Better Leader = Better Culture
Introduction: Significance of Leadership.
Leadership is a fascinating thing. If you had asked me 8 years ago about leadership I would have struggled to articulate the value of good leadership. I thought when people described “leadership” they were talking about mostly worldly categories and attributes that had little to no bearing on the church. But now I think leadership is extremely important. I still believe the church is trying to learn what true good leadership is, but I think leadership is vital. Leadership is vital because it shapes the world in which we live. Leaders are used by God to shape, cultivate, and construct culture.
When it comes to leadership, the questions we need to be asking ourselves are things like: What comes to your mind when you think of a good leader? What are the attributes of a good leader? I am not talking about the answer you know people want to hear, but the one you really believe. Friends, if we want to really evaluate what we believe are the marks of a good leader then look at the people you are following. Look at the attributes, thoughts, character, and actions of those leaders. Who are the voices you are listening to that truly transform the way you live? The attributes of those people have are what you truly believe are the marks of a good leader.
Our text today shows us the attributes God believes is a good leader. I think Jesus is the leader we all are looking for and need. Jesus shapes, cultivates, and constructs a culture where all people can flourish under His leadership.
Theme: In Jesus, we have a better leader constructing a better culture.
Since it has been a while let me quickly refresh our brains of where we are in the Gospel of John. John is broken up into 4 parts. We have been in part 2, which is the section on "SIGNS." Jesus has been performing many miracles, and each time He does it is escalating tension between Him and His enemies. The last sign He performed was raising Lazarus from the dead. After that sign, the religious leaders made definitive plans to murder Jesus. This is where our narrative picks up today.
1. The Image of a Better Culture—John 12.12-19.
In John 12 Jesus is entering Jerusalem for Israel's greatest national holiday—Passover. He enters the people begin celebrating Jesus like He is their new leader. Listen to what John tells us—READ John 12.12-15. The problem with what these people are doing is they have an image of leadership that will only lead to disappointment, depression, hatred, betrayal, violence and many other things. Verse 13 demonstrates this to us very vividly. The fact these people greeted Jesus with “palm branches” clues into the type of thinking they had about leadership. The PALM branch is a symbol of flourishing and victory throughout the Bible. These people believe they flourish under Jesus’ leadership. They believe He will be victorious over their enemies. They knew Jesus had performed many miracles and even raised someone from the dead (John 12.17-19). Therein lies the issue. They believe that victory will come through brute force and not sacrifice.
Therefore, Jesus uses an IMAGE of humility and sacrifice to convey to them the marks of His leadership. Jesus chooses to use an image of a donkey to communicate His type of leadership. We know Jesus intentionally chose this image from Luke 19. Our author, John, tells us this image was taken from Zechariah 9. When one examines that passage we see two images. The first is a donkey, which is a symbol of humility. The second is a war-horse, which is a symbol of pride and violence.
If the people had understood what Jesus was communicating right then and there they would have cast Him out as a potential leader (and eventually they did). John even tells us Jesus’ own disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying—READ John 12.16. Most of these people could not see past their own circumstances to see the truth. Jesus is describing a leadership that most of say we agree with, but when we actually see it in action we don’t admire it. So, again I ask, “What type of attributes are we looking for in a good leader?”
2. The Scope of a Better Culture—John 12.20-22.
Right near the end of those verses, John clues us into the minds of the religious leaders—READ John 12.19. While they are certainly hyperbolic in their language John picks up on this and shows us the SCOPE of Jesus’ leadership. Jesus did not come to just redeem or help the children of Israel. Jesus certainly did come to do that, but His leadership is much broader than that. Jesus came to be the leader the WORLD is looking for and needs, and John demonstrates that to us—READ John 12.20-22.
This idea is not new with Jesus but fulfilled. When God called Abraham in Genesis 12 He told him the scope of what He was offering:
“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”—Genesis 12.2-3
Jesus is the true descendant of Abraham. Jesus is everything Israel was supposed to be. Therefore, it is through Jesus all the families of the earth shall be blessed. John is demonstrating that to us through this minor detail in His narrative. He wants His readers to understand the Gospel, the good news of God is for everyone. The culture Jesus is leading us to is a culture that is for every type of person. When we think about our lives and our leaders, are these types of leaders we admire? Are the leaders we are following leading us to broaden the scope of those we are inviting into our lives?
3.The Mantra of a Better Culture—John 12.23-26.
It was well known that Greeks traveled all over the known world looking for new teachers. The Greeks were seekers of knowledge. Word had gotten around about these “new teacher” and they wanted to listen to His teaching. They probably wanted to have a dialogue of ideas. Jesus takes this opportunity to share with His disciples the foundation or mantra of this new culture He is establishing—READ John 12.23-24. Jesus wants His disciples to understand how He will be glorified—how He will establish His leadership.
Jesus uses an agricultural metaphor of a piece of grain going into the ground, dying, being buried, but coming out of the ground flourishing. When the grain comes out then we are ready to reap the harvest. Jesus is the seed that needs to go into the ground, and when He comes out He will reap the harvest. It is through death and sacrifice how Jesus establishes His leadership and constructs a better culture. While Jesus' culture is built on sacrifice it is not weak or powerless. There are many leaders who have done great things. There are leaders who have done that through humility and sacrifice, but NO ONE has ever conquered the GRAVE. All of those leaders are dead and gone. Therefore, while Jesus sacrificed His life He also ROSE from the dead. This is why there is power in Jesus’ leadership model.
Jesus does not leave it there—READ John 12.25-26. Now Jesus tells us we can be leaders too, but we have to lead like Him. Jesus wants us to adopt His attributes, His character, His strategy to leadership. If we hold onto the things of this world we will not truly follow Jesus. Following Jesus will always cost us something. Following Jesus is a life of sacrifice. Jesus was willing to die for our sins, so we need to be willing to die to sin. But the power of our leadership is in our FAITH. Our faith is not in our work, our leadership, what we accomplish, but it is what Jesus has PROMISED us. Jesus has promised our sacrifices will not be in vain for all those who BELIEVE.
Now before we go I think it would be wise to evaluation. Paul tells us in I Corinthians 1 that one group of people were looking for a leader who could demonstrate His leadership through power or signs, while another group was looking for a leader who demonstrates His leadership through wisdom. Many times leadership works in this duality kind of way. One group has a view of leadership, while another has a different one. But Paul establishes one governing norm for all leadership—the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is through the Cross how God demonstrated His power and wisdom. Power can be a good thing. Wisdom can be a good thing. But only in the Cross can we learn how to use those in a way that actually continues to establish this new culture Jesus is trying to build. There are many other attributes we might add to our marks of a good leader, but they should all be governed by the Cross.