by Ryan Iammarino
“From Saint Vincent Saint Mary High School in Akron, Ohio …. Lebron James!!” shouts the announcer as Lebron enters the stadium.
Then the crowd erupts.
Four years after he once ripped the heart out of a city, the “King” returned home. This last off-season was filled with anticipation; anticipation waiting for Lebron to announce where he would play basketball in 2014-15, and after his announcement, anticipating the start of the actual season.
In response, Clevelanders have hung two massive posters of Lebron downtown. Cavalier fans all broke out the “Witness” t-shirts and bought new ones that say “Forgiven”. His jersey sold out in minutes. The City of Cleveland had a massive block party where big time celebrities attend for the season home opener. Ticket sales sky-rocketed, and a lottery has been set up to ensure their availability is fair. Signs that say “The King Returns” now hang all around the city. You could say Cleveland is excited.
I am not going to lie, I got excited, too; and I got caught up in all the hype. It was exciting for my home team to get the best basketball player in the world. As a HUGE sports fan the thought that Cleveland now had an opportunity to win a championship (the first since 1964) was amazing.
However, for a game that has been one of the most highly anticipated not just of this summer, but arguably in basketball history, it ended unfavorably for the home team. In the days after, I listened to the radio hosts complaining: “Lebron did not show up!” Fans were asking “Where was Lebron in that game?” and finally someone said it: “He crumbled under the pressure.”
That comment got me thinking.
The entire city of Cleveland united behind one man. They put this one man on such a high pedestal and they called him “King.” They called him “The Chosen One.” Yet, with all that hype and all that pressure, in front of the city that worships him, this man crumbled. He played 43 minutes in the season opener; having a total of 17 points, he was 5-15 in shots, 1-5 in 3 pointers, had only 5 rebounds and a grand total of 8 turnovers.
Why? Because even though he’s the best basketball player in the world, he’s still just a man. And man can’t carry the weight of worship and adoration that God’s divine nature requires.
We gave him names that belong to God. We acted like he was our city’s savior. And under pressure that only God could handle, that man crumbled beneath its weight.
So what can we learn here from Cleveland? Well, I think it’s the same thing that we can learn from the story of the Israelites in Exodus 32, the story of the golden calf.
Moses had left the Israelites to go up to Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments, leaving them for 40 days and 40 nights. The Israelites feared that he would not return and demanded that Aaron make them “gods” to go before them. So Aaron gathered up the Israelites golden earrings and made a golden calf that they declared to be the “gods” that brought them up from the lands of Egypt.
Aaron and the Israelites decided at that point, to throw a party, a huge celebration with offerings to this “god,” and it made God incredibly angry – so angry that He told Moses that He was going to incinerate them with flames. But Moses intervened. He interceded on behalf of the Israelites, reminding God that promises were made and it was for His glory that these people had been delivered from Egypt. So rather, He sent Moses back to the people with Joshua to set things straight.
v.17-18: “When Joshua heard the sound of the people shouting noisily, he said to Moses, ‘That’s the sound of war in the camp!’ But Moses said, ‘Those aren’t songs of victory, and those aren’t songs of defeat, I hear songs of people throwing a party.’”
When he got down to the camp, there was absolute chaos. The people were running wild worshipping this calf and doing whatever they wanted to, and because of their idolatry and betrayal to God, 3,000 people died that day and a plague fell on the Israelites. The golden calf they’d built to worship was melted down and pulverized.
They’d committed an enormous sin against God. Afterwards, Moses went back up onto the mountain to talk to God. He pleaded with God for the Israelites, “This is terrible. This people has sinned—it’s an enormous sin! They made gods of gold for themselves. And now, if you will only forgive their sin… But if not, erase me out of the book you’ve written.” (v.32-33). Again, he interceded for them.
After the Cavs season opener, my wife asked me an interesting question. She asked, “Do you think people will celebrate like that when Jesus returns?” And my answer to that is: I hope so! But the thing that is so important to know I think, though, is that even though we, as a city, have made a golden calf of our own in LeBron James – we, too, threw a huge party to celebrate him, literally – there is someone interceding on our behalf, too. His name is Jesus. And no matter what idols we build in our lives, no matter who we put up on a pedestal and worship, Jesus is always there at the right hand of God working for our salvation and to wash away our sins.
Romans 8:38 “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
Jesus defeated death and sin on the cross and in His that, He “melted down” our idols and pulverized them for all of eternity, burying our sin in the grave. We don’t have to worship calves and gold and idols. We have access to the Almighty God to worship in awe and wonder. LeBron might have been made the “King of Cleveland” but we worship the King of Kings, and we’re able to boldly approach His throne with praise and prayers because of Jesus’ work (Hebrews 4:16).
In closing, I leave you with these two scriptures to pray on and ponder. I pray that God would expose any idols, any false gods in our lives and in our hearts, expose them for what they are, and remove them from power and forgive us for worshipping them in the first place.
Exodus 20:3 “’You shall have no other gods before me.’” (the first commandment).
Revelation 19:16 “On His robe and on His thigh He has this name written: KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS.”