A different kind of leader

Isaiah 42:1-4

What makes a good leader? Perhaps we think in terms of charisma, competence, strength, a compelling vision. Think about these people: Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Nicol Sturgeon, Robert Mugabe, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin. What makes people look to them as leaders.

What about leaders more locally, church, home, school, work. What authority do they have? How do they exercise it?

How do you react to leadership and authority? Some of us will have it ingrained in us to jump and obey orders (especially if you’ve served in the military). Others of us will be used to challenging and questioning. Some of us find authority difficult. The word itself is negative. We associate it with tyranny and abuse. Those in authority use their power to crush and harm -to get their own way.

One of the images in the Bible is of Jesus as King. One popular evangelism tool asks the question “Who will be King in your life.” We also call Jesus “Lord.” How does your heart respond to that?

On Palm Sunday we remember how Jesus rode into Jerusalem being proclaimed King. So this is a good time to stop and think about what sort of King he is.

  1. What type of Leader is Jesus?
  1. What is he coming to do? (v 1 & v 4)
  • He is coming to bring justice and to establish God’s Law
  • God’s Spirit is upon him
  • He will persevere and not falter.
  • How will he go about this?

There were expectations about how God’s anointed Messiah would do this.

  • Defeating and destroying physical enemies like the Romans
  • Removing corrupt leaders – Sanhedrin
  • Rewarding those who had kept the faith – Pharisee movement (?) Essenes (?)

Yet Isaiah was clear about how the Messiah would come and if they’d read these verses, they would have known different.

We are told that he would not do certain things

  • He will not shout or raise his voice
  • He will not crush the weakest(bruised/damaged) reed
  • He will not put out a flickering candle. Smouldering flax

In other words, he is not coming as a rabble rouser to cause a scene. He is not coming to throw his weight about and he is not going to hurt the vulnerable.

Think particularly about those images of the bruised reed and the flickering candle. These represent vulnerability and weakness. Reeds were used in all kinds of production, papyrus, baskets, boats, rope and sandals. A damaged reed was useless. They could also cause harm back (see Isaiah 36:6). 

This gives rich imagery of people who are hurt and hurting. Sometimes this is because of what other people have done to you -they’ve used and crushed you. Sometimes it’s because of your own weaknesses and failings. Maybe you feel like that. You feel a failure, useless.  Maybe you sense that others shun you and stay out of your way -they are afraid of getting hurt. Maybe you find yourself lashing out at them and harming them.

The flickering candle should hopefully spark into light -but again there’s a sense of weakness. The flame is small, it’s at risk of going out.

By the way, at this point, you might be thinking about how new leaders will often demonstrate their power, their ability to get things done and to defend their own people by picking a fight with weak enemies.  Sadly, leaders act as bullies, sensing vulnerability they head to crush it.

The whole point is that Jesus is not like that. He does not come to demonstrate his power by crushing the weak. He will not snuff out your life, joy and hope.

Instead, Isaiah 53:4-10  tells us what the Servant did.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows[a] that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
    yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
    And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
    he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned,
    he was led away.[b]
No one cared that he died without descendants,
    that his life was cut short in midstream.[c]
But he was struck down
    for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
    and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
    he was put in a rich man’s grave.

10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
    and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
    he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
    and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.

Instead of crushing, Jesus becomes the one who is crushed. He upholds God’s justice and law by taking the penalty of the Law on himself.

  • How do we respond to this Leader?
  1. We are called to loyal allegiance -belong, follow obey

Jesus is so different from the masters and leaders of this World and so different to this World’s master – Satan.  Jesus is the King we need. He is a King that we can give our love and our loyalty to.

This is important because be in no doubt. Jesus is Lord. But his yoke is easy and his burden is light.  When you become a Christian, you are set free from Satan sin and death but not to do as you please. True freedom means freedom to serve the true King.

Belonging to Jesus and knowing that I am forgiven means that I am called to a new life. I belong to His family. I am meant to live differently. This means that God will challenge me about my thoughts, words and actions. Are they characterised by selfish ambition or selfless love? Do I put others first?  Do I value integrity so that I do things the right way even when it costs me? Am I willing to give up on my habits and addictions?  Am I willing to share my faith with others even if it means mockery and rejection? 

  • We are called to love as we have been love

One way that we are called to change is by imitating Christ’s example in how we relate to others.  Remember the story Jesus told of the man who gets forgiven a significant debt by the King. He goes outside and he sees another man who owes him a small amount. He insists that this man is thrown into the debtors’ jail. By doing this, he shows that he has not understood how much he has been forgiven.

How do we respond to others?

  • Are we quick to put them down and snuff out the flickering flame if their ideas aren’t up to scratch?
  • Do we quickly give up on people when they fall and fail?
  • Do we prefer to give our time to those we see as successful or having potential? Are we a church for “winners” and “champions?”
  • Are we even tempted to show our own strength by bullying and threatening those who can’t fight back in order to get our own way?

This is important for us on two levels. First of all, individually, we will be going into situations this week where we will meet the “bruised reeds” and the “flickering candles.” It may well be someone in our own family – our husband or wife, our son our daughter.  We are at our wits end and frustrated, we want to give up on them not least because we feel that we have little left to give and because their behaviour is causing hurt and harm. Jesus calls us to persevere with them and he is the only one who can give us the love and patience to do this.

Secondly, there’s a challenge to us as a church. Now, the reality is that in Gospel terms, every one of us comes to Christ as a “bruised reed.” Sin means we are damaged, broken, useless, destined for destruction but Christ rescues and restores us. However, I think in our community we will see so many people who more overtly identify with this image -the bruised reeds of our society, the broken, hurting, vulnerable and desperate.


The Gospel we have received calls us to act differently.  This may be a challenge. Some of us find ourselves frustrated, disappointed, wanting to give up on others.  Some of us are ready to give up on ourselves. The Gospel says “no” because Jesus did not and has not given up on you.


  1. What specific area of my life do I need help with in order to live differently under Christ’s Lordship?
  • Who are the weak and vulnerable people in my life? How do I treat them?

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