Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
April 14, 2019
Text: Luke 19:3, Old Testament: Isaiah 50:4-9a,
New Testament: Luke 1:28-40
It’s time for change.
Social change! Economic change! Political change!
We want it. We want it now!
Emotions fill the halls of power. The nation is anxious. People are unsettled. Crowds on the street demand leadership that brings genuine change. They want an end to the impasse paralyzing government.
A government that isn’t in touch with the people is spooking the crowds and driving discontent.
Leadership is missing – leadership that understands people’s needs and serves people’s hearts.
Who is such a leader? Who knows people’s needs so well they are devoted to serve their hearts? Who identifies with people so that government is mercifully just?
People seek leadership – leadership that’s extraordinary. Yet when a leader emerges, the leader is crucified. It’s the cost of leadership.
Bestow a leader’s mantle upon a person. Give a person the title “Leader.” See how soon the crowd turns against the officer holder.
Machiavelli wrote about the perils of leadership in The Prince. The greatest task of leadership for Machiavelli is not to serve the people. It’s to preserve the leader. This requires power – power that’s based on fear. He wrote, “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.”
Leaders of earthly kingdoms use fear to preserve their position as heads of state. Great leaders depend on mighty armies, strong police forces, intelligence about their opponents, and timely decisions to keep the people at bay.
When earthly leaders show weakness, underestimate their foes, or are paralyzed from taking action, they’re overthrown. When earthly leaders invoke fear over the people they rule, they keep the peace – and save their necks.
Jesus of Nazareth fit the profile of a potential leader of change. Jesus’ identified with the peoples’ needs and appealed to the peoples’ hearts. Jesus love for the people was so evident – no one could escape noticing it. Not even those who ruled by the principles of Niccolo Machiavelli.
Herod thought that Jesus had captured the peoples’ passion. Caiaphas thought the people were worshipping Jesus. Pontius Pilate thought the people were more loyal to Jesus than Rome.
The people thought Jesus was more impressive than Herod, Caiaphas, or Caesar. But only for a moment. Only for the briefest of moments. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, He was fit to be King – for a day.
The crowds backed Jesus. The crowds adored Jesus. The crowds coronated Jesus as their King when He entered Jerusalem. They were ready to give Him all the power He wanted to bring desperately needed change.
The problem was, they didn’t really understand the relationship between leaders and followers. They didn’t know anything about themselves. Leaders are crucified by people they lead, unless leaders preserve their power by fear.
The leader the Jerusalem crowd thought it had in Jesus was already destined to be crucified. The crowd saw His potential to bring change. But before He brought the change they expected, they were destined to crucify Him.
He was compassionate. He cared for their needs. He loved them. He was a welcome change to Herod, Caiaphas, and Rome. He could do miraculous things.
But Jesus failed their expectations about how quickly change would occur. They thought He would use His power to bring immediate change. Instead, Jesus showed weakness. Instead of leading a revolt when He arrived, He retreated to the countryside and disappeared. He was nowhere to be seen in Jerusalem.
Then when He did come back, Jesus appeared to underestimate the opposition. He seemed to be paralyzed by indecision. He was ineffective in bringing about the change they wanted. So they did what crowds do to leaders who aren’t fit to be King.
They weren’t afraid of Jesus. But they did fear Herod, Caiaphas, and the Romans. So, they condemned Jesus later in the week.
Jesus lost the people when he admitted to Pontius Pilate, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If my Kingdom were of this world, my followers would fight. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”
In other words, Jesus’ understanding of leadership was not worldly. Neither was His understanding of followers based on them being worldly. He hadn’t come to pick a fight. He had come to bring peace. He hadn’t come to lift a sword. He had come to lift up love. He hadn’t come to fear monger and threaten. He came to offer meekness and humility. Who leads by being meek?
Jesus knew people were afraid of their social leaders. He knew social leaders keep their power by fear. He knew the people were angry at their powerlessness. The only way He could convince people there was an alternative to worldly leadership was to literally show them God’s power to overcome their fear and anger.
Jesus knew that for people to be free from fear, they needed to be liberated from death. For their lives to be different, people had to know there was more to God than simply punishing frightened people with death.
The supreme leader of life had another power available that could change society. The supreme leader of the universe had a greater power that overcomes fear political leaders use to preserve their authority.
Almighty and Everlasting God had the power to give life – to create life out of death – to overcome death. This power was the divine power invested in love.
Jesus knew what the crowd didn’t know. He had to lead them to the gates of death in order for them to know there was life on the other side of those gates. Knowing the reality of eternal life was game changing. It was society changing. It inverted the world’s political hierarchy. It was life transforming.
Jesus taught this lesson of leadership to His disciples earlier in His ministry when he said, “Whoever wants to be greatest among you must become the servant of all. Whoever wants to save His life must lose it. And whoever will lose His life for my name’s sake, will gain it. Let Him take up His cross and follow me.”
Jesus had to lead by more than words. He had to live the lesson.
The King of Kings taught God’s lesson of leadership that changes the world. We are living in the third millennia since Jesus defined Christian leadership.
Christian leadership is the only type of leadership that is life changing. Christian leadership does not rely on fear to gain followers. Christian leadership does not keep its authority by promoting fear in the people.
Christian leadership rises above the powers and principalities of this world that rule by fear. Christian leadership sets the captives free from the fear used by worldly leaders to keep the peace.
Jesus’ genius as a leader was not only in His alternative principles for leadership. His genius lies in His capacity to inspire His people to be leaders who are committed to changing the world.
Each of us has been blessed with the gifts of Christian leadership that is as badly needed today as it was in first century Judea. Each of us has the God-given capacity and the God-given responsibility to lead communities and nations to a great vision of life through our faith in God.
Last week we were given five choices by the elders to consider for the future of our community. We are tempted to succumb to the fear of death – it’s the easy way for people who are hopeless. But where there is the power of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in the hearts of His people, there is life!
There is a commitment to serve the Lord with gladness. To offer every bit of our lives in meekness and humility, but with courage and persistence, to serve this community in Jesus’ name!
The King of Kings offers the water of life, in our baptisms and in His message of hope! The King of Kings has come among us for us to be a life-giving community that isn’t intimidated by the fear of death.
When we invest our lives for others in our community, we offer Jesus’ compassion in His merciful justice. When we invest our lives in others in our community, we teach the sacredness of human life to everyone around us. When we leading the crowd to change from its resignation. we stop resigning to the fear of dying.
Christian leadership inspires change, dramatic, complete, ultimate change. That leadership is evident, even when you are on the threshold of being crucified.