The legacy you leave is the life you lead.i
For a long time I did not think about leaving a legacy. It seemed arrogant to me that I should leave a legacy. What do I claim as my legacy? A building maybe? We did erect a building for the church that we started and pastored, but I didn’t build that building—we built that building. The elders and staff worked together to communicate the need, the people responded with time and money, but the Lord built the building. Since I left, the church erected two additional buildings totally without me. Others may claim a building as their legacy, but I don’t think I can.
Could I claim an institution, maybe that church my wife and I started with three other couples? How can that be my legacy since we couldn’t have done it without the other three couples and all those who stepped forward with us? It is as amazing now as it was then to think of the many people who committed to what they could not see to do what they could not do and accomplish the impossible. Once again I didn’t start that church; we started it. In fact, apart from the enabling power of the Holy Spirit and the indwelling presence of Christ, there is nothing that I have done.
I have always thought that the greatest legacy I could leave is to be obedient. However, I’ve also come to realize that if I focus my obedience in a specific way I can leave a legacy of glory. I learned that from reading our Lord’s prayer for the restoration of His glory in John 17. Consider His words when He said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you (Jn. 17:1).” Significant, isn’t it, that even the Son did not seek glory for Himself, but to glorify the Father? Why should the Father glorify the Son? Because as He said, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began (Jn. 17:4-5).” Jesus glorified the Father by obeying Him, yet He did more than just obey; He focused His obedience as He declared when He stated, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world (Jn. 17:6).” The legacy of our Lord’s obedience was the men He left behind through the life He led, and that was a legacy of glory for Him because that obedience qualified Him to have His glory restored after a lifetime of humiliation.
Now that’s a legacy worth living for. Not a building or an institution, but living men and women who carry on His mission for His glory. I cannot do this by myself, but I can focus my obedience so the aroma of Christ impacts others and they choose to live for Him. There is no glory for me, of course, but there is great glory for Him because only He can do this through me. You see, Jesus is still revealing the Father to those whom the Father has given Him, now through us, and we can leave a legacy of glory as we influence others to live for Him. It is not my glory, but His glory reflected through me; it is not my legacy, but His legacy continuing through me. There is no greater legacy than this.
How can I leave this legacy? By living the same way Christ lived through His presence in me. To do this I want to observe seven ways that Jesus the man lived. In focusing on His humanity, I have no intention of turning from His deity. Jesus is God—not was or will be, but is. There is never a time when Jesus is not God, and He had both God’s nature and human nature unmixed within Him during His incarnation. Yet He was man, and I am concerned that we sometimes are afraid to focus on Jesus the man for fear that we will somehow denigrate His deity. The New Testament has no such fears as it describes Him in very human terms even as Peter did when he called Him “a man accredited by God . . . (Acts 2:21),” on the Day of Pentecost. I want us to see seven realities about this man that resulted in His legacy of glory and that can give us a legacy of glory as well when we depend on Him to live the same way.
1. Jesus Was A Humble Man.
The events of His birth demonstrate His humanity and His humility. His birth was of a questionable nature, and these questions followed Him all His life. Look at the blatant assertion that was made in John 8:41: “We were not born of fornication . . .” Those who refused to believe in Him regarded the holy Son of God as the fruit of evil. No one was as holy as He in all of history, yet those who rejected Him treated Him as unholy.
He was born subject to the whims of the emperor of Rome who decreed that all had to return to their roots for a census so he could raise the taxes he wanted to rule as he desired. Thus it was that Joseph and Mary had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem right when it was time for Jesus to be born. He who was sovereign over the emperor became subject to the emperor as He stepped down from His throne to enter humanity as a weak, frail, dependent baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger
As if that is not enough, Herod made an attempt on His life, and He had to be protected from this rapacious and evil king. The Lord of lords was forced to run for His life before He could even walk. How could He be more humiliated?
It was this humility—a humility that continued all His life—that gave Him the hearing He gained from the men whom He called to follow Him. So it must be with us if we would leave a legacy of glory; we too must step away from our puny glory and thoughts of our legacy, and turn to Him in humility for His resources and enablement through us and His legacy for us.
2. Jesus Was A Dependent Man.
Jesus did nothing on His own; He acted only as the Father desired and enabled (John 5:19-30). As He moved into His ministry as Messiah, the Spirit’s public identification with Him at His baptism demonstrated that all He did was through the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit. ” The descent of the Holy Spirit empowered the Son, the Messiah, for His ministry among people.”2 Luke 4:1-
Jesus is the prototype, the pattern, and master copy for how we live.3 We live the way He lived, dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit, which enables us to leave the same legacy of glory as He. Though we are radically different from Him—He, the Son of God, we the children of God—we can only live in the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit just as He lived.
3. Jesus Was A Proven Man.
Immediately following His baptism the Holy Spirit drove (Mk. 1:12) Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the evil one. This temptation was no ordinary event for Jesus, but a time of suffering as He wrestled with sin and evil in a deeply personal way (Heb. 2:17-18) and so entered into the same struggle we experience. His suffering was so great that following His temptation angels came and ministered to Him by assisting and refreshing Him.
Just as Jesus fulfilled all righteousness (Mt. 3:15) and so proved He to be our worthy high priest, so we prove ourselves to those whom we influence by suffering and overcoming the temptation to evil through the Holy Spirit. We can only leave a legacy of glory if we turn from sin’s allure to Christ’s humility, and that decision could mean suffering for us.
4. Jesus Was A Focused Man.
Throughout the course of His ministry Jesus maintained a two-fold focus on redemption and communication. Jesus often spoke of His hour, the hour of His crucifixion and our redemption, but what impact would that redemption have had without discipled leaders to communicate what the cross meant? This was why Jesus focused so totally on twelve men, one of whom was a betrayer. He set His face as a flint to go to Jerusalem and the cross, but He was equally determined to prepare His men for the Great Commission.
So we must be equally focused, not on success or recognition or power or control but on leaving a legacy of glory for Jesus in the lives of those we prepare to communicate God’s ways to the next generation.
5. Jesus Was A Patient Man.
He was patient with His men even when they brought Him to the edge of frustration. Remember when He warned His men about the yeast of the Pharisees and the Herodians, and they thought He was concerned that they had only one loaf of bread in the boat with them (Mk. 8:14-21)? Jesus reminded them of the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand. What patience! And with such foolish fellows.
Once again, following one of the greatest moments of His ministry, the only time when He was able to show His ultimate glory at the Transfiguration, He came back to His men and found them in a debate over casting out demons. They had devastated the faith of the father who brought his son to be delivered from a demon. Jesus said to them, “O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you (Mt. 17:18)?” He answered His own question by staying with them and loving them to the very end. He showed amazing patience with men who had no right to His endurance.
Making the Father known to blind and deaf men and women who are often more interested in their own glory than His is a frustrating task, especially when we are such people ourselves. We may not think of patience as primary in leaving a legacy of glory, but it is only as we persevere in serving such unprofitable servants as ourselves that we see that glory grow.
6. Jesus Was An Obedient Man.
Jesus said yes when everything in Him wanted to say no. Remember the scene in Gethsemane when Jesus called out with a loud voice and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. It was then that He learned obedience through suffering and became the source of our eternal salvation (Heb. 5:7-9). He wanted to give us redemption, but if there were any way other than the cross, He would have taken that way. Yet He did His Father’s will.
How often do we go to God and remind Him that all things are possible with Him and how often do we insist on our way, the way of freedom from suffering? What we don’t know is that a legacy of glory can only come through obedience, and obedience always leads to the cross because we can only accomplish obedience through the cross. If we want to leave a Jesus kind of legacy, we can only do it the Jesus way: by saying yes when we want to say no—yes to the cross and no to self.
7. Jesus Was A Faithful Man.
That’s what Jesus was saying in John 17:1-12: “I did your will. In other words, “I have been faithful, Father, to all you wanted me to do.” This is why He could ask to receive His glory back, the very glory He had before the world was. Think of how much that glory meant to Him and how much His self-humiliation cost Him as He entered into a state that was not natural for Him as God. He stepped into a world scarred by sin, darkened by the destructive power of evil, and became subordinate to His own creatures. He who made everything, who had the power to command legions of angels, chose to limit His power and subject Himself to the very ones He came to deliver. That is how He could claim His legacy of glory.
Jesus shows us how to leave a true legacy, a legacy of glory, His glory, not ours. If, by His grace, we become humble, dependent, proven, focused, persevering, obedient, and faithful men and women who focus our lives on making the Father known to those He gives to us, we will leave a legacy of glory. Not our glory, but His, the glory He wants to give to the Father through us.
What greater legacy could we leave?
The legacy we leave is the life we lead, the life of Christ in us and through us passed on to others in the power of the Holy Spirit.
i James Kouzes and Barry Posner, A Leader’s Legacy, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2006, p. 177.
2 Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures (2:25). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, Logos edition.