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LEADERSHIP (2): Christ, Our Glorious Leader

Jesus - Our Glorious Leader

Jesus - Our Glorious Leader

Here is a young man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put his foot inside a big city. He never traveled 200 miles from the place where He was born. He never did any one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He has no credentials but Himself.

While He was still a young man, the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth and that was His coat.

When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today He is the central figure of the human race and the leader of the column of progress.

I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever sailed, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as has that one solitary life.

[One Solitary Life, cited by James C. Hefley in A Dictionary of Illustrations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), p. 49.]

Jesus Christ is the outstanding personality of all time. . . . No other teacher – Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Mohammedan – is still [sic] a teacher whose teaching is such a guidepost for the world we live in. Other teachers may have something basic for an Oriental, an Arab, or an Occidental; but every act and word of Jesus has value for all of us. He became the Light of the World. Why shouldn’t I, a Jew, be proud of that?

[Sholem Asch, “I Had to Write These Things, in Christian Herald, cited by Frank S. Mead, editor, Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations (West Wood, NJ: Fleming H. Revel Company,, 1965), p. 43.]

We will never be able to be effective Christian leaders until we understand the leadership of Jesus. His “leadership style” is so different from what we usually see that at first glance we do not even realize what a great leader he is. We must look at his life as a whole and evaluate the impact it has had before we really begin to appreciate what an effective guide he is.


A statement in John 13:3-5 has helped me understand Jesus’ unique leadership:

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples feet. . . .

Did you notice the self-knowledge that accompanied his taking the towel to wash his disciples’ feet? He knew his standing with God: “The Father had put all things under his power.” He knew where he had come from: “[H]e had come from God.” He knew where he was going: “[He] was returning to God.” By knowing these things he was able to act with confidence without needing to establish who he was or to impress anyone with his credentials.

Much of the posturing in leaders of various stripes comes because they do not have the knowledge and self-assurance Jesus had. Because we are not sure of ourselves, we assert ourselves in a vain attempt to establish our rights to leadership. It was because Jesus knew who he was, why he was here and where he was going that he was able to serve his disciples. He possessed a sense of identity, a sense of mission and a sense of destiny that made it possible for him to be a servant-leader.

Jesus did not need to posture before others by adopting the trappings of leadership, because  He was confident of His standing with God.

After he had washed the disciples’ feet, he taught them they should wash one another’s feet. On that occasion, as recorded by another author, he said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27). This was not incidental to his mission, but was basic to it. It was this aspect of Jesus’ character Paul pointed out when he wrote:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who being in very nature God

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself

and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. – (Philippians 2:5-11)

Throughout the New Testament Jesus is present as our glorious leader.

  • He is the head of the body, the church.
  • He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
  • He is the Rabbi, or Teacher, come from God.
  • He is Christ, God’s anointed one.
  • He is Immanuel, or God with us.
  • He is the Good Shepherd.
  • He is God’s beloved Son.
  • He is God’s High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Yet though he is all of this, He was among us as one who served, and who taught his disciples to follow his example.


He consistently called people to follow himself at great cost, but with promise of great reward. His glory was displayed in many ways, though he was a paradox to his contemporaries. They simply could not figure him out. One reason for this was that his appearance seemed to belie the claims he made about himself. The prophet had said:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. – (Isaiah 53:2-3).

Though he was born in a stable, he claimed to be God’s Son. Though he never attended the rabbinical schools, he presumed to correct and judge the scribes and lawyers. Though he had nowhere to lay his head, he dared to promise many mansions in his Father’s house. Though he asked for a drink, he ventured to offer living water to those who would believe on him. Though he himself died between two thieves, he made bold to promise eternal life to all who would take up a cross and follow him.

He rejected things people thought essential to greatness. He was among his followers as one who served. He came not to be served, but to serve – even to the point of giving his life. He had no money, no position, no political power, no place in official Jewry – nor did he seek these things. When he was arrested and falsely accused of both blasphemy against God and treason against Rome, he offered no defense and willingly went with those who arrested him – though he could have called on legions of angels for protection.


What, then, made him a great leader? Here are but a few of the many things we can say in answer to this question.

His Authenticity

He was completely authentic in his life and teaching. There was no hypocrisy in him. He did not say one thing and do another. He was unpretentious, with no vain show of pomp and ceremony. He did not acquire his leadership from a position, but through his character. This meant he was always completely trustworthy. What he said, he did. What he taught others to be, he was. An Jim Woodroof once observed, “He is the only man in history whose life and words were never in conflict.” Thus, I give his authenticity as first in my list of reasons Jesus was (and is) a great leader.

His Commitment
Jesus was completely committed to the God he served. He held back nothing from God, but gave his all. “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39) was not just his prayer in Gethsemane; it was the way he lived his entire life. He said, “I came not to please myself but him who sent me,” (John 5:30) and “The one who sent me is with me. . . for I always do what pleases him” (John 8:29). Everything he did showed this dedication to God.

He was also completely committed to his disciples. He was the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. He had time and compassion for all who came to him. He offered grace and mercy to sinners without condoning or trivializing their sin. He lifted them up instead of beating them down. When men were willing to come to him, he accepted them where they were, but called them to become better by following him up to a higher plane.

His Example

He was a valid example for the life of the new man, for he was the very image of God. This should not be understood only in some nebulous metaphysical sense, but as a flesh and blood example that demonstrated the character of God in a human context. When reviled, he reviled not. Though he was hated, he hated not. His standard of teaching was the highest the world has known – and his life was the embodiment of all he taught. He lived what he taught. He never had to say, “Do as I say, and not as I do.”

His Character

What made him a great leader? It was not position, but character. He emptied himself of position to become a servant. It was as a servant that his true greatness of leadership was displayed and fulfilled.

The holy, majestic, awesome God spoke in thunderous tones from Sinai, and men fell back in terror. The Son of God laid his glory aside, walked among men as a servant and offered himself on a cross of shame – and became the greatest leader the world has ever known.

Do not think we are suggesting here that the crucified savior is in opposition to the God of Sinai. In fact, the doctrine of the incarnation tells us they are the same. The point is that two distinctly different kinds of leadership are shown in these events. The law came clothed with authority through displays of awesome glory and power. The gospel came in humility and weakness – but clothed with the authority of perfect love in action. True, there were also displays of power by which Jesus authenticated his authority as the Son of Man. Those displays, however, were not displays for their own sake – but were always the means of serving the needs of hurting humanity. Even in his miracles, Jesus was a servant. As a servant, he showed leadership that can raise us up with him to the very throne room of Heaven!

What sort of leader will you be? One who thunders from Sinai, or one who weeps in Gethsemane? One who orders others, or one who serves others? One who exalts himself, or one who humbles himself? One who speaks with the authority of high position, or one who serves with the authority of love?

Jesus calls each who would aspire to leadership to take up the cross and follow him.


  1. How does the example of Jesus confirm Mark 8:35? (Cf. Philippians 2:6-11.)
  2. How does the Good Shepherd giving his life for the sheep illustrate Mark 10:45?
  3. Kenneth Gangel, in his book Competent to Lead, wrote, “New Testament leadership is not flashy public relations and platform personality, but humble service to the group” (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974, p. 13). Evaluate with examples from the life of Jesus.
  4. What is the difference between a director and a leader? Which was Jesus?
  5. How was Jesus showing leadership when he washed his disciples’ feet?
  6. Why is character important in a leader?
  7. What implications do you see in the different leadership at Sinai and Calvary?
  8. In your opinion, what made Jesus a great leader?

NEXT – (3) Paul’s Example of Leadership


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