Last Sunday, Pastor preached from Revelation 2:12-17. Jesus’ message to the church in Pergamum (modern day village “Bergama” in today’s Western Turkey). Here are the six verses –
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”
Pergamum was an interesting city. Among it’s many attractions was the huge alter to the Greek god Zeus. Other gods were worshiped there too. One being Asclepius. Ever heard of him? You actually have, you may just not know. Recognize this symbol? –
The snake entwined staff traces back to Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine. Here he is in all his “glory” –
The Greeks, like most polytheistic cultures, had a “god” for everything. They were essentially no different from all cultures who’ve departed from the worship of the one and only true God, traded Him for a lie and began worshiping the god’s they create instead of the One who created them. Ancient Canaaan was no different. Egypt, Babylon, Assyria and Persia all followed the same pattern and polytheistic people groups and cultures are still with us today.
Good thing we’re sheltered from all that as good American Christians, right? Or are we? We may not burn incense to small wooden or metal statues in our living rooms. We may not slay oxen in the Olympic stadium to appease the gods before the games begin (yes, that’s how the original Olympic festivities used to start), but do we still worship some gods of our own making today?
Take, for instance, Asclepius. The god of healing. He’s come to be known as the god of medicine. The first line of the original Hippocratic oath reads, “I swear by Apollo and Asclepius…” He obviously had a profound influence on medical study and it’s historical development even up to the modern era. So what does that have to do with us and our own temptations toward idolatry today? After hearing about Asclepius and thinking about his legacy and impact on our modern world, it caused me to ask the following question:
How often are we tempted to put more stock in what the medical industry, our local doctor or an advice nurse tells us than what God, the creator and sustainer of our bodies, says in His word?
Before you think this is an anti-medicine, don’t take your kids to the doctor, blah blah blah, rant – it’s not. The writer of the biggest gospel account and the entire book of Acts was a physician and was never looked down upon for that vocation. I’m not denying that medicine and much of modern medicine is one of God’s many blessings to the world. What I’m asking about here is what I see as an unhealthy(pun intended) elevation of medicine or medical professionals to an inappropriate and dangerous level. Think I’m out in left field here? We are the most medicated nation in the world. Our children alone have more chemicals coursing through their circulatory systems than any time in history. Compared to times past, we are the most healthy we’ve ever been and yet we buy more prescription medications and are quicker than we’ve ever been to try the latest wonder-drug as soon as it hits the market. Something is wrong. I’m not saying you shouldn’t make that appointment this afternoon to get your flu symptoms checked out. I’m not arguing you should make your baby suffer through chicken pox. Normal and conservative medical attention is fine and always has been. What I’m pointing to is the fact that we have somehow become a medically-driven people in recent history and rarely think twice about getting medical help the moment we have an ailment. This reveals our tendency to forget God and look to other means to heal us of all our sicknesses (Psalm 103:3).
Not only do we over-medicate, but we fall horribly short in taking common-sense preventative measures to keep ourselves healthy. The first questions we should ask ourselves when we feel cold symptoms coming on are not, “how can I take a long lunch to swing by the clinic or pharmacy to get something for this?” but instead, “have I been getting good rest lately? Have I been drinking enough water? Getting exercise and eating right?” We’re almost wired to think of the quickest and most efficient way we can pop a pill or two so we can get back to our regularly scheduled flurry of activities as fast as possible.
And what about the connection between illness and spiritual problems? How many of our ulcers are caused not by innocent overproduction of stomach acids, but by our refusal to rest in God’s sovereign plan and not worry about our circumstances? How much of our depression is caused by unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others, overreaction to disappointments and general laziness rather than actual chemical imbalances? Please note, I’m not discounting the reality of these illnesses being sometime physiological only. I’m just asking if this is the only cause in every case. I’m afraid it isn’t.
But the most important symptom is the drift away from dependence upon God in prayer, Bible study, fellowship with other Christians as good healthy things to do for our body and spirit and our exchange of these things for the idol of medicine. This is the modern day worship of Asclepius. Putting more stock in the wisdom of men and medicine than in the Mighty God and His grace to heal our bodies is a problem. I go to the doctor, I get the physicals and I pop a Tylenol when the headache is bad. But, this is very different from much of the medicine-mania we see in our world today. Have we done a good self spiritual diagnoses when we first fall ill? Do we run down the list of common-sense preventatives when we’re feeling groggy? Or do we race past all that and speed dial the clinic for the next appointment? I fear the latter is more often the case. This is unfortunate.
May we step back from our daily routine, ask ourselves why we’re doing what we’re doing, look to God (in His word and in prayer) and seek the wisdom that comes from on high so that we would look first to our creator for good health and well being and second to others who’ve been given the skills and training to provide good, common-sense and godly medical advice and services.
Pergamum was called the place “where Satan’s throne is…” Why was this? Because of it’s rampant idolatry. Our enemy, Satan is still very alive and well today. He may not manifest himself, as I stated earlier, with shrines built in our living room, or large alters blatantly erected for the purpose of worshiping a deity. But he still desires to draw us away. And his gods are no different than they were in the 1st century. As the Greeks worshiped a god who controlled all things medical, at least the idea of this god is alive and well today. We need to see it for what it is, tear down it’s alter and worship the one true God in it’s place. Trust in the Lord God, creator and sustainer of all things. Flee to him in prayer, cry out to Him for mercy, both in health and in sickness. Take care of your body and do not abuse it, for you were created in His image to reflect His glory. Seek out medical attention with reserve and wisdom. Do not burn incense to the god of pharmaceuticals or worship at the alter of over-medication. The Lord cares about and can heal your whole being. He loves to take the broken and mend them to the praise of His glorious grace.
“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.”