February 25, 2015

Idols, sacrifice, and worship

Leviticus 17:1–19:37
John 9:13–34
Song of Solomon 7:10–13

When we were in Thailand, we saw shrines with food placed daily, an offering to idols. I’ve seen statues and other depictions of idols. I’ve also known the idols of my own heart, that is, the things that I honored above God.

A major portion of the Bible addresses the topic of idols. While the word occurs more in the Old Testament than the new, the warnings are just as strong in both. No doubt this is because of our innate spiritual nature with the reality of a need to worship. It is so powerful that if we do not worship God, we will worship something.

Today’s first reading makes me wonder what appeal a goat demon might have to my desire to worship . . . “So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations. And you shall say to them, Any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it to the Lord, that man shall be cut off from his people.” (Leviticus 17:7–9)

A later verse is more specific, “Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:4) Toward the end of the New Testament, John simply writes, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21)

While I hinted at a definition, most people don’t need one. We know what we put in the place of God. If it isn’t the obvious, like another person, or an ideology, or our ‘stuff’ and money, it will likely be our own selves, our wisdom, our self-determination. The worship of self is heard in, “No one is going to tell me what to do” and “I am not stupid, you know.”

Yet I’ve learned (the hard way) that both declarations, and their variations, are a waste of breath. God is sovereign and He is quite able to work in my life so that I will do His will, even without realizing that He is ordering my life. He is sovereign and can do whatever He desires. And as for not being stupid, God does not measure foolishness by the standard IQ test, or even by common sense. He measures wisdom by the fear of the Lord and by obedience. So yes, I can be very stupid, you know.

The NT reading is the argument concerning the identity of Jesus Christ with the man born blind and his parents. Jesus give sight to the man, but some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. (John 9:16) So they asked his parents . . .  

His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) (John 9:20–22) So they found the blind man who could now see and asked him . . .

The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (John 9:30–34)

The Pharisees were supposedly the religious wise guys of their day, but they would rather worship the rules they concocted about keeping the Sabbath than the One who made the Sabbath in the first place. Their idol was their smarts and their position, and maybe their power over regulations. Sadly, they would rather trust those ‘idols’ than the One who can heal the blind.

Jesus turned the religious world upside down, and then proceeded to do the same with the rest of it. Everyone has their ideas about how to please God, but will miss it if they never start by loving Him and putting Him first. How foolish (stupid?) to consider rules, customs, and traditions more important.

The love poem of Solomon describes the attitude of the bride (the Christian church) for her lover (the Lord Jesus Christ). One line from today’s reading says, “The mandrakes give forth fragrance, and beside our doors are all choice fruits, new as well as old, which I have laid up for you, O my beloved.” (Song of Solomon 7:13)

From that, the Spirit of God speaks to me, not about idols, but about worshiping God with a different kind of sacrifice. I must continually give myself and the fruit of my life to my beloved, Jesus Christ. 

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