IDOLS OF THE HEART
Ezekiel chapter 14: 1-6
Message by: Pastor Alex Mutagubya, THE CITY CHURCH, Luzira Uganda
Did you know that on average a normal Christian churchgoer will hear at least 40 sermons a year? And that is if they only attend church on Sunday. Yet we will hear all that teaching and still many remain so unchanged. But the thing is that over the weeks and months and the years, we get so used to hearing these words and going through the motions. We learn to say the right words, do the right things and soon we learn how to listen to all the teaching. We learn to filter the sermons. We learn to go through the motions and yet in reality, a thorough examination of our lives, we still live the same way other people who have not heard the 40 and more sermons a year do. The problem is not with anything we do or do not do. The problem is at the heart. And until we deal with the problems of the heart, that which is going on in the inside of us and face it head on, we still remain in the routine without any progress in our lives.
Let me tell you about the man Ezekiel and the times he is prophesying in because at this time, Israel (which at this time is called JUDAH) is in great turmoil. Things have gone wrong. The nation had sunk down into a ditch of sin and wickedness that God has allowed their enemies, specifically the Babylonians to take them into captivity. In fact, a few years earlier, they had had a good king Josiah who tried to make some reforms in the kingdom, but they did not really get to the hearts of the people. When he died, here replaced by his son Jehoahaz, who the Pharaoh of Egypt took captive and replaced him with his brother Eliakim, and renamed him Jehoiakim. During Jehoiakim’s reign, there was so much wickedness that God raised up the Babylonians. And by the way… this was also the time when Prophet Jeremiah was prophesying against the wickedness of the Jewish people (Judah). So Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, came to attack Jehoikim and before he arrived the guy died under mysterious circumstance and his son, Jehoiachin, who was also called Coniah or Jeconiah replaced him.
Jeconiah ruled for only three months and Nebuchadnezzar came and took him captive along with other captives to Babylon. Among the captives he took with him was Ezekiel. At that time, Ezekiel was more of a priest than a prophet. But when he gets into captivity in Babylon, God begins to speak to him through visions and prophecies about his nation. And in the portion of scripture we are about to read, He is speaking to the Elders who actually represent the whole nation of Israel as spiritual heads. The scriptures say, Ezekiel 14:1
Now some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me.
These are respectable men of the nation. They come and sit before this new and uprising prophet and this speaks volumes because during this time, they have no bibles like we do. And so, people come and sit by the man of God who speaks to them the word of God.
It is kind of what we are doing here today. And this is a great audience. The people identified here rank very high in the religious hierarchy of the day. These are known leaders and dignitaries, and to have them come and sit down and listen is both exciting and intimidating but they are there. And perhaps Ezekiel is excited to have them listening or perhaps is intimidated by their much knowledge but at least they are there and they have come in to listen from God. But listen to God’s message about them.
2 And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 3 “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and put before them that which causes them to stumble into iniquity. Should I let Myself be inquired of at all by them?
God says to Ezekiel; they have come. They know right words. They do the right rituals and outwardly, it might be fine, but the problem is on the inside. They have set up their idols in their heads and put before them, that which causes them to stumble. And they are here to inquire of me? Why should I let them do that? Why should l listen to them? Outwardly, they look fine but inward, they are rotten. And doesn’t that happen to us? Don’t we also set up Idols in our hearts and worship them? God had given specific instructions to the Jewish nation that “you are not to have any Gods besides me.” And they said, well, we might just as well place them in out hearts. And this is really one of the big reasons they are in captivity: Worshiping foreign gods instead, they decided, let us place them, not physically, but mentally in our hearts. They decided to worship things other than God; the created more than the creator. They set up idols in their hearts.
What are idols? Anything we worship other than God. Anything we place in the place of God. Anything we value more than God. That is an idol. It might be physical, it might be mental but if we value it more than we value God it has become an idol. And just because you do not have a statue in your house does not mean you do not have an idol you are worshipping.
It can be your business. It might be your school (studies). How often have we heard students say, “I can not serve, I have school.” And that becomes an excuse for really not participating in growing their relationship with God. For some of us men, it is our Cars. For women, it is the Children. I mean the list can go on and on. What is your Idol? Here are four measures to identify an idol in your life. Look out for these for Cs.
- Calendar (Eph 5:16) If I look at your calendar, then I know what you value. You make time for what you value. How do people spend their time and where do they spend most of their time?
- Checkbook (Luke 12:34) Show me how you spend your money
- Conversation (Matt 12:34) Tell me what you are talking about then I will know what you value.
- Contemplation (Prov 23:7) What is pre-occupying your thoughts?
So, God continues to speak to Ezekiel and says, Ezek 14: 4-6
4 “Therefore speak to them, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Everyone of the house of Israel who sets up his idols in his heart, and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity, and then comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him who comes, according to the multitude of his idols, 5 that I may seize the house of Israel by their heart, because they are all estranged from Me by their idols.” ’
6 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Repent, turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations.
This is the message I have for them that they have two choices. I can come and seize them or they can change. And this is the mercy and grace of God. And this is what 1 John 1:9 says, that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgives us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Yes he does. And What God outlines for Ezekiel here is a three step change process. The NIV puts it even more clearly for us. Listen to what it says in verse 6 again.
6 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!
The 3 steps are
- You Repent: In this case repentance in this passage is specifically referring to confession of sin. Acknowledging what is going on in your heart and saying it loudly with a brokenness to God.
- You turn away: Walk away from that which was taking you away.
- You renounce: In otherwords, you do not just confess and walk away, you do not even look back.
So, what is your Idol? I know some of my idols. Do you? Let us Identify and deal with the idols set up in our hearts and then when we come to inquire of the Lord, it stems out of a heart that is tender and broken before our God. Let us repent, turn away and renounce and take the first step of confession.