If Jesus was Australia’s Prime Minister…
This week’s spectacular dumping of Tony Abbott has reminded Australia — and the world — of how our national leader is not safe.
Just like Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard before him, Tony Abbott was not safe from opposition, challenge, treachery and overthrow. Even from those who are meant to be most supportive.
As Malcolm Turnbull took the No. 1 spot this week, maybe you thought about what would have happened if other famous leaders were in Tony Abbott’s shoes.
Imagine, for example, if Jesus was Australia’s Prime Minister. Would he have been treated any differently than Tony Abbott (or Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard for that matter)?
According to what is revealed by one of Jesus’s autobiographies in the Bible — the book of Mark — he was treated in a similar way when he walked the earth as the leader of God’s people.
The end result for Jesus was crucially different, though. For him — and everybody else. And that crucial difference is worth grasping hold of.
Like our recent Prime Ministers (we’ve had five in five years!), Jesus Christ faced opposition from those who were meant to be on his side. That might shock some who imagine Jesus was a lamb-hugging moral teacher that, you know, did good stuff and never had any enemies. But that’s far from the real picture of Jesus’ earthly life as leader of a faith revolution that has not ended. Much resistance was stirred by his actions and teachings about being the one leader God calls people to follow.
By chapter 3 of Mark, Jesus’ opponents are already plotting to kill him (3:6). He had barely started his ministry of healing and guiding, and his death was being planned. This opposition came from religious leaders who were waiting for God’s promised Messiah. Despite the first chapter of Mark recording how God clearly revealed Jesus was the one these religious leaders waited for, they didn’t see it that way. They saw Jesus only as a threat to their power, privilege and position. So, you know, he had to go.
Tony Abbott may or may not have known the extent of his own party’s opposition to him as Prime Minister. But Jesus knew exactly what was being plotted against him. (Mark 8:31-32; 10:32-34) Despite such opposition, he ensured his campaign to bring God’s forgiveness did not stoop to retaliation or factional warfare.
Jesus knew he faced opposition within the same religious circles that should have supported his leadership. While those in the elite Jewish religious groups of the Pharisees didn’t broadcast their “Jesus must die” plots in pubic, they regularly challenged him. Challenged him about his upholding of religious traditions (Mark 7:5) and Roman law (Mark 12:13-17), or demanded he prove himself to the standards that they set (Mark 8:11). These challenges weren’t polite questions. They were attempts to publicly shame and ridicule Jesus, such as when he was challenged about his authority by a posse of chief priests and elders in the Temple complex — the centre of Jewish worship. (Mark 11:27-28)
Even one of Jesus’ closest supporters, the disciple Peter, challenged him about what it meant to be God’s Messiah. (Mark 8:31-33) While it seems Peter was coming from a place of concern, rather than sabotage, Jesus responded bluntly to Peter’s misunderstanding. Such was the seriousness of challenging Jesus about his leadership of God’s kingdom on earth.
Judas Iscariot is famous. Famous for betraying Jesus. After a week in Australian politics when accusations of betrayal erupted, you probably thought about how Judas treated Jesus. Because, let’s face it, Judas remains the best-known betrayer in history. Whenever betrayal gets mentioned, count down the seconds till someone thinks “oh, yeah, remember what Judas did?” A seemingly disgruntled member of Jesus “party”, Judas took matters into his own hands to remove Jesus from his position. (Mark 14:10-11) By agreeing to “hand him over” to the religious leaders that wanted to kill him, Judas signed Jesus’ death sentence. Talk about treachery in leadership circles.
By Tuesday morning, the world knew Tony Abbott had been overthrown as Australia’s Prime Minister. By his own party. No matter how you feel about his time in the top job, surely you can feel some sympathy for the way Tony Abbott was brought down. So swiftly and fuelled by backstabbing, in-fighting and disrespect.
Now, think about Jesus. He also was overthrown by a member of his own “party” (Judas) and leaders who should have stood by him (Pharisees, chief priests, elders). But Jesus wasn’t just asked to clear out his desk and make one of those awkward “you’ve been fired; now, smile for the cameras” speeches.
Leader of God’s people, Jesus was sentenced to death based on trumped-up charges brought by jealous enemies. Australian politics can be a minefield of envy and malice. But Jesus’ overthrow was far more aggressive, devastating and murderous than anything we’ve witnessed around the Prime Minister’s position in Australia.
Jesus was a leader whose opponents wanted him out so badly that they wanted him dead.
And they succeeded.
5. Absolute power
One of the many unique things about Jesus is that his being executed didn’t end his leadership.
While Tony Abbott is unlikely to resurrect his prime ministerial career (even if Kevin Rudd briefly managed it), Jesus rose from the grave. Yes, despite what opposition, challenge, treachery and overthrow had achieved against Jesus, he couldn’t be stopped. Because he is the promised Messiah sent by God. The same leader of God’s people who predicted he would be killed by his opponents — but would return to life. (Mark 9:30-32)
Wow, right? Think about the absolute power required to not be stopped by death. That sure-fire thing able to stop all of us. But it didn’t stop God’s chosen leader Jesus. Which is great news, because Jesus went through all of that so we wouldn’t have to.
Why Jesus lived, died and lived again in the way that he did is wrapped up in something incredible that he explained to his followers. (recorded in Mark 10:42-45) Jesus had come as a leader who was not going to be served, but to serve others. He would go so far with that selfless service that he would sacrifice his own life as a “ransom for the many”.
That ransom related to how humans were in desperate need of forgiveness from God, for the countless ways they had rejected him. To pay the debt wracked up by the stain of human sin against God’s purity. A debt that continues to grow, every minute, as we all fail to live as well for God as we should.
And the only suitable payment for this debt was Jesus giving up his perfect life, so that imperfect people could receive forgiveness by believing and trusting in selfless leader Jesus.
Jesus’ brand of leadership is remarkable. And he called his followers to follow his example. To not dominate others but “if you want to become great”, you must lead by serving others.
Putting others first is not something we witnessed in Australian political life this week.
If Jesus had been in the top job, that would have been a striking difference about his involvement with any leadership spill.