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Servant leadership

3 November 2008

A few days before he was crucified Jesus was approached by two of his disciples, James and John, who asked if they could sit at his left hand and right hand when he came to his kingdom.

We are not told what they were expecting when  they asked this, but from our general historical knowledge of the period and from hints in other parts in the New Testament, it seems that they expected Jesus to lead a rebellion against Roman rule and restore the kingdom to Israel, that he would rule Israel as a messianic king, and so they were asking for high posts in his government.

Jesus takes the opportunity of teaching his disciples about a new concept of leadership. The rulers of the nations, he said, lord it over them, and their great men exercise authoritiy over them, but among his followers the one who wants to be a prince, the first, should be the servant of all.

He also told James and John that they did not know what they were asking, and asked if they thoguht they could be baptised with the baptism he w3as to be baptised with. They said they could, but in fact could only understand this much later. Jesus said that the places at his left and right when he came to his kingdom had already been reserved, and within a week his disciples could see that, and for most of them the sight was too much and they ran away, for they could see that the places had been reserved for two criminals who had been crucified with him.

In all this, Jesus was showing that his kingdom is not of this world. His kingship is from elsewhere. Its values are different. The rulers of the nations lord it over their subjects, and their great men exercise authority over them, but Jesus represents a different kind of kingdom, and a different kind of leadership.

He tries to teach his disciples this, but they are slow to learn. He tells them, as they travel from Galilee to Judaea for the last time, that anyone who wants to follow him must take up his cross. For us the impact of that has been weakend, but in the contemporary Roman empire people took up crosses for only one purpose — to die on them. It was a method of execution reserved by the Romans for those who challenged their power, for rebels.

And Jesus shows that his kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this world in various ways. He enters Jerusallem on an ass, not a warhorse. He comes to his kingdom not as a conqueror, but as a peasant. Such had indeed been prophecied in the Old Testament, and some inhabitants recognised the symbolism, and greeted him with palms, but many were disappointed in their hopes, and within a week were shouting “Crucify him” before Pilate.

Jesus was a Messiah, an anointed king. But he was anointed, not on his head, by the high priest, in the temple, but rather on his feet, by a sinful woman, in a house. And finally, his throne is not in a palace, in the centre of the city, but outside the city walls, on the gibbet of the cross, and those on his left and right were two criminals executed with him.

The cross was an insturment of death, but God used it to bring life to the world. The world pushed Jesus our of the world and on to the cross, and to get rid of him as a troublemaker, one who rocked the boat and upset its values. But God made the instument of death into the instrument of life, and ever since Christians have acknowledged that they belong to a kingdom not of this world by the sign of the life-giving cross.

In all this Jesus turns earthly ideas of kingship and leadership upside down.

We like to claim all sorts of things for ourselves, but the only thing that is truly ours is a grave, the cross. Jesus claimed nothing: he was born in a borrowed stable and buried in a borrowed grave. He has nothing, and yet he has everything.

In the 2000-odd years that have elapsed since his birth in the borrowed stable, in a cave, a hole in the earth, his followers have often betrayed him. We have found it too easy to become like the rulers of the nations. Christian leaders are sometimes seen with the fanciest cars, living in luxury, and enjoying all the perks enjoyed by the leaders of this world, the politicians and business leaders who ensure that they are well-paid while ordinary people starve.

But Jesus said, “it is not to be so among you.”

This post is part of a synchroblog on leadership.

Here are other posts on the topic:

14 Comments leave one →
  1. 4 November 2008 11:27 am

    Interestingly, the ideal of Buddhist kingship is similar to this.

  2. 4 November 2008 4:57 pm

    “It is not to be so among you”… I included that line in my post as well. It seems the mantra for today’s Christian leaders is “It is to be so among you”. Thanks for the call to service!


  3. 4 November 2008 7:09 pm

    Thanks for the reminder that we are not to be of this world but His. We are citizens of another realm and leaders of this realm are a little different.

  4. 4 November 2008 8:29 pm

    Regarding our call to be of God’s Kingdom, you write “He tries to teach his disciples this, but they are slow to learn. ”

    Oh, and how we are still slow to learn today. We lean on the political leaders and wait for them to lead instead of following the lead of our King.

  5. 4 November 2008 9:38 pm

    Interesting Steve we are saying similar things in different ways!

  6. asingleblog permalink
    4 November 2008 11:08 pm

    I often read this blog but I’ve never dared to comment. As a follower of Jesus (not a leader) Luke4:15 haunts me. “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.” For me, this simple message is what both Christian and Political leaders should adhere to.

  7. 6 November 2008 2:07 am

    steve, i really like these thoughts here and so agree that Jesus turned all our earthly ideas upside down. thanks for sharing.

  8. 19 November 2008 4:52 pm

    Check out The Genesis Principle of Leadership blog:

    Leaders are NOT made! Leaders are NOT born! Leaders are CREATED! Now go out and lead!


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  5. Leadership – November 2008 | synchroblog
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