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Wednesday, second week of Lent

March 15, 2006

Blessed Wednesday!

Jeremiah 18:18-20 (Jeremiah has prayed for his persecutors)
Psalm 31:5-6, 14-16 “Save me, O Lord, in Your steadfast love”
+Matthew 20:17-28 (the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve)

In the Kingdom of Heaven, to lead is to be unjustly persecuted, to suffer, and to lay down your life for the benefit of those you lead, for the same people who are persecuting you. The highest place is the place of greatest sacrifice.

We see this first today in Jeremiah’s life. Jeremiah courageously followed God’s orders to lead the kingdom of Judah out of sin. He stood before God, pleading on their behalf for mercy. But his people didn’t follow his lead. They conspired against him, watching his every word for an excuse to attack him, plotting his death, surrounding him with terror on every side.

The same thing happened to Jesus, the ultimate Leader in the Kingdom of God. In fact, the reading from Jeremiah applies word for word to what happened to the Messiah (i.e., Jeremiah was another “type”, or foreshadowing of Christ). There was a price on His head (John 7:32, 11:53-57), His enemies tried repeatedly to lead Him into moral traps (Luke 6:7-11, Mark 12:13-17, John 8:1-11, etc.), and death stalked his steps (Matthew 12:14, 26:4, John 5:18, John 7:1, John 10:31, etc.), long before He was actually captured and murdered. And everything Jesus did was in service of the very people who killed Him.

You wouldn’t think that such a position of vulnerability and sacrifice would be very popular. If that’s what it means to be a spiritual leader, count me out! But we’re so used to our own ideas of leadership, to visions of grandeur, of being in control and of having others serve us, that we reach for this position of leadership anyway, not knowing what we’re really asking for. That’s exactly what Jesus told James & John when their mother asked for special positions of leadership for them in Jesus’ Kingdom. “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink of the cup I am to drink of?” (Matthew 20:22). Jesus had just described for them in some detail the ordeal He was about to suffer, the cup He was to drink (John 20:17-19). James and John, apparently still somewhat starry-eyed, assured Him that they could drink the same cup…and ultimately, they did. In Acts 12;2, we read that Herod killed James with the sword, and in Revelation 1:9 that John was banished to the Patmos, a tiny, dry, volcanic island just off the coast of Greece. In addition, Church history tells us that John was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil as a martyr, but emerged unscathed.

The rest of the Twelve evidently didn’t quite “get it” either. Instead of being relieved that James & John were willing to “take the heat”, to sacrifice themselves for the rest, to suffer and serve as leaders, they became indignant. Who do these two think they are, to claim the best for themselves?!

Jesus could’ve gotten fed up with them at this point. He could’ve slapped His forehead with one hand & pointed away with the other. “Go, you boneheads. Just get out of here! You’re completely unqualified.”

He didn’t. He called them to Himself! He gathered them close. His disciples had asked to be close to Him, to be at His right hand and at His left in His Kingdom. He calls them to come close in the present, to stop thinking of themselves and their own glory and to turn their eyes and their hearts upon Him. It’s only when we’re close to Jesus, when we’re focusing on Him, that we can see clearly, that we can learn from Him. And while Salome was overambitious in asking for power for her sons, she had this right. A mother can wish no greater good for her children than that they be close to Jesus.

The more we draw close to Jesus, the more we learn to serve and to suffer with and for Him, the more we will be equipped for the position of leadership that God has for us. Leadership is a by-product, however unintended on our part, of holiness. If we are close to Him, the very example of His holiness shining through us will lead others (especially as we obey Jesus’ command to not hide our light under a bushel, see Matthew 5:14-16), and persecution will result, whether we planned it or not. If we’re looking for leadership, we’re not qualified for it because we don’t know what it really is. If we seek the Crucified, leadership will follow, and He will fill us with the courage and strength we need to pay the painful price. When we stay close to Him and to His example, His leadership will flow through us–in sacrificial love under fire.

May we draw ever nearer to our Servant-King, that His light may shine through us as a beacon of hope to our sin-darkened world.

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