Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017
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“But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.”Jeremiah 10:10
Q5. Are there more Gods than One?
A. There is but ONE ONLY, the living and true God.11 Dt 6:4; Jer 10:10.
Our text is the beautiful words of the prophet Jeremiah in chapter 10, verse 10:
“But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king….”
This verse, or at least the first part, is the primary proof of the 5th question of our Shorter Catechism: “Are there more Gods than One?” Answer: “There is but one only, the living and true God.”
This is a simple but profound idea. Let’s explore it by studying its proof text.
This verse lends itself naturally to a threefold description of who the Lord Jehovah is: (1) He is the true God; (2) He is the living God; and (3) He is an everlasting King. Let’s look at these three descriptions with emphasis on the first two.
1. Jehovah Is the True God
Today some people claim that there is no God. They call themselves atheists. But there are no absolute atheists in the world. The Bible says: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Ps 14:1). But there is a difference between saying that there is no God and sincerely believing that there is no God. The apostle Paul suggests that those who claim there is no God are holding down the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:8). They are trying to suppress the truth from their consciousness.
Until the middle of the 19th century, when the theory of evolution became popular, man generally had not been very successful in doing so. In fact, man tended to think that there were many gods rather than no god.
At the time of Jeremiah in the 6th century BC, the civilisations of the world were either polytheistic or henotheistic. A polytheist believes that there are many gods. Abraham’s father, Terah, was a polytheist, for we are told he served other gods beyond the river (Jos 24:2). Egypt was polytheistic. At the first Passover, the Lord announced to the people: “against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD” (Ex 12:12).
Archaeologists tell us that there was a whole pantheon of gods in Egypt. There was a sun god, a sky god, an earth god, a river god; a crocodile god; a beetle god, etc., etc.
On the other hand, the Canaanites may be better described as henotheistic. A henotheist believes that each locality has its own gods. These gods would fight whenever the people went to war against each other. It was thought that the people that won the battle had the greater god. The fact that many of the Canaanites had their local gods is indicated by the names of the various so-called gods listed in the Old Testament. For example, Baal-peor or Baal of Peor (Num 25:3); Baal-gad (Jos 11:17); Baal-hermon (Jgs 3:3), etc. But in addition to these gods of the lands, most Canaanites also worshipped a fertility god, a god of death, and also a personal or family god.
The Jews were to be neither henotheistic nor polytheistic. They were to be monotheistic. When God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, He called Him essentially to worship Him alone.
When God led the Israelites out of Egypt, He made it clear to them that He alone would be their God: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:3), He says. But sadly, many Jews from the time of Jacob until Jeremiah thought it wise to import other so-called gods into their religious life. Perhaps they thought that Jehovah was too general a God! They wanted some specialist gods.
But can all these pagan gods be true gods alongside Jehovah? Can it be that when He says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” he means that there are other gods, but the Jews may not worship them alongside Him? No, no; how can it be? The Jews were taught from childhood that there is only one God! One of the most ancient creeds of the Jewish people reads:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”Dt 6:4-5
If there is only one God, then obviously, there is only one true God, and every other so-called “god” are false. This true God, or the God of truth, is the Jehovah whom faithful Jews and true Christians worship. This is the God whom Jeremiah proclaims.
More than 200 years before Jeremiah was born, a remarkable contest took place at Mount Carmel. God would prove himself through it to be the only true God. This event is recorded in 1 Kings 18. At that time, King Ahab was on the throne of the Northern Kingdom. Ahab had married Jezebel, one of the most wicked women in the history of mankind. Jezebel was an idol-worshipper from Sidon. She hated Jehovah and sought to banish His worship from Israel. At one point in her reign of terror, only 7,000 in the Northern Kingdom would not bow their knees to Baal, the god of Jezebel. These had to hide in caves to avoid execution.
Now, because of Ahab and Jezebel’s wickedness, God heard the prayer of Elijah, the prophet and withheld rain from Israel for three years. The king and his queen were unrepentant despite the punishing drought.
One day, at the end of the three and a half years, Elijah met Ahab and instructed him to gather 450 of the prophets of Baal to meet him at Mount Carmel. There would be a contest between Jehovah, represented by his lone prophet Elijah, and Baal, represented by 450 of his best ministers. The plan was for each party to cut up a bullock and lay it upon an altar in Mount Carmel. But they were not to set fire to it. They would call to their respective deity to receive their sacrifice. The God who answers by consuming the sacrifice by fire would prove himself to be the true God. It was that simple.
The people gathered on the mountain very early on the day of the contest. Then the prophets of Baal chose a bullock, cut it up, laid it upon the altar and began to call upon their god. By noon, there was still no answer. The prophets of Baal were getting impatient; they began leaping upon their altar.
“Cry aloud,” said Elijah, “for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he [is sleeping], and must be [awaken]” (1 Kgs 18:27). The prophets of Baal grew frantic: they cried out aloud, and even cut themselves with knives and spears, till the blood gushed out upon them. Perhaps, they thought their god would be moved to act for them. By mid-day, the prophets must have been frenetic. But still, there was no answer. By evening, it became clear that there would not be any answer.
There was an ancient altar of Jehovah there on the mount that was no longer in use. Elijah repaired it, dug a trench around it, and then put wood and the bullock upon the altar. He even instructed the people to drench the sacrifice and the wood and the altar with twelve barrels of water. There was so much water that the trench was filled.
Then at the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah cried out to the LORD:
“Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again” (1 Kgs 18:37).
Immediately, fire came down from heaven and consumed everything: the bullock, the wood, the stone, the water. The people were stunned. They fell upon their faces and cried, “[Jehovah], he is the God, [Jehovah], he is the God” (v. 39).
That was some 200 years before Jeremiah. The people had forgotten that dramatic demonstration of God’s power on Mount Carmel, not to mention the incredible display of His power when He redeemed the people from Egypt. Those things had become mere folk tales to many people. They had begun once again to worship idols and gods of their imagination. They had to be reminded again: “Jehovah is the only true God.”
Two and a half millennia have passed since Jeremiah prophesied. We are in the 21st century. Is the fact that Jehovah alone is true still relevant? Of course, it is! It is relevant not only because it is the ultimate truth. It is also relevant because he who does not believe it is in danger of eternal death. This is implied by what the Lord Jesus says concerning eternal life:
“This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (Jn 17:3).
Eternal life is not just life that never ends. If it is just that, it would be most miserable indeed. No, eternal life is knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom He sent. Eternal life is union with Christ and communion with the true God. If we do not know who is the true God, we have no eternal life.
We are gathered for Christian worship, so I suspect that very few of us would deny Jehovah is the true God, and I doubt anyone of us is polytheistic. But we must be reminded of this vital truth because, like it or not, it is under attack even by those who claim to be Christians.
It is attacked in three significant ways: (1) Pluralism; (2) Materialism; and (3) I-dolatry.
Pluralism is the notion that all religion leads to the same God. It appeals to the natural man and to professing Christians who think God is love and nothing else. But the Word of God does not allow for such a view. Jeremiah does not say God is “a true God” but “the true God.” In saying that Jehovah is the true God, he implies that the gods of all other religions are false gods. Thus, the Lord Jesus says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn 14:6). Pluralism is a demonic lie.
But secondly, the verity that there is only one true God is also under attack by materialism. I have often been asked, whenever I go overseas, what the national religion in Singapore is. What is the national religion in Singapore? It is not Buddhism. It is not Taoism. It is not Islam. It is not Hinduism. It is certainly not Christianity. What is the national religion in Singapore? It is, no doubt, materialism, and the chief god is mammon. But the Lord Jesus says:
“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:24).
Now, the third way in which the doctrine that there is only one true God is under attack is by I-dolatry. I-dolatry is the religion of self-worship. It is the religion of those who live selfishly without thinking about their creator. Does not our generation fit like a glove to the apostle Paul’s poignant warning that in the last days, perilous times shall come when men and women shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, despisers of those that are good, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God (2 Tim 3:1-5)?
My question to you, dearly beloved brethren and friends, is: Do you know the true God? And if you know Him, are you worshipping Him alone? Or are you like the Israelites, seeking to worship Him, but somehow also serving other gods? Are you entertaining Pluralism? Are you materialistic? Are you I-dolatrous?
Remember: It is not enough to be worshipping the true God. You must worship Him alone. “How long halt ye between two opinions?” asked Elijah at Mt Carmel: “if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kgs 18:21).
Serve mammon, or self, or any other gods of the world, whether exclusively or alongside Jehovah, and you are ensuring your own destruction. But serve Jehovah exclusively, and you have hope of eternal life, for Jehovah is not only the true God but the living God who is powerful to save.
2. Jehovah Is the Living God
Jeremiah says: “the LORD is the true God, he is the living God.” In calling Jehovah the living God, Jeremiah implies that all other so-called gods are dead. The deadness of these so-called gods is illustrated by Jeremiah in the context of Jeremiah 10:10:
“For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. 4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. 5 They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good” (Jer 10:3-5).
What a contrast to the Living God who made the heavens and the earth. Verse 12: “He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion.” Idols are false gods created by men in the figment of their imagination. Jehovah, the living God, on the other hand, is the creator of all things.
But let’s ask a practical question: Why are idolaters so foolish as to worship dumb idols? Do they not know these idols cannot see, hear, move, or help themselves, not to mention, help their worshipper? Do they not know that it is foolish to bow down to a dumb idol and to pray to it as if it can actually come to life and do something in answer to prayer?
I grew up in an idolatrous home. As a child, I even had a favourite idol. I liked it because it was the least complicated and did not have a fierce countenance. I remember one day, at the tender age of six or seven, standing before my favourite idol in my aunt’s home. I was told it is a god who can answer prayers, so I figured it must be alive. I thought that if I stared at it long enough, I would catch sight of it twitching or perhaps winking an eye. I was disappointed. I stared and stared, but it refused to move in the slightest. I never saw the idol move: not then, not in the weeks and months that followed when I would keep checking to see if it had somehow moved without my noticing.
I was a child then, but are adults capable of such foolishness? You’ll be surprised, but if you ever talk to idolaters, you will know that many actually believe that their idols are somehow alive. Few think they can stretch their hands, but many insist they can smile, shed tears, or drink milk. Why such folly? The Scripture has an answer. It teaches us that because of sin, men’s heart and understanding is darkened. Paul puts it this way:
“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”Rom 1:21; cf. Eph 4:18
This surely explains why so many are unthinkingly still praying to idols in this modern society. But we must realise that not every idolater thinks that the idol is really his god. Some, especially among the more educated, are more enlightened. If you ask them: “Why do you pray to the idols when they cannot move?” They will tell you, “We are not really praying to the idol. The idol is just an image to represent an invisible god. We are worshipping the spirit that the idol represents.”
This is essentially the way that most Roman Catholics see it. They would say that they are praying not to their image but to Mary or the saint it represents. So then, there is a sense in which some idolaters, at least, think that they are worshipping unseen living spirits.
The apostle Paul, you must realise, is aware of this fact. We know this because he tells us that idols are nothing, but when the Gentiles sacrifice to idols, they are sacrificing to devils (1 Cor 10:20). Of course, the Gentiles do not think that the spirits, whether of the idol or of a tree or otherwise are demons. But the fact is: They think that they are worshipping living spirits.
But the question is: Are they right to think that these spirits are gods? Are they really worshipping living gods? The answer is obvious. The Scripture teaches us that all demons or evil spirits are limited in power and presence. Yes, the demons would, no doubt, be around whenever pagan worship and sacrifices are offered. They would, no doubt, love to receive the praises of man. And indeed, they would derive some temporary satisfaction from seeing God mocked.
But can these evil spirits be indeed called gods? No, not at all! They are powerless to answer any prayers. They are powerless to forgive sin. Only the true God can forgive sins because sin is lawlessness, and the true God is the giver of the law. Evil spirits are created beings. They are powerless even to protect the idols that deluded men use to worship them, not to mention, protect the idolaters.
A couple of incidents in the history of God’s people well illustrate this point. The first happened at the time of Gideon (Jdgs 6). The Lord instructed Gideon to cut down the grove and altar of Baal, which his father was the custodian of. A grove is a kind of totem pole representing Baal, the Canaanite god. Gideon was to use the wood of the grove to offer a sacrifice to the LORD.
Well, the next day, when the people discovered what was done, they were furious and wanted to kill Gideon. But his father, an idolater, had some words of wisdom that diffused the murderous crowd. He said:
“Will ye plead for Baal? will ye save him? he that will plead for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning: if he be a god, let him plead [or content] for himself, because one hath cast down his altar” (Jdgs 6:31).
This is why Gideon was also known as Jerubaal, which means “Let Baal content.” But Baal was obviously powerless, for Gideon lived to become a mighty judge of the people.
Another incident that demonstrates the impotence of pagan gods and idols occurs at the end of the time of the judges. Remember how the Philistines captured the ark of Jehovah when the sons of Eli superstitiously took it out to war, thinking that in that way, they could bring God to the battle to fight for them? The Philistines captured it, took it to Ashdod, and put it in the temple of Dagon, their idol (1 Sam 5). They thought Dagon had gained victory over Jehovah, and so they decided to put the ark at the feet of Dagon. Perhaps they thought that the ark was the idol of Jehovah because the sons of Eli had brought it out into the battlefield in the way that the pagans did.
The next day, they discovered that Dagon was fallen on its face upon the earth before the ark of Jehovah. It looked like it was bowing in submission to the creator of the heavens and the earth! The Philistines put their beloved idol up again. But the next day, Dagon was again lying on its face, this time with its head and hands cut off! This is very symbolic, you must realise. It symbolised how helpless and impotent Dagon really was. Even if the people thought they were worshipping a spirit, the spirit could not even care for his own image. How could he help the people at all?
Jehovah is different. He is the living God. Time and again in history, He has distinguished himself from dead idols and false gods of human creation. He has done so not only in the two events we just looked at. He did so repeatedly when he displayed his extraordinary power through miracles and wonders. He did so by answering the prayers of his children in remarkable ways. He did so by speaking to His people (cf. Dt 5:26), not just His commandments, but what would happen in future. He did so by giving victories to His people when He fought against the enemies, even when they were grossly outnumbered (Josh 3:10).
Most importantly, He shows he is the living God by sending the Lord Jesus Christ to dwell among men, to live and die on behalf of His people, and then raising Him from the dead again.
Dearly beloved and friends, what does the fact that Jehovah is a living God mean to you?
You who are the children of Jehovah may take comfort that you serve the living God.
- Doubt not that He hears your prayers and that He can do exceeding abundantly above all that you ask or think (Eph 3:20).
- Doubt not that He can deliver you from the most challenging trials in your life. He delivered Daniel from the lion’s jaws. King Darius was so impressed he made a decree that “in every dominion of [his] kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God [he declares]” (Dan 6:26).
- Doubt not that all your needs will be provided for and trust not in uncertain riches, for you serve a “living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (1Tm 6:17).
- Doubt not that He will bless you forever, for you are children of the living God (Rom 9:26). If Christ the Son of the living God (Jn 6:69) died for you, what will God withhold from you?
- Doubt not that God loves you, for the Spirit of the living God indwells you (2 Cor 3:3).
- Doubt not that He will guide you and instruct you into all truth, for the church militant is the “church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth”(1 Tim 3:15).
- Doubt not that all things work together for good for you if you love Him, for the living God who keeps Israel neither slumber nor sleeps (Ps 121:4).
But if you are still living in unbelief, you must pause to consider your life in the light of the knowledge that there is a living God.
- Consider that as long as you remain in unbelief, you are an enemy of the living God.
- Consider that “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31). We ought never to fear offending the false gods of human imagination, for they are powerless, but we ought to fear the living God who can cast us into hell. “At his wrath,” says Jeremiah, “the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.”
- Will you not, therefore, turn from the “vanities [of false gods] unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein” (Acts 14:15)?
Remember that Jehovah is not only the true God but also the living God. And not only is He living and true, but He is also an everlasting king.
3. He Is an Everlasting King
Without going into a lot of details, let us understand that Jeremiah is simply saying that God Jehovah is a sovereign God. That is to say: He is in absolute control over everything.
All other so-called gods are non-existent or are powerless to do anything without His permission. Demons exist. They pretend to be gods. People worship them. But they do not have control over the universe like Jehovah. They can only do what He has ordained for them to do. They cannot perform miracles. They are bounded by the laws of nature.
Only Jehovah, the Living and True God, the everlasting king, is not bounded by the laws of nature because He is the creator. For this reason, prayer to Jehovah is not meaningless.
For this reason, it is not an option whether to worship Him or not. Because He is the everlasting king over all creation, one day, all His rational creatures will have to give an account to Him. Oh, what a dreadful day it will be for those who refuse to acknowledge Him. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).
But now is the day of salvation. Christ is still calling sinners to come unto Him so they may be reconciled to God. He is the only way to enjoy fellowship with the living and true God, the everlasting king!
“But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.”
All who truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ need have no fear about the wrath to come. Instead, they have a peace that the world does not know or understand. They have peace, love and hope in their heart that circumstances cannot change and the world cannot take away.
But conversely, those who know Him not shall one day cringe in terror as they call unto the mountains and rocks to fall on them to hide them from the face of Him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb (Rev 6:16-17).
The lamb slain is still waiting patiently for His sheep to come in. His longsuffering is drawing to an end. But today, He is meekly and earnestly calling sinners unto himself. Will you not come while there is yet time? Will you not come through the Lord Jesus Christ to know and serve the one only, living and true God? Amen.