22 Mar The Yuppie Jesus
The Yuppie Jesus
John 11:32-44 and Romans 8:18-30
March 18, 2018
M. Michelle Fincher
Calvary Presbyterian Church
This morning we come to our fifth message in the series, “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?” Today we look at a view of Jesus that is common in an affluent, urban area like the D.C. metro area—the Yuppie Jesus, the young, professional, upwardly-mobile Jesus. What is this Jesus like? This is the Jesus that is all about you being your most highly actualized self. In particular, this Jesus offers you the good life, complete with financial resources. It’s easy to see, isn’t it, why this Jesus would be so popular.
How do people construct a view of Jesus like this? They go to the Bible to some of the things Jesus said to his followers while he was with them. For example, The New Living Bible translates John 10:10 as Jesus promising the abundant life by saying, “My purpose is to give [people] a rich and satisfying life.” The expression, “I’m too blessed to be depressed,” is the kind of thing someone might say who is enjoying this version of God’s abundance.
There’s also Luke 6:38 where Jesus says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” And then there’s this in Mark 10:29-30: “I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children, and property.” These are precisely the kinds of statements of Jesus that are used as the basis for what is referred to as the Prosperity Gospel. Give to Jesus and you’ll get it all back and more; after all, you can’t out-give God. And who wouldn’t want a 100 to 1 return on your investment?
In addition to a satisfying life and prosperity, there’s the lure of reaching your full potential. In John 14:12 when Jesus is with his disciples on the night before his death, he says: “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” You heard it and from the #1 yuppie himself—if you get in tight with Jesus, you will do even greater things than he did.
But, how does this view of Jesus as dispenser of abundant life, financial prosperity and unlimited potential jive with some of the other things Jesus said and with his own lifestyle? You would expect a leader who promised wealth and abundance to have all the trimmings of the good life, to model what he preached, but Jesus didn’t even have his own home. He told people who were thinking about becoming his followers, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” When Jesus died, there was no estate to settle. His body was laid in a tomb owned by somebody else.
When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach, teach and heal, they were not to take any personal possessions or resources (Luke 10:4). One reason he gave this instruction was so that they would learn to depend on God for all that they needed.
And of course, we can’t forget his conversation with the rich young ruler. If you want to be right with God, he told the man, “sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22) The man sadly walked away because he was very wealthy and Jesus observes, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:25)
Looking at Jesus’ teachings as a whole, the abuse of wealth and the dangers of riches was a concern that Jesus thought warranted significant attention. It is a testimony to the power of attractive packaging and aggressive marketing that Jesus can be served up as a savior whose primary goal is to make you happier, healthier, better adjusted, more satisfied and more prosperous.
Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, states it pointedly: “The gospel message has been molded to suit an increasingly narcissistic culture. Conversion is proclaimed as the road to self-realization…the role of religion is presented as a way to help us uncover our human potential—our potential for personal, social or business success….Modern conversion brings Jesus into our lives rather than bringing us into his…[this] Jesus doesn’t change our lives, he improves them. Conversion is for ourselves, not for the world.”
Without a doubt, there are blessings that come from being a follower of Jesus. So, what would a more accurate view of Jesus and Christian happiness look like? One of the most oft-repeated verses in the Bible is Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to his purposes.” This verse is used in all kinds of contexts, so this morning I want us to take a “deep dive”, paying special attention to what might have been overlooked or misunderstood.
First, this verse points out that our circumstances are no better than anybody’s else’s, and experience confirms the relentless truth of this, doesn’t it? Terrible things happen to people who love God and to people who don’t, and yet many Christians believe or assume that if we love and serve God, we will not have as many bad things happen to us. But that is simply not true. Tragic, horrible things can and do happen to us, and loving and serving God will not keep them from happening. All the same heartaches and heartbreaks that happen to everybody else will also come into our lives.
Fortunately, that is not all Paul has to say. Earlier in Romans 8 Paul talks about how things routinely fall apart because the world is burdened with evil and sin. Things are subject to decay, including us. We will eventually die as the decay of our bodies runs its course. That’s the nature of things. Left alone, things fall apart, they don’t come together. We need to abolish the sentimental idea that things ought to go right, that it’s normal for things to go right. Our culture is built on this idea that things ought to go right. If they go wrong, we sue. Paul is arguing for a different way. He knows that things are constantly moving towards decay, so when things go right, Paul says, that’s God. That we have health today—that’s a gift from God. That someone loves us despite our baggage and flaws—that’s the grace of God at work. Romans 8:28 lifts up the truth that God is working continuously in our lives and in our world in loving and grace-filled ways.
Paul does not say that things automatically, on their own work together for good. I know plenty of people, and I’m sure you do too, for whom difficult experiences in life have left them angry, bitter, and isolated. Instead of seeing God redeem those circumstances for good, they blame God and perhaps others as well, and some choose to reject God. Paul does not deny that bad things are bad. This verse does not say that bad things are actually good things. What it says is that there are bad things, but bad things are never the last things and they are never more powerful than God’s ability to redeem them—but we do need to cooperate with God’s redemptive purposes if we want to experience the good God can bring about.
We see a picture of this when Jesus’ close friend, Lazarus, dies. As Jesus stands at the tomb, he is not smiling. He is not happy. He is grieving, and he is weeping. Why? Because death is a bad thing. Jesus isn’t standing there thinking, “Hey, they think this is a tragedy, but no harm done! I’m about to raise him from the dead. This looks like a bad thing, but it’s not. It’s really a good thing! It’s a way for me to show my glory. It’s really exciting—I can’t wait!” If that were the case, there would be no need for a hurting heart, no need for tears. Jesus is weeping because the thing that needs to be turned to good is bad. It’s not pretend-bad or good in disguise. Death is bad. Separation, loneliness, pain and suffering are all bad. Cancer is bad. Abuse is bad. Hunger is bad. Broken relationships are bad. Being a refugee and having no place to go and nobody who wants you—that’s bad. Jesus is so against evil and suffering and sin that he was willing to enter our world, enter our lives and experience it all himself, so that he could destroy all that is bad without destroying us.
And because he did destroy it, the joy we have in Christ is impervious to the bad stuff that happens to us. I don’t mean that we’re not sad, or shaken, or that we don’t grieve the losses we suffer. I mean that joy is possible in the midst of heartache, that laughter is possible in the midst of tears, that peace is possible in the face of pain. God initiates this work of grace in us, but we do have a choice about whether we cooperate with God’s redemptive work. Part of our cooperation is accepting the brokenness of our world, rather than being shocked when that brokenness reaches into our lives.
Verse 29 of Romans 8 is one of those verses in the Bible where a lot of people get hung up—and they get hung up on the wrong thing, “majoring in the minors” so to speak. The most important word in this verse is not predestined. It’s the word “conformed.” Why does God redeem the bad things in our lives? Why does God work things to our good? God does that so that we will be conformed to the likeness of Jesus. Another way to say it is that Jesus did not suffer so that you would not have to suffer. He suffered so that when you suffer, you’ll become like him. You’ll reflect his nature, you’ll love others like he does, you’ll forgive your enemies because he does. The good that God is moving you toward through everything that happens in your life—whether externally good or bad—is your transformation to take on the character of Christ. When you love God, everything that happens in your life will mold you, sculpt you, shape you, and polish you into the image of Jesus Christ. Wow—that is some promise.
The last thing I want to call your attention to is the verbs in verse 30: predestined, called, justified, glorified. Notice that all of these verbs are in the past tense which is particularly interesting when it comes to the last one, glorified. Shouldn’t Paul have said, “The ones he foreknew he predestined, called, justified and will glorify?” Paul is so absolutely certain that God is going to work Jesus’ character in you, he is able to write of your glorification as an accomplished fact. He talks about it in the past tense because it is as good as done. There will not be anything that comes into your life that will thwart God from working it for your good, if you will just let him do it.
Being conformed to the likeness of Jesus is a transformation that is happening now, albeit gradually. But all that is Jesus’ is already yours—you are God’s family, you are heirs to everything that belongs to God which makes you rich beyond measure—rich in peace, rich in joy, rich in love, rich in compassion—rich in all the things that the circumstances of life cannot steal from you. Jesus was completely honest. What he gives are riches that are the most important things in life, that give life true meaning and eternal value. That’s what we miss when we settle for a Yuppie Jesus, when we bring Jesus into our lives instead of being enfolded into his life. Because Jesus’ life is the only place where true abundance is found. Thanks be to God. Amen.