Are You Following The Right Leader

Title: Are You Following The Right Leader

Bible Book: John 20 : 1-31

Author: Mark Adams

Subject: Resurrection; Easter



On this Easter Sunday morning, I want us to begin by reading part of John’s account of the resurrection. I’m reading John 20:1-16.

1 - Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 - So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him!” 3 - So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 - Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 - He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 - Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 - as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8 - Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 - (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 - Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11 - but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 - and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.13 - They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put Him.” 14 - At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 - “Woman,” He said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking He was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have put Him, and I will get Him.”16 - Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

Most mornings Sue and I drink our coffee while watching the news—and other than the actual news report—one of my favorite portions of our morning viewing are those segments that feature Becky Worley, tech correspondent for Good Morning America. I like these reports because in them Ms. Worley compares popular tech items to see if they perform as promised by their manufacturers. She tests each of them herself and gives them a letter grade so consumers can know whether or not they are worth their money.

For example she gave “The Garden Groom”— which is a hedge trimmer with enclosed blades a “B-“ because in her experience it just didn’t do the job with tough hedges. But she gave the “Fasta Pasta,” a microwave pasta gadget, an “A-“ saying that it wasn’t perfect but it did indeed make faster pasta because it only took half as much time as boiling the pasta in water. I might want to check into this one because I know the frustration of listening to my stomach growl while I wait for the water to boil to cook my spaghetti. Worley gave the “Topsy Turvey Tomato Planter” a “C+” because it was so hard to water the plants. Plus she said all the run off from watering made a mess on the floor of her deck. Worley is a pet lover which makes her grade of A+ on the “Snuggie for Dogs” understandable. I could go on and on because Worley’s comparative studies on dozens of products that we hear about in commercials helps her viewers save money...and money can be scarce these days.


I bring this up because with my sermon this morning I want us to do a comparative study of our own that will save you something much more valuable than MONEY. I want us to spend our time together on this Easter Sunday taking an honest look at the world’s top religious leaders to see which one is really worth our TIME...which one is worth devoting our LIVES to.

Before I begin, I want to let you know that this material is not original with me. It’s based on research done by Bill Hybels and his staff at Willow Creek Community Church and they have given permission for pastors like me to use it in this manner as long as I give him credit...which I have just done.

IDENTIFYING the top tier of the greatest religious leaders of all time is not really that hard.

I mean, it’s pretty easy to see which four religious leaders rise to the top of the pile...and here they are: Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed, and Jesus.

By the way, I want to thank Patti Staines and Mary Ann More...and their two year old SS class for letting me use their blocks this morning. I promise to give them back this week.

Now—if you’re wondering why I don’t mention a HINDU leader...well it’s because there’s no central personality in the Hindu these four are it. Okay...I want to begin by doing a quick OVERVIEW of these top four...and then we’re going to compare each of them according to five categories in a way that I think you’ll find quite interesting. Please purpose is not to be critical...but rather to provide you with as fair and objective a comparison as possible—just like Becky Worely.

Okay...let’s begin with CONFUCIUS. You probably haven’t heard about him much since your school days but he was born in 551 B.C. and at ONE point he held influence over 300 million people...which is about the same size as the current population of the United States—and I’m sure you will agree that is an impressive number of adherents! Now—that number has dropped significantly since Confucius’ teachings were banned in China after the revolution there in 1949 but I think you still have to consider him in the top four.

Second is BUDDHA. Any of you know what his actual name was? Siddhartha Gautama. I think I would have changed my name, too! Actually the name “Buddha” just means “the enlightened one” —and he was born twelve years before Confucius in 563 B.C. At one time his influence spread to hundreds of millions of people mainly in northern India, parts of China, Japan, Korea, and Indonesia. And...even today best estimates are that about 382 million people, follow the teachings of this individual.

Next is MOHAMMED. He was born approximately a thousand years after Buddha and Confucius in 570AD and is of course the founder of Islam. Even today Islam is a rapidly expanding religion. In fact, it has about 1.5 billion followers which easily make it the second largest religion in the world.

Finally there is JESUS OF NAZARETH. Does anyone remember what year HE was born? Best estimates right now indicate that about 2.1 billion people consider themselves to be

followers of Jesus Christ.

So using the number of their followers to identify the top four is fairly easy—it’s just basic math.

Even I can do it! The real challenge in a TRUE comparative study is to try and see if any of the top four distinguishes himself from the others in some way—or if are they all about the same when it’s all said and done.

As I said, in their research, Hybels and his staff compared these four men according to five categories. Our purpose this Easter morning is to look objectively at what the evidence they uncovered tells us.

(1) The first category we will look at is their TEACHINGS.

Now, in his day CONFUCIUS was always referred to as the “sagest of the sages,” which we would translate to mean, “scary smart.” But if you really dig into his teachings you’ll find that he didn’t author that much ORIGINAL material. By his own admission, he basically collected pearls of wisdom from other teachers and other originators of spiritual ideas. Then he edited them and eventually put them into a small book called the Analects. Another thing...Confucius spent very little time or energy trying to connect any his followers to a HIGHER spiritual being.

No...his main goal was to get people to walk in wisdom and to get along with one another a little better—which is not a bad thing in a world as screwed up as his was and ours still is. Now, as I said, the circulation of Confucius’ teachings has been on a steady decline in recent decades. From its peak of 300 million adherents in its hey-day, there are only about six million today. PLUS—Confucius’ teachings have lost a lot of influence, especially in the last 50 or 60 years. So we’re going to give Confucius a teaching block of representative size.

Okay, what about the teaching of Buddha? Well, like Confucius, Buddha was far from original when it came to his belief system. Actually, Buddha borrowed very heavily from Hindu theology, including such beliefs as reincarnation and karma and meditation. Buddha is revered for putting together what’s known as the Four Noble Truths and what’s called the Eightfold Path, which has to do with the elimination of desire in a person’s life. The truth is many of us get into trouble because of our wayward desires and attachment to things, and Buddha made the point that if we could create a little distance from our desires and attachments to things...we could eventually live in a peaceful state called NIRVANA. By the way I’ve noticed that a lot of times when I’m preaching I see people slip into a peaceful state of nirvana!

In any case Buddha’s writings and teachings are still quite widely distributed. In fact, there’s a brand new Buddhist “house of worship” right down the street at the end of Muncaster Mill Road and popular stars like Richard Gere, Kate Bosworth, Orlando Bloom, and Tina Turner embrace Buddha’s teachings. Now, exact numbers are hard to come by, but in terms of the impact of Buddha’s teaching, to be objective I think we have to give him a block just a little bit bigger than we gave Confucius....because his teachings HAVE had and STILL have quite a bit of impact on people.

Next comes MOHAMMED and his core teachings can be summarized in the following five statements:

Allah is the one true God.

Allah has many prophets including Moses and Jesus, but Mohammed is the last and the greatest by far.

The Koran is the supreme religious book in the world.

There are many intermediate beings between God and us, some good and some evil; and

...every person’s deeds will be weighed someday to determine who did enough good deeds to deserve Paradise.

In other words, in Islam you EARN your salvation. You earn Paradise through your works. If at the end of your life, the scales tip right, you’re good. But, if they tip wrong in terms of good deeds and bad deeds...well let’s just say it’s NOT good. As I said, the truths of Islam are recorded in the Koran, which is widely distributed and read in growing numbers of countries all over the world. I mean, its easy to see that Islam has had a much greater impact than the teachings of Confucius or Buddha, so from the teaching impact point, being as objective as possible, we should assign a larger block to Mohammed.

Next comes JESUS. And, again, sticking to our effort to be objective, the fact of the matter is that the TEACHING IMPACT of Jesus Christ dwarfs the others in the top four. Even His critics were astounded at what He said. In John 7 it tells us of a time when temple guards were sent to arrest Him and when they were asked why they came back empty-handed they said, “No one ever spoke the way this Man does.” (John 7:46) And that respect for His teaching hasn’t changed even in 2000 years. I mean, in virtually every poll and every survey conducted inside and outside the Christian faith all around the world, when asked the question, “Who was the greatest teacher of all time?” Jesus of Nazareth appears on the top or in the top three almost every single time. I mean, Jesus is quoted more often; His stories and parables are repeated more frequently; and in sheer numbers of sales of Bibles and other books related to Jesus’ teaching, none of the others even come close. In fact, ninety-four percent of the world’s population has access to at least a portion of the Bible and even in a bad year, 60-70 million copies of the Bible are sold. It is the best-selling book every year.

In April of 2007 the cover story of TIME admitted that the Bible “ the most influential book of all time.” The story went on to talk about the fact that even secular educators say that we HAVE to teach the Bible in public school because so much of our literature and culture is based on it. For example Shakespeare quotes the Bible 1300 times so you can’t really understand his plays unless you understand the Bible. The plain fact is if we fail to teach the Bible, which of course tells why Jesus came, plus tons of things that Jesus taught and did, we fail to truly educate our children. So I think it is a no-brainer to say that when it comes to the impact of the teachings of Jesus, in all fairness, He should get the biggest block. It’s just being objective.

(2) Compare these four men according to their Morality

Our next category is a bit more controversial...because now I want us to compare these four men according to their MORALITY.

I mean, what were their personal ethics like? How did these great religious leaders behave in private? And once again let’s begin with CONFUCIUS. Now, while he strongly ENCOURAGED virtuous living, Confucius never claimed, nor was it ever said of him, that he lived what you would call a morally spotless life. Understand—there’s no record of him being a bad guy. From what we do know, he seemed to be a decent, upright person but he didn’t claim perfection and no one ever attributed that to him. So we’ll just give him an AVERAGE sized block to symbolize the fact that, as far as we know, Confucius was at least a pretty nice guy.

BUDDHA on the other hand was a very strong proponent of moral living. And from what historians tell us, he did his absolute best to live out the Eightfold Plan that he taught so energetically. So, to be fair, we’ll give him a little larger block than Confucius. Now—we have a problem when it comes to MOHAMMED because he ADMITTED to killing several people in various skirmishes that he and his followers got into. Plus, in direct violation of the teachings of the Koran, he exceeded the number of wives he was allowed to have. The limit at the time was four. Some would say that he received a special revelation one night that resulted in his getting a special dispensation to add to his collection of wives. Of course, no one else got that kind of deal, but he did—and this makes me wonder why he would not be held to a standard that his followers were held to. Furthermore, Mohammed often acknowledged his own waywardness, his own sinfulness, and he repeatedly asked Allah for forgiveness from it...and his followers and friends clearly saw his dark side on many occasions. So without going into any more detail than that, I would say that to be be objective...we have to give him a little thinner slice of the personal morality block.

Now, what about JESUS OF NAZARETH? How would you compare Him when it comes to morality? Well, you know, one of the truest tests of someone’s personal ethics is to give his DETRACTORS a free shot in which you let them describe all that’s wrong with that person. I mean, if your FRIENDS are asked to vouch for your attitudes and behaviors, they might cut you a little slack and leave out any comments about your short-comings. But give your ENEMIES an opportunity to assassinate your character or to bring up something bad you’ve done—well they will usually take every opportunity to criticize you if given the chance! In our search committees whenever we have examined a candidate, we not only looked at their references...we dug further because references are usually that candidate’s friends and friends tend to always paint a picture that is a little bit rosier than reality.

Well, Jesus was so open and non-defensive about His character that, as John 8:46 tells us, one time in a mob situation with people who were jealous of His growing popularity—enemies who were looking for ways to publicly discredit Him—Jesus asked this group if anyone could accuse Him of a wrongdoing. He said, “Can any of you prove Me guilty of sin?”

By the way, I advise against your asking the same question of your family members in the car after the service. It could make for a long uncomfortable ride home! But think about this for just a second. In the 33 years of Jesus’ earthly life there were no exaggerations, no jokes at someone else’s expense, no impatience, ingratitude, or arrogance. How do you live 33 years without piling up at least a small mountain of mistakes? Well, Jesus didn’t rack up even one. There’s nothing in recorded history, secular or otherwise, that would reveal anything about a dark side—because Jesus didn’t have one. As Hebrews 4:15 says, Jesus was, “...tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin.” Add to that, the fact that Jesus was the STANDARD SETTER throughout all of history when it comes to compassion, justice, and encouragement of the oppressed. He was unparalleled in His concern for the poor and His care for widows and orphans. Plus, He was downright mind-boggling in the way He accepted people who had wondered far away from the faith. No one had ever seen anyone with the capacity for love like Jesus demonstrated. And people remarked about it all the time. So, once again, you’ve got to figure out what this means COMPARATIVELY.

And to help you with that...since the season just opened...let’s use a baseball analogy. In major league baseball, a player could make probably $20 million a year these days if he could get a hit four out of 10 times at the plate throughout the course of the season. Think about that. He could strike out, foul out, hit into double plays six out of every 10 times at bat; but if he gets a hit the other four times, he’d make it to the Hall of Fame, no question. Now, imagine if a player went beyond that and achieved baseball perfection. Imagine a player who gets a hit every single time up to bat for a whole season. He bats 1000 the whole season and the next season and the next season throughout his entire career. And then add to that the fact that he never commits a throwing error or a fielding error, never gets thrown out at second base, never gets picked off third base...all without the use of steroids! The world wouldn’t even know how to respond to such baseball perfection. The guy would fill every stadium for every game. Now let me state what should be obvious at this point. MORAL perfection is a lot tougher to achieve than BASEBALL perfection! But according to the secular and the theological records of Jesus’ life, He achieved it. And friends, that doesn’t make him just a LITTLE bit different than Mohammed and Buddha and Confucius. It puts him in an ENTIRELY different league. It’s the difference between a player with a batting average of 250 and one with a batting average of 1000...and I think we have to acknowledge that by giving Jesus at least double blockage in this comparative stack we are building.

(3) Okay, let’s move on to another category—the power to do MIRACLES.

How many of these top-tier spiritual leaders do you think possessed the power to defy natural law and to employ supernatural power? How many? What about CONFUCIUS? Well, the records show he never claimed to have that kind of power, and no one ever attributed it to him. He didn’t claim to have done any miracles, and no one ever said he did...and the same goes for BUDDHA. What about MOHAMMED? Well, even the Koran is clear about the fact that Mohammed had no miracle-working power. He didn’t claim to perform any miracles and did none. blocks for those three.

Now let’s talk about JESUS. Well, even secular historians reference the fact that Jesus had supernatural power. He did a wide array of supernatural activities or miracles in very PUBLIC places. And these were REAL miracles. I mean, Jesus didn’t just “heal” bad backs and knock people over or cure house pets, like some of the charades we see on television today. No—the Gospel of Matthew tells us that TWICE Jesus fed thousands of people from a single lunch box, and everybody watched Him do it. Once He commanded a storm to cease on the Sea of Galilee and His followers said, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!” (Mark 4:41) Jesus cured lepers, He gave sight to the blind, He had the lame get up and walk. He even raised the dead back to life, including a man who’d been dead and buried four days. By the way, it’s really hard to fake that! People in His day knew it wasn’t faked! Jesus’ ability to perform miracles astounded them, as well it should have because let’s face it, the ability to DO miracles isn’t a SUBTLE difference than the ability NOT to do them. puts Jesus in an entirely different category than the others in the top-tier I think we have to give Him a big block for that.

OK, quickly let’s look at two more categories.

(4) What about the ability to PROPHESY?

I’m referring to the supernatural power to have special insight into people’s lives...into their past, sometimes into their future or the ability to predict events in society that would occur months or even years down the road. Did any of the four have that particular ability? Well, if you very carefully read the record of CONFUCIUS and BUDDHA, you’ll find there is no trace of this. They didn’t claim it, nor was it ever said of them that they possessed this power. Now, to be objective we have to say that it WAS said of MOHAMMED that a couple of times he made some predictions about how his troops were going to do in a particular battle, but that’s about it. According to Hybels there was nothing all THAT impressive in the record when it comes to Mohammed’s ability to prophesy.

But JESUS—Jesus displayed prophetic power in ways that the world had never seen. He could read the hearts and motivations of human beings. He even knew things about perfect strangers!

One time He was talking to a woman at a well, and she made the point that she was single. Jesus then commended her for being technically accurate as to her marital status, and then He gently and sort of playfully informed her that He knew all about her previous five marriages and divorces and her current live-in lover. Then He went on and had a wonderful grace-giving conversation with this poor woman. At the end of that conversation, she said, “You must be a prophet.” (John 4:19) There is no way you could have known that about me and my past. And you didn’t cream me with it. You just let me know that You know what’s going on. And then You extended grace to me. You’re a prophet of another kind; there’s something supernatural about You! And then her whole life changed and the lives of many people in her village as well because of her interaction with the prophetic side of Jesus. Jesus prophesied His own death in stark detail. He foretold His burial and resurrection including when that was going to happen. He also predicted the fall of Jerusalem, which blew everybody’s mind at the time, but came absolutely true four decades later. The list could go on and on about this prophecy thing, so it isn’t just a minor difference between Jesus and the other top-tier leaders. It’s a huge difference that needs to be acknowledged as well.

(5) And then there’s one final category...the ability to RISE FROM THE DEAD.

Now, if you read history at all, thousands of people throughout the historical record have claimed to be the Messiah at one time or another or in one way or another. Plus, there have been tons of gurus and cult leaders and generally strange people who have made huge claims about their supernatural identity. Some have managed to attract quite a following. But their following didn’t last because at some point they all ran into one sticky, little problem that pulled the curtain back on all of their claims: THEY DIED. And what’s worse is the fact that they STAYED DEAD! History shows that time and time and time again, death has called the bluff of religious leaders.

Death negatively colors their teachings. It happened to Confucius and Buddha and Mohammed.

You see each of these first three guys is IN his tomb. You can visit their graves to this day and the signs on the doors say, “OCCUPIED.”

Actually Buddha’s is a little more difficult because his body was cremated and the various unburned parts, teeth and bone fragments are buried in different shrines...but the point is the same. He’s still his tomb and his other tomb and his other tomb.

Of course, you can visit the tomb outside Jerusalem where Jesus’ body lay for just three days after His crucifixion. Millions of people have visited it, as have I. But they visit this tomb for a totally different reason: not to honor a dead guy, but to stand in awe and wonder at the fact that His tomb is NOT occupied. No—unlike these other three men, Jesus Christ said,“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. ” (John 11:25-26) Jesus proved this statement by bursting forth from His tomb three days after His death. Then He showed Himself in public places, one time to a group of over 500 people. He showed Himself to family members and friends. He spoke and He ate and drank with them. He taught them and fellowshiped with them for fifty days. After that He ascended to His father. Well, people, that sets Him apart from every other religious leader who ever lived on this planet or who ever will. This fact is why churches all over the world are packed today...packed with people who do not grieve like those who have no real hope. And if you have any real doubts about the EVIDENCE for Jesus’ resurrection, go to the bookstore or go to the Internet, for that matter, and start your own research. The amount of evidence will astonish you because Jesus’ resurrection is very well-documented. I remember watching a documentary on the life of Jesus done by Peter Jennings and even He admitted that something amazing...something world-changing happened on that first Easter morning.

Now, how many blocks do you give a guy for a resurrection? I mean, it’s got to be worth a couple, don’t you think? And it does distinguish Jesus from all of the other leaders doesn’t it?!

OKAY...what does all this mean? What can we take from our pile of blocks? Here’s two quick things.


(1) First off, you can look at these piles and conclude that if you are a Christian, you are following the right LEADER!

I mean, I’m a Christian and I don’t know about you, but I’m glad I followed this Guy! I hope that if you’re a fellow believer our little comparative study helps you to realize that your trust in Jesus is well-placed, because the facts are on your side. The One you follow is literally head and shoulders above all others.

As you know, part of my job is to read. I read all the time so I always try to have one book I’m reading that is not for sermon prep...but simply for my own personal enjoyment. A few years back one of my “fun reads” was written by Cornelius Ryan. It’s entitled The Last Battle. It’s a non-fiction book that tells about the final days of Berlin at the end of WWII. Well, the book drives home the point that for years the majority of the German people believed Adolph Hitler’s lies and followed his leadership unquestioningly but one thing that book shows without a doubt is that in the END history showed they were following the wrong leader. All but the most fanatical Nazi’s realized this as the bombs fell and the Russian tanks plowed through the streets of their beautiful city...and their way of life in Berlin literally began to come down all around them. It was the saddest book I have ever read. I felt so bad for those people that I hurried to finish. It was just too painful to read. Now, don’t get me wrong—I rejoiced to see Hitler get “his” but I grieved over the hundreds of thousands of civilians in that city who paid a high price for following the wrong guy.

Well, friend, if nothing else, these blocks should encourage you—because one thing this objective study we have done shows, is that our faith is well placed. As Christians we are following the right Guy! And, I think our study shows one other thing...

(2) It shows that as Christian witnesses we are sharing the right MESSAGE!

...because when we share our faith with others, we are pointing OTHER people to the right LEADER. I mean, we shouldn’t shrink back or cower in a social setting when someone learns that we’re a Christ-follower. Why would we follow anyone else? Jesus was and is in a class by Himself! So, when you get a chance, gracefully, respectfully, and confidently stand up for Him because people NEED to hear about Jesus! Say a word for Him when He gives you the opportunity. Point people to Him. Fire people up to investigate His claims because friends, Jesus Christ IS the hope of the world. Jesus is he only One Who satisfies our hunger for a relationship with our Creator..the only One Who enables us to experience truly abundant purpose-filled life and most importantly, He’s the only One Who prepares us to face this enemy all people fear: DEATH.


Now, if you are here this morning and you’re not a Christian. I mean, you came to church because it’s Easter and you felt that was the right thing to do—well if that describes you...then I agree...coming to church today was the right thing to do! I compliment you on your decision. Welcome! And since you are here, let me ask you a question: Who are you following in life? Who are you living for? Who are you depending on? Who are you looking to for guidance and strength? Who’s going to forgive your sin? Who’s going to enable you to deal with this thing called death that comes for us all eventually? Who’s that going to be? Today—I invite you to look at these blocks and conclude that the answer to these questions is going to be Jesus, the Christ, Who lived a sinless life, died on the cross for your sin, and rose from the dead on the third day. Come forward in a moment as we sing and we’ll talk and pray together. I’d love to tell you about my LORD and SAVIOR. I’d love to introduce you to Him TODAY!

And if you’re already a Christian, then I can think of no better thing to do on Easter than to recommit yourself to sharing His gospel with a lost world. Remember, you and I follow an INCOMPARABLE make a commitment and say, “Jesus, if You give me the opportunity, I will take it. I will tell people about You.” If you need a church home, come and join us. For, the fields are ripe unto harvest and we need more laborers. Come as God leads.

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