Jesus changed the world. There is not much debate around that. He is perhaps the most commonly recognized name from the last 2000 years and probably most of written history altogether. While He did not compete for political office of any kind during his life in the first century, He attracted an enormous following that continues today in a way that has political implications all over the world. He changed the world, and He is still changing the world today.
Those of us who claim to follow Jesus have a mission to change the world by making new disciples of Jesus. Sometimes our zeal for leading change and our lack of wisdom and discernment in doing so have caused as much harm as good. This problem has been most prevalent in political issues and most of the criticism surrounding Christianity has been related to politics. In the last century, we have tried to counter this criticism by distancing ourselves from politics. With the recent cultural engagement with Christian Faith, in comparison and contrast with other world religions, distancing ourselves from politics is no longer a viable alternative, if it ever truly was. I propose instead that we try something else. I propose we look at Jesus and His values and priorities as He lead the way in changing the world around Him.
Mark’s gospel has often been referred to as the first gospel, because it contains more shared material than the other gospels and because it is shorter. The focus of Mark’s gospel is on the actions of Jesus and details the ministry of Jesus from His baptism at age 30 until his crucifixion and resurrection three years later. So, for a short, concise, focused look at the actions of Jesus, we will look at the Gospel of Mark.
Mark’s gospel skips the birth narrative and the first 30 years of Jesus’s life, choosing instead to focus on the 3 years of His ministry and journey to the cross in Jerusalem. Unlike Moses, in the Old Testament, who has a special birth narrative (as Matthew compares to Jesus in his gospel account), Mark writes the story of Jesus more like the stories of the Judges of Israel who were “raised up” by God during Israel’s time of need, delivered them, and then disappeared into the depths of history.
Mark begins with a scripture reference from the prophet Isaiah and identifies John the Baptist as the fulfillment of this prophecy. John has his own role to play in this narrative, but he never overshadows Jesus and never steps into the role as conqueror himself. He is a witness, “a voice crying in the wilderness”, just as Isaiah described. He provides the introduction to this action-packed drama, points out Jesus as the main character by baptizing Him, and then quickly steps aside. Even though Jesus has a powerful introduction onto the scene, His transition from anonymity to celebrity status is anything but easy.
Mark says, immediately after being baptized, the Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness where He was “being tempted by Satan”. No time to pack a bag or get prepared – no the first enemy that Jesus is to face in this work is the greatest evil of all, Satan himself. From the very first chapter, Mark makes it clear to us that this is a spiritual war that Jesus is waging on our behalf and that everything else flows out of this. Nor is this a quick battle. It says Jesus is out in the wilderness for 40 days, fasting and praying, while being tempted and being ministered to by the angels. Luke provides a longer account of this, but Mark focuses on the point that Jesus went into battle the first day on the job.
The first priority of Jesus was getting himself spiritually prepared. This was not a fundraising campaign or time of gathering followers. He was tested to see if He could live according to the very standards by which He would soon be leading others. This should really not be any kind of surprise to us. Indeed it seems like a pretty American-friendly notion that all people are created equal and that the laws of one apply to the laws of all. So Jesus, about to set out on a huge campaign of teaching people how to live in the Kingdom of God, started out by proving that He could live that life Himself. He was tempted to use His own power to benefit Himself, but instead of using privilege for His own personal ends, He fasted and sought God’s provision instead.
One of the best lessons I learned in seminary, learning to be a leader of the church, was that new leaders are often given a kind of “honeymoon” period during their first several months or perhaps even a year. Typically a congregation during this time will give you about one, two, or perhaps three free requests, or things they will follow you and do, before deep trust has been established, simply because you have a claim of authority over them. The challenge is: will you use these free requests for your own benefit, for theirs, or for God? It is tempting to try to wiggle a way to at least partially do all three…but that is not the leadership to which Christians are called. We are called to serve God and others and to do so trusting in God’s provision for us all.
Jesus prepared and practiced this first priority before He ever preached His first message. If Jesus is our model, how do we prepare ourselves for leadership? How are we tested to be sure we are truly relying on God’s provision and not being led astray to use our own authority – in whatever form it may come – for our own benefit instead of to serve God and others? Do we hold ourselves to at least the same ethical standards as those to whom we intend to lead… or will we find ourselves as hypocrites – just acting as leaders – before we even begin?
See this article on Leadership and Ethics
Also Aristotle’s emphasis on Ethos (Ethics) on persuasion (and leadership)