Pelham Road Baptist Church | Greenville, SC

Don’t be confused

I believe our ideas around idols need to be updated. The scripture portrays both physical and philosophical idols. We tend to concentrate on the physical.

Scripturally the physical could be the idol made of gold worshiped by Israel at the foot of Mt. Sinai; it took the form of a calf. Or maybe we would go as far as Jesus’ observation we can’t love God and Mammon (Money), the idol becomes the real holdable dollar.

The preacher has tried from time to time to update the idol inventory. A job, a spouse and the list goes on. The logic is there is a thin line between love and worship. When we cross that line with anything, we have become idol worshippers.

We have not given as much attention to the philosophical foundation to idols or idol worship.

Going back, way back to the golden calf, what is being worshipped is something that provides apparent protection. God had kept Moses on the mountain too long; the people needed protection, so they build a protector. 

Fast-forward to the New Testament, what is money except protection from the forces of this world. If you have money, you can protect yourself, from hunger or from being denied your rights. Money cannot protect us from disease, but it gives us insurance and a chance to catch it earlier. Money cannot protect us from aging, but it can make our aging more bearable.

It’s not that different today. Anything we construct for our protection can become our God. Further, we justify much as love, when remember that thin line, we can easily make something good and necessary into an idol.

Guns, walls, education, power, the Bible, religion, the list could go on and on. There is no limit to what we use to protect ourselves. Our creations become so sacred that anyone who dares to speak a word against it is immediately ridiculed. That may be a good way to determine if something has become an idol. If others criticize it and we are offended maybe we worship it.

In the day of Jesus, and even before his day, the Hebrews had come to worship the Temple. They could not imagine life without the Temple. How did the people turn from worshipping God to worshipping something made for God?

1.    First, the Hebrews misunderstood. The Temple was God’s home; it was not God’s only home.

2.    Their memories of the Temple were memories; memories do not make things sacred.

3.    The Temple was not a pleasant memory for women who could not enter or gentiles who could not enter.

4.    God cannot be contained in a building

5.    Nothing last forever, but God.

The two texts I have merged speak loudest about Jesus having more concern about the people rejecting the prophets than his concern for the safety of the Temple.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing. Matthew 23:37

The priority for the family of God is to hear God’s voice. To listen to the prophets, this the people reject.

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’ Luke 19:41-44

Jesus says this Temple is coming down. Your walls are useless because you refused to listen.

In our own country, we have a constitution and a flag. There appears to be more attention given to how the flag is treated than the constitution. We are still America without the flag, but we have lost America without the constitution.

In Jerusalem, the Temple had become the flag. What will we do without the Temple? Jesus said, the Temple and its destruction, are not the problem, the problem is you have silenced the prophets and in turn no longer listen to the voice of God.

I suspect it is words like this that put Jesus on the enemies list. Jesus does not come across as a lover of Israel. He does not come across as one who will protect the Temple or is even remotely concerned about stopping its impending destruction. Keep in mind all the times Jesus has intervened, but here he refrains. It was this non-chantant attitude toward the things the people loved and worshipped (the Temple NOT God) that got Jesus in trouble.

When Pilate gave the people a choice between a terrorist Barabbas and Jesus (one who did not share their patriotic spirit for the Temple) they said free the murderer.

The Temple was not built to house God or to be worshipped. It was God’s home, but it could not contain God. We are foolish to believe  God can be contained in any structure, religion, or nation. The test of idol worship remember is, “If others criticize it and we are offended maybe we worship it.”

This is why worship is reserved for God alone. Worship is more about hearing the voice of God, so let us listen to the prophets, the voices crying in the wilderness, maybe they are not saying what we like to hear, it could be they are speaking the word of the Lord.