While driving my kids to school in the morning, we will sometimes talk about the Ten Commandments.
They will recite to me the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
I’ll then ask: “What in the world does that mean? What is a god?”
And here’s where the Psalms, as noted in the previous post, are very helpful in answering that question. A “god” is an object of worship. And given the definition of worship provided by the psalms (as discussed), we can say that a “god” is whatever (or whomever) we rely on or fear or desire or seek help from, etc. the most.
We recall that those last two words (“the most”) are really important. In choosing to prioritize someone or something and to give it/them pride of place, we are ascribing to it/them an incredible power. E.g., if I’m a 9-year-old and I choose to fear the opinion of my classmate Sally the most (so that her opinion is more important, more decisive than all others’ opinions), little Sally has achieved, at the tender age of 9, divine status in my eyes.
So when I ask my 9-year-old (twin) daughters about the first commandment, “What is a god?”, they say something like:
“A god is whoever I listen to the most.”
“A god is whatever I fear the most.”
“A god is whoever I ask for help from the most.”
“A god is whatever I want the most.”
(And they could go on…)
In imitation of the psalmist, we then will engage in a bit of comparing and contrasting. I’ll say, “Do you think we should listen to Sally’s opinion the most or to Jesus’ opinion?” They will, of course, give the Sunday school answer: “Jesus!”
“But why?” I will protest. “After all, Sally is a great girl. She is nice; she often obeys the teacher; she wears really pretty clothes, and a lot of the other girls at school listen to her. So maybe you should, too?”
What follows is an intriguing conversation that compares and contrasts little Sally with the most influential person in human history, Jesus of Nazareth. Needless to say, there is more contrasting than comparing. Importantly, I am not calling my girls to ignore or dismiss Sally’s opinion (unless, of course, it contradicts Jesus’ opinion). I’m calling them to set their opinions in the proper order. I’m calling them to clarify whom they are, functionally, choosing to worship and why.
After the comparing and contrasting are over and a decisive winner (of our worship) emerges, I will make one final comparison:
“Girls, how many persons before you have considered being followers of Sally?”
“And how many persons in the future, after Sally’s death, will become her followers?”
“How many persons throughout history and throughout the world today are followers of Jesus?”
Throughout Jesus’ own life he made these same comparisons. Indeed, he did several times in the final hours of his life. From some of his last words on the cross (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”), we know that he was meditating on Psalm 22. The psalm recalls Israel’s God as One who had shown himself utterly trustworthy throughout the history of his relationship with His people.
Following in the footsteps of David, Israel’s beloved singers of songs, Jesus–in his hour of deepest distress, rejection and loss–found refuge in the supreme holiness of Israel’s God–i.e., in the fact that there is no simply no one like God: He is beyond any and all comparison (for more on God’s holiness, go here). In the midst of his anguish, Jesus worshipped:
“Yet you are Holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
On you our ancestors relied; they relied on you, and you would always rescue them.
To you they cried out and were delivered. On you they relied, and they were never put to shame.”
That is the comparison Jesus made throughout his life, both in moments of quiet, sober reflection (he often withdrew to pray alone) and in the climactic and tumultuous final hours of his life.
And it is up to the rest of the world to decide if his comparison was right or wrong. If we think he was wrong, we find ourselves in the very uncomfortable place of disagreeing with Jesus of Nazareth, at which point the question must surely arise in our minds:
What do I know that Jesus doesn’t? What crucial fact did Jesus get wrong that you and I now know?
Life is worship. Being in 3rd grade is worship. And Jesus, being fully human, leads the way in worship. And being fully God, he in every way leads us to worship him. Who is more worthy of our undivided allegiance than he?