Skip Heitzig - Jesus Loves People
Good morning and welcome to this new series that we're starting, Jesus Loves People. Would you turn in your Bibles, please, to Mark's gospel, the tenth chapter; Mark, chapter 10. I have for a long time enjoyed the writing of Dr. Richard Selzer, a surgeon who wrote notes after different operations that he performed. He wrote about one occasion: "I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be like this from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve."
"Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together, they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself about this couple, he and this wry, little mouth that I have made? They gaze and they touch each other so generously, so greedily. The young woman speaks. 'Will my mouth always be like this?' 'Yes,' I say, 'it will be. It is because the nerve was cut.' She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. 'I like it,' he says. 'It's kind of cute.' Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works."
You know, we love love. We love to hear love stories. We love to hear and sing love songs. What's more, we all crave love. We will do sometimes almost anything to get it, to know that we are loved by somebody else unconditionally, and also that we are able to give, to express to another person unconditional love. An American psychiatrist by the name of Karl Minninger, he founded the Minninger Clinic. It's still in operation down in Houston, Texas. He was trying to discover the origin of the ills of many of his patients in his clinic. And so he decided he would embark on a little experiment. He instructed his clinic staff to give his patients what he called "generous amounts of creative love."
And so for six months he told them, "No bad attitudes will be tolerated by you, my staff. And let's just love these patients very openly, big doses of creative love." And then he watched. And after six months he noticed that the average time that his patients were in his clinic was cut by almost exactly one-half. And afterwards he said, "Love cures people, it cures both the ones who give it as well as the ones who receive it." To quote another doctor, a Swiss physician by the name of Paul Tournier, he said: "I am convinced that nine out of every ten people who go to see a psychiatrist don't need one. What they need is someone who will show them God's love, and they will get better." No one did that better than Jesus. He demonstrated the love of God to a cross section of humanity during his days.
He loved the worst of sinners; he loved the best of saints. He loved lepers, and prostitutes, young children, older people, religious people, atheists. Jesus Christ showed the love of God in human flesh. For the next several weeks we're going to look at several of those different approaches and encounters Jesus had with these people. Today I want to begin by giving you four foundational truths. Let's look at it like we're laying a foundation this morning. And we have four corners of this foundation, and we'll make four points that lay the groundwork for those four foundational corners. The first truth is simple. It's what is in the title itself: Jesus loves people. I've asked you to turn to Mark, chapter 10, because of the statement that is found in this encounter.
Mark chapter 10 verse 17, "Now as he was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before him, and asked him, 'Good teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?' And Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not bear false witness." "Do not defraud," "Honor your father and your mother."' And he answered and said so him, 'Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.' Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, 'One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow me.' But he was sad at this word and he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions."
Here is a young man who is markedly different than Jesus Christ. Not only is this young man a "rich young ruler," as he is often called, but there are other things to notice as far as the differences. First off, he doesn't know what Jesus knew. That's why he asked him, "What must I do that I can inherit eternal life?" Another difference is that he was nowhere near the level of spirituality that Jesus was. He recognized that Jesus was a teacher. "Good Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" A third thing to make note of is this young man was pretty self-righteous. When Jesus rattles off the commandment, he boldly asserted, "I've kept all of these from my youth." And the fourth difference is this young man was gripped by the sin of greed and materialism.
And once confronted by Jesus, he didn't respond favorable. He actually walked away from Jesus Christ. Now, even though all of that is true, the Bible here, the text plainly says that Jesus "loved him." "Jesus looked at him and loved him." And the word for "love," you know it. It's a Greek word, but you know this word. You're thinking about it right now in your mind, many of you. It's the Greek word agapé; agapaó, in its verbal form. It is the unconditional love of the will. That's the kind of love Jesus had toward this young man. Jesus never met anybody he didn't love. "And looking at him, he loved him." We all like the song, it's from the eighteen hundreds, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."
A theologian was one time asked, a very notable one of our century: "Doctor, after reading all of the language and history, and all the things you know, what is the most profound truth you've ever heard?" He said, "It's this: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." If you have been to a Billy Graham crusade or watched one over the last several decades, one recurring theme that Dr. Graham always preached, and that is, "God loves you. And he loves you with an everlasting love." You heard it, if not from him, from me. And here's why he says that, he said: "If you knew, if you really knew the love of God toward you, it would transform your life."
Once, in an interview with USA Today, Dr. Graham said, "No matter how sinful we are, no matter how bad we are, God loves us." Well, that agrees with Scripture. Paul the apostle in Romans 8 verse 38 declared, "Nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." That is the essence of his nature. First John chapter 4 verse 4, "God is love." Now, be careful with that. That's not all God is. God is also purity and holiness and just. But the essence of God, part of his nature, "God is love." That is so simple to say; it is so hard to grasp. First time somebody walked up to me and told me, before I was a saved person, he said, "Jesus loves you." I remember thinking, and then saying to him, "Why? Why? Why would he even be interested in me, let alone love me?"
It's so easy to say; it is so hard for us, many of us, to really believe and grasp. That's why D. L. Moody went on a long search. He took a concordance, that's before iPhones and computers. They were books that had references to different Scriptures. And he traced every single reference he could find in the Bible to the love of God. And then afterward he said, "There is no truth in all of the Bible that should affect us as much as the love of God." Jesus loves people, that's the first foundational truth. Let's move to the second. Jesus loves people individually; that is, he loves them uniquely, separately, independent in his approach from one person to the next.
What I find interesting about the Lord in this section of our text that we're reading, chapter 10 of Mark, earlier in this chapter he picked up some children, held them, blessed them, so tender. In the very next chapter he overturns the tables in the temple and drives out the worshipers and rebukes them. He definitely approached people individually. One of the things that I have long admired and loved the Lord Jesus for is that he never had a canned approached to people. He never, like, began with the same spiel or the same question. He just kind of varied his approach from person to person. I came across a book sometime back that I found interesting. And I'm just going to share a snippet with you. It's a technique book on how to share your faith.
What gave me pause is that it's filled with pictures on how to do it, and illustrations, and then instructions. Here's just a little snippet: "Step 3 (b) Place your left hand on Bill's right shoulder, as is illustration number 4. Look him in the eye. Your manner should be confident, but gentle. If he avoids eye contact, say, 'Bill, look at me.' When you have good eye contact, then say, 'Bill, I wonder if you would let me tell you how much Jesus means to me.'" Now I'm not knocking this. And I'm sure some people find it helpful. I just don't find it particularly helpful. I would rather let the situation unfold to see what's going to happen, or what doors or windows might open in the conversation.
Jesus had this unique ability, and of course he was God, so he could read people's minds and he knew their motives, so that was helpful. But he knew who he was dealing with and his approach was accordingly. Example: to the woman caught in adultery, he said, "Woman, where are your accusers?" She said, "Sir, I have none." He replied, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more", so tender. To the man, the leper who was ostracized from society, who said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." Now he was a leper, nobody was allowed to touch him. "Jesus touched him," the Bible says, "touched him, and said, 'I am willing; be clean.'"
Then on the other hand, to the scribes and the Pharisees he spoke very harshly, words like this: "Woe unto you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites! You are whitewashed tombs filled with dead men's bones and all corruption." Ouch. Very different than the leper. Very different than the woman caught in adultery. Sometimes he called people by name, like Mary Magdalene after the resurrection with that tender tone, "Mary," or "Peter." At other times he didn't call people by their first names, he made up new names for them. One time he said, "Brood of vipers!" That's what he called them. There's another difference in the way he approached people. He walked up one day to Matthew the tax collector and publicly called him out and said, "Come and follow me as my disciple."
Then on another occasion, when he cast a demon out of a young man in Gedara who begged Jesus to let him come and follow him, Jesus said, "No. You can't follow me. Go back home and tell your friends the good things God has done." Very different approaches to these two. Here's another difference: to his own disciples, Jesus spoke profusely. He instructed. We have chapter after chapter in the New Testament given directly to the disciples. He's training them. He had a lot to say to them. But then on another occasion, as he stands before Pontius Pilate and the religious elite at his own trial, he has nothing to say to them. And then when we finally speaks, it's just a few words, not much.
Another difference: in Capernaum, a wailing crowd at the funeral of a young girl who has died, Jesus comes in the scene, and he goes, "Stop crying. Stop weeping." On another occasion, at the funeral of his friend Lazarus, we are told that Jesus himself stood in front of the tomb, and it says, "Jesus wept." Now, he knew he was going to raise both of them from the dead, but in once sense he goes, "Stop your crying," and here, "Jesus wept." Here's what I want to point out: the love of Jesus Christ was tailor-made for every individual that he met. Every expression was unique. Each encounter was a one-off. It wasn't canned. Love has different expressions and I'll expand on that in a moment.
But we even do this: we'll give our children gifts for their birthday, for Christmas, or just because, but then on another occasion we might spank them. We love them, but those are two very different expressions, are they not? Or we have spouses, and we will say to our spouse, "I love you." On another occasion we will argue with our spouse, because we want to resolve conflict. Both can be expressions of love. By the way, I've learned how to end every argument, two words, "Yes, dear." It works every time. Jesus loves people. Jesus loves people individually. Here's the third foundational cornerstone for this series: Jesus loves people through us, his people. He loves people through us, his people. Jesus came, taught, lived, loved, died, rose, ascended.
And now how does he reach people? Through us. We're called in the Bible "the body of Christ." Have you ever thought through the implications of that metaphor, we are the body of Christ? Simply put: we are his hands, reaching out to people; we are his feet, going to where people are; we are his ears, listening to people's hurts; we are his voice, giving counsel and encouragement or even confrontation, in his name. We are the body of Christ. Jesus loves people through us. He said to his disciples, "As I have loved you, so you must love one another." "I've loved you, now you love one another. What I've done for you, do to one another."
Now, the critical Bible student will hear what I just quoted, and say, "Well, you know, Skip, technically Jesus was referring to other believers when he said, 'Love one another.' He was saying literally to his apostles, his disciples, 'As I have loved you, my disciples, you are to love one another disciples.'"That's true. However, on another occasion when Jesus was asked, "What is the greatest commandment?" he said this: "'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you should love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind, all of your strength.' This is the first and greatest commandment." And before they could get any word edgewise, he said, "But the second one is like it. 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no greater commandment than these."
Now, again, somebody listening to that might want to pick it apart a little more and say, "Well, he said you're to love your neighbor; he didn't say anything about loving drunks or prostitutes or homosexuals." Yeah, but, you know, eventually you still have the deal with that one troublesome text in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5 verse 43, where our Lord said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You will love your neighbor and hate your enemies.' But I say unto you, love your enemies." So we get the picture in what Jesus commanded his followers to do. Here is it is: it is a divine mandate to love people with the love of Jesus Christ even... even what you might consider to be the worst. By the way, you'll be surprised who Jesus considers to be the worst.
It's a divine mandate to love people with the love of Christ, even those you consider to be the worst. See, you can be a good doctor and not love your patients. You could be a good lawyer and not love your clients. You could be a good geologist and not love science. But you cannot be a good Christian without love. You can't be. In Romans 5 verse 5 we're told "the love of God has been shed abroad into our hearts," or it "has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit." Now we love that idea, but we don't love it enough. We love the idea that he loves me, he loves me. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. But don't stop. It's been poured out into our hearts. And if it's been poured out into our hearts, it should be poured out from our hearts. We're to be a conduit, not just a receptacle. We're to be a channel of it.
In the early part of Christian history, when the church was scattered throughout the Roman Empire, the last Roman Empire, the last pagan Roman emperor, Julian was his name, Julian the Apostate, said something very intriguing. He wrote, "Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans," his term for Christians, "devote themselves to works of charity. They not only feed their own, but ours also; welcoming them with their agape, they attract them." That's noteworthy. This pagan emperor noted there's a huge difference between Christians and the rest of citizens of the Roman Empire; and that is, they love people, and not just their own, they love all people. Now I'm not naive. I know that church history is a history of the church's failure to love in many cases.
We have to deal with that in conversation with people all the time. We could go all the way back to the original apostles. They argued about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of God, and they did it a lot. Then there were two disciples of Jesus who Jesus nicknamed Sons of Thunder. Remember that? And he called them Sons of Thunder, it was an inside joke really, because on one occasion they said, "Lord, do you want us to nuke this village in Jesus' name?" "Do you want us to call down fire from heaven, like Elijah did, and consume them?" "Because they didn't receive Christ, so let's just get rid of them." Jesus said, "You don't even know what manner of spirit you are." And he nicknamed them "Sons of Thunder," because of their nuclear capabilities.
So there were problems even in the original bunch. We go on through church history. We see the church of Corinth. Paul writes two letters to them. Well, one thing we notice, as we go through those letters, is that this was a very troubled group of Christians. There were divisions among them. There were lawsuits among them. There was immorality among them. And then we have to move on through church history and account for the Crusades in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth century, the Spanish Inquisition in the fifteenth century. And I know you're going to say, "Well, that's not real Christians who did that." But you still have to answer the questions and deal with that blotch on church history, and give an answer for why the Catholics and the Protestants in Ireland have blown each other up for decades, generations.
I'd love to say that church history is replete with Christians showing love to the world and one to one another, but I can't do that. I can't even say that even we've gotten better at it in these days. Because as you have seen, there's a church in Topeka, Kansas, that has websites that announce, "God hates America." Boy, what do you do with John 3:16? And other groups that are listed. Jesus loves people. Jesus loves people individually. Jesus loves people through us, his people. That's the third. Now the fourth and final foundational pillar that we're going to build this series on: Jesus loves people through us responsibly.
Now hear me, responsibly. Go back to our text in Mark, chapter 10, and you'll notice something, that even though we are told in this biblical text that Jesus looked at that young man and that he loved him, that love was not some kind of a sappy love, sentimental love. It wasn't sloppy agapé. It was a mature love. It was a responsible love. Notice in verse 21 that Jesus confronts himself with his failure. Listen to the words of love: "One thing you lack." He confronted him. Love will confront. Notice also Jesus told him what was keeping this young man from God. He had an idol in his life, materialism. "Go, sell what you have and give it to the poor." And then notice that Jesus told him what he needed to do: "Come, take up your cross, and follow me."
See, this is responsible love, and I'm hoping that we're going to see this in the series, that love doesn't turn a blind eye to every kind of behavior in the name of tolerance. "Well, if you love people you just let them do whatever they want, as long as they want to do it." That's not mature love. That's not responsible love. Sure, sometimes love will embrace and encourage; other times it will confront and rebuke. That's responsible love. There's a passage that I thought about for the last two weeks. I wanted to include in this opening message. It's in Philippians, chapter 1. You can turn there, or I'll just put the verses up on the screen for you to see. Paul is writing a letter to the Philippian church. Yeah, he's in prison when he writes this. He's in a Roman jail.
He loves this group of people. You can hear it in the tones of the words that he uses. Philippians 1 verse 8, "For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ." You hear that love in voice? Hear the love in those words? But now he turns to a prayer that he makes for them, and get this, he's praying for their love. And I want you to see what he prays. "And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and in all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense until the day of Christ." First of all, notice the word "abound." "I pray that your love would abound more and more." The word "abound" means to overflow or to exceed a fixed mark or a fixed number.
It means to flow freely. Maybe that's a better translation. "I pray that your love would flow freely." That sounds ideal, doesn't it, to be around a group of people where love is freely flowing? Hold that thought. If anything flows too much, there can be a problem. It's like a river. A river is meant to carry water from one place to the other. It takes a circuitous route to get there, but on either side of the river are banks, boundaries. As long as the water stays within the boundaries, no problem. If it exceeds the mark uncontrolled, it can destroy. I was in Honduras a few years back and villages were wiped out, churches, homes. Thousands of people, their homes were wiped out because it rained. It's a blessing.
Rain is always a blessing. But in this particular part of the world, it rained so much, the rivers overflowed and destroyed lives. So Paul says, "I want your love to flow freely," like a river, "abound more and more." But it needs boundaries. It needs a bank on either side. The bank on one side is called "knowledge," he says in the text. The bank on the other side is called "discernment." "I pray that your love will abound more and more in knowledge and all discernment." The word "knowledge" he uses here means full knowledge, complete knowledge. Epignósis is the Greek word: a full and complete knowledge of what love really is, and what love really is not, and how to use it properly. "I pray that your love would flow so freely, but within the boundaries of knowing what real love is, and how it's to be used."
Let me give you an example. Sometimes I meet a parent that believes that he should let his kid get away with anything and do whatever the kids wants, because the kid is demanding it. And, "After all, I need to show that child that I love him, so I'll give him whatever he wants." You need to add knowledge to that feeling you have. Because knowledge will come along and say, "You should know better than to do that. If you do that, you could actually destroy your child." Here's another example. A person may say, "I feel out of love with my current spouse, but I feel in love with this other person." You need to bring knowledge to your feeling that says, "You should know better. You can destroy so many people following, letting that emotion overflow its banks."
So the first boundary is knowledge. The second one, according to Paul, is discernment. That's the other bank on the other side of the river. That means to distinguish. Simply put, it's this: love is to be expressed in a variety of ways. Mature love, responsible love learns to distinguish what's the right way. "Should I rebuke this person or give this person a hug? What is the best expression of love?" That's why Jesus could heal in one instance and overturn tables in another instance. He could say, "Blessed are you...", one day, and then say "Woe are you...", the next day to someone else. And why is that? Because love, authentic love, according to First Corinthians 13 is this: "Love does not rejoice in iniquity, it rejoices in truth." Love will always be honest.
And so our love, as free flowing as it should be, should be responsible, mature, having the banks, the boundaries on either side of knowledge and discernment. Now, back to that doctor who watched that young couple in a postoperative care, and that young husband bend over to kiss his wife's lips, twisting his lips to accommodate to hers. When I read that, what touched me the most is I thought, "That's a small picture of the greater picture of the love of God." He stooped so far. He came from heaven to earth in the form of Jesus Christ to show a variety of individuals his love. He accommodated, if you will let me use the term, to our condition. Not becoming sinful like us, but becoming one of us, and as perfect God, loving us even to the death on the cross.
That's in John's mind in First John, chapter 4, where he says, "In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him." Jesus loves me, this I know. Good to know, but know more than that, Jesus wants to love through you to other people, responsibly, maturely, but definitely.
Oh, Father, thank you that we can look at a subject that is at the very heart of your character. As John said, "For he who does not love is not of God, for God is love." Lord I pray that we would learn not only what love is, but how to use it. How to use it in a creative way, not a destructive way, in a proactive way, in a way, Father, that lets the different segments of our society who have long thought that God has no relevance to them, that they are loved. That you love people just the way they are, but you love them too much to leave them the way they are. So, Lord, I pray that we would not only learn, but I pray we would practice, and that we would be transformed by this great truth, in Jesus' name, amen.