The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the Devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry” (Luke 4: 1, 2 NIV).
Discipleship as a Desert Warrior
We are going to spend a little bit of time talking further about the Transfiguration of Jesus (and us). The Transfiguration is a major theme in the latter half of the ministry of Jesus. It is all about hidden glory being revealed. It’s about getting a glimpse of the glory of Jesus as seen from the Father’s perspective, even if just for a moment, so that you can learn to recognize his glory even when it appears to be hidden from our eyes. It really is about having eyes to see and ears to hear. We are blind to the glory of God all around us, much less in Jesus and in his ministry. We are often blind also to the glory of Christ in others, in the church, and in the quality and nature of the relationships we have with the people all around us. Hidden Glory Revealed. Transfiguration.
In order to understand the Transfiguration and the hidden glory of Christ in his ministry we need to start in the Desert. Jesus Christ is the true Desert Warrior. It started with the temptations in the desert but ended in the Garden of Gethsemane. In both situations, he was the victor. That is where his glory is revealed. But what about me?
Am I a Desert Warrior?
I´m not sure I can answer that question yet. Perhaps a better question is whether I even want to be one.
The answer to that question surprises me.
For years I avoided getting too deeply committed to anything, especially to the fight that was going on in my own heart. I was a Christian but I feared the emotional effort of battle. I was a coward, I guess. I simply had no power, no spine, no faith that I could even get close to winning, so why bother. Yet, today, I want to learn to be a Desert Warrior. I am looking forward to the training even though I know it will be hard work. Something happened to me and it makes all the difference in the world.
The Desert Warrior is known by many names – a spiritual warrior, a mature disciple, a hero of the faith. We may not be comfortable with those titles and, at this point, that is probably a good thing. But, our Father intends for us to become a Desert Warrior and we made a vow to Him that we would enter upon that training when we accepted His salvation and promised to follow Him.
He has saved us out of Egypt and the slavery of our former life. He has led us through the Red Sea of our baptism and destroyed the power of Pharoah, our old slave master, over our life once and for all.
And now, the Pillar of Fire is going deeper into the desert away from the safe trade routes and He expects us to follow. He will teach us to worship at His mountain and to study and obey His commandments, to learn holiness, sacrifice and prayer and to live and work together with our brothers and sisters as a fighting unit to do battle against His enemies and to accomplish His purposes.
These are the spiritual disciplines of a Desert Warrior.
That doesn´t mean that we don´t have a choice – we most certainly do. We have to want to be a Desert Warrior before we can take the training. The offer is open to all but not all will take up the offer.
We may think that there is safety in staying with the mass of God´s people and not stand out and be noticed but there is no safety in the crowd. We may end up as part of Korah´s rebellion and be destroyed. We may simply lack the faith to take God at His word and enter the Promised Land. We may end up wandering in the desert and dying there without ever having seen or experienced the abundant life. Or we may become like Joshua and Caleb and become leaders of God´s people, dedicated to becoming Desert Warriors whatever the cost.
The desert is a place of scarcity, the Promised Land a place of plenty. But it is in the desert that one discovers the power to live in the Promised Land. Or not, as the case may be.
Many discover their weakness and simply give up and die. Others discover God´s power and live the abundant life even while they are in the desert. They discover that the Promised Land, the kingdom of God, is not just a destination at the end of the journey but rather they discover that the kingdom of God is within us.
A Desert Warrior desires God above all and therefore has already entered the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey, and can lead God´s people to that same place. As Moses found out, God, Himself, is our Promised Land (Exodus 33).
But I don´t want to be a leader, you might say.
Can I be a Desert Warrior and not be a leader? No. God´s intention for you is leadership, plain and simple. No matter who you are. Leadership and mature discipleship go hand in hand. Leadership development may include more than discipleship training but it does not include less. It isn’t about roles and positions. It isn’t about personality or career choices. It’s about who you are in Christ and whether or not you are moving from “glory to glory,” becoming more mature in your relationship with God through Christ.
Leadership is about who you are, first of all. What you do and how you do it is also worthy of study, training and godly effort, but it is rooted in your relationship with God first and foremost.
Jeremiah shares with us the desire of God´s heart for our leadership ministry. God is speaking through Jeremiah and he says,
Their leader will be one of their own;
their ruler will arise from among them.
I will bring him near and he will come close to me,
for who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?”
declares the LORD.
“So you will be my people, and I will be your God.”
Jeremiah 30:21 (NIV)
This is a great leadership passage. It is a prophetic promise by God through Jeremiah to the people in exile about restoring their fortunes as a people. Perhaps the reference is to Zerubbabel, who was a descendent of David and led the return from exile and became the governor of Israel and helped rebuild the altar and the temple. Perhaps the passage has a Messianic flavour and refers to the coming of Jesus Christ as the true leader of God´s people. Or is this a passage that we can more broadly apply to all godly leadership? Probably, all of the above, but with an important distinction.
I believe the message of the New Testament is that we are all called to be leaders (as part of, and the application of, our discipleship) and that all leadership is rooted “in Christ”.
There is no more distinction between those that lead and those that follow. Peter, in his sermon at Pentecost, quoted the prophet Joel who foretold that “in the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Acts 2:17 NIV). Not just Samson and David and Elijah but everyone. Leadership is not about roles but about gifts. Paul says that “it was he (Jesus) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God´s people for works of service…” (Eph. 4:11, 12a)
But if everyone is called to be a leader, who will follow? Everyone. We are all followers and leaders – that is the discipleship model that Jesus gave us. We all “disciple” and we are “all discipled,” we simply do it in different ways according to our gifts.
Leadership is nothing more (and nothing less) than exerting influence over someone else as an individual or in a group. We do that all the time anyway, for good or evil.
C.S. Lewis, in his book The Weight of Glory, tells us that “the weight of glory” is not merely our own glory, but the glory of those around us, the glory of those we influence every day towards one destiny or another. The weight of glory is our responsibility for the eternal glory (or horror) of those we come into contact with on a daily basis, our family, our friends, our church, our co-workers.
Perhaps leadership starts with the recognition of the impact of our lives (and our walk with God or lack thereof) on the people we love (or hate) and know (or who know us) and taking responsibility for it.
We all follow Jesus as his disciples first and foremost. But we are also influenced by the example and exhortations of other people whom we recognize as followers of Christ. There is a general leadership influence on our lives from those we recognize as spiritual leaders. We are also discipled by specific people who have spiritual authority in our lives to hold us accountable (hopefully). But the spirituality (or lack thereof) in the lives of ordinary Christians has the greatest influence of all on preparing the human heart to receive the gospel. We can become a stumbling block to someone or an inspiration for them to look closer at the gospel.
Leadership is influence. Discipleship is training in the ways of the Lord with the purpose of influencing others to take Christ seriously with our words and actions.
God is seeking leaders from among His people that He will use to further His kingdom in the hearts of men. God starts by bringing you near and we respond by coming closer.
I will bring him near and he will come close to me.
Leadership is about being close to God. It isn´t about what you do first of all, but who you are. It is an overflow of your walk with God. All of the theories and strategies and wisdom about leadership take a distant second place to this truth. Are leaders born or made? Godly leaders are born again as well as made and developed into leaders by God Himself in the intimacy of their daily walk.
I will bring him near.
Certain natural gifts and even personality traits can lend themselves to the role of leadership and even those gifts are from God. But without a close fellowship with God, their leadership will not influence others towards God and the things of God. Likewise, God can use people without natural gifts or inclinations toward leadership who simply desire Him above all and make their walk with Him their highest priority. These people are leaders whether they occupy roles of leadership or not. They are the backbone of God´s influence in the lives of His people.
I will bring him near and he will come close to me.
This isn´t just a causal relationship where God acts and man can do nothing other than to respond. It is deeper than that. This is the mystery of God´s stirring up and man´s response. Although we are entirely dependent on God bringing us near to him, we must respond to that divine initiative and draw near to Him. Paul exhorts us to “draw near to God and he will draw near to you”. That is a promise that we can pray for in faith and boldness.
For who is he who will devote himself to be close to me? declares the Lord.
As if to drive the point home even further, God asks a question. “Who will devote himself to be close to me?” It isn´t first of all about being a leader but about living close to God. It isn´t about using your walk with God as a means to become a leader but rather about God elevating you to a ministry of leadership through prayer, example and exhortation because your highest desire is to be close to Him.
You “devote” yourself to be close to Him.
It takes time and energy, and certainly sacrifice, to know God and enjoy Him forever. This is the chief end of man according to the Westminster Catechism. Take note of those words “enjoy Him forever.” This is not meant to be a drudgery (even though it may be hard work) but rather a joy. Your deepest joy will come from a closer walk with Him.
The invitation is in your hand. God´s eternal question for his people is before you. “Who will devote himself to be close to me?” If you respond, you will begin a journey of effective ministry and you will find the true desire of your soul and, whether you like it or not, you will become God´s leader among His people to show them the way.
So you will be my people and I will be your God.
This is the great covenant statement of the Old Testament. It comes to us over and over again at every turn to describe the heart of the covenant and God´s intention to have a relationship with His people. Let´s not miss the connection with our passage. This is the purpose of the covenant, the miracles, the redemptive work of God in the Old and New Testament. “So (in this way) you will be my people and I will be your God.” This is God´s intention. This is God´s purpose for us. By choosing to devote ourselves to be close to Him, we act like His people, we act like the children we are, and He can, therefore, draw near to us and be our God and be our abundant life.
The Way of the Desert Warrior is mapped out for us. It’s about following Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. Seeking Jerusalem. Seeking that closeness with God, not just as an individual but as a church.
We have been saved from a life of slavery and we have been baptized in the Red Sea. Now the pillar of fire is moving deeper into the desert. God wants to draw you closer. Now He wants to ask you a question. “What do you want? Will you devote yourself to be close to me?” If the answer is yes, welcome to the desert – the training ground for God´s Desert Warriors as they walk the Way of the Cross.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God about becoming Desert Warriors like Jesus Christ.
Lord, I want to be a Desert Warrior, just like you. In the moment of temptation, you stayed firm and saved the world. I believe that being your follower means that I must go into training and that the best training is in the desert. Teach me to endure hardship and to share in your suffering for the gospel, for the salvation of others. I think of my children, my family, my spouse, the people I love and I realize that they need me to be a Desert Warrior, a Prayer Warrior, a true Disciple, a Seeker after God. That is my heart’s desire. In Jesus name I pray. Amen
Read more (from the Temptations of the Cross)
It wasn’t the thievery itself that was so important but the weakness that it showed, that could be exploited. He would give this opportunity some serious thought. The question was how to use it to their best advantage.
Tundrac was not so naive as not to realize who Jesus was. The whole demonic world knew the truth, and it scared them. But they didn’t know what He was up to, and that uncertainty made it difficult to know whether to plunge into a direct, all out battle or to find subtler ways of dealing with the crisis. Their authority on earth, in the hearts of men had been recognized by heaven for centuries. They could not, would not doubt that it would continue. But what was Jesus up to? (Read more….)