This Sunday, November 30 I plan to preach a sermon in the morning services of College Church titled Humanity’s Prophet. Following is a segment of the message which explicates the attractions of idolatry from the Ancient Near Eastern context. It doesn’t take much reflection to recognize how the same attractions apply today.
a. Expected something in return for one’s offering. It was motivated by materialism, things like fertility (of animals, crops, etc).
b. Israelites were to give their offering simply out of love for God
a. Statue or painting of a god was supposed to reflect the presence of that god.
b. Likeness connects to the real thing (e.g. voodoo)
c. You could have an idol in your home
d. Yahweh required worship as a nation at one location, Temple in Jerusalem
a. In all other religions there was no ethical connection with the worship and sacrificial system (no covenant obligations like what you see in the Mosaic Law)
b. In pagan idolatry your only obligation was to bring food. WHY? Human beings were inferior to the gods in every way, except that the gods could not feed themselves.
c. Old Testament was full-blown ethical, ritual, civil system requiring obedience to God.
a.Common without exceptions in the ancient world—only righteous Israelites avoided idols.
b. And, furthermore, it seemed to be effective for the economically successful states and superpowers (nations like Tyre, Egypt, Babylon, Hittites)
a. Connection between idolatry and “polytheism”
b. Allowed the individual to pick what special need he/she had and worship that one particular deity.
c. One invisible God that reigned over all of life was foreign to the thinking of the ancient mind
The divine good news that emanates from the Old and New Testaments however is that the LORD turns the attractions of idolatry upside down, presenting himself as the true answer to human longing. Notice the ironic manner in which Jesus does this:
1. Selfish // You must become unselfish to really find yourself: “Lose your life for my sake and you’ll find it” (Matt 10:39).
2. Accessible // You can’t see Jesus with the naked eye, but he is always within reach. “I am always with you…” (Matt 28:20).
3. Easy // Hardest thing in the world— “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48): (Jesus makes us perfect by his atoning sacrifice and resurrection). And Jesus says, With man [salvation] is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26).
4. Normal // Countercultural, and yet people around the world, from every nation, tribe and tongue are in Christ (Rev 5:9).
5. Logical // Most illogical thing in the world, and yet it’s absolutely true (John 14:6).