Sometimes, Luther says, people followed Jesus for the wrong reasons. Rather than seeing Jesus' ministry as a sign that Jesus was the long-awaited Savior of the world, they saw Jesus as a means to getting what they wanted: a good meal, a chicken in every pot, and a Maserati in every garage. (Or the first-century Judean equivalent of a Maserati, anyway.)
There's nothing wrong with a full belly, of course. Or with peaceful neighborhoods and nations. Or with health. Or a Maserati. Or any other good and happy thing that may bless us physically or psychologically.
But none of these things last forever, which is why Jesus goes on to tell the crowd, "Don't waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last" (John 6:27). (Jesus often referred to Himself in the third person like this.)
Even today, the gospel attracts people who think it will fill their bellies, satisfy their desires, and help them here in this life...When I first read Luther's words, I thought of those televangelists with their ritzy lifestyles and their prosperity "gospels," lying to people by telling them that if they follow Jesus, they'll become wealthy, powerful, and beautiful.
...they come only for personal gain. However, the gospel wasn't sent from heaven in order to allow people to...take whatever they want...and do whatever they please. Christ didn't shed his blood for this purpose.
The gospel proclaims God's glory and teaches us how to praise the Lord. God wants us to praise him. If we make God's honor and kingdom our first priority, then not only will he give us life and everything we need in this world, but he will give us eternal life as well.
God does provide for all the world's physical needs. There is enough food, sunshine, and water for all the people who populate the planet. But human beings also have the capacity to horde God's gifts and to decimate the earth God has given to us for our common benefit.
God provides for all of our material needs then, but God doesn't promise us success. God doesn't promise that, if we follow Jesus, we'll get whatever we want.
We follow Jesus to have a reconciled relationship with God, to submit to the reclamation project to which all followers of Jesus must surrender, the object of which is to turn us into truly human beings who live as truly human beings were meant to live, in love for God and love for neighbor.
As I thought of those televangelists who seem to follow Jesus for the wrong reasons and who commend their wrong reason religion to others, I felt a decided sense of superiority. "I'm glad I'm not like them," I thought.
But then, some other thoughts crossed my mind.
Did I always follow Jesus for the right reasons?
Didn't I sometimes treat Jesus like a cosmic rabbit's foot, a spiritual afterthought whose name I invoked after I'd already decided what I wanted to do?
And how often, in my preaching, teaching, leading, serving, and writing, have I fed my own ego and my craving for the affirmation of others rather than doing these things simply to help others know and follow Christ? In those circumstances, I followed Jesus for small-time, death-bound trophies, not as Luther puts it, proclaim God's glory or praise the Lord.
Me and the televangelists in the same category?
Yes, it's true. I don't want a private jet. But I do sometimes engage in wrong reason religion.
Thank God for grace that, through Jesus Christ, accepts me as I am.
Thank God too, that God is committed to making me new, even when it entails God wailing away on my ego to point out, "You and that televangelist may not be as different as you suppose, Mark."
Sometimes freedom begins with an, "Ouch!"