Ray Stevens performs a song that, in popular language, deals with the essential question of the nature of Christ. The song is titled: “Did Jesus Wear a Rolex on His Television Show?”
Chet Atkins and Margaret Archer wrote the record before the troubles of PTL leader Jim Bakker began. Here are some of the words: “Would Jesus have a second home in Palm Springs but try to hide its worth? Would He drive a fancy car? Would His wife wear furs and diamonds? Would His dressing room have a star? Would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show?”
For an answer to this question, we turn to Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus asks the disciples the question of His identity on the road to Caesarea Philippi: “Who do men say that I am?”
It’s not surprising that the brash and blustering Peter comes up with the answer. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The others murmur their approval; maybe they even said “Amen.”
Jesus gave Peter an “A” on his report card: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
Immediately following this story, Matthew inserts the passages that form today’s text. The two stories hold together and form one unity. In the first story, Jesus affirms the disciples, saying to them that He is the Christ. The second story refines what Messiah means.
Peter now must face the fact that he flunked the second part of the lesson. Jesus starts to patiently teach what Messiahship means to Him. The historic Jewish understanding of Messiah was a heroic ruler who would come with military might and drive the hated Romans into the sea. He would be the defeater of the oppressor … the political solution to the problem of enemy occupation … might and power and guns and warheads Messiah, riding in a tank or a fighter plane … a royal Rambo.
This was the popular understanding. It is certainly what the disciples thought of when Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, but it is decidedly not what Jesus had in mind. “I know you think being a Messiah is a good deal: big throne, lots of power, victories and such. That’s not what I’m about — not what I believe “my-Father-who-sent-me” would have me do. I know you’ll find this impossible to believe, but it’s true: I must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the priests and scribes; I will be killed and on the third day be raised.”
Peter blurted out, “God forbid! That shall never happen to you.” Then comes the strongest rebuke that Jesus ever spoke to anyone. The words stung because Jesus saw a malevolent force working within Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God but of men.”
Then come the teachings about the Christian life: what it means to be a follower of Christ. Nothing here in Jesus’ essential teachings was about prosperity, the popular gospel that is proclaimed by many popular TV evangelists.
You know the line: “You just give to the Lord, and He will bless you and bless you and bless you — you can have a split level house, a BMW, and be a millionaire by the time you’re 30 (and please write a check to keep us on television; and another check to support our million-dollar salary, six homes, gold-plated bathroom fixtures, and air-conditioned dog house).
Here was Jesus’ invitation, straight and simple, an invitation to follow Him in His lifestyle: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
What in the world are you thinking about, Jesus?
How can we get followers on that basis? That’s going to be tough PR. Deny ourselves? Say no to ourselves? Take up a cross? That sounds too threatening and dangerous. Couldn’t you soften it up a bit for the masses?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyred by Hitler, reflected on these verses and wrote: “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Yet that is Jesus’ paradox: to be alive, truly alive, one must die to his idolatry to the world powers in order to be alive to God.
Did Jesus wear a Rolex?
He had no home. “Foxes have holes, the birds have nests, the Son of Man has no place to rest his head.”
He did not accumulate wealth. He practiced what He preached: “Don’t lay up for yourselves treasures on earth … but treasures in heaven. You cannot serve God and Money.”
He was no power grabber, pointing always to the Father who sent Him. In Philippians, Paul said:
He always had the very nature of God, But he did not think by force he should try to become equal with God. Instead, of his own free will he gave it all up, and took the nature of a servant. He became like man, he appeared in human likeness: he was humble and walked the path of obedience to death — his death on the cross.
He “gave it all up” — all the honor, prestige, power, perks. Other translations have it: “He emptied himself.” In this “Me” generation — in which we are so self-centered and pay such a price for it in drug abuse, crime, child abuse, and ill health — Jesus has a freeing lifestyle: take up your cross and follow Me. Take up a towel and be a servant.
Jesus’ life stands as a judgment not only on those who preach a gospel of prosperity and live opulent lifestyles, but on all of us affluent Americans who are so dedicated to material values that we are in danger of losing our own souls.
The story is told of a worker in an inner city mission who had given many years to a most discouraging ministry. A friend came to him one day and said, “Why don’t you leave this job before you are broken by its inhuman burden? Why don’t you run away from it all?” The man replied, “There are times when I would very much like to leave it all. But there is a strange, loving man on a cross who won’t let me.”1
“Did Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show?”
No. Nothing gaudy and spectacular. He just took a towel and washed the disciples’ feet like an ordinary servant. He just took a cross and carried it to the place of death-for the sins of the whole world.
1. From a sermon by King Duncan.