Jesus the Leader, the Good Leader.

We have been seeing world leaders, from Prime Ministers and Presidents, to mayors and health officials, take to tv to lead us in our response to the COVID-19 crisis. As they take centre stage, we see what kind of leaders they are.

These leaders have reminded me of my own leadership journey which began with an excruciatingly shy and extremely quiet boy. Loving airplanes as I did I joined Air Cadets as a young teen. One year in, and having achieved the lowest rank of “leading Air Cadet,” we moved to a new town, which meant joining a new squadron. This was a brand new squadron, with a very successful launch, meaning many new recruits. Despite my one year of experience, and despite being the lowest rank possible, I suddenly found myself as one of the most experienced and highest ranking! I was placed over my own “flight” of cadets and immediately had to start training and teaching these new recruits. This excruciatingly shy, inexperienced and low raking cadet was instantly identified as a leader! And lead I did! I have often said that I would not be a pastor today, if it were not for Air Cadets. However, my quietness and shyness would forever colour the kind of leader I am, sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

When Jesus rides into Jerusalem, he does so in a way that indicates he is a leader. In fact, he is the leader!

This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

Matthew 21:4-5 (NLT)

In entering Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus indicates that he is not just a teacher and miracle worker, he is the king! Pontius Pilate seemed to be in charge, but in fact Jesus is the rightful king.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem in a way which also indicates what kind of king he is. Many leaders throughout history have thought that leadership is about power, and brute force. Where I come from we have an expression, “brute force and ignorance.” Some leaders lead with that! Jesus rides on a donkey and not a war horse. He brings peace, not war. He does not need brute force. There is a gentleness to Jesus, a humility, an approachability. He is a ruler who really cares for the people, as anyone who experienced his teaching and miracles could tell you.

Speaking of miracles, Jesus gives another hint to the kind of king he is:

Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.”
But Jesus said, “You feed them.”
“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”
“How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.”
They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”
Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass.

Mark 6:35-39 (NLT emphasis added)

Does that miracle remind you of another Bible passage?

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures

Psalm 23:2 (KJV)

We are reminded of Psalm 23. In saying “The Lord is my shepherd” king David is saying “God is my king. I might be the leader of the people, but God is my leader.”

David knows what kind of a sovereign God is. God is a great king, a leader that cares for him. The kind of king who . . .

  • provides for my needs (verse 1)
  • makes me lie down in green pastures (verse 2)
  • restores my soul (verse 3)
  • leads me in paths of righteousness (verse 3)
  • is with me, capable of dealing with any enemy (verse 4)
  • cares for me in the face of adversity (verse 5)
  • promises his presence forever (verse 6)

Jesus goes on to say that he, himself is the good shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep in John 10:11. Jesus is later described as the shepherd who even leads beyond death into eternal life in the Book of Revelation:

They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
For the Lamb on the throne
will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 7:16-17 (NLT)

What kind of leader is Jesus? The leader with authority, even over life and death, yet the leader who is humble enough to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. The kind of leader you can approach. The kind of king who is not just kind and generous to his subjects, but who desires to adopt them into his royal family. The kind of leader willing to forgive. David said “the Lord is my shepherd” Is the Lord your shepherd?

The “Shrunk Sermon” video version.

(This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced our regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. The full worship expression can be seen here. For now, all Clarke’s sermons are “shrunk sermons”! For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here)

Disappointing Leaders and Ezekiel 34.

People suffer when bad leaders are in charge. We might feel the pain of disappointing leadership in our workplace, affecting our work, our livelihood, family life, and finances.  Those who are to provide leadership within the family can leave family members scarred for life. This happens too often here in Canada, where we have it easy. Consider the poor leadership around the world, whether it be a tyrannical dictatorship over an entire nation, or an enforcement of archaic man-made rules. The so-called “Islamic State” comes to mind.

What are we to do in the face of bad, and even horrific, leadership? Ezekiel 34 is about leaders and leadership. As we read this chapter, we may think the word “shepherd” refers to the “pastors” of Ezekiel’s day. However, many Ancient Near East societies, including God’s people Israel, spoke of their kings and political leaders as “shepherds.” Therefore we should think of Ezekiel 34 as being about all kinds of leadership, not just “pastors”. With that in mind, let us take a look:

The word of the Lord came to me: 2 Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4 You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. Ezekiel 34:1-5 (NRSV)

The first thing we notice is that God is very disappointed in the leaders. To summarize, the leaders were exploiting people rather than caring for them. Rather than caring for the people; “with force and harshness you have ruled them” (verse 5). Sheep should be fed, not fed-up.

I wonder how many people in being asked to define a “leader” would focus on someone who is a ruler. The Bible never gives us a definition of leadership that would suit an entry in Webster’s Dictionary, but it does give us an analogy. A leader is to be like a shepherd. Any self-indulgent person can be a ruler given enough power. Such rulers are usually a disappointment in the eyes of the people under their care. They are also a disappointment in God’s eyes. It takes a person who has high regard and concern for others to be the kind of leader that pleases God, the kind of leader who can be described as a shepherd.

In the midst of His disappointment, God makes a promise:

Ezekiel 34:11-16 (NRSV) For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them  . . .  I will bring them out . . . I will feed them . . .  I will feed them with good pasture . . . I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down,. . .. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, . . .

God, Himself, will be the shepherd. And He will do this through His servant:

Ezekiel 34:23-24 (NRSV) 23 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

While this prophecy includes the restoration of God’s people from exile, the promise is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus came to “seek and save the lost” as Jesus tells us in Luke 19:10 (reflecting Ezekiel 34:11,12). Jesus saw the people as scattered without a shepherd, as we are told in Mark 6:34 (reflecting Ezekiel 34:5). Mark also tells us that Jesus made the people lie down on green grass in verse 39, to feed them (reflecting Ezekiel 34:14, and also Psalm 23). In fact all along we see Jesus doing all the things a good shepherd does. And of course we ought to consider Jesus’ teaching in John 10, especially: “I Am the Good Shepherd” in verse 14. Jesus also teaches about leadership in a way that reflects the shepherd leader-as-servant teaching of Ezekiel 34:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:24-28 (NRSV)

From all this let us look at two practical applications.

The first concerns people who are leading. Anyone who is in a place of leadership, who has any kind of influence over others, is accountable to God. Therefore they would do well to look to God for His leadership on how to be a leader. It is not about ruling. It is about caring. The best example of that is the Good Shepherd Himself.

The second concerns people who are led. All human leadership is unsure and temporary.  There is not a leader in place today who will still be in a place of leadership 100 years from now. Most have less time that that, some much, much less. Disappointing leaders are really disappearing leaders. In contrast, God’s leadership is certain and eternal. God’s leadership is good. This is especially hopeful for those who suffer a lifetime under a terrible regime, or who suffer a whole lifetime because of one bad decision by a leader. There is a much more caring leadership for those who follow the Good Shepherd, now, and into eternity.

So what are we to do in the face of bad, and even horrific leadership? Look to the LORD to take the lead!