Idolatry and Antiquity: Why we don’t have the the copy from Paul’s pen

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In Kiev, Ukraine there is a place called Kyiv Pechersk Lavra. This holy site is the birthplace of the Russian Orthodox church. The grounds are frequented by many pilgrims every day. At the surface level, you can see a series of beautiful old buildings with the classic Eastern

kiev caves

Photo Credit: http://primetour.ua/en/excursions/kiev/kievo-pecherskaya-lavra.html

Orthodox church architecture, complete with gold domes and lively colors. But the topside is only half the story. The real history lies in the caves below. Due to the conditions underneath the earth, the caves were used to naturally mummify the “saints” who originally founded the church. And they’re still down there. I’ll admit, the bodies are in amazingly good condition for being just shy of 1000 years old. I watched as person after person navigated the tunnel, candles in hand, offering a kiss of respect to the glass separating their resting place from the public walking area. The mood was somber, quiet, reflective, and I’ll even say, moving. It made me sad as I watched people pray to these saints as if being in the presence of a 1000 year old mummified corpse has a special portal to heaven. There is but one mediator between God and man. They put his dead body in a cave too, but he didn’t stay but 3 days.

I was reading in Kings not long ago. I noticed a verse that for whatever reason, had never caught my attention before. Israel was plagued by terrible King after terrible King as a pattern. Then comes a breath of fresh air, King Hezekiah. He is noted as one who did right in the eyes of the Lord. Second Kings 18:4 records”

He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).

Hezekiah destroyed a national icon, of sorts. This was the bronze serpent that was God’s chosen tool of deliverance in Numbers. The bronze reptile on the pole represented God’s judgment and salvation at once! (No coincidence there, right?) Jesus would reference this sacred stick in John 3:14. Just like Moses lifted the staff with the serpent, so would the son of man, the perfect man, bearing the curse of God for the salvation of those who will look to him, be lifted up. The problem was the people worshipped the tool of deliverance as if it were the deliverer.

13233280_10154267744886180_1769193385_nImagine what we could sell that stick for to some collector today! If people will pay $28,000 for a decade old piece of toast that supposedly has the image of the virgin Mary on it, just think if we could verify the authenticity of the actual hand crafted serpent stick

 

from the wilderness generation? EBAY might just explode. Inspired by the insane attention of the piece of toast, you can actually get your very own Virgin Mary toaster!

Reflecting on this verse reminded me of what else we don’t have. With apologies to Mr. Jones, we do not have the ark of the covenant. The ark was a significant if not the key feature in the tabernacle, later the temple, and a huge part of Israel’s history in the time of the Judges and Kings. We have it referenced in the NT, but it’s no where to be found.

We also do not have the original copies of God’s word. They are non-extant, meaning, no longer in existence. In God’s sovereignty, couldn’t he have have preserved these original autographs? Of course he could have, we have older things. But peeking into a cave in Kiev may give us a clue as to why we don’t have them. Could you imagine the tourist attraction and worship rituals that would ensue if we had the original Romans or Isaiah? I believe in God’s wisdom he’s kept these potential idols away from his people so they would not be tempted to worship at the papyrus.

We worship now what we do not see. Faith is forward looking. We do not have a holy place, a holy relic, holy water, or any special place or item that gives us liver shivers where the Spirit shows up in unusual ways. We have the true substance, that is Christ, and we wait for his return. A day has come where the words of Jesus to the woman at the well resonate with Christ’s followers:

[21] Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. [22] You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. [23] But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. (John 4:21-23)

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Allen Cagle

About Allen Cagle

Allen serves as the Lead Pastor at Sunrise Community Church in Atlantic Beach, FL, in the Jacksonville area. He graduated from The Master's Seminary (MDiv) in 2005 and from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (DMin) in 2017. Allen is married to Mindy and has three awesome kids.