Jesus illustrates qualities good leaders need

3/20/2007

By Allison Trussell

 

April 1

Yielding to Christ’s Lordship

Lesson Scripture: Luke 19:28-40; Revelation 1:8

Background Scripture: Luke 19:28-40; Revelation 1:1-8

Key Verse: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven.” – Luke 19:38

 

Everyone seems to have an idea of the qualities that make a good leader – calmness, ability to listen to others, decisiveness, a vision. What other qualities can you think of?

 

I love the King Arthur stories. There are knights and fair ladies, and good triumphs always.

 

I remember reading T.H. White’s The Once and Future King in school, and Merlin tells a young Arthur that might doesn’t make right. That was a new concept to the fictional world of King Arthur. Unfortunately, it is often a new concept to past and current regimes.

 

In Jesus’ time, more often than not, “might makes right” was the motto of leadership.

 

Rulers often did whatever was necessary to secure their regime, whether it was exploiting the people, sending their children to other countries to create alliances or forcing others to their wills.

 

Yet, Jesus does none of this and was and is considered a great leader/ruler of his people. He certainly was treated as one with his entrance into Jerusalem.

I remember as a child hearing this passage and wondering why the owners of the donkey would allow the disciples to take it. It sort of seems like “might makes right.” Of course, Jesus doesn’t instruct the disciples on what to do if the donkey’s owner says no, but he seems calmly assured that the owner will agree. Our versions of Luke have the disciples saying, “The Lord needs it,” but the Greek wording says, “Its master has need.”

 

This reminds us of the Jewish tradition that early Christian leaders followed: God is the master of all creation and he entrusts it to our safekeeping.

 

With that in mind, it doesn’t seem at all odd that the donkey is willingly handed over.

 

So like a well-beloved leader, Jesus has a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Everyone is happy; there is much singing and dancing and rejoicing. The people followed Jesus willingly and without force because of his leadership; they trusted and loved him.

 

And then some of the Pharisees come into the scene. I rather like that it’s “some” and not all of the Pharisees that object to the celebration. We seem to automatically place the Pharisees into the bad guys role, and surely such generalization of a group of people is not right.

 

In any event, they object to the heresy of the people who are pronouncing Jesus as a spiritual and political ruler. The priests demand that Jesus tell his disciples to stop. Jesus’ reply – that even if he could, “the stones would shout out” (Luke 19:40) – echoes Habakkuk 2:11 where the stones and timbers of the walls of Jerusalem shout out against injustices of the ruling elite.

 

The passage from Revelations assures us that Jesus encompasses all things and is the ruler of all rulers.

 

How do we as Christians bear witness to Revelations 1:8? How do we serve the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come”?

 

April 8

Discovering Resurrection

Lesson Scripture: John 20:11-16, 30-31; Revelation 1:12; 17-18

Background Scripture: John 20:1-18, 30-31; Revelation 1:9-20

Key Verse: “But he placed his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever;’” – Revelation 1:17-18

 

We’re all familiar with this week’s scripture and lesson. Easter is, after all, the reason for our faith. The Gospel of John is attentive to moving the believer from “signs” to “belief” is Jesus as the Son of God.

 

The story of Mary at the tomb is a lovely illustration of one who travels from signs to a real presence of Christ in her life. We’re told she sees the burial cloths and the angels. She sees the signs of resurrection, but she is still looking for a physical presence. She even asks Jesus for the body, so that she make take him away. It is not until he calls her name that she recognizes him.

 

The calling of the name reminds us of John 10:14, 16: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and they know me … they will listen to my voice.”

 

Once Mary hears his voice, she recognizes Jesus for who he truly is and accepts him as a true presence; death and resurrection have only served to bring Christ closer to her and to us.

 

Jesus is in our midst if we choose to see him. Like Mary, we often overlook him until he calls to us. Verse 30 tells us Jesus did many other signs that are not listed, unlike the tradition of the Old Testament.

 

There, the books of Kings commonly conclude with a reference to other books so that we can get the “rest” of the story of a particular monarch’s deeds. John doesn’t list the deeds, but he follows convention by saying such deeds have happened, and we are to take what signs have been offered to lead the follower to a deeper belief.

 

But John does tell us the most important sign – that of the resurrection – so that we “may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

 

Do we, like Mary, look beyond the signs of Christ around us? Can we make a conscious effort to see him, to accept him as a real presence in our life?

 

The gospel makes the resurrection into a personal event: John 14:19 proclaims that because Jesus lives, so will we.  The passage from Revelations echoes with verse 18 offering the reader hope: “I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever.”

 

Easter is a celebration of Christ’s power over death, a celebration that death is not the end of our lives just as it was not the end of Jesus’ life.

 

How does this knowledge allow us to “give away” our lives in Christian service?

 

April 15

Worshiping God Alone

Lesson Scripture: Revelation 4

Background Scripture: Revelation 4

Key Verse: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” – Revelation 4:11

 

The focus of today’s lesson is worship. Who or what is truly worthy of our worship? And how do we worship that which is worthy?

 

John is writing for his seven congregations, offering them advice and instruction for life choices. It is not by chance that his vision of heaven begins with an invitation. Aren’t we all invited in? And then he sees the throne in the middle of the room with ever-widening concentric circles of the angelic orders.

 

Seems pretty simple doesn’t it? God is at the center of the universe. We are not; our work is not; only God is true center. That, to me, seems pretty basic, and yet, like us, the churches of John didn’t always recognize that truth. They and their congregations were surrounded by Greco-Roman gods, whose followers made much ado about their worship. They were upholding “family values,” and it was oftentimes more important to be seen at worship than to worship.

 

Christian churches, on the other hand, met in private homes and in small groups, and were looked on with contempt and suspicion. John assures them that they are the ones above contempt because the center of their worship the God of creation. But how often do we need reminding of this? How often do we place our attention and devotion on something other than God?

 

John would have us, like the seven churches, take stock of where the centers of our lives lie. Revelations 4 challenges us in our worship practices. We are told that the four creatures worship God without ceasing and “whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one … the 24 elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne” (verses 9-10). We are challenged to find ourselves in our proper place and orientation, always giving honor to God.

 

John is struck by God’s presence, how “real” he is for his worshipers. Clearly, the angels and archangels see God as real and present for their worship.

 

Do we have that same feeling? Shouldn’t worship be about finding not just ourselves around God, but in finding God in the acts of adoration, thanksgiving, profession and petition?

 

John offers us an invitation to seek out worship that perceives the presence of God.

 

I think we all suffer when arguments over worship “style” take precedence over the worship. I’m an old-fashioned person – I like traditional worship. I like the quiet, solemn feeling of it. I have friends who, on the other hand, prefer a more contemporary service, with sound systems and audio-video elements; they want people to know who they’re worshiping.

 

Neither is right or wrong; it’s a matter of preference. But John warns us against getting in a rut. It’s not the how’s of worship, but the focus of worship that is so important.

 

“Where we are centered on God and not ourselves, and where our worship reflects the diversity of the communion of saints that God has called together and nurtured throughout the centuries, there the eschatological vision for worship begins to be realized.”

 

April 22

Redeemable

Lesson Scripture: Revelation 5:1-5, 11-14

Background Scripture: Revelation 5

Key Verse: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and that is in them, singing, ‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’” – Revelation 5:13

 

The scroll in verse 1 is drawn from the imagery of Ezekiel 2:9-10. That scroll contained words of woe and lamentation, and the scene of worship from last week’s lesson suddenly turns ominous. That scroll will set into motion the reclaiming of the world for God and his people, but there is no one – the Greco-Roman gods nor the rulers of the world – worthy to open it.

 

Is it any wonder John breaks into tears?

 

But then the lamb, the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, is introduced into the scene. The idea of a lamb recalls to the reader both the image of Jesus as a shepherd and the Old Testament image of a ram who conquers God’s enemies. Clearly the slaughtered servant of Isaiah 53:7 is indicated as is Jesus’ death as the Passover sacrifice. The worshipers of the scene begin to worship the lamb as well, thereby offering a clear understanding that the Lamb is equal to God. The accolades given to the lamb highlight his sacrifice, his work of redemption.

 

Without Christ, we are hostages to the world in which we live. But his act of redemption, his sacrifice, offers us freedom from the secular world. In John’s mind, the lamb – not our government, our nation or our world – is the only one worthy of our allegiance.

 

That’s a tough idea to get used to. It runs counter to that which drives our political, economic and social systems. We are challenged by this scripture to place God and our need for him above our need for power, wealth and precedence.

 

How many times have we heard a politician or a martyr or an evangelical use God as a symbol of national or ethnic might? Christ’s sacrifice redeems us all, and we should focus on the big picture – God – rather than the little one – political or economic stature.

 

John challenges us to look beyond ourselves, beyond our prejudices, to embrace all of God’s people. They may look different or act different or speak differently from us, but if we all have the same redeemer, do the differences matter?

 

How do we act as God’s redeemed people in relation to other people and in relation to all creation?

 

April 29

Source of Security

Lesson Scripture: Revelation 7:1-3; 9, 13-17

Background Scripture: Revelation 7

Key Verse: “Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’” – Revelation 7:14

 

Most of us had some sort of security blanket growing up. It might have been a teddy bear or an actual blanket or perhaps a thumb to suck on. Whatever it was, it offered us a sense of safety when things went bump in the night.

 

John offers believers their own security blanket in the form of Jesus in his vision in Revelation 7. True servants of God were marked with a seal. God marks us as his own, showing the world to whom we belong.

 

Of course, there’s no actual mark to be seen; it’s all about where you go and what you do as an obedient servant.

 

In John’s time, showing allegiance to the emperor of Rome would save you the scorn and hostility of your neighbors and officials. But was the cost of that worth it? John gives an emphatic “No!” as his answer.

 

While the trials described in Revelation have been interpreted as trials to come, of which “true believers” will be exempt, one must wonder about the suffering found in our world today.

 

The global church has not been exempt from suffering either in the present or in the past. Our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer from deprivation and death because of their beliefs throughout the world. And there is plenty of suffering through disease to be found that has little to do with religion.

 

United Methodists have recognized and battled against the suffering of the people in Africa, Indonesia and even closer to home. Is it fair to those victims to belittle their sufferings because we expect greater suffering to come? Or do we roll up our sleeves and offer a security blanket in the name of Jesus Christ?

 

The image of God wiping away our tears and wrapping us in secure arms has brought some relief to the grieving.

 

Jesus is that “safe place” that our security blanket helped us to find as children; shouldn’t we offer that to those who suffer because of their pursuit of faithfulness to God? The safe place found in Jesus also allows those of us not immediately suffering trials and tribulations to examine our own values and behaviors and to hear whatever the Spirit might tell us.

 

If we can find our own security blankets in Jesus, we can go out and witness, step out of our “comfort zone.”

 

How does Christ serve as our protector? And what does his protection allow us to do?

 

Trussell is acting editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.