My wife tivoed the closing ceremony of the Vancouver Games, wanting me to see the comedic routine accompanying the presentation of the Olympic torch (it was funny). But, what caught my attention was the ritual celebration that officially closes the winter games for 2010. I said offhandedly, "A visitor from the first-century Mediterranean world would see this and ask, 'What god are you worshiping?'"
Indeed, the celebration had all the necessary parts: the fiery altar in the center, the priests serving, the celebrants parading, songs lifted in praise to the Spirit of the Olympics, the stadium filled with joyous revelers. Talk of sacrifice and the offering of much money would convince any first-century visitor that this god was worthy of veneration.
What's fascinating to me is how many of us would never describe these athletic games in religious terms. In fact, it would be downright offensive to most of us to suggest that all of this was nothing more than a modern form of idolatry. Perhaps it would take a visitor from the first-century to point out the obvious.