The Jesus of the Incarnation provides us with a more authentic leadership than “alpha males” in the wild or in politics, for in His differences He is Alpha and Omega.
Some of us learned a new term during the late and unlamented presidential campaign. Campaign observers, drawing on something learned from studies of animals in the wild, told us that one of the candidates was trying to learn to behave as an Alpha Male. An Alpha Male. What does that mean?
In the wild, certain creatures become leaders of the pack and exhibit the sort of behavior that makes others follow them instinctively. Gray wolves, for example, will travel in packs, and one male and his mate will emerge as leaders. A certain aggressiveness, a body endowed with powerful limbs, the ability to react swiftly to danger, a protective spirit – all of these things mark the alpha male among gray wolves. And similar behavior can be found in the animal kingdom in a variety of creatures, from chimpanzees to iguanas. The alpha male is the one who takes charge, asserts himself, makes things happen, and allows for no rivals. Every inch the leader of the pack. The one others follow. The one who keeps peace in the pack by the force of his leadership.
We need alphas. We human beings are not exempt from the need to have someone to follow. Today we might quarrel with the insistence on alpha males; there are, and must be, alpha females too. But we need alphas. We need someone we can follow. We need someone with a vision of peace, a strategy for peacemaking and peacekeeping. Most of us are not made of alpha stuff. We must have in front of us a leader whose strength is indisputable, whose intellect is powerful, whose spirit is indomitable, and whose character is unquestionable. We must have someone who is committed to creating a peace-filled and orderly world.
But where shall we find such a person? Who will give us that sort of leadership? Who can make peace and keep peace for us. Will we find such a leader in politics? Some of us quickly became accustomed to the idea of a presidential vacuum during the recent election crisis. Some of us felt that the nation had not so much chosen a leader as it had waffled on both of the candidates. They just did not seem to inspire great passion, one way or the other. No real alpha males there.
Shall we find such a leader in the business world? An alpha male among the megamillions of the dotcom pioneers or the inventors of new biotechnologies? Will wealth make peace?
Shall we find an alpha in the academic world? A philosopher who can put all wisdom together and create peace?
Or in the military world? An alpha general who can marshal military muscle sufficient to hold the field for peace?
In a world of change and conflict, in a time of suspicion and terror, if we are to have peace, we must follow a leader who is an unquestioned alpha. Someone who stands without blemish at the head of the pack. Someone whose life, whose heart, whose mind, whose spirit we may trust.
Two thousand years ago, all of the same pursuits toward peace we use today had been tried and found wanting. The world had tried politics and there was no peace. Augustus Caesar on his throne in far-off Rome held that throne through intrigue and terror, not trust. Men followed Augustus because they had to, not because they wanted to. And there was no peace. There was no alpha.
Wealth had not created peace either. In fact the pursuit of wealth had wreaked havoc on humanity, for slavery was everywhere, and the unbridled pursuit of wealth made life miserable. Everywhere there were thieves and highway robbers. Decent people could not be safe, even in their own homes, when the publicans came around. King Herod, a small-minded man with a penchant for a pretty face and an appetite for self-indulgence, could have cared less about his people. No peace, no alpha there to guard the public trust.
Nor had military might made peace. Oh, Rome had imposed its own understanding of peace on the empire, but it was bought with a great price. Someone quipped that the Romans entered your land, destroyed it, made it a desert, and then called that “peace”. They came to destroy and not to build. And they governed with self-centered little men like Pontius Pilate, more concerned about being noticed by Rome so that a promotion would come than about building up the people. No alphas there, no leaders to be trusted.
Two thousand years ago, as now, the world was hungry for true peace. And needed someone to bring it peace. Needed an alpha leader to follow. The wonder of it all, that on a starlit night on a Judean hillside, heaven and earth saw Him born. A babe, but not just any babe. The prince of peace. A child, but not just any child. The alpha, the word made flesh.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
I submit to you tonight that Jesus the Christ, the child of Bethlehem, is the world’s alpha male. He is the one we must follow if there is to be peace. He is the one who can be trusted. He is the one who knows the secrets of our hearts and can bring us to authentic peace. He is our alpha.
Jesus Christ is our alpha, for He leads out of poverty and humility, not out of wealth and pompous prestige. Jesus Christ is our alpha, for He shows us that whoever is worth following is worthy because of the qualities of character he has, not because of the trappings of power around him. Leadership is not what you have, it is what you are. Leadership is not what stuff you have accumulated, it is the stuff you are made of. Jesus is our alpha because He leads us not with wealth or political power or military muscle, but with the force of His character.
Gardner Taylor is known as a prince of preachers. Many have tried to imitate his inimitable preaching style. The story is that years ago, one young preacher, noticing that Gardner Taylor often preaches with his pulpit robe hanging open, decided that would be his style too. He went to his pulpit, opened his robe, then opened his mouth, and quickly demonstrated that it’s not the robe on the outside of the man, it’s what’s inside the man inside the robe that makes a preacher. Jesus is our alpha, for he leads from a lowly stable, dressed in swaddling clothes, with nothing to persuade us of His importance. But He is our alpha by the force of His character.
Martin Luther King taught us a few years ago to be sure to measure others not by externals, like the color of their skin or the size of their bank account. He reminded us to measure others by the content of their character. Jesus Christ is without spot or blemish, without failure or flaw. He is our alpha, for He leads us not by the stuff He has, but by the stuff He is.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. Further, Jesus Christ is our alpha, for He leads by identifying with us. Not by lording it over us, but by identifying with us. By living among us, feeling what we feel, seeing what we see, tasting what we taste, suffering what we suffer. He is no lofty philosophical ideal, above it all, untouched by the human predicament. He is the word made flesh, right here, getting his hands dirty, with us. With us. Immanuel, God with us. He identifies with us, just as we are.
If you travel around the world and see the images of Jesus as they are presented in various cultures, you will see a remarkable thing. You will see Jesus’ face taking on the characteristics of all the peoples who worship Him. In Japan, His almond-shaped eyes look out at you from rice paper paintings. In Peru, His high cheekbones are those of an Inca noble. In Poland, His features are unmistakably Slavic. In northern Europe, His image looks a bit like mine. In Africa, His image looks like many of you. It’s not that any of these images are historically and literally correct. Very likely Jesus the man looked something like your Jewish or your Arab neighbors. It’s not that these images are historically correct; they’re not. But they are spiritually correct. They are spiritually true.
Jesus is our alpha because He identifies with us. It is He, not Santa Claus, who knows what you’ve been thinking, for He knows who we are and what we face. He has been here. He has walked among us. He is like us and yet unlike us. Not a God a way out somewhere in the stratosphere, remote and untouchable. But with us. Among us. Like us. Jesus is our alpha, our prince of peace, for He identifies with us.
Further, Jesus is our alpha, for He teaches a radical new way of life, a way of life which, if we take it seriously, will lead to peace. Jesus is our alpha, our pioneer, for He teaches a way of life like no other teacher who has ever lived.
I am persuaded that the sickness of modern Christianity is that we have not taken seriously the radical demands of our master. When Jesus tells us that if someone strikes us on one cheek, we are to turn the other, we dismiss that as unrealistic idealism. When Jesus teaches us that when that person who is so demanding, so insistent, and we’ve already given him as much as we think he deserves — when he asks for even more, we can’t handle it. We don’t like it. We won’t do it. But Jesus teaches that if any one asks of you your coat, give him your cloak as well. What a radical teacher He is! And we have never really taken Him seriously.
This coming year I hope to lead an outreach that will be second to none into a year of rediscovering Jesus. I want to gain buy-in of all denominations to form a coalition to push the initiatives of the gospel to a degree that gang-bangers and addicts alike would receive the essential Jesus. I hope we will conclude, as did the Temple officers reported in John’s Gospel, “Never man spake like this man.” How true that is! With what matchless insight He probes us and instructs us and leads us! Jesus is our alpha, for He teaches a radical new way of life.