False Religion

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In our series of studies entitled After Solomon we are studying 1 Kings. This morning we come to chapter 12 and verses 25-33; and we have here one of those Old Testament passages that is a great warning for us today. It warns by the bad example of Jeroboam about the danger of idolatry. And my three headings are: first, FALSE RELIGION; secondly, ITS CAUSES; and, thirdly, ITS CONSEQUENCES.


First, FALSE RELIGION

Look at verse 25:

"Then Jeroboam fortified Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and lived there. From there he went out and built up Peniel."

What is Jeroboam doing? Well, let me just outline the story so far. King David through whose descendant, Jesus Christ, God had planned to sort out the mess in the world caused by human sin - King David was followed by his son Solomon. Solomon started well, but then grew terribly decadent both sexually and in terms of his religious faith. Verse 6 of 1 Kings 11 says: "Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done."

There were then problems when Solomon died and he was succeeded by his son Rehoboam. Let me explain. The kingdom Rehoboam inherited had two parts - a Northern part which was called Israel and a Southern part which was called Judah. It was a bit like Scotland and England - both part of one kingdom but two entities. And Rehoboam had to be acclaimed king separately by the northern tribes in Israel in the north before his accession was complete. But when he went for his northern coronation ceremonies, the northern tribes were not happy. They said, verse 4 of chapter 12: "Your father [Solomon] put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labour and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you."

However, following the advice of his young advisers, Rehoboam refused their request. Rather, he threatened to make things worse. So the Israelites (the northern tribes) rebelled and sent for their leader, Jeroboam, and, verse 20 of chapter 12 ...

"... called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David."

There were now two kings - one in the north and one in the south. So all that is the context for verse 25:

"Then Jeroboam fortified Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim [in the north] and lived there. From there he went out and built up Peniel."

You see, he was simply seeking to establish this northern kingdom by strengthening the two key cities of Shechem and Peniel. And that was fine. But - and this is a big "but" - Jeroboam didn't limit himself to a political separation with Judah. He also wanted a separation from the religion of the people of Judah and to abandon some of the fundamentals of the faith. Instead of seeking religious reformation in Judah so it was more faithful to God's word, Jeroboam was being even more unfaithful himself to God's word. Look at verses 28-30:

"After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, 'It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.' One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there."

Jeroboam was introducing idolatry. Yet this was, and is, the religious sin. It is substituting another God for the one true God. It is to break the first and second of the Ten Commandments. God says (Exodus 20.3-5):

"You shall have no other gods before me. 'You shall not make for yourself an idol 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.'"

Romans 1 in the New Testament equally denounces idolatry. Romans 1.25 tells you how people ...

" ... exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator."

People have always been doing that. That is the essence of idolatry - exchanging the truth of God for a lie. Today they are doing that more and more. There are more and more new religions together with more of that old desire for syncretism. Syncretism is where you assimilate one religion into another - so both are changed. This is what Jeroboam was doing. He had been an official under Solomon and had to flee for his safety to Egypt. And it looks as though he's absorbed some Egyptian ideas and idols.

In one recent handbook of religions and cults there are details of 99 contemporary religions and cults that come our way today in the West. You say, "How do people accept all these, when some are so irrational?" Take astrology which is to make idols of the stars. People believe the stars have divine or supernatural force. Such is the power of that idolatry that Nancy Reagan, President Reagan's wife, consulted an astrologer with a view to influencing her husband's political decisions. At that time one in five adult Americans believed in astrology, according to George Gallup. Apparently there are as many astrologers as there are clergy in the Roman Catholic Church. But, as I understand it, all astrology is based on a pre-Copernican view of the universe. That is to say, it is based on the belief that the sun goes round the earth and not vice versa. Hence the statement not so long ago by 186 distinguished scientists denouncing astrology. Yet you still see horoscopes in papers and magazines. Yes, the Bible makes it clear that all idols are nothing in themselves and so foolish. But, nevertheless, they are the tools of the devil (1 Cor 10.20). Idols enslave people who do stupid things as a result of their false beliefs. Isaiah 44.20 says, "a deluded heart misleads" the idol worshipper. So someone reads a horoscope and then foolishly uses it to make decisions that could have serious negative consequences. I've heard of multimillion pound business projects held up because of fortune tellers! The bible says these things are very wrong. We certainly need to be warned.

Now, this uncritical openness in the West to false religion in such a big way goes back to the 1960s. That was when the Beatles were saying that Transcendental Meditation was the answer to life's problems. They were basically selling Hinduism to the West - a religion that in many forms is overtly idolatrous. I never forget being driven on a motor-way in Delhi and there was a cow in the road, lying down, chewing the cud in the outside lane, and no-one bothered. As one swami said: "Since the cow is a god, the cow is holy." Hinduism can absorb so many deities. That is why Hinduism is the religion for tolerant post-modern people where nothing is wrong and all is right. Certainly today there is now an expectation that you welcome any and every false religion - from Satanism, which is now provided for in the Royal Navy, to paganism which is provided for in our prisons, to more mainstream religions - irrespective of what they teach or the character and actions of their founders and leaders. But Article XVIII of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England is crystal clear. It is entitled Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ. I quote the original which, by law, is part of the establishment of the Church of England in this country:

"They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, that every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that law and the light of Nature. For holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved."

There is false religion today. There was false religion at the time of the Reformation when those articles were written. There was false religion in New Testament times. And Jeroboam was starting a dreadful tradition of false religion in ancient Israel.


Secondly, ITS CAUSES

But why? What is the cause of false religion? Ultimately it is a mixture, no doubt, of the temptations of the devil and the desires of the sinful human heart. However, there are often some clear presenting factors. Let me give you five.

First, there is the decadence of the contemporary culture. For Jeroboam it was the decadence of Solomon - both his sexual decadence and his idolatry. For the Buddha it was the greed of the rich. For Mohammed there was idolatry and heretical Christianity. For Ghandi it was a range of injustices. For many of the new cults it is the meaninglessness of materialism.

Secondly, there is the giftedness of many of the religious leaders. They are not all deluded fanatics. Jeroboam was a brilliant man. 1 Kings chapter 11.28 tells us: "Jeroboam was a man of standing, and when Solomon saw how well the young man did his work, he put him in charge of the whole labour force of the house of Joseph."

Ghandi was brilliant. So was Mohammed. He was a brilliant soldier and an able businessman. Even men like the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and others in some of the cults are very able. That is why these movements are, humanly, so successful. Shirley MacLaine, the New Age guru, is a brilliant woman - at any rate, she is a brilliant actress.

Thirdly, there is a fundamental lack of trust in the true and living God as a good and loving God who wants the best for his people. That certainly was so for Jeroboam. Look at verses 26 and 27:
"Jeroboam thought to himself, 'The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.'"
But Jeroboam had already been told by Ahijah the prophet before he escaped to Egypt that God was going to give him, Jeroboam, the northern kingdom. That was because of the sin of Solomon. Look back to 1 Kings 11.37-38. God said, through the prophet, to Jeroboam:

"You will be king over Israel. If you do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you."

But Jeroboam didn't trust that promise. He thought that if his people made regular visits to the temple in Jerusalem they would start to support king Rehoboam of Judah. So he set up two alternative shrines with two new idols in his own northern kingdom - in places other than Jerusalem.

Who this morning is like Jeroboam? There is something God has clearly shown you is his will or plan in some area of your life. But you can't believe that God will see you through. So out of fear you are cutting moral corners and doing something wrong. Well, be warned by Jeroboam.

Fourthly, there is dishonesty. Jeroboam was dishonest. He told his people that the reason for setting up these new shrines or cult centres at Bethel and Dan was for their convenience. Look at chapter 12 verse 28:

"It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem."

But the truth was, as we have just seen, he didn't want them to go up to Jerusalem and become enthusiastic for Rehoboam. It is the same in some religions and cults. There can be the "holy lie" and certainly dishonesty. As Dale Ralph Davis reminds us: "The Mormons won't approach you averring that Jesus was born from sexual relations between God and Mary, that Jesus is Lucifer's spirit brother, or that Jesus himself celebrated this own marriage to both Marys and to Martha. No, they will ... urge fathers to spend requisite time with their families."

Fifthly, there is the perverting of religion for political purposes. The account here suggests Jeroboam's own motivation was selfishly political - he wanted political success and safety and he would use religion to get it. Undoubtedly that was true of Emperor Worship in New Testament times. It was also true of Hitler and his so called "German Christians". Well, ...


Finally, what are ITS CONSEQUENCES - the consequences of false religion. Let me mention just three.

First, there can be the growth of a false religion. Look at verses 31-33:

"Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites. He instituted a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the festival held in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. This he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made. And at Bethel he also installed priests at the high places he had made. On the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a month of his own choosing, he offered sacrifices on the altar he had built at Bethel. So he instituted the festival for the Israelites and went up to the altar to make offerings."

False religions can grow. Yes, God wants the growth of his church. But, remember, cancers grow as well as healthy bodies.

Secondly, this new false religion was self evidently foolish - as is so much false religion. Our writer underlines its folly by stressing that it was all Jeroboam's doing, not the work of the true and living God. Look at verse 31: "Jeroboam ... appointed priests;" verse 32 "he instituted a festival" and "he offered sacrifices on the altar ... to the calves he had made ... and ... at the high places he had made." And verse 33 has that telling phrase: "on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a month of his own choosing, he offered sacrifices."

And, thirdly, this false religion of Jeroboam ended in disaster. 200 years later the Northern Kingdom with its capital Samaria was conquered by the ruthless Assyrians in 721. Its inhabitants were exiled to distant parts of Assyria and new settlers brought in to fill their place - hence the hostility between the Jews (the people of "Judah" and the Samaritans in New Testament times. And all this we are told in 2 Kings 17.21 was because "the Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam." If we are to take this warning from the Old Testament seriously, why should we believe that Britain and Europe is exempt from God's judgment, if there is no repentance. For certainly in Britain today in the media, in the therapeutic services, in education and in Government there is often open hostility to the God of the Bible and his standards and values and there is the blasphemy of Jesus. But at the same time there is a reverential promotion of other religions, philosophies and cults.

So in conclusion what are we to do. The Bible is clear.

First, negatively, as John says in 1 John 5.20-21 when speaking of Christ:

"He is the true God and eternal life. [And it goes on with the very last words of his whole epistle] Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

And intelligent people need that message today. Intelligent people can be idolaters. Also, negatively, no believer in the true God is to stand in judgment on others. Romans 1 on idolatry is followed by Romans 2 on hypocrisy where believers in the true God fail to obey the true God. And that is followed by Romans 3 on the fact that we all are sinners and all are in need of God's grace and Christ's forgiveness.

But secondly, and positively, while the Christian is to hate the sin of false religion, the Christian is to love the sinner. And this love is shown by caring enough to tell others about God's love for us in Jesus and about his Jesus' resurrection. This is what Paul did when with the sophisticated Athenians who nevertheless still like their idols. He challenged them about the judgment of God (when people will be called to account one day when Christ returns) for rejecting the true and living God. But now, he said, is the time for change and repentance - Acts 17. 29-31:

"We should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone - an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."

Jesus alone was God come in the flesh. Jesus alone rose from the dead and is alive forevermore - so proving the truth of his claims. How the world needs to know that. How our friends who believe in other religions need to know that, as do our friends who believe in very little. Who this morning, in this building, needs to know that? If so, remember also that Christ died for your sins, including the sin of ignoring Christ. God promises you forgiveness if you trust him. So don't be like Jeroboam who refused to trust in God. But in faith, however daunting it may seem, turn to Christ, admit your sin and say "thank you". And then pray for the strength of the Holy Spirit so that you can live for Jesus Christ, and for him alone.

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