One of the features of Australian politics in recent years has been the increasing frequency of “leadership spills.”
Up until a few years ago I thought that’s what you did to your drink not the Prime Minister.
We are very interested in leadership challenges and changes.
It doesn’t matter what type; from government, to our work place, and even here at CU (say in Engage groups),
We’re interested because we understand that a change in leader directly affects how we live and work and get on with life. A change can mean a blossoming of development if our leader is benevolent and capable of tending to our good, but it can mean difficulty or even oppression if they are bad.
In the last few years successive PMs have been removed or attempted to be removed because their political opponents have determined that they had become unpopular or too difficult to work with, or perhaps even immoral? There have been questions of the legitimacy of their position, People raised questions about whether the party or the voters should determine who is PM or when Gillard took government with a hung parliament Abbot spent weeks trying to undermine her ‘right’ to the position.
In Matthew 23 we see a similar thing. A leadership challenge is brewing. There have been questions as to the legitimacy of both parties, about the sort of rule or leadership they are capable of.
Let me remind you of where we have come in Matthew to put this conflict in it’s place. Right back at the start of Matthew Jesus began his ministry. And even back then in his first teaching – the Sermon on the Mount – he began to demonstrate to the remanent of Israel he was preaching to that he was the one uniquely sent by God to lead his people into God’s own kingdom.
He told the people if they wanted to enter God’s kingdom, to be in a right relationship with God, then they needed to be even more righteous than the Pharisees, and he began to show how these religious rulers of Israel had lead Israel into a false righteousness that could not save. However, His words and obedience to Him would provide entrance into the kingdom.
As we move through the gospel Jesus and the religious rulers (the scribes and Pharisees) have continued to clash – he has pointed out their hypocrisy and told parables aimed at showing that they have rebelled against God their ruler. They have tried to keep people from Jesus and undermine and question his authority. Then Jesus rode into Jerusalem to the shouts of his followers proclaiming him to be king, the Son of David, the promised Messiah.
As the conflict and tension mounts that the religious leaders sought one last time to bring him down in the eyes of the people they sought to trap him with questions – to turn the people’s good opinion of him away. But they were unable to trick Jesus or trap him, and neither were they able to answer his question – in the end they looked like fools rather than making Jesus look the fool.
And so we come to Matthew 23. Jesus is, for the last time, pushing the leadership challenge. He is denouncing the leadership of the religious elite.
Theirs, he demonstrates, is the illegitimate rule, and as God’s appointed king he pronounces their doom. Jesus knows this is the last opportunity before his death for them to repent and come into the kingdom of God under him: God’s appointed king.
Let’s look at the text together now. In verse 1 we can see that he is speaking to both his own followers, but that there is also the great mass of people in the temple getting ready for the Passover feast. The religious leaders have all been there with him trying to trap him and we assume that they are there to hear what he has to say about them.
Jesus is the master at sucking us in. He points to the place of authority that the Pharisees hold – he tells his hearers pay attention to what they say.
2 “The scribes and the Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses. 3 Therefore do whatever they tell you, and observe it.
I always imagine a little pause here…
You can see the leaders thinking ‘finally getting the respect we deserve’ I see them looking around knowingly at each other thinking to themselves, “yes we know what’s what. Do what we say people, even Jesus agrees.”
It’s always more powerful when your opponent agrees with you isn’t it…
But it’s just a little pause to get them ready for the sting.
2 “The scribes and the Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses. 3 Therefore do whatever they tell you, and observe it…
But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach.
Here is the essence of their hypocrisy, they might know the Law of the OT, they might know what Moses said, but not even they do what they teach others to do.
You see these guys were all about trying to keep God’s law, and to do that they had made up a bunch of their own laws, extra laws, to try and prevent people from coming even close to braking God’s laws. They add a huge amount of pressure, a heavy burden or obligation that even they couldn’t lift – not they they tried very hard according to Jesus:
4 They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them.
Why? What’s the deal. It is their hearts. They are not into rules and law keeping because they want to please God or want to help others please God. No they are all about appearances. For them leadership really was a popularity contest. They wanted to maintain their power over the people by looking good, not being good.
5 They do everything to be observed by others: They enlarge their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. 6 They love the place of honour at banquets, the front seats in the synagogues, 7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by people.
[Rabbi is a title for teacher]
They loved honour, status, power. They wanted respect from people. That is why they wanted to lead. They lead for personal gain, not because they wanted others to be righteous or right with God.
The Phylacteries were little wooden boxes with Bible verses inside them, and a Tassel on your robe was a symbol of the commands of God. So what they are doing is walking around with big memory verses on their heads and clothes that say I love God’s commands. People could look at them and clearly identify they were serious religious guys, but the problem is that’s as far as it goes. That’s what they are after from people – the verses and tassels are a means only for gaining power.
But Jesus turns to his own followers, these disciples, and shows them how they are to behave as leaders in God’s kingdom. And it is the opposite.
In God’s kingdom his leaders are servants.
2 things distinguish leaders in the kingdom; 1 it is not their kingdom but God’s and his messiah rules, and 2 the kingdom is a family affair.
8 “But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called masters either, because you have one Master, the Messiah.
They have one teacher, one Master – The Messiah, the Christ: Jesus. They are to listen only to him. The word Jesus uses here translated ‘master’ is like the ‘master’ of ‘master builder’, someone who has gained sufficient expertise in order to guide or instruct apprentices. He is putting his disciples into the position of apprentices who will learn the character and quality of the business hands-on with the boss.
Like an apprentice or journey-man they are given tasks and responsibilities, but it is the Master builder who builds the building. He warns them not to usurp that position putting one or other above each other.
Secondly that doesn’t make sense because the business of the kingdom is a family business. Each one is a brother – they are equally part of the family. They shouldn’t elevate someone to ‘father’ because In the Messiah’s kingdom each one enters into the family of God with him as Father
No it’s the opposite. In Jesus’ kingdom his leaders should lower not raise themselves. The leadership that Jesus calls for is not about appearances – about trying to look good – but about making the effort to look after and serve others. Unlike the Pharisees who wouldn’t even put in the smallest amount of effort to help “lift their finger” his apprentices are to serve; if they want to be a great leader they need to be humble.
11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Jesus is the Master, and he calls his apprentices to do as he does. Unlike the Pharisees he talks the talk and walks the walk.
He is the greatest among them, but he is heading to his death to serve his people. He is the glorious king of God’s kingdom, and yet He is walking towards a shameful and humiliating death, so that He might save, remove the heavy burden of sin, and give life.
In this leadership clash we have two powerfully opposite sides compared. This is bigger than Labor versus Liberal or capitalism versus communism. Represented by the scribes and the Pharisees is false, self-serving human leadership. Leadership that denies the true, legitimate, rule of God’s appointed King, the Messiah Jesus.
One is abusive and oppressive, the other is servant hearted with the best interests of the people at its heart.
Kingdom leadership is costly, and loving, and other person centred
Leadership that looks just like Jesus our Master.