Several years ago, there was a missionary mom who had told her child repeatedly that they were there in that foreign country to reach “the people God loves”. But we can get so busy, that we forget what is really important. One day when they had moved onto the mission field, that mom was trying to get all the household chores done, while she was taking care of the kids — and she was baking a cake at the same time! Just then, some of the native people came up to their house and knocked on the door, and it was JUST the wrong time, and the mom said she went to the door in a huff, and was really going to let them have it, but just before she got there, her son, running beside her, said, “Who is it, Mom? Who’s come to see us? Is it the people God loves?!” Needless to say, she said she answered the door with a different attitude than she was going to have. Most of us have times like that when we forget that what Jesus has called us to do – more than anything else – is to love His people.
In Mark 6, it was “not a good time” for Jesus – just like it wasn’t for that missionary mom that day. Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist, had just been put to death. His twelve disciples had just returned from their first mission trip after He had commissioned them and sent them out. They needed debriefing and rest. Verse 31 says that Jesus commanded them to get away to a secluded place and rest for a while. But when they went away in the boat, :33 says the people saw them going, and ran on foot ahead of them to meet Him. How would you feel, if you were in Jesus’ shoes? What would your response be? Like the frustrated mother who can’t get away from her kids for 5 minutes to have her prayer time? “Can’t I have a few minutes just to myself?” That kind of response would have been understandable. But that is not how Jesus reacted. Verse 34 says that when Jesus went ashore, “He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them …”. We can just stop right there for now. Even in that busy, “needing to get away” context that Jesus found Himself in, when He saw the multitude, He still felt compassion – He loved the multitude.
I have to tell you, when I read this the other day, it challenged me with the question: “Do you love the multitude?” Maybe some of you here tonight need this same challenge. I want us to think of 4 different arenas in which we can apply this question, and then I hope you’ll be challenged by a special, closing exhortation:
I. Do you love the multitude in your CHURCH?
“When He saw the multitude, He felt compassion for them.”
When you see “the multitude” of people – in our church – what do you feel? A number of weeks ago, I was given the link to a sermon by Francis Chan. It had all kinds of words of encouragement for pastors and Christian workers. One thing that Chan said he does that I thought was very challenging is that on every occasion when he is speaking, he always asks himself several questions, including: “Do I love these people I am about to address?” What a good point! The people we speak to are not just a “mass of humanity” to be “performed” for; they are, in that missionary’s phrase, “the people God loves”! Jesus “felt compassion” for the multitude. He loved them. And “following in His steps” as I Peter says that we are to do, one of the most important things those of us who preach and teach or minister in the church in any way can do is to “feel compassion” for the people God has brought to us.
We need to remember that the people in our church are not just our “audience.” The members of our church are not numbers to be counted, but individuals to be loved. God has not placed them here to entertain us, or to praise us, or to be objects of our ridicule. They do not exist as “spiritual punching bags” for us to practice our Biblical “jabs” on during our lessons. God has every person in our church so that we can have compassion on them, and minister to them, and LOVE them, as Jesus did.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that you never say anything difficult to someone in the church. We are still to follow Paul’s admonition to “speak the truth in love.” Real love will speak the hard truth that one who loves less will not dare to speak. But love must always be the motivation; love must always at the forefront. Everything that is said and done to someone in the church must be said and done in love.
I think a searching question that every one of us should ask ourselves is: when I look at “the multitude in our church” – do I love them? Do the members of your Sunday School class think that you love them? Do the kids you teach believe that you really care about them – or would they have a sneaking suspicion that are you are just “putting up with them”? How have you demonstrated that you really love them in any tangible ways? If you haven’t, what could you do – even this week – that might show someone in this church that you love them?
Some of us may need to bow our heads before the Lord tonight and ask His forgiveness and help: maybe you’ve been “doing an assignment” in the church, but not really been loving people while you’ve been at it. This scripture is a reminder that God calls us to LOVE the multitude in the church.
II. Do you love the multitude in our TOWN?
When Jesus saw the multitude in His town, the Bible says “He felt compassion for them.” When YOU see the multitude in our town – how do you respond? Even in a relatively small urban area like ours, it can be easy to “de-personalize” the multitude, and go right on by them.
A couple of years ago, a marathon runner in Philadelphia was doing her daily run downtown, and waved to some of the people at the homeless shelter there. She ran by that spot every day, and many of the residents there recognized her, and would wave at her when she was on her daily paces. Then one day, she said she stopped and asked herself: “Why am I running past these folks?” And she stopped, and went in to the shelter, and began to organize a running club there, that got dozens of the people involved, and ended up spreading to shelters all over the city and included hundreds of people.
As followers of Jesus, we have a better gospel to share than the gospel of exercise and fitness – but the first step for many of us is to ask ourselves: who is it that we are “running past” every day?
— the people who try to cut in front of you at Wal-Mart?
— the traffic that backs up in front of the elementary school every morning & afternoon
— the kids from the “other cliques” in the high school
— the people dressed in camo at the grocery store
— the crowds at the football game or the Christmas parade …
Like that runner, we need to ask ourselves: “Why am I running past these folks?”
— Instead of getting angry at the person who can’t read at the drug store, we should see that as an opportunity to start a literacy program.
— Instead of looking suspiciously at people of other racial backgrounds at Wal Mart, we should wonder if there is a church that is ministering to that ethnic group – and see if the Lord wants us to help start one.
When we send a missionary to the mission field, they settle in, and look for ways to connect with the people there, to build bridges to them, so they can begin relationships and have opportunities to share the gospel. Some of us need to adopt a “missionary mindset” for our own home town. What if you were a missionary here? What would you do to try to reach people? What would than entail? That should be part of what we as a church, and each of our ministry teams and Sunday School classes dreams about together – but it has to start with a God-given love. We need to stop “running past” people, and love the multitude in our town.
III. Do you love the multitude in our NATION?
Let’s “expand the circle” a little bit, like we do in “Acts 1:8.” We should start by loving the “multitude” even in our own church, and in our town. But let’s take that even further outside – to the multitude of people in our country who are different than we are. This group might be likened to the “Samaritans” of Jesus’ time – those “half breeds” who were so despised by the Jewish people. They are “countrymen” in a sense, but “different”, and despised.
Do you love the multitude in America – those “Samaritans” who are not like us, and who outright disagree with us? Or do you look at them as “the enemy” that you revile and despise? You know who they are – we have given labels to them; we often say their names with a sneer: “the liberals … the gays … the abortionists … the welfare queens … the tree huggers … the atheists …”. It is easy to label people and to write them off as such. We can get in the mindset of an “us against them” war, and dig in – and I know that in many ways, we ARE in a spiritual war in our country. But we also need to remember that Jesus commanded us: “Love your enemies.” Just like Jesus did, we are to see the multitude in our nation – even those we disagree with — and have compassion on them. We are to “love the multitude in our nation.”
IV. Do you love the multitude in the WORLD?
The Bible says that “God so loved the world.” Jesus saw the multitude in the world and felt compassion for them, and came to earth to save them: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” He loves the world. Each of us needs to ask ourselves: do I?
Some of us need to re-think our attitude towards the multitude in the world. If the truth be known, many of us are better Republicans than we are Christians. We are way too ready to bomb into eternity whoever is in the way of our national self-interest, all the while forgetting the words of Jesus: “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” What is your attitude towards the multitudes in the world: do you want to destroy them, or save them? As followers of Jesus Christ, we are to be like Him, and love the multitude in the world.
It’s easy not to do that. It’s sinfully natural for us to be caught up in our own selfishness, and forget that the Lord has called us to follow Him and love the multitudes in the world. And it starts right where we are.
Lesley Jackson Gore was between the ages of 9 &12 at the First Baptist Church of Beggs, Oklahoma when we served there from 1991-1994, and by God’s providence, she is now the pastor’s wife at that same church. She wrote a blog about an eye-opening experience she had serving there recently:
“This Girl” by Lesley Jackson Gore (mrsgoresdiary.wordpress.com You may access this post directly here.)
“I make hot dogs for the kids who come to our church on Wednesday nights.
It was never something I dreamed of doing. It wasn’t even something I believed we needed to be doing at our church.
But there was no one else to do it this one time, and so I did it.
And I liked it.
I liked it so much that I asked to do it every week.
For the most part, I still like it. I like being the hot dog lady at church.
But some weeks, I’m grouchy on the inside.
Kids are so self-absorbed and the kids we pick up in our church vans on Wednesday nights have even less good manners than the kids who sit in our pews at church on Sunday mornings. They are unruly and they don’t have parents peering over their shoulders, nudging them to “say thank you!” when they receive their food or to clean up after them when they are finished eating. No matter how many refills they’ve had, they complain when we run out of Kool-aid and they ask for seconds before the line for firsts isn’t even halfway finished yet. They hover on the other side of the kitchen window and their germs hover with them, right across from the food. They dribble basketballs on the floor and throw footballs across the fellowship hall no matter how many times we’ve told them not to and they run through the hallways and knock the little kids over. And on warm days, they bring in a stench of playground sweat that will just nearly knock a lady over. They have no idea how to act in church or probably even at Wal-Mart.
So it doesn’t take too many minutes of being around them before my hackles get raised, even on my best days.
Tonight I was especially grouchy on the inside. The hot dog eaters were majorly getting on my nerves and there were so many present that I had to postpone cleaning the kitchen until after church so I could help Mr. Gore with his class of THIRTY-ONE 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. That’s right…thirty-one. And man were they full of it tonight – the room seemed to be crawling as he taught his lesson, as they wiggled and stretched and shifted in their seats, biding their time until they could be released to play dodgeball.
But midway through the lesson I made a quick visit to the church nursery to deliver Baby Betsie’s diaper bag.
And that’s when I saw her.
The long hem of her dress caught my attention as it disappeared behind the bathroom door – something seemed off about the length and the style on this warm March day. And then she peeked back around the corner of the door to see…what? If she was in trouble? If someone was following her? I don’t really know. But for the first time since I’ve been around her for these many months, our eyes met, and I can’t even tell you what I read in hers. I couldn’t read her at all.
And then I noticed her clothes. She was wearing a floor-length red velvet Christmas dress with white velvet bows underneath each wide shoulder strap. Peeking out from under the outlandish dress was a pair of black pants and dingy tennis shoes. And on top of her dress was a black and hot pink hoodie. Her hair was short, just like it always is, with the look that someone just chopped it off in one fell swoop to get rid of it.
This look on her younger sister is cute – kind of like my preschool-aged kids when we let them dress themselves and their hair is sticking out in every direction and their faces are dirty because they play all day every day and they are wearing a cape and dress shoes and sweatpants. But on her, a girl of 8 or 9 years…
I don’t know. It’s just kind of gut-wrenching.
She disappeared behind the bathroom door once more and closed it this time, and I stood in the hallway with the heavy finger of conviction pressing on my cold and selfish heart.
She’s who I am making hot dogs for on Wednesday nights.
And it’s not because we might draw her into the fold with our good cooking and loving personalities. And it’s not because all of our hard work will be worth it if “just one person” will get saved as a result. And it’s not because it’s just the “Christian” thing to do and we don’t have anything else to do and we might as well do this.
It’s because that little girl with the Christmas dress in springtime might be hungry, and she might need something to eat. The same person who doesn’t help her get dressed in appropriate clothes and chops off her beautiful little-girl hair might just have forgotten to feed her tonight…
And me? The grouchy hot dog lady? Well I’m left thinking that all of my romantic notions about adopting a child in need from somewhere across the world will never really become reality if I don’t start by loving this girl.
I’m thinking that I will never truly have a heart for the lost if it remains cold and grouchy in the presence of a roomful of dirty kids whose parents put them on a church van minutes after the school bus drops them off.
I’m thinking that I can’t kid myself into thinking I’m mission-minded if I skim over the lost and needy in front of my very face.
I’m thinking that it is one thing to say I love Jesus and want to follow Him and quite another to walk as He did.
I’m thinking that to whom much is given, much is expected. Much more than cheap hot dogs and an impatient and uncaring attitude.
I’m thinking that the gospel starts here. With the girl in the Christmas dress.
And I’m thinking that I don’t feel so grouchy anymore.”
When we are saved, the first thing we have to do is admit our need: we have sinned, and we need a Savior. In any area of our Christian life, it is the same: the first step is to admit that you have a need. Some of us tonight need bow our heads and take the first step towards “loving the multitude” like Jesus did: admit that you don’t – and ask Him to forgive you, and to fill you with the fruit of His Spirit: a God-given love like Jesus had for the multitude – for “those” little girls & boys, men & women — in our church, in our town, in our nation, and all over the world.