Recall the richest king of the Bible: Solomon. He wrote the book of Proverbs, which showed us his great wisdom. He had amassed a fortune, yet he didn’t obey the Lord. He married women of other religions and eventually came to worship their gods. In Ecclesiastes, we see the outcome of his missteps as he cried out in despair.
“I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:12-14).
Without the New Testament, the Old Testament is meaningless – a compilation of stories that never reached their pinnacle, climax, and culmination. Its unfulfilled promises and prophecies of a Messiah adherents think never came, even though He was prophesied to appear in the 2nd Temple (Malachi 3:1), which was destroyed in 70 A.D. and prophesied to be “cut off” on 4/3/33 (Daniel 9).
The Messiah in the Old Testament was described in two ways, both as a humble and suffering servant (c.f., Zechariah 9:9; Isaiah 53; Psalm 22) and as a mighty King and conqueror (Zechariah 14:8-9). In Micah 5, we learn that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, while in Daniel 7, we’re told He will arrive by coming on the clouds of heaven. In Daniel 9, we’re told He’ll be cut off from humanity, while in Isaiah 9 we’re told He will live and reign forever.
How can these two types of Messiahs be reconciled? Some rabbis in Jewish tradition decided that Scriptures point to two Messiahs: Messiah ben David, who would conquer, and Messiah ben Joseph, who would suffer. Another tradition is offered in the Sanhedrin 98a: “If the people of Israel will be righteous, the Messiah will come in the clouds of heaven. If they will not be righteous, he will come as a poor man riding upon an ass.” Jesus reconciles these seemingly divergent Messiahs. He is both the Suffering Servant and the Glorious King who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead – and His kingdom will have no end. His crucifixion was the sacrifice of the strongest for the benefit of the weakest, which is an inversion of the “survival of the fittest” concept in Darwinian evolution. On Calvary, He reconciled God’s perfect love, mercy, and justice.
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life
Humans in all societies throughout the centuries have valued love, mercy, justice, truth, logic, beauty, reasoning, meaning and purpose, yet we can’t explain scientifically why. These immaterial values provide evidence of the metaphysical, or supernatural. Humans in all societies have also valued religion, as religion gives us an explanation of these metaphysical aspects of our lives. Unlike science, which can only explain the physical aspects of our lives in a descriptive manner (“what is”), religion sheds knowledge on how we ought to act, prescriptively. Religion explains our innate desire to seek meaning and purpose. Religion has much utility in that respect.
As I have explicated in several other blogs, global scholars have identified values that all people know we ought to embrace. These are to seek meaning and purpose and to value benevolence to the in-group (c.f., care/harm and following the Golden Rule), universalism (i.e., to value all life on our planet), and self-direction (e.g., Kinnear et al., 2000; Schwartz, 2012). Through our social evolution over the centuries, they have been gradually revealed to us and we have gradually come to realize and accept their importance.
Early in history, we learned to be benevolent within our in-groups, which perhaps informs studies indicating benevolence is the most important value globally, followed by universalism and self-direction (Schwartz, 2012). Helping one’s in-group can enhance chances of survival, as explained within the framework of Darwinian “survival of the fittest and most adaptable” evolution. Yet Darwinian evolution only sheds light on part of the picture. It fails to explain the way we know we ought to help out-groups as well. More on that in a moment.
In the Old Testament, we see that people valued in-group benevolence. God instructed the chosen people, the Jews, to separate themselves from others through their diets, dress, habits, and morals. They weren’t separated because God considered them any better than anyone else. They were chosen to create a pathway to Jesus and to focus on the Lord. They were told to embrace values such as those recognized by scholars such as Jonathan Haidt: care/harm, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority, and purity/sanctity.
When Jesus came, He fulfilled Mosaic Law and the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath. He represents the Sabbath as our Passover Lamb, so we give reverence to Him and His commandments to love the Lord above all else and love our neighbors as ourselves. He opened the door to the out-group, the Gentiles. He highlighted the value of all individuals, whether wealthy, poor, healthy, sick, male, female, weak, or strong. He recognized the individual within the collective as an important contributor and voice. To Christ, all lives matter, not just those in positions of power.
Jesus also explained why we’re here and showed us the purpose behind suffering. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We’re to bear our own crosses and store our treasures up in heaven.
Through Jesus’ fulfillment of Mosaic Law and New Covenant with humanity, we are given much meaning and purpose. He is our moral exemplar, the standard of perfection. He perfectly exemplified what it means to be a servant leader. Becoming more like Him is our calling.
Servant leadership is a holistic approach that engages followers emotionally, relationally, spiritually, and ethically so they are empowered to grow, prosper, and achieve their missions in life. There are nine dimensions of servant leadership (Liden, Wayne, Zhao, & Henderson, 2008). Since the ultimate servant leader is Jesus Christ, I have included Biblical passages that demonstrate His servant leadership on each of its dimensions.
- Emotional healing
Psalm 34:17-20 “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.”
Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
- Creating value for the community
Matthew 4:19 “And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’”
John 4:13-14 “Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’”
- Conceptual skills
Mark 12:13-17 Paying Taxes to Caesar
“And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?’ But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.’ And they brought one. And he said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said to him, ‘Caesar’s.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they marveled at him.”
Mark 16:15 “And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”
Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
- Helping subordinates grow and succeed
Romans 5:3-4 “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.”
James 1:12 “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
2 Thessalonians 3:13 “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.”
Matthew 14:29-33 “He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
- Putting subordinates first
John 13 Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet
“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
- Behaving ethically
Luke 23:34 “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments.”
- Developing relationships
John 20:19-31 Jesus appears to the disciples
“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’”
Luke 9:23 “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’
Luke 10:27 “And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’”
Romans 8:14 “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
Acts 5:32 “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
In Mark 12, Jesus spoke to the Pharisees in a parable. “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed. He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
“But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.
“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture:
‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.”
Unlike all other world religions, only Christianity fully explains our purpose and meaning in a sea of turbulence. We are here to bear our own crosses, imitate our moral exemplar Jesus Christ, and to love the Lord above all and our neighbors as ourselves.
“I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” – CS Lewis
Kinnear, R.T., Kernes, J.L. & Dautheribes, T.M. (2000). A short list of universal moral values. Counseling and Values, 45, 4-17.
Liden, R.C., Wayne, S.J., Zhao, H. & Henderson, D. (2008). Servant leadership: Development of a multi-dimensional measure and multi-level assessment. The Leadership Quarterly, 19: 161-177.
Schwartz, S.H. (2012). An overview of the Schwartz view of basic values. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1) https://doi.org/10.9707/2307-0919.1116