“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” Jesus, Jn. 15:18
In the previous installment, I made the case that Jesus was not religious.
It is clear from the Gospels that Jesus did not seek to get his life from a system of religious beliefs and behaviors. On the contrary, he rebuked religious authorities and was hated by the religious world system.
Instead, Jesus got his LIFE from a relationship with the Father.
When we attempt to get our life from anything or anyone other than the person of Christ, whom the Scriptures testify as the source of all LIFE (Jn 5:38-40), we create for ourselves a religion. We must repent of it.
As I said in the introduction to this blog series, I’m using seven provocative statements as a way of summarizing the radical life and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the NT. This is why the world hates Jesus and his good news.
And why they will hate those who choose to follow him.
Now we must seriously consider another reason for the world system’s hatred of Jesus. And it has to do with Jesus’ rejection of wealth and his woeful language to those who hoard it for their own pleasure.
4. Jesus Rejected Materialism
Second only to the religious leaders and hypocrites, Jesus’ strongest rebuke was reserved for those who are rich in this world. It’s a bit frightening.
In keeping with Yahweh’s heart expressed through the Prophets, Jesus carried on the OT tradition of defending the poor and pronouncing woes upon the rich (Prov 14:31; Isa 41:17; Jer 22:6; Ezek 16:49; Lk 4:18).
Listen to the words of Jesus from Luke 6:20-26 (NIV):
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.”
“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”
It appears that the heart of Jesus’ rebuke against the rich is due to the fact that these people have oriented their entire lives around their wealth and status. They don’t own stuff, it owns them. Meanwhile, the poor suffer.
For these folks, money has become an idol—an idol that demands the reforming of all priorities around the accumulation and hoarding of wealth. Money drives them. They are slaves to their god, Mammon!
“You can’t serve both God and money.” Jesus, Matt 6:24 NLT
Consider how a large bank account kept the rich young ruler from following Jesus (Lk 18:18-25). Jesus asked him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor, but the man wasn’t willing or able to do it.
“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.”
When Jesus said it’s hard for the rich to “enter the kingdom” of God, he didn’t mean what many evangelicals mistakenly assume, i.e. that it’s hard for rich people to “go to heaven” when they die. Far from it.
Jesus was never concerned about a post-mortem, disembodied, interim state called “heaven” between this life and the next. What he meant was that those who are are consumed with wealth, fooled by this world system of greed and covetousness, can’t see the beauty of the upside-down Kingdom of God on the earth, and therefore they most certainly will not inherit the resurrected world to come. They reject God’s economy now and forever.
As Jesus told the church at Laodicea, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev 3:17 NIV).
Therefore, those who are rich in this world are incapable of understanding God’s economy and becoming oriented to the way of a lowly, itinerant Messiah who demands them share their wealth with those in need.
Think about the sort of Kingdom economics that Christ revealed:
- The first shall be last, the last shall be first (Matt 19:29-30),
- Leave everything behind for greater reward (Mk 10:29-31),
- Hire at different times, pay the same wages (Matt 20:1-16),
- Willing to leave ninety-nine for one (Matt 18:12-14),
- Sell/leave everything necessary for the Kingdom (Matt 13:44-46),
- Give out of your poverty, not just abundance (Mk 12:41-44),
- Cancel the debt owed to you (Matt 6:12; 18:21-35),
- Don’t hoard, use abundance for the Kingdom (Matt 25:14-30),
- Seek the Kingdom and needs will be met (Lk 12:31).
Jesus rejected materialism for the sake of the Kingdom. He left his family and livelihood to travel the countryside preaching he was the manger-born Messiah promised by the Prophets. He lived and taught things that your financial planner most certainly wouldn’t approve of, even in a good year.
He turned over the tables of moneychangers and drove out those who profit from religion. Jesus didn’t take money from the bank, he walked in and knocked it to the floor—showing its cosmic insignificance to God.
Jesus called Roman tax collectors to repent, no doubt a treasonous act. He told his followers to pay taxes without grumbling against Caesar, seen as nothing more than blasphemous capitulation to the system.
Jesus said to “store up for yourselves riches in heaven” where nothing can steal or destroy it (Matt 6:19-20). In heaven, God’s space, it’s safe. Jesus’ invitation is to invest in a Kingdom that will last.
When your treasure is with God, you don’t have to worry about economic recessions, falling stocks, and government shutdowns.
You live for the Kingdom until you die. Don’t worry about stuff, because you can’t take it with you. With the Kingdom plan, you don’t have to worry about retirement (Lk. 6:24; 12:13-21). It’s taken care of already.
“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” Jesus, Lk 12:21 NLT
While Jesus isn’t suggesting that we all live destitute, he clearly warns about the great dangers of living to accumulate wealth, and the power it has to shift the mind to things that are passing away (Matt. 6:24; 13:22).
As the proverb says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’” Prov 30:8-9 NIV
Jesus told a sobering parable of a rich man who went to hell, and a poor man named Lazarus who joined the Father in heaven at his death (Lk. 16:19-31). It’s the only parable where the righteous person is named, and the “rich man” is left nameless. How troubling for the rich in this world.
He means to say with this parable that the time to repent is now, before it’s too late. The world system, and those who currently benefit from it, are on the way out. Make your choice: God or money?
“This is what Jesus had in mind: folks coming together, forming close-knit communities and meeting each other’s needs– no kings, no major welfare systems, no presidents necessary. His is a theology and practice for the people of God, not a set of suggestions for empire.” Shane Claiborne, Jesus for President
Let’s face it. It’s greed and power that drives the quest for empire—an empire that is prophesied to fall (Rev 18). It’s that same lust for wealth that seeks to take root in our own hearts. The good news of Jesus declares the old way of competition, accumulation, and domination to be finished.
The love of money is the root of all that is evil in the world (1 Tim 6:10). The clarion call of Christ is to spit out the maddening wine of empire, and instead drink from the fresh springs of God’s economy.
Just know that those who hold the coffers won’t go silently. They hated Jesus and his message, so they will hate those who decide to follow him.
D.D. Flowers, 2013.
Read the next post: 5. Jesus Challenged Worldly Wisdom.