Jer. 1:11-25, 1 Thess. 1:4-10
Idolatry is ultimately about power. The great lie, the great seduction of idols is the illusion of power. If you bow down to this image, you will take control of your life. If you bow down to this statue, you will overcome what holds you back. If you serve this part of creation, you will finally come out on top. But it’s an illusion or as Jeremiah says, a delusion, and it comes from the fact that idols are lifeless, silent, immobile, mute. A picture of Zeus or a statue of Baal or even an image of Jesus or Mary can’t talk back to you, and so you quite literally control the moment. Whatever you imagine, whatever feelings well up inside you, there is nothing there to push back, reject, undermine what you think or feel or imagine. And since it’s in the context of a religious exercise (prayer, kneeling, a candle, whatever), it feels almost incontrovertible that it’s helping you. It’s helping you take control of your life. And perhaps in some small psychological way, there may be some truth to that, sort of like talking to yourself in the mirror. It may truly give some small boost of confidence and self-determination. But it isn’t an encounter with the living God, and therefore, you are selling your soul for minimal benefits at best.
Paul tells the Thessalonians that the proof of an encounter with the living God is in living, breathing, flesh and blood people. Paul and Silvanus and Timothy were living breathing icons of Christ that not only spoke the word, but they did so with power and with the Holy Spirit. And the Thessalonians became imitators of them, receiving the word in the joy of the Holy Spirit, and they became famous in all of Macedonia and Achaia for their repentant way of life, turning from lifeless idols to serve the living and true God.
The living God gives life. The living God commands storms and judgments. The living God raises the dead and changes men’s lives. This is the proof of the resurrection. An idol is anything that people use to try to trick life out of lifeless things. But Jesus raises the dead to new life, and His life flows through living people through the power of the Spirit.