Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
July 20, 2014
Dear Friends in Christ,
Many of you have probably visited or are at least familiar with the “Build-A-Bear Workshop.”The first one got started at the Galleria Shopping Center in St. Louis. Today there are over 400 workshops mostly in shopping malls in 46 states. If you have never gone to a workshop with squirming young people on a sugar high from birthday cake and Mountain Dew, let me tell you the rules. First, you get to choose from over 30 different bear models. Then you take your bear and stuff it, stitch it, fluff it, dress it, accessorize it, and name it. You then have your “berry own bear!” And to prove it, you receive a customized birth certificate. It is your creation. Ta da!
Israel in Babylonian captivity wasn’t building bears; they were building gods. That’s why the Lord reminds them in the first verse of our text that there is only one God. God says to stop building others gods because . . . .
“I AM THE FIRST AND THE LAST”
There is no god besides this God! He is the solid Rock (v. 8). But because of their idolatry, the exiles were slow to believe these claims. Why? They were spending time in Babylonian build-a-god workshops. Isaiah describes the tools of the trade later in this chapter. They were building gods as idols to be worshipped. They would burn half of it to roast meat and be satisfied. The other half would be bowed down to and prayed to so that they would be delivered.
The prophet tells the names of these Babylonian gods, “Bel” and “Nebo” (46:1). Bel is the tile of the god Marduk. He was allegedly the “King of the Universe.” Nebo was the son of Marduk and, as the god of writing and wisdom, was keeper of the Tablets of Destiny. Babylonians believed Nebo gave them knowledge and understanding.
Just as Israel was slow to trust their God, we find ourselves at times in a similar predicament. We delight in, shall we say “creative craftsmanship.” We conceive it in our minds. We build it with our hands. We choose how it looks. We personalize it with our preferences. It’s just what we want in a god. This god likes what I like and hates what I hate. This god shares my opinions and increases my standard of living and happiness. This god gives me what I want and stays out of the way the rest of the time. Luther states in his Large Catechism, “Whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.” (LC I 3)
What are some the idols we are building? Careers, houses, investments, children, government, friends, abilities.
In Isaiah 46:1 the word “idols” is actually translated to mean “pain.” The same Hebrew word is used to denote the pain of Eve in childbirth and Adam’s pain in working the ground. Idols bring the same misery, heartache, and pain experienced by our first parents.
Another Hebrew word that Isaiah uses for idols can mean “nothing.” Isaiah maintains that those who follow idols believe in nothing of substance, care for nothing that matters, seek to know nothing of importance, find purpose in nothing that lasts, live for nothing that endures, and remain alive because when it comes to something to die for there is absolutely nothing!
Why do idols have such power? They have such magnetizing power to imprison us of our God-given humanity because Satan is the spiritual reality behind every addiction, every compulsion, and every obsession. It is no wonder then that David writes in Psalm 16:4, “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply.”
So what is the answer?
In the context of this massive idolatry, we have a Word from God. Isaiah 44:6: “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.’”
All of these titles are embodied in Jesus. He is our Lord and the King of Israel. In the weakness of the cross the Church likewise asserts that Jesus is the “King of the Jews” (Matt. 27:37). There he is enthroned, bleeding, and dying for all humanity. His kingdom is truly not of this world. Jesus is Redeemer because he has come to give his life as a ransom for many.
Jesus is the Lord of hosts because he has great power. He is the ultimate Warrior who defeats every enemy of his Church. The Lord is also “the First and the Last.” Monotheism could not be stated with any more clarity. This title is given to Jesus throughout the Book of Revelation as a testimony that he is God in the flesh.
Because he bled and died in our place, Jesus demonstrates that he alone is able to heal our hurts, forgive our filth, and defeat our death. No wonder the Bible says that idols are nothing and chaos, and only compound our pain because a cross-less god is no god at all. A god who doesn’t suffer, a god who knows no agony, a god who doesn’t die – this is a god without grace, a god who cannot deliver, and a god who offers no hope and no future.
But this is not Jesus. He is crucified, but risen indeed. So it is time to turn in our tools, stop building substitutes, throw away the idols, and never, ever again do business at a build-a-god workshop.