Middle Class American Jesus?

We’re studying the radical ideas of discipleship found in the Gospel of Mark in our Wednesday night class here at Central. Tonight, we look at the idea of getting behind Jesus that is so prevalent in Mark’s writings. Jesus is in front, we are in back. Jesus leads, we follow. It’s not enough to be on the way with Jesus, we must recognize our place behind Jesus on that way. Behind him. Not beside him. Certainly not in front of him. He’s leading, I’m following. He’s leading, his Church is following. Jesus must be the one in front.

And the Church says, “Duh!”

What we’re going to talk about tonight is the fact that we are called to follow Jesus so that we do Jesus things in Jesus ways. Ways and means do matter a great deal to our Lord. How we do something is just as important as what it is we’re doing. The ways and means must always be consistent with the end.

Look at the call to follow: “If anyone would come behind me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” ~Mark 8:34

Jesus calls us to completely abandon ourselves. He calls us to leave our certainty for uncertainty; to flee safety for danger; to ignore self-preservation and embrace self-denunciation; to run from security to accept downward mobility. In a world that prizes self-promotion, we claim to be following a Lord who calls us to crucify ourselves.

And we have a great tendency to spiritualize all that. We want to turn the radical call of Jesus into just a metaphor. His teachings are mainly just abstract thoughts, right? It’s figurative language, right? Jesus speaks in extremes to hopefully make us think differently, but not necessarily act differently.

Wait a second…

We’re starting to redefine Christianity here. We’re starting to define Jesus by our thoughts and ideas, not his. We want Jesus to keep us comfortable when, all along, Jesus came to this earth to shake us out of our comforts in order to save us.

David Platt, in his little book, Radical, says we’re always wanting to turn our Sovereign Lord into a nice, harmless, non-threatening, middle-class, American Jesus:

A Jesus who doesn’t mind materialism and who would never call us to give away everything we have. A Jesus who would not expect us to forsake our closest relationships so that he receives all our affection. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our comforts, because, after all, he loves us just the way we are. A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, and who, for that matter, wants us to avoid danger altogether. A Jesus who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American dream.

Jesus came here to save us; to shake us, to move us, to transform us into the perfect image of the Son of God. That doesn’t happen by doing things our way. That doesn’t happen by doing things the way the rest of the world does things. It happens when we fully submit to the impossibly difficult task of doing things the Jesus way, when we trust our Lord enough to allow him to work in and through us as we make the faithful attempts to live like him, when we dedicate ourselves to following through life and through death the One who goes before us.

“Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the Gospel will save it.” ~Mark 8:35




  1. Rob's Dad

    Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to Matt VanDerbeek….

    I saw a copy of the Christian Chronicle and there was a nice ad for the American Patriot’s Bible

    Mr. Platt might want to insert “white” in his description

    If we did the things you outline, then there really might black helicopters following us. Or rolling tape on our Game 7 pre-game speech.

  2. Allan

    That ad in the Chronicle is for a cut-rate, bargain basement discount store. They’re selling the Patriot’s Bible because they got ’em for like eight-cents each.

    Matt Vanderbeek is selling high-end real estate in California.

    I pray for those helicopters. It would mean we’re doing something right.

  3. Bret McCasland

    In thinking about getting behind Jesus and following him, we need to keep in mind where he ended up. The cross. Now that is sacrifice, and yes at Platt puts it, “Radical.”

    It seems far to many of us can’t catch the concept of what that might look like in our own lives. (Or maybe we don’t want to). We think of sacrifice is giving up a few dollars to help with some good project, but that doesn’t seem what Jesus had in mind in Mark 8.

    It is easy to spiritualize discipleship and make it something convenient for us, instead of accepting the invitation to truly walk behind Jesus – even it does mean our life.

    That is what Jesus did – as he follwed God, and even though he died, it didn’t end up all that bad for him.

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