Jesus was born into the kingdom of Herod, and Herod was a very powerful king. But Jesus quickly realized that his way of leadership would not be Herod’s. “My kingdom,” he says to Pilate, “is not of this world.”
The temptation of Jesus, of course, would have been to model his techniques, his methods, after Herod, but with a different outcome and goal. This was the temptation of Jesus that we read about in the gospels. The devil takes Jesus to a high mountain, and shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor, and says, “All this I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
In his book The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson writes:
“So why didn’t Jesus learn from Herod? Why didn’t Jesus take Herod as his mentor in getting on in the world? In the world into which Jesus was born, no one has done this kingdom thing better. It’s true that Herod was not interested in God, but everything else was intact. All Jesus had to do was adopt and then adapt Herod’s political style, his skills, his tested principles and put them to work under the rule of God.”
[Ken Carter, “Jesus and Leadership,” Faith and Leadership, 2009]
What we discovered is that Jesus’ reign and power doesn’t look like the kings we know of or the presidency of the United States. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus told the man in power, Pilate. “I was born to rule with truth.”
And what have we Christians done with this different kind of notion of king that Jesus embodied? Not much, unfortunately. As my friend Brent Walker once said, one of the most shameful ironies of the history of Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation of a worldly power— political power, military power, economic power— even though they did it all in the name of Jesus, the one who said that his kingdom was not of this world, the one who did not cling to power but emptied himself for the sake of the world.
And you’d think we’d have gotten better at this by this by now. But we continue to look to the power of the world to advance the power of Christ. And we are not unwilling for others to suffer, as long as our view reigns.
What is it that makes this temptation of power so irresistible? Henri Nouwen says that maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to control people than to love people, easier to play God than to love God, easier to give orders than to speak the truth.
Jesus asks, Do you love me?
We ask, Can we sit at your right hand and your left hand in your Kingdom?
The long and sometimes painful history of Christianity is the history of people over and again being tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross.