A Legacy of Love
“…(Twenty) centuries have come and gone,
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race…
All the armies that have ever marched,
All the navies that have ever sailed,
All the parliaments that have ever sat,
All the kings that have ever reigned, put together,
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth,
As powerfully, as that one solitary life”
(Dr. James Allen Francis, Excerpts & Insights, One Solitary Life, originally published 1928).
How could one solitary life be so profound and have such a lasting impact? How did Jesus’ influence come to span continents when he and his closest followers never traveled together more than seventy-five miles from their obscure home district of Galilee?
Why has his life shaped and stirred so many debates? Jesus never attended a prestigious university. He never wrote a book. He never held a political office. He never lived in a city of regional influence like Jerusalem nor visited a city of import, such as Athens or Rome. He did not have a famous family. He never owned a house. He never joined a network of connectors. He never sought an audience with the great leaders of his day. He had none of the relationships that one usually associates with influence. He did none of those things one usually associated with greatness. He had no credentials, but himself ((Dr. James Allen Francis, Excerpts & Insights, One Solitary Life, originally published 1928). What then did Jesus embody that enabled him and defined him? What shaped his unrivaled legacy? Love.
A legacy is “impact that lasts”. Legacies are largely thought of in terms of “financial and material transfers from one generation to another” (Webster’s Dictionary). Such transfers are limited expressions of love. Many leaders today are conditioned by culture to be captivated by the accumulations of “things,” and later in life become obsessed with being remembered by the transfer of those things. Jesus had no financial or material possessions to transfer. What he did pursue day by day, however, were expressions of unconditional love, even when very few expressed love to him. At the end of his brief life, the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied him. One “sold him out.” He was turned over to religious zealots and subjected to a mockery of a trial and death on a cross. When the opportunity for new life was given to him three days later he did not seek revenge for himself, but rather redemption for others. He knew that the ultimate legacy is love. Those who dared to follow him before and after his death were forever impacted by his love. Just ask John.
When John wrote his gospel book many years had past since Matthew, Mark (with Peter), and Luke (with Mary) had written their accounts. His content was 92% unique to the other gospels and his perspective centered on the idea that Jesus was love and that Jesus loved him (“the one who Jesus loved”). The final third of John’s gospel (Chapters 13-21) is a highlight reel of Jesus loving John (along with the whole leadership team)—washing his feet; praying deeply for him in the garden; trusting John with the care of his mother Mary; having the honor of being the first disciple on their team to arrive at the empty gravesite; watching Jesus restore Peter; and watching him extend some loving patience to a teammate who had a propensity to doubt.
Though the sacrifice of the cross and hope of the resurrection were the ultimate displays of love, there is little doubt that the following 40 days sealed his legacy of love. Without practical demonstrations of his unconditional love during those days there would have been no legacy, no lasting impact. His life and leadership would have been a mere “blip” on the radar of history. Rather than being a dynamic and powerful group of leaders who turned the world upside down, there would have been a depressed Peter, a confused John, a doubting Thomas, a greedy Matthew, and no opportunity for Matthias to lead or for Jesus’ half-brother, James, to influence the church. In a period of uncertainty and confusion, these leaders needed the confidence, clarity and community that Jesus’ loving presence offered.
Love always gives confidence. Jesus was like few other leaders. He spent time making sure that his lieutenants were given the vision that they could and would do even “greater things” than he had done. This is a counter-cultural shift from the common practice of leaders today regarding succession planning. Jim Collins outlined in Good to Great that numerous leaders wished to be remembered as irreplaceable. Even the king in Jesus’ day, Herod the Great, made sure that he would be remember as the greatest, by building palaces and by killing anyone who threatened him. Jesus also inspired confidence by assuring his team that he would be available on a 24/7 basis (through prayer and the Holy Spirit) and would give them “truth”, “peace” and “counsel” whenever they asked for it. On a personal level, John notes that Peter received the confidence he needed as well. Within a month of Peter’s denying Jesus three times around a fireplace and weeping bitterly there, Jesus confronted Peter around another fire, this time to restore Peter’s confidence and give him with the high responsibility to “feed my sheep.” His love was always clear, and never confusing. Jesus gathered his team together for some final instructions and gave a specific command to “Go make disciples of all nations…and teach them to observe all that I have instructed you” (Matthew 28:19-20). This was not an idea for his team to consider; it was a command. It was given with “all authority”. To “go” was clear to his followers. The term is literally translated, “in your going, make disciples.” Jesus envisioned that most his followers would be “going” back to their spheres of influence on a daily basis. They would influence their homes, companies, and communities with practical expressions of his love.
However, Jesus had an ultimate expression in mind for a legacy of love. It was not merely to transform communities and cities but to transform our world. Jesus modeled locally what he desired globally. There are many opportunities for leaders today to go global. This was so vital to Jesus’ strategy that when his leaders neglected global issues, he allowed persecution to impact their organization. The hard times they experienced caused them to focus on Jesus’ global command (Acts 8). It may be that your business should consider new markets or new men and women who come from a different part of the world. At home you may have a child who needs your encouragement or example to “go” on a mission trip to gain a biblical worldview. Your church may need your leadership to shift its internal focus toward people beyond the walls of the sanctuary. For Jesus, godly leaders think globally. Jesus’ legacy was a model of transformed leaders transforming cities, and ultimately transforming our world.
Many who have studied the content of Jesus’ teachings or sought to emulate his character have made little effort to embrace his context. a community of twelve leaders. The truth is that very few, if any, legacies have ever been solo performances; they are done with an orchestra of human instruments. Jesus reminded his disciples to stay unified and to be sure to serve one another just as he had modeled serving them. He instructed them “that they were on no account to leave Jerusalem… so they returned and stayed together joined in constant in prayer” (see Acts 1:4-14). There should be little surprise that the most striking feature in the growth of the early church was the manner in which they lived life “together” and “loved one another”. The church grew not because of one sermon or several miracles, but mostly because they were committed to praying, visiting, sharing, giving and worshiping together. They loved each other.
Imagine your colleagues and children loving others and loving God! Imagine leveraging your love and influence with friends to transform your community? Together, let’s leave a legacy of love!
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