bible. To turn from idols or the created things that we tend to put in the place of God or substitute for God. And turn back to a God who created us, a God who is alive and actually has the power to bless us, to help us, and ultimately, to save us. Please open your Bible/app to Psalm 115, starting with v. 1. We’re going to read all the way through this psalm, and then we’ll work through this in three parts: 1. The Prevalence of Idols 2. The Promise of Idols 3. The Power of God.
Psalm 115, “Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. Why do the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. But their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. All you Israelites, trust in the Lord— he is their help and shield. House of Aaron, trust in the Lord— he is their help and shield. You who fear him, trust in the Lord— he is their help and shield. The Lord remembers us and will bless us: He will bless his people Israel, he will bless the house of Aaron, he will bless those who fear the Lord— small and great alike. May the Lord cause you to flourish, both you and your children. May you be blessed by the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to mankind. It is not the dead who praise the Lord, those who go down to the place of silence; it is we who extol the Lord, both now and forevermore. Praise the Lord.”
Ps 115 is one of the Hallel Psalms which I talked a lot about last week. If you missed that message, you can always go back and watch it on youtube or listen to the audio podcast online. Now, we aren’t given the context of the psalm directly, but given the theme of idolatry, it could pretty much apply to any time during the history of Israel. So let’s start back at v. 1 and work through this text. First, we’ll consider the prevalence of idols. v. 1.
The Prevalence of Idols: Psalm 115: 1-8, “Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. Why do the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. But their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” Let’s pause here. After an opening statement directing our worship to God, “to your name be the glory,” the psalmist asks the question in v. 2, “Why do the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’” So first, why would the nations be asking that question? Where is the God of Israel? Was there a time when God went missing? Now, perhaps Israel had just lost some great battle and the nations or people groups surrounding them were taunting them saying essentially, “Where is your God now?” But I don’t think that’s the context here. The reason is that the next section jumps right into talking about idols. So I think the context of the question, “Where is their God?” is made in reference to the unique way that the people of Israel worshipped their God, compared to the other nations. Israel was different. How so? Because all the other nations made images of their gods/goddesses, statues meant to show their likenesses and represent their power and were made of wood or stone or (as the psalmist mentions here) of silver and gold. These images or idols could be in a temple where people would gather and worship them as the gods of their city or nation. Or they could be kept at home where families would make offerings to them or say prayers to them as their household gods, the little protectors or providers of their households. This was a universal practice, this was the prevalence of idols. Throughout the bible, we see that all sorts of people worshipped like this. Basically, everyone was a polytheist, worshipping many gods/goddesses during this time.
But, again, Israel was different. Why? Why were they different? For two reasons, at least. First, because God had revealed himself in a unique way to Israel, as the only living God, not one of many. This is when monotheism entered history or the belief that there was only one God as opposed to a pantheon of gods. It was totally unique and was seen as unnecessarily narrow and closed-minded. But second, Israel was different because this one God gave Israel laws and commandments that governed their worship. And God strictly commanded them not to make these visible representations, these images or idols, for worship. Ex 20:4-5a, “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” This is the second of the Ten Commandments. So the God of the bible/Israel was not to be worshipped as one of many gods. Or even as the most powerful God among the gods. Rather, he was to be worshipped exclusively. And he was to be worshipped without these images/idols in the temple or at home. So when Israel worshipped, it would’ve looked to any foreign visitor as if God were missing. After all, where was the image/statue? Where was the visual representation of God? “Where is their God?” It turns out, that’s a great question, rooted in the prevalence of idols in their day. Everyone used these idols in their worship. Israel was the exception, not the norm.
But here’s the truth: the prevalence of idols continues today. Of course, there are still cultures that manufacture statues to pray to or to worship/serve. Sometimes in a temple, sometimes not. But it’s even more common than that, it’s more basic to the human heart than that. When you think about what an idol is, you start to realize that they’re everywhere. So what is an idol? Well, an idol is something we pray to or we worship or give our lives to serve as if it were God. Something or someone that we look to or give our lives to in order to find forgiveness/security/identity/hope. Now, it could be a statue, but it doesn’t have to be. The Apostle Paul described idolatry in Romans 1:25, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” Now Paul wasn’t just talking about the ancient nations surrounding ancient Israel. He was talking about people. And are we any different? Do we not have a continual draw to put our hope in created things rather than our Creator God? Do we not tend to put our hope in advancements in science and technology? Do we not tend to offer our lives in sacrifice for our jobs or our marriages or our kids or our comfort? Do we not tend to put our faith in our politics or our wealth to bring us security and stability? Our culture here in the Fox Valley is bursting with idols of our own making, little god-substitutes that we worship and serve and trust for our lives and our salvation. Idols are everywhere.
The Promise of Idols: Why did people make these images of their gods, these idols? What were they hoping to accomplish? What do we hope to get from our idols today? Well, I’ve already alluded to this, but we see a few examples of this in the second half of Psalm 115. Look back at v. 9. Psalm 115:9-18, “All you Israelites, trust in the Lord— he is their help and shield. House of Aaron, trust in the Lord— he is their help and shield. You who fear him, trust in the Lord— he is their help and shield. The Lord remembers us and will bless us: He will bless his people Israel, he will bless the house of Aaron, he will bless those who fear the Lord— small and great alike. May the Lord cause you to flourish, both you and your children. May you be blessed by the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to mankind. It is not the dead who praise the Lord, those who go down to the place of silence; it is we who extol the Lord, both now and forevermore. Praise the Lord.” Here, the psalmist describes a number of things that we get from God: help, security, blessing, flourishing, hope for our children, and ultimately, the hope of life after death. To extol or worship the Lord both now and forevermore. These are all good things. In fact, I believe the prevalence of idols is rooted in our universal need for these things. We long for hope. We long to find and enjoy a flourishing life. We long for life after death. So it makes sense that we would all try and find ways to get those things. And this is what the idols promise us. “Make an offering/sacrifice to me,” says the idol, “and I will give you what you long for.” But is this a promise an idol can make? To the question, “Where is their God?” from v. 2, the psalmist answers in v. 3. “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.” He’s not bound to a statue. His home isn’t the tabernacle or temple or even the world. The highest heaven, that is, the spiritual realm, is God’s space, just as the earth is our space. He isn’t bound to us or by us or by anything in creation. He is totally independent. He does whatever pleases him. Which, again is different than the idols of the nations. They are made to look like they are alive, formed with human features of faces, bodies, and hands. They look like they have the power to act. But they do not have the power to hear our prayers or respond to our needs or save anyone or anything. They are powerless/dead. Is it any different for the idols of our day? Can science and technology provide forgiveness and freedom from sin? Can our jobs or our marriages or our sexuality give us an identity that brings stability or hope for our future? Can any of these things that we offer our lives actually save us? And the answer is no. They too are lifeless, they too are powerless. Our careers won’t hear our prayers. Our bank accounts won’t respond to our greatest needs in love and faithfulness. These are created things, not the Creator God. The promise of idols is a false promise. The promise is that other things or people are able to substitute for God. But the psalmist says in v. 8, “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” The promise of idols leads to a life that is hopeless, powerless, and ultimately dead. So first, we saw the prevalence of idols. Second, we saw the promise of idols that falls so far short of all that we long for in life.
Finally, third: The Power of God. Psalm 115 compares the idols of our making, our little god-substitutes, to the one true and living God. Where is our God, you ask? He’s in heaven, the highest heavens are his! We have not made him, he has made us. He is not made in our image, we are made in his image. And here is where the wisdom of the Bible can have such a huge impact on our lives today. Why? Because if our God is alive and limitless in power and wisdom, then we can be confident that he will hear and respond to our needs and our prayers. His involvement in the world or in our lives isn’t wishful thinking, it’s perfectly rational. But if God is a god of our own creation, then why would he/she/it have any power to fully/finally help/guide/save us?
Your money/marriage/the approval of others won’t save you. Your career/accomplishments won’t save you. Your politics/social media content certainly won’t save you. Even your holiness/justice/works of ministry won’t save you. Now, none of these things are necessarily bad things. But they do not have the power to save, much less the power to give you abundant/eternal life. If you look to them, not just as good things but as god-things, if you put any of these things in the place of God, then you might as well bow down to a little statue of gold or silver that you made yourself. You might as well pray to a god of your own imagination. It’ll accomplish just as much. You see, the problem for many Christians is that we gather on Sunday and sing songs of praise to the one true and living God, but then we practically put our faith/trust into idols of our own making the rest of the week. Our God is a jealous God. He will not share his glory with another. But when we turn back to God. When we turn away from these god-substitutes and turn back to him, what happens? We find all of the things we long for. How do we know this to be true? Because nowhere do we see more clearly the love and the faithfulness of God to rescue, to forgive, to save and give life eternal and abundant than the cross of Jesus Christ. It was at the cross that God demonstrated his power and authority, his greatness and his goodness, to seek and to save the lost. Including those who have put their faith, hope, and life into created things rather than God. So today, do you see the prevalence of idols in the world? Do you see your heart’s tendency to run after created things in the place of God? But do you see the emptiness of what they promise? Put your faith/hope/love in the power of God. Made manifest in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is alive. He is active. And he is the one that can give you everything you long for in the gospel.