Sacrifice: The Incarnational Form of Jesus’ Leadership
For the past two months, we have been considering the otherness of Jesus’ leadership. Jesus’ leadership is about others. First, the nature of Jesus’ leadership is mutual submission in the triune Godhead. Everything Jesus says and does springs from his eternal, intimate relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit. Second, the function of Jesus’ leadership is service. He is Lord of love, and servant of others and calls his followers to be the same. This month, we look briefly at the form of Jesus leadership: sacrifice.
Jesus’ leadership is self-emptying. This is the heart, yet often missing message, of Christmas. Behind the joyful proclamation of a long-awaited Messiah, confirmed to lowly shepherds by a throng of angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest,” there is a profound, humanly incongruent reality. Christmas is the story of God giving up himself to take on flesh. The King of the cosmos becomes a powerless infant in a dirty feed trough. Paul states it this way,
“The one who was himself God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be used to his own advantage;
Rather, he made himself nothing.
by taking the very nature of a servant
being made in human likeness.”
The incarnation, God’s plan to redeem all things, turns all notions of authority upside-down, forever redefining power in the process. Leading means giving up control. Forsaking self-interest. Making oneself nothing.
This is madness from the human viewpoint. What good is power if you cannot use it for good? Indeed, why even talk of leadership if leading is submission, service, and sacrifice?
The answer, again, is others.
To serve others, Jesus does once and for all what neither you nor I could ever do for ourselves, even if we had all the power of earth and heaven. In fact, Jesus could not either! For Jesus to act in this way he would have had to act on his own, out of fellowship with Father’s will and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Satan’s temptations in the wilderness were about achieving desire without sacrifice.
“Hungry? Make your own bread.”
“God’s son? Prove it once and for all.”
“Authority? You can have it all!”
Every temptation was, from a human point of view, to Jesus advantage: privilege, protection, power. Each promised what Jesus’ life would ultimately be about, without the sacrifice. He could make bread from stone instead of becoming the bread given for us. He could prove protection, without a resurrection. He could receive splendor and glory, without the shaming cross.
Jesus choose another path, as Paul continues,
“And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”
The form of Jesus’ other-centered leadership is sacrifice. To lead in this way, one must exercise a faith that gives up control and practices the patience to serve the needs of others, especially when those needs compete with your own.
How would those you serve and with whom you work describe your leadership? Would people use words like submission, service and sacrifice? If not, what may God be leading you to examine and change as you begin a New Year?
In the upside-down economy of God, exaltation follows brokenness. “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him a name that is above every name . . .”
This Christmas, may you embody the example of Jesus by renewing your sacrifice for others.