Jesus: the self-differentiated leader

One of the beautiful things about working through the Gospels together, especially Mark, is that we see how Jesus Himself is forming His Mission. He is both delivering the Good News and He is the Good News.

The purpose of the incarnation of Jesus is to personal deliver the Gospel to each of us, right on our earth, right in our neighborhood. We get our mission directly from what Jesus did. Each one of his miracles both reaffirms that to Him, and it shows that to others. His miracles and his signs, though they are immediately beneficial, typically, to the people on whom they are done, serve a unique purpose. They are signs, so they are pointing us in a direction—they are showing us something.

Jesus has a mission: to change the world. To be another one of God’s voices showing the world again who He is. The mission He is bringing is a big deal, it’s nearly unbelievable. Today, people still don’t believe it.

He’s not just performing actions that heal physical ailments, he’s saving our souls. He’s doing things that are reserved for God. The key to leadership for Jesus and for us is self-differentiation. And so Jesus miracles are making him a distinct person. Jesus is leading us and part of the way he can work in a high-anxiety world (like ours) is to be his own person.  Let’s bserve how Jesus self-differentiates in these two passages. The first one is when he calms the storm.

Picture1Up until this point, the disciples had seen Jesus heal people, exorcise demons, and tell profound stories that had the potential to shake the authorities. In the story that is recorded in Mark 4, we see Jesus calming the seas, saving the disciples.

This is a significant image for Jews, who were not much of a seafaring people. Think back to the Old Testament, specifically the story of the Exodus where Moses parted the Red Sea and freed the Israelites. Or when Jonah disobeyed God and was thrown overboard (in a stormy situation as well). Jesus, this time, proves that even the sea can obey him.

More than that, he shows that the world’s anxiety doesn’t need to affect us. Jesus is sleeping during the storm; he himself is calm—that’s the real miracle. He brings the calm to the storm and to his faithless disciples. This storm that they are experiencing is foreshadowing for the storm they will feel when they are persecuted for following Jesus. A time will come when more storms threaten their lives, and it won’t be calm. They need to learn to withstand the difficulty of following Jesus as self-differentiated people.

Jesus’ solution to it is about as backwards as sleeping through this one—he’s dying to save the whole world. He is making it known, to himself, and to others. He is defining himself. The process of our self-definition helps us lead with a vision. Who are you? What are your goals? What do you want to do? Great questions to answer.

Jesus gets out of enmeshed relationships by continuing to self-define and self-differentiate. Know who you are and what you want. And your relationships will flourish. Being purposelessly enmeshed is guaranteed to hurt you and the people around you.

From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus is showing the Jewish world signs that He is the Messiah. In fact, Jewish leaders see this early on and plot his death. You can sense his frustration when his disciples still don’t get it.

Picture2Mark 8 has two stories about blindness. Jesus isn’t just demonstrating another sign to his faithless disciples, it’s leading up to the point where the blinders are removed and they see Jesus as the Messiah. Up until this point, it’s likely that they merely see him as a divine teacher—a prophet, a good man (like many people today see him).

When Peter declares that He is the Messiah, he is seeing for the first time too. This is a huge deal—the Messiah is the new King of Israel. Jesus wants his closest to know that, but he still wants this ultimate truth to remain secret.

It looks like he won’t have to worry about it. Peter is looking for the Messiah he’s just declared to bring a political revolution. But when Jesus says he will suffer and die, Peter rebukes him. Jesus’ emotionally responds (“get behind me Satan”).

Following Jesus is not about power acquisition, it’s not about glamour and fortune, and it’s not about violence and counter-violence. It’s about denying yourself. If you want to follow Jesus, we have to deny ourselves and take up our own cross.

It’s an amazing thing that Jesus does here. Our differentiation as Christians has to do with resolutely denying ourselves and following Jesus. It’s a both/and. It’s about following Jesus without getting stomped on, but also with known that we aren’t our own. Peter’s response is so telling of how many of us might respond. I’m with you, you’re the Lord, and you are making that clear to us. However, why do you have to die? It’s really a hard thing to understand for this group of people. Jesus is confidently defining Himself as a dying savior.

Jesus is doing something, and the reactions and the anxiety that his mission is causing is going to lead to his death. In fact, he is so Picture3
well defined and so motivated that the people around him that have survived on tradition and corruption can’t stand it. They kill him! But Jesus isn’t going down without fight. In Mark 11 and we are venturing down the dark path of death, Jesus confronts again his detractors and critics. This time, not just to defend himself and his disciples, but his vision of the changing world.

Everyone can get into to mission, but not everyone will. You’ll have to go through Jesus and follow his lead. And if you decide to use the church for profit, you might be as cursed as the tree that Jesus withers here. Mark sandwiches the curse of the fig tree right in the passage that refers to Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. It could seem petty that Jesus curses a tree that isn’t bearing fruit when it isn’t the right season for it to do it, but put into the context of Jesus clearing the Temple—an abuse of the space and evidence of the corruption of the Temple—cursing the fig tree makes sense. Jesus knows what he is doing, who is he, who is following him, and who isn’t.

Everyone’s world can be changed. Everyone can follow a distinct God with their own definition. And everyone can get redeemed, everyone is included. But it’s not a guarantee. We will have to deny ourselves and follow the Sign from God, the crucified and resurrection Messiah.

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