Jesus and Perfect Leadership (John 6:66-69)
I. Leadership & Temptation
Elections are a perennial reminder of the importance of leadership. From Presidents and senators, all the way down to town councils and school boards, our communities, our nation, depends on dedicated leaders working for the common good. We should regularly give thanks for such people, and hold up public service as an honorable path to pursue.
But as we all know, there are unique temptations when it comes to leadership. Yes, for those who are or who hope to be leaders. But there are also temptations for those being led. There's a reason God, through the psalmist, instructs his people with these words: “Put not your trust in princes [in rulers, in leaders], in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” (Psalm 146:3) Sadly, we've all seen how people can foolishly exalt a human leader with almost messianic fervor. We've also seen how others can fearfully demonize that same leader and issue almost apocalyptic warnings about his or her continued (or possible) leadership.
But let me share a thought about such extremes: it isn't the instinct that's flawed in such cases of foolishness or fearfulness. No. The real issue is identity.
Let me explain what I mean using a passage from the Gospel of John. Look with me, if you would, at John 6, verses 66 through 69.
II. The Passage: “To Whom Shall We Go” (vs. 29-31)
After revealing some truths in this chapter, truths that were hard for some to swallow, this is what we read about Jesus, starting in verse 66...
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.  So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,  and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
I want you to take note of a few things about this passage:
First, notice that the passage is indeed about leadership. We are told plainly in verse 66 that “many of [Jesus'] disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” This isn't a comment about the crowds thinning. This is a comment about disciples deserting their teacher; about those who had committed themselves as students to Jesus, the rabbi. They were following his lead. They had been with him, in order to learn from him, in order to be like him. But that had changed. Whatever was originally attractive about Jesus, whatever seemed appealing or beneficial about his leadership, for these, it had somehow lost its appeal.
But second, in contrast to these disillusioned disciples, Peter is crystal clear about why he and the others are still looking to the leadership of Jesus. Look again at verses 68 and 69. Peter provides us with two powerful and persuasive reasons to follow Jesus:
Number 1: Jesus has “the words of eternal life”. It's not simply that Jesus talks about eternal life. No. Jesus' words give life. Look at the end of verse 63: “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Does merely hearing these words bring eternal life? No. We must believe these words. As Jesus declared in the previous chapter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.” (John 5:24)
Number 2: Peter and the others will continue to follow Jesus because (v. 69) he is “the Holy One of God.” As we would hope with any leader, what Jesus says matches who Jesus is. Throughout the OT, God was referred to as “the Holy One” or “the Holy One of Israel”. But that title is not as common in the NT. When we hear that title used again in the NT, it's Peter again. In Acts 2:27, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter, speaking about the resurrection of Christ, uses that title as he quotes Psalm 16:10, “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.” So here in John 6:69, Peter may be identifying Jesus as the Messiah. However we understand the title, it is incredibly exalted language.
But all this leads to a third idea we find in this passage. Before Peter offers these two truths about Jesus, his first response to Jesus' question in verse 67 is another question. Look at the beginning of verse 68... Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Given what Peter will go on to tell us about Jesus, the point makes perfect sense. Is there anyone else who has the “words of eternal life” in the same way that Jesus has them; Jesus, the “word” who became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14)? Is there any other “Holy One of God” in the same way that Jesus is holy and from God; Jesus, who is God the “Son” (John 1:14)?
Though we are often tempted to “go” to other earthly leaders, not one of them could ever deserve our absolute allegiance. When it comes to human leadership, our absolute allegiance should fully belong to the man Jesus. Why? Because he is more than just a man. This is where that issue of instinct and identity comes in. The instinct to exalt a leader to messianic status, the instinct to talk about bad leadership with extreme language and dire warnings, none of that is wrong. But it is almost always... misplaced. The issue is not the instinct. The issue is the identity of the leader in question.
Only Jesus can be talked about in those ways. Jesus is the Messiah of God! And because He is, we must know and make known that there are grave consequences for those who are not following him.
III. Leadership in Your Life
So how should these eternal truths intersect with your everyday life? Well, remember what I said at the outset: “Elections are a perennial reminder of the importance of leadership.” With that in mind, let's talk about three answers to the question, “What does this mean for me?”
Well, first of all, it means you should make sure you're looking to Jesus in this same way. It is very easy for many of us to think about Jesus simply in the past tense, or maybe at times, in the future tense as well. Jesus came into the world. Jesus died for my sins. Jesus rose from the dead. Or... someday, Jesus will return. Jesus will judge. We will be with Him. But what about the present tense? What is Jesus doing in your life now? Or to put it another way, what are you doing with Jesus today? How does he 'fit' into your everyday cares and concerns, your daily responsibilities, priorities, and anxieties; into your relationships and routines?
As the nation argues about who will be, who should be, our next leader, God's people should be celebrating even more explicitly the One who is and always will be our leader. If “Jesus is Lord”, then Jesus is leader. If that's not what it looks like in your life, then you probably don't understand that title, “Lord”. Paul made this abundantly clear in Romans 14:7–9...
For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.  For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
The gospel is not simply about forgiveness of sins and going to heaven. Those beautiful truths about his redemption serve this broader truth about his reign. That fact helps us make sense of Jesus' constant emphasis in his ministry on the kingdom of God. Think for a minute about the leadership of Jesus in light of modern, political language:
Jesus doesn't lead based on political calculations or polling data. He always leads in light of what is good and right, and always to the glory of God.
Jesus doesn't simply make campaign promises. Every promise of God is “yes” in Him.
He knows nothing of 'optics' and photo 'ops'. His leadership was and is marked by humility and service, not power, position, prestige, or pressure.
When it comes to people, Jesus is about reconciliation, not partisanship. His tent is the biggest, his reach is the farthest, and his base is the most firm.
From personal interactions to what we might call his 'kingdom policies', all of it was and is marked and motivated by love, even for His enemies.
He won't fearmonger, but he does call us to fear God. Though He is incomparably gracious, one day, he will bring ultimate and unyielding justice.
When it comes to Jesus, we have no need to fear a scandal, a cover-up, a gaff, or any abuse of power or political misstep. No. He is the spotless of Lamb of God. As the author of Hebrews described him, he is “...holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” (Hebrews 7:26)
Brothers and sisters, friends, as our culture argues, exaggerates, and even lies about the merits of this or that candidate, God offers us perfect leadership through his perfect Son. Sinful men and women may receive your vote in November, but Jesus Christ should have your 'vote of confidence' every single day. That's what it means to “walk by faith” in view of his lordship. Even now, will you offer a quick prayer to God? Ask Him to help you follow the loving leadership of, to make you passionate about, the only perfect leader... Jesus.
As that happens, we begin to think and see differently. So in terms of application, second, you should now consider every imperfect leader in light of Jesus' perfect leadership.
None of what I'm saying should be understood as implying that voting and who we vote for doesn't matter. It certainly does. Voting is a stewardship through which we have yet another opportunity to glorify God and bless our neighbors.
All I'm hoping to do is put the importance of voting, of political involvement, in perspective in light of eternity, in light of the gospel, in light of Jesus, the “King of kings” and “Lord of lords”. (Revelation 19:16)
You see, voting requires wisdom. Voting requires standards. As the only perfect leader in all of human history, Jesus Christ must be the standard against which we measure all human leadership.
Of course, we understand that all other human leaders are and will continue to be imperfect. But as we look at everything Scripture reveals about Jesus, we'll discover that some of these imperfect leaders, or candidates, will look and sound and lead more like Jesus than others, regardless of whether or not he or she is a genuine follower of Christ. God's grace, what is often called his common grace, makes it possible for even unbelieving leaders to model healthy, Jesus-like leadership in different ways, to differing degrees, at different times.
That's why wisdom is so important. We need both the wisdom to recognize how a leader or candidate's Jesus-like strengths match the needs of our day, but also the wisdom to understand the consequences that flow from all of the ways that leader is nothing like Christ.
But these two implications and applications should lead us to a third idea: the truth about who he is and what he's done means you should be convinced that what our neighbors and nation need most is Jesus' leadership. It is so easy in times like this to be carried away by the rhetoric, by the fervor, by the framing of the issues... it is so easy to be fooled into talking in exaggerated ways about how we need this or that leader.
But of all people, God's people should understand how every other human need, whether personal, national, or global, pales in comparison to our deepest need as straying and stubborn enemies of God, as broken and blinded sinners, as hungry and helpless slaves to sin and self. That is the dark well from which all of our social, relational, and political problems spring up and spill out. Political action can be important. But it never has been and never will be a long-term fix. And so... “...to whom shall we go?”
Only Jesus can meet our deepest need. Only Jesus can cleanse us. Only Jesus can reconcile us to God. Only Jesus can empower true transformation, and then lead us on that path of true transformation. Brother, sister, friends, can you say to Jesus today, from a sincere faith: “You have the words of eternal life, and [I] have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God”? I pray you can. Let me close this morning with the words of Psalm 146. Knowing Jesus was God in human flesh, listen as we are reminded about the wonder of divine leadership:
Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!
More in Jesus 2020
September 20, 2020Jesus and Policy Agendas (II Corinthians 4:15)
September 6, 2020Jesus and Political Perspective (I Corinthians 7:29-31)