Long live the King
‘Long Live the King’!
the failure of leadership
The American Presidential race is in full swing. Who will be the next President of the United States? The campaign trail has been constantly in our news time. In fact, I reckon I know more about John McCain and Barack Obama than I do about Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull. Don’t you just love the way American’s embrace their politicians? It’s so—un-Australian. Soon the votes will be counted and we’ll know the next President of the United States of America.
Those who lead us have enormous responsibility. We are often cynical about our politicians because there is a record of failing to care for the interests of the community. And not only our politicians—we must be honest—too many church leaders have acted improperly—ranging from criminal offences to actions that reflect nothing more than petty self-interest.
Israel’s failed leadership
The Bible has a ‘heads-up’ on failed leadership—especially failed leadership within the church. Unfortunately, it’s not a new happening. Caroline read for us earlier from the Book of Ezekiel. In the 6th century B.C. the nation of Israel were an absolute mess because of failed leadership. God had put them in the Promised Land to be in relationship with him. The kings of Israel had the responsibility of leading the people well. This meant keeping the people focused on their promise to stay in right relationship with God. But the kings failed and the nation turned its back on God. So God punished his rebellious people, yet in his mercy God promised Israel a new king who would not let them down.
The ideal king. A king who loves his people and no selfishness is found in him. Ezekiel paints for us a picture of the ideal king using shepherd language—a king will come who will love and care and console his people. In fact, this king will be God himself, ‘I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down […] I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak […] I will shepherd the flock with justice’ (Ezek 34:16).
Jesus the shepherd-king
We are by nature people who look for good leadership. We are by nature people who are disappointed when our hopes are dashed with another failed leader. We crave for good leadership. Our society wants stable, honest and strong leadership. We want someone to show us the way. We want someone to fearlessly take us into the future with our best interests heart. In John 10, Jesus declares himself to be the leader who we need—he is the leader that all people need.
Jesus says, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’.
What type of leader is Jesus? He uses the well familiar picture of a shepherd. ‘I know my sheep and my sheep know me […] I lay down my life for my sheep’. Jesus keeps saying that he will lay down his life for his sheep. This words re-occur again and again. This something about this that doesn’t sound right. Do not rulers want power and prestige? Do not rulers want fame and fortune and control over people?
Jesus is certainly not like any ruler I know. He is the shepherd who cares for his sheep. Jesus the shepherd-king calls his ‘own sheep by name […] he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice’. Jesus sketches a wonderful picture of mutual love between the shepherd and his sheep—between his kingship and the people entrusted to him. The shepherd-king will even lay down his life for the sheep.
This suggests that the good shepherd is also the lamb of God. When the wolf comes prowling for a meal, a good shepherd becomes one of the sheep and the wolf takes him so the other sheep might live. Jesus, the good shepherd, laid down his life to protect us from the enemy we call ‘sin and death’. What makes today so offense is that death appears to have the last word. It is a tragedy that Olwyn died and it’s a tragedy that we also will die.
Jesus came to defeat the power of death. He came to render the stench of death null and void. Our repulsion of death reminds us that death is unnatural and it must be dealt with. We die because by nature we ignore God and God has chosen to respond in two ways. Firstly, if we ignore God’s right to rule our lives then God gives us what we want—life without him. It’s simply really! If we want to exist in a world where we are the king, God lets this happen, he withdraws his kingship and this means we will die. We will die physically and we will die spiritually—separation from God forever. If you live wrong, you can’t die right!
The other option seems to me far better: accept God’s right to rule over you and take steps to make that happen. The steps are easy: admit to God that he is the rightful ruler and my way hasn’t worked, say ‘sorry’ and ask God for forgiveness, and then God will grant you forgiveness.
Remember the shepherd-king? The leader we had to have? God forgives you when you ask Jesus to pay the price for your sin. The shepherd laid down his life and sin and death devoured him instead of you. Trust the good shepherd and he will save you from sin and death—trust Jesus and make him your king. And although you may physically die, you will never spiritually die. Trust Jesus, for he is the one who can save you from death and put you in right relationship with God. And death will not devour you, instead you will say:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Friends, when we can say, ‘The Lord is my shepherd’, we shall never again be in spiritual debt. Jesus is the leader who will never let us down. Even across the valley of the shadow of death, we shall remain unscathed if we cross with him. Death is not like a railway line—you come to the end of line and there’s no where to go. Like the psalmist says—death is better pictured as a valley—a valley that people cross to go from one place to another. Jesus was the first one to successfully cross the valley of death and rise again to new life. Trusting in Jesus is our gateway to a glorious and eternal life with God. A life without sin and death—a life in the new creation where there is no more crying or death or mourning or tears.
The Bible readings the family chose for this thanksgiving service go straight to the heart of the Christian message. Harry Truman once said, ‘I never give ‘em hell. I just tell the truth, and they think its hell’. The truth is that in his mercy God has given us Jesus—the leader we need to save us from sin and death. We can ignore the life-line or choose to listen to his words of life. Someone else once said, ‘The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it’ (Flanney O’Connor).
The end of the Bible has a beautiful picture of life in God’s world with no more sin and death. It’s a picture of elation and satisfaction as his people enjoy the goodness of God, forever. Living in God’s world and glorifying him. ‘Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!’