Jesus And Other Leaders
Jesus was different from other spiritual leaders of the world's most significant faiths. Moses is regarded as the Founder of Judaism. You know the basic facts about Moses' life and career but I want to highlight one aspect of his leadership of the Israelites. When Moses was leading the People of God towards the Promised Land, he did so as the commander of the Israelite Army. Force and violence was needed to access the Promised Land the land that God had given His people. As they began to enter Canaan the local tribes objected to their appearance and fought against these interlopers.
When Moses asked the Amorites for passage and it was refused, Moses attacked the Amorites and defeated them. The Israelites, now holding the territory of the Amorites just north of Moab, desired to expand their holdings by acquiring Bashan, a fertile territory north of Ammon famous for its oak trees and cattle. It was led by a king named Og. The Israelites fought with Og's forces at Edrei, on the southern border of Bashan, where the Israelites were victorious and slew every man, woman, and child of his cities and took spoil for their bounty.
Then came the Midianites. They sent beautiful women to the Israelite camp to seduce the young men to partake in idolatry, and the attempt proved successful. God then commanded Moses to kill everyone who had engaged in idolatry and to hang their heads, and Moses ordered the judges to carry out the mass execution.
After Moses had taken a census of the people, he sent an army to avenge the perceived evil brought on the Israelites by the Midianites. Numbers 31 says Moses instructed the Israelite soldiers to kill every Midianite woman, boy, and non-virgin girl, although virgin girls were shared among the soldiers. The Israelites killed Balaam, and the five kings of Midian: Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba. Moses appointed Joshua, son of Nun, to succeed him as the leader of the Israelites. Moses then died at the age of 120. These were harsh and brutal times. No-one was a pacifist in those days. But the Promised Land was taken at the cost of much violence – violence which continues to this day after the re-establishment of Israel in 1948 in the very same promised land.
You are familiar with the basic facts of the life of Muhammad. I want to highlight one aspect of his life. Born in about 570 CE in the Arabian city of Mecca, Muhammad was orphaned at an early age and brought up under the care of his paternal uncle Abu Talib. He later worked mostly as a merchant, as well as a shepherd. When Muhammad was 25, he married his wealthy employer Khadija who was 40 years of age and previously married. In today's western culture he would be regarded as a toy boy, marrying into money. In total Muhammad had either 11 or 13 wives throughout his life, one of whom was a Christian slave girl given to him as a gift. His marriage to Khadija lasted until her death 25 years later. He was then betrothed to a little girl called Aisha aged 6 or 7. He married her when she was 9 and he was 53. In our culture today he would be regarded as a paedophile and would be sent to prison. If anyone thinks this information about Muhammad might be far fetched, they only need to read current news reports from Afghanistan about the continuing traditional practice of taking and making child brides. There is even a campaign to reduce the age for marriage to 8 years rather than 16. According to United Nations and UNICEF statistics, 57 percent of Afghan brides are under the age of sixteen, and the mortality rate for women dying in childbirth is very high at 18 percent.
Siddhartha Gautama was the Founder of Buddhism. He was born about 566 BC in the Himalayan foothills of India. He was brought up by his mother's younger sister. By tradition, he is said to have been destined by birth to the life of a prince, and had three palaces (for seasonal occupation) built for him. Although more recent scholarship doubts this status, his father, said to be King Śuddhodana, wishing for his son to be a great king, is said to have shielded him from religious teachings and from knowledge of human suffering.
When he reached the age of 16, his father reputedly arranged his son's marriage to a cousin of the same age named Yaśodharā. According to the traditional account, she gave birth to a son, named Rāhula. Siddhartha is said to have spent 29 years as a prince in Kapilavastu. Although his father ensured that Siddhartha was provided with everything he could want or need, Buddhist scriptures say that the future Buddha felt that material wealth was not life's ultimate goal.
At the age of 29, the popular biography continues, Siddhartha left his palace to meet his subjects. Despite his father's efforts to hide from him the sick, aged and suffering, Siddhartha was said to have seen an old man. When his charioteer Channa explained to him that all people grew old, the prince went on further trips beyond the palace. On these he encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. These depressed him, and he initially strove to overcome ageing, sickness, and death by giving up his life as a prince leaving his wife and son and living the life of an ascetic.
After realising that extreme asceticism didn't work, Gautama discovered what Buddhists call the 'Middle Way' — a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. In a famous incident, after becoming starved and weakened, he is said to have accepted milk and rice pudding from a village girl named Sujata. Following this incident, Gautama was famously seated under a pipal tree—now known as the Bodhi tree—in Bodh Gaya, India, when he vowed never to arise until he had found the truth. After a reputed 49 days of meditation, at the age of 35, he is said to have attained Enlightenment. From that time, Gautama was known to his followers as the Buddha or "Awakened One" ("Buddha" is also sometimes translated as "The Enlightened One").
According to Buddhism, at the time of his awakening he realised complete insight into the cause of suffering, and the steps necessary to eliminate it. These discoveries became known as the "Four Noble Truths", which are at the heart of Buddhist teaching. Gautama's Four Noble Truths were:
1 Suffering exists in the human condition
2 The cause and origin of suffering is human desire
3 Stopping suffering is through freeing yourself from attachment/s
4 The Middle Way between luxury and asceticism.
Through mastery of these truths, a state of supreme liberation, or Nirvana, is believed to be possible for any human being. The Buddha described Nirvāna as the perfect peace of a mind that's free from ignorance, greed, hatred and other afflictive states or "defilements". Gotama lived on until the age of 82 and he died in 486 BC.
A contemporary example of his teaching is seen in the life of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner. She married an Englishman Michael Aris, an Oxford academic in 1971. They had two sons. She returned to Burma in 1988 to wage a non-violent political campaign against the military dictatorship there. She was placed under house arrest but could have left Burma if she had wanted. In 1997 her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer. She did not return to England to see him or her sons and he died in 1999. She exercised the Buddhist principle of detachment but later admitted a somewhat emotionless regret.
Unlike Moses. Jesus was non-violent. He did not seek to possess land but to dwell in people's hearts and minds and lives. He brought about the New Israel as a global family and community of spiritually saved people, growing and increasing to this day. Unlike Muhammad, Jesus was single and lived a life of complete dedication and self-sacrifice to God, His Father. Muhammad was a polygamist having many wives. Muhammad became wealthy. Jesus became poor. Muhammad used politics and military force to achieve his ends. Jesus promoted peace in personal and social life.
Unlike Gautama, Jesus entered into the human condition of suffering, identified Himself with it, sought to heal and sought to comfort. In giving Himself up on Calvary He fully accepted rather than avoided into the very worst of human inclination, hypocrisy and violence. Jesus taught involvement with one another not detachment from one another. Jesus exercised saving redemption and proactive love and taught His followers to do likewise. All the good that is done in Jesus' name in the world throughout history and today is because of Jesus embracing of human suffering – not running away from it.
Jesus is worthy of our allegiance, worship and commitment. He talked the talk and He walked the walk. He triumphed with the power of God, our Maker, whose Son He was, incarnationally uniting God and humanity on earth in His own Person. He is the best of the lot. Without peer or real comparison. We honour Him by our presence here this evening. Let us honour him with our lives.