The Words Of The Prophets - Week 4: Leaders Who Scatter vs. Leaders Who Gather

Today we're concluding the sermon series entitled "The Words Of The Prophets."  

In the weeks leading up to Advent, we've been listening to the voices of the Old Testament prophets from the Lectionary readings as they prepare for the coming of the Messiah.

The inspiration for this series is a line from the classic song "The Sound of Silence" by Simon & Garfunkel.  The line goes like this:  The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls..."

Biblical prophets aren’t predictors of the future; they hope to shape it. They used their words to either project a hopeful future or one full of hardship---all based on what was happening at the moment.  

And the words of the prophets can come to us from some unlikely places at times.  

We just have to have our eyes open, our ears ready to hear, and our hearts ready to be transformed.  

Prophetic imagination helps us see beyond our reality and God's reality.  We get glimpses of the coming Kingdom of God to see the world the way it ought to be, and we also get a vision of a Messiah.  

Today we’ll learn from a prophet who was given a vision of the kind of leader that would change the world—forever… 

Let me ask you a question. 

What makes a good leader?  What qualifications do you think would be essential for a good leader? They ought to be easy to spot, right?

Integrity, Empathy, Courage, Respect, Listener, Visionary, Curiosity, Humility, Self-Discipline, Problem-Solver, Emotional Intelligence, Passion, Accountability, Supportive, Encourager

Did I leave anything off?

So we know this stuff.  All of us do.  I think if you did a poll that asked people from all religious, political, class, etc. backgrounds what they thought made a good leader, most or all of these things would be on the list. 

You would have to qualify it a bit in our day and age.  But if you focused solely on characteristics, this is what most of us would list. 

So why do we keep lifting up the wrong kinds of leaders? 

Why do we keep lifting up leaders for political office or otherwise who don't seem to have any of these qualities, or at least not that many?

Why do we sacrifice our standards, the ones that we all seem to agree on, when it comes to the leaders we choose to make some of the most critical decisions in our society?  

And what would it take for us to change?  

That is what we're going to be exploring today as we dig into Jeremiah chapter 23:1-6 and we hear the very words of God about what constitutes the kind of leader God desires for God's people. 

Here's what I want us to hold on to today: 


Let me give you a little background on the kind of leadership that existed when Jeremiah began his calling as a prophet as a young man, prior to the Babylonian conquest and exile of the Hebrew people. 

We get the setting for Jeremiah's timeline in the first chapter of the book: 
1 The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. 2 The word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, 3 and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile.

Josiah was a good king by all accounts.  He did what was right, for the most part.  He enacted laws that brought the people of Judah back into a closer relationship with God, and he governed justly and rightly. 

But after he was killed in battle against the Egyptian empire in the Jezreel Valley, his son Jehoiakim became king, and things went south quickly. 

Jehoiakim moved away from the ways that his father had governed and was, by all accounts, a tyrant, who engaged in the worship of other gods, committed incest, was cruel and greedy, and a host of other things. 

He died right before the Babylonians took over Judah; his older son only ruled for three months and was executed.  Jehoiakim's brother Zedekiah became king, appointed by the Babylonians.  

He led for a few years and then entered into an unwise alliance with the Egyptians (the ones who had killed his father) until the Babylonians took notice and destroyed everything. Jeremiah railed against this alliance because he knew it would be devastating for the people if the Babylonians retaliated, and he was right. 

According to the text, all these kings had something in common:  Pride. 

They cared more about power and holding on to it than they did about their people or God.  Faced with the reality of what their leaders have done to them, and only really having poor examples of leadership in their current situation, the people need a new vision, and Jeremiah gives it to them. 

23 “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. 3 “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.
5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will raise up for David[a] a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
    and do what is just and right in the land.
6 In his days Judah will be saved
    and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Savior.

The words of God to Jeremiah paint a different portrait of a leader.  This leader does not scatter, does not instill fear, or act out of selfish ambition.  It's a leader who does what is right and just, who gathers the people like a good shepherd.  

The people of God in Jeremiah's day needed this vision.  They needed to know that such a leader existed, and it was God's desire they have such a leader. 

This passage precedes Advent because we know what a Good Shepherd, a just King looks like—humble, grace-filled, servant-minded, willing to lay down his life for his sheep.  

Some years ago, Shane Claiborne wrote the book Jesus For President, a book about political leadership that was based on the example, teaching and ministry of Jesus.  His basic premise was, "If Jesus was President, what would Jesus do?" 

I was in a large room at a pastor's conference when Shane began to share his book.  About halfway through his talk, about half of the pastors in the room got up and stormed angrily out the door.  

It was right about when he shared this quote from the book: 

“The Christian icon is not the Stars and Stripes but a cross-flag, and its emblem is not a donkey, an elephant, or an eagle, but a slaughtered lamb.”

I've thought about that moment a lot since then.  Those pastors undoubtedly got offended because their idea of leadership wasn't focused on the Jesus we see in the Gospels. The Jesus they preferred kicked butt, took names, conquered infidels, and delineated between who was in and who was out when it came to their ideas of full personhood. 

Sometimes you don't have to wonder what various groups of people would do during critical times of crisis because you see them doing what they would have done in real-time. 

I'm going to venture a guess that if those same religious leaders who stormed out of the room that day had been giving King Zedekiah advice on why it was wise to join with the Egyptians in a foolhardy attempt to wrest power away from the Babylonians.

Things didn't turn out great for them.  It never does when we decide that good leadership isn't godly leadership.  

So how do we do this better?   Well, we need to look to ourselves, look to others, and look to Jesus. Let me explain: 

Look to Ourselves—Are we reacting out of self-interest or fear?
Look to Others—Who would Jesus invite into the room? Acts 15--Pharisees at the table. They are causing trouble, but they're at the table. 
Look to Jesus—What sort of example are we seeking? 

When it comes to lifting up leaders, far too many of us Christian types practice the very kind of thing that in every other aspect of our lives we would rail against: The end justifies the means. 

If we just get what we want, even a few of the things we want, then it's fine to pick leaders who are reckless and scatter.  Is it?  

"What shall it profit a person if they gain the whole world, but lose their soul?" 

The end doesn't justify the means.  Jesus showed that.  



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