Do you really believe that “…many who are first will be last, and the last first?” When you are in a position of leadership, do you really believe that the way to become great is to lower yourself to the position of servant?
As a Christian, I understand that Jesus rejected positions of power in the earthly arenas of politics, popularity and religion. Instead he lived a life of sacrificial service. My brain knows that. If you’re a Christian, you know it too. The questions we must ask ourselves are: Do we live like we believe it? Are we willing to experience it? Or is it just too difficult to absorb in our top-down power obsessed world?
A New Power Paradigm
Our first clues that Jesus was not going to be the typical top-down leader were his humble birth and anonymous life as a carpenter. Jesus also spent forty days in the desert being tempted to take personal advantage of his power and position. He refused.
This was a great source of confusion for first century Jews who expected a mighty Messiah to conquer Rome and re-establish Israel as the dominant world power.
Instead, toward the end of his life, Jesus explicitly taught his disciples that he would be killed and would rise from the dead. This did not fit into their Messianic paradigm. One day, Jesus took Peter, James and John up to the top of a high mountain where he was transfigured into brilliant white holiness while he chatted with Moses and Elijah. God the Father instructed the disciples from the clouds: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him“ (Mark 9:7).
The disciples must have thought, “That’s what we’re talkin’ about Jesus! Awesome!”
But, on the way down the hill, Jesus, to whom God himself had just told them to listen, instructed the disciples to keep this to themselves until he had risen from the dead.
Huh? What did he REALLY mean?
The mental framework from which the disciples were operating did not allow for such a thing as Jesus’s death. So, “They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant” (Mark 9:11).
It’s tempting to chuckle at the disciples’ dense reaction, but not so fast. How many times have you read something in the Bible that doesn’t compute with your perception of truth, so you try to figure our what God really meant? Sometimes He means exactly what he says.
Having said that, Biblical interpretation is more an interpretive art than a straight-forward science. The plain words on the pages must be understood in their original languages and within their original contexts. Theologians call this exegesis. Then there is the hermeneutical (another big theological term) process of applying the ancient words to today’s world. Christian theologians debate the translations, interpretations and applications of many passages of Scripture, but they are unified on the identity and work of Jesus Christ.
Jesus’s death and resurrection were arguably the most paradigm shifting events in all of human history. Instead of reigning at the top of a power pyramid, Jesus surrendered from the bottom. Instead of dominating, he served. Instead of judging, he loved. Instead of investing his life in worldly pursuits, he initiated the Kingdom of Heaven. Instead of living, he died.
Then he told his disciples to follow him.
Do we? In truth, my instincts are still to maneuver my way to the front of a line rather than to content myself with a spot at the back. Our society honors assertiveness and power rather than humility and service, and I still desire to be recognized and to be served. I give lip service to Jesus’ up-ended power paradigm, and then my behavior and attitudes suggest that I really believe in the world’s top-down power pyramid. I don’t think I’m alone.
What would it look like today if Christians really believed Jesus and lived according to his counter cultural power paradigm? Do you struggle, as I do, to conduct your life like you believe it?
“And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:27