LOVE IS HARD – Pastor Rob Karch    Mark 12:35-13:2  

Open your Bibles to Mark 12:35, I’d like to read and invite you to follow along.  While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David?  David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:  ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”‘  David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”  The large crowd listened to him with delight.  As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law.  They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.  They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.  These men will be punished most severely.”   Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.  Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—-all she had to live on.”  As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher!  What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”  “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus.  “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

My friend Daniel, in Montpelier, France, about four years ago….he’d already been a pastor there for about a dozen or so years.  A woman from South Africa was passing through Montpelier and began to share how she was fighting human trafficking in South Africa.  She shared what she was doing and said, “You know what?  Human trafficking is a huge issue here in Montpelier as well.”  (Montpelier is a city of about 500,000 people.)  Daniel is an incredible guy and I respect him greatly.  He’s a gritty guy.  He gets in the mud.  He’s drawn towards the hurting and the people who have need.  He’s deep into his community and understands his community deeply, so he was surprised to hear this.  She invited him to go with her.  After 11:00 P.M., they began driving around the city of Montpelier and she began pointing out what to look for.  “Look at those two girls over there.”  “Look at that girl over there.”  “Look at that car over there.”   “Look over there.”  She pointed out what to look for to see human trafficking in his city.  Daniel was shocked.  He had no idea.  He dropped her off where she was staying and drove back across the city.  Still feeling like he was in a state of shock, he pulled up next to a group of some of these girls…..specifically, teenaged Nigerian girls who had been promised a job in France and arrived in France as illegal immigrants.  The traffickers told them they owed them money now and they had to work for them.  If they refused to do so, (the traffickers) told them they knew where their younger sisters were, their cousins, and would go back and replace them.  Daniel pulled up next to a group of these girls and one of them began to get in his car and he said, “No, no, no, I’m not here for that.”  She asked, “What are you here for?”  He said, “I’m here to say that Jesus loves you.”

Coming away from that night, Daniel told me that he knew that God was going to hold him and his church accountable for how they responded to that injustice in their city.  Over the next year, he had the same problem a lot of us have.  He was already working too many hours; the church was already overloaded; a couple hundred people under-resourced.  He spent the next year reworking his entire personal schedule, as well as all of the ministries in the church, and they began to reach out and respond to this issue, in their church.  I had the privilege of going out at night with him.  We began to pray with some of these girls.  {Shows list and recites of some of the girls’ names.}  Grace, Jennifer, Vivian, Sandra, Happy, Faith, Sophia, Sasha, Laura, Miracle, Melissa, Juliet, Yvonne.  There were others, these were the names I could remember from that night.  Daniel and I were talking, “Why don’t we just rescue them all.”  Daniel realized from working with them over the last four years, that even if they went in and rescued all of these girls in one night, they’d be replaced within two weeks. Partly it’s an individual issue, but partly it’s a systemic issue.   After you help the individual, there are systems underlying the whole thing that are part of this international, global network problem that you have to face as well.   Daniel has brought together several churches and every week they work with 60 to 80 girls in that city, doing some phenomenal things.  Normal people, regular people doing this.

Daniel hadn’t seen it.  He’d been there.  He had loved his city, but it was right in front of him and he hadn’t seen the hurting people.  Not because he didn’t want to.  He didn’t have the capacity to see the hurting in front of him.  The text we just read this morning is of Jesus lamenting a lack of love and a lack of compassion, and he judges it just like the Old Testament prophets do hundreds of times.  Let’s pray.

Father, we thank you for this morning.  Father, your word is often shocking and difficult and hard to receive, but we know that you are a good God, a God of love that loves us, that loves this world.  You entered in because of that love.  I pray that this morning none of us would leave here unscathed, untouched, but that we would see your love for us and how great it is and that we would be compelled to respond by loving those around us.  We pray that you would show us some practical ways that we can respond, loving people around us, both physically and spiritually.  God, please work as we look over this text and look at what you’re doing around the world.  In the name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

Webster’s Dictionary defines compassion as the sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.  As I’m loving somebody, one of the responses as I see a need or a hurt, my love is going to be expressed through compassion.  Reading the dictionary, I flipped over to selfishness.  Selfishness is having or showing concern only for yourself and not for the needs or feelings of other people.  I realized that THAT is my default.  That’s where I go.  Keep me comfortable.  Make sure the things I want to happen happen.  Don’t impinge on my schedule.  That’s scary, because that’s not what Jesus did and that’s not what Jesus calls us to.

My wife and I met in France on a short-term trip, back in 1998.  My wife grew up in Montreal and French is her first language.  I grew up in Oregon and my first language is English.  We were married in Oregon in 2002.  We moved to Quebec.  We had the privilege of being a part of multiple new churches there; one being started in our living room and grew.  We had a metal bucket to baptize people in.  Over time, we had the opportunity to purchase an old theatre and renovate it, in a region of about 180,000 people.  God prepared it for us and provided the resources for it.  We had the privilege to be a part of that, and then passing the baton to local Quebecois/French leadership.  Also while we were there, I had the privilege of being a part of a church-planting oversight committee that oversaw, with the Baptist fellowship there, church planting across the province of Quebec.  We had the privilege of seeing seventeen new churches started, which is fantastic.  Not that I was personally involved in all of these, but had the privilege of finding funding, and working with mother churches, and finding church planters and training them and being part of sending them out along with the other team. God called us back to Colorado.  We’re with a missions organization that’s based in Littleton, right down the road.  We came back here to rest and to pray about next steps.  We were praying about the French-speaking world because there’s a huge swath of the world that does speak French.  We’re praying, “How does this movement in Quebec expand to other parts of the French-speaking world, whether west Africa or north Africa, or France.  We were getting ready to leave.  Thirty-six hours before we were going to get on the plane to scout out where we were going to live, I found out that I had cancer.  Over the last eighteen months, we’ve been walking through chemotherapy with you as a church, and seeing God do incredible things even in the most difficult circumstances.

Let’s go to our text.  We’ll see four points from the text.  I’ll tell you at the beginning and at the end and in the middle.  First point, love embraces humility.  Love exposes injustice.  Love sees the hurting.  Love requires sacrifice.  And that’s why love is hard.  Love is difficult.  It is.  We see it expressed in Scripture as being hard. Love embraces humility.  Let’s look at that in Mark 12:35.  Jesus is answering an important question—it was important then AND now.  If you jump back to Mark 11:28, we see the question, where the religious leaders of his day said to Jesus:  By what authority are you doing these things?   Healing people.  Teaching.  Raising up a movement.  Basically, the religious leaders were saying, “Who in the world do you think you are?”  Jesus, a chapter later, answers more explicitly and directly (this question).  He quotes a prophecy from Psalm 110:1. He’s taking something the religious leaders believe and showing how it’s incongruent with how they’re living out their lives and how they’re responding to Jesus.  There’s a tension there and He’s pointing out this tension. Psalm 110:1, King David, a thousand years before Christ, is writing and he says…..the religious leaders in Jesus’ day all believe that this is talking about the Messiah, the King to come, a thousand years later.  The Lord (Yahweh) says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”   The question is: How can the Messiah, or the King-to-come, be David’s son when David submits to him?  He’s saying the Messiah is his Lord, David submitting to Him.  Here’s the reality within Jewish culture.  In Jewish culture, descendants submit to their ancestors.  Grandchildren submit to their grandparents; sons submit to their fathers.  That’s how this works.  Jesus is pointing out saying that David himself is saying he’s going to have a descendant and that David is going to submit to his descendant.  The question is who in the world is this guy that David, the King of Israel, is going to submit to?  If you go on, we see sit at my right hand—the right hand of God the Father, so this Messiah is going to be at the right hand of God the Father in heaven.  Some kind of a heavenly scenario, until I (God the Father) make your enemies a footstool for your feet.  Jump down to verse 4.  The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You (the Messiah, the King-to-come) are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”  Melchizedek was a king and a priest.  So Jesus is answering the question of Who am I?  Who is Jesus?  It was important then and it’s important to ask this question today.  And the answer is astonishing and the religious leaders know it.  When Jesus pulls out this prophecy from Psalm 110:1, the response is SILENCE.  They know what he’s saying.

Go back to Mark 1 with me and let’s see how Mark starts out his gospel.   In Mark 1:2-3, he quotes Isaiah 40:3. So, a prophecy.  Mark takes this prophecy and he applies to Jesus of Nazareth.  {Are you tracking with me this morning?}  We’re doing some shocking things here.  But the problem with this is that the prophecy in Isaiah 40 isn’t talking about Jesus of Nazareth, it’s talking about Yahweh, the God of the universe.  So he’s taking a prophecy about the God of the universe and applying it to Jesus of Nazareth.  There’s some implications there. Jump to Mark 1:8.  John the Baptist says: I baptize you with water, but he (the Messiah) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus of Nazareth will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.  He’s quoting Joel 2:28.  You jump back to Joel 2:28 and who’s doing the baptizing?  The God of the universe!  So if we jump to Mark 12:35-37, in essence, Jesus is answering this question of Who are you? by saying I am the King of the universe.  I created everything.  I am the King over everything!  That’s the authority.  That’s who I am.

This is so important for us today, because we have to recognize that to love other people, we have to embrace humility, which means recognizing that Jesus is the King and I am NOT!  That’s a really hard thing to embrace.  I know I fight that every day.  I have to relinquish my agenda and embrace Jesus’s agenda.  What happened was that Jesus the King came on the scene and the religious leaders were disagreeing with how he was acting as king.  No, no, no, the king doesn’t act like that!  Newsflash—The king does whatever the king wants to do and everybody else has to submit to the king.  The king doesn’t submit to what everybody else wants the king to do.  We serve a king, Jesus, who’s a loving king.  He came to this earth.  He died because of his love for us and his love is poured out toward us and we can trust him.  We can’t forget the fact that HE’S the king and we are not. So we have a calling today—every single one of us, no matter where we are.   The calling is to obey Jesus today.  What is Jesus asking of us today?  It’s different for everyone of us, it’s a different answer.  For my wife and I, it’s one thing.  For you, it’s another thing.  But obey Jesus today.  He’s the king, we are not.

So number one is love embraces humility.  Number two is love exposes injustice.  This is what Jesus is doing in Mark 12:38-40.  Again, this is shocking!  Let’s set the scene here—Jesus is in the temple, surrounded by crowds of people, and there are religious people all around the periphery of the crowds.  What Jesus is saying is beware, not just of random religious people, of that guy….beware of that guy…beware of that person….beware….   They’re right there in front of them!   Jesus is calling them out to their face!  We can understand why they finally decided, “We have to kill this guy!”  He’s calling us out, to our face, publicly, in our religious context.  The only option for them, that they could see in their unwillingness to submit to the king, was to kill him.

So what does Jesus call out?  This is Mark 12, which is a summarized condensed version of Matthew 23, where we have the seven woes, an entire chapter.  He (Jesus) points out a few things (in Mark 12:38-40).  He says they walk in long robes, and as they walk through the marketplace everybody has to stand up in respect.  They have the best places in banquets.  This is the way it worked out—-the religious leader would come and if you’re having a banquet and your parents are sitting in the place of honor and the religious leader shows up, you kick your parents to the side and put the religious leader in the place of honor.  That’s got to mess with your ego over time as a religious leader.

Then he goes on saying they devour widows’ houses.  And oh, there’s one right now.  Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)   This widow was being devoured right in front of them and they didn’t even see it. Just like my friend Daniel in Montpelier…..was there for years before he saw these girls being devoured in his city.  Just like in my life, how there are people who have been hurting, right in front of me, and I didn’t see it. I think of a guy that I spent time with years ago, and we would have coffee together and we would pray together and grow together.  He was struggling with a lot of different things.  I was traveling a lot and left and went to Quebec.  We weren’t able to meet up.  One day he left me a voice mail.  It basically said, “Hey, Rob, I just wanted you to know I’m doing better than I have been doing.  I’m feeling pretty good.  I wanted to thank you for everything—the time we spent and everything.  I hope everything goes well with you in your life.”  I thought, “Oh great! Cool! That’s a nice message to receive.”  Then he committed suicide.  I felt like a failure in that situation.  Now, let me be clear, that wasn’t my fault.  But I wish I would have seen some of these signs.  A few years later, another one of my friends who’s going through a real difficult time—his wife had left him and some other brutal things and he was making some destructive choices in his life.  We spent hours on the phone.  We were thousands of miles away from each other.  I had been praying for him and with him.  One day I got a text message from him that said, “Hey, Rob, I just wanted to thank you for all the time we’ve spent together and I hope everything goes well with you in your life.”  I didn’t know anybody that lived near him, so there was no one I could call.  I texted him and he didn’t respond.  I called him and he didn’t answer.  So I called the police and asked them to check on my friend because I was worried about him.  I asked a couple of people to pray.  A couple hours later the phone rings and I hear a voice say, “Dude, did you call the police on me?!”  “Yes! You freaked me out!  You didn’t answer my calls!”  “Well, I was working and couldn’t answer my phone.  And I’m really appreciative of you!”

But that God would give us eyes to see people hurting around us.  One of my friends works with homeless teens in Montreal.  He made a kind of shocking statement — He doesn’t know of any situation (from his experience of working with homeless teens) where giving money helped anybody, in that scenario.  So I asked, “What do you do?  Just ignore them?”  He said you plan out an extra thirty minutes, then go and meet the person.  You invite them to coffee and sit down with them.  You ask them their name and ask for their story and treat them as a person with value and worth, the person that they are—made and created in God’s image.  You love them as a person.  You see them as a person.  That’s what you do.  That God would give us eyes to see.

In 1998, I was in Paris.  I sat in the Sacré-Coeur and looked out and my heart broke for the French-speaking world.  When my wife and I moved here to Littleton a couple of years ago, we felt like we had vertigo.  We’d never in our lives lived in a place that has this many churches.  And they’re huge!  I walked for a couple of miles when I first got here and I saw a dozen or so church buildings.  It struck me that if any one of those dozen or so church buildings had been in Quebec, it would be the nicest evangelical church building in the entire province of Quebec.  Imagine if you didn’t love Jesus — you’re trying to weave through these church buildings….   You decide to go to a coffee shop to get away from these churches.  You sit down and you’re sandwiched between two Bible studies.  You hop in your car and decide to go to a microbrewery.  You hop in your car and turn on the radio to put classic rock on and you find KLove, another KLove, then a fake KLove, a sermon, then another sermon….   You finally get to the microbrewery and get a beer and think, “Finally!”  You realize there’s a pastors get-together at the table right next to you.  It’s like this background radiation everywhere.  {Inserted from first service:  Mark 13:2 — Any structure that takes advantage of the weak deserves to be torn down.}

Let me be honest with you.  There’s obviously a lot of people here that don’t know Jesus.  We need to love our neighbors here and we need to reach out and foster parents and families here and to make disciples here and to reach out to those in need in our community.  I’m not putting that down at all.  What I am saying is that you go to a place like Paris or Montreal….I would challenge you to go there for a week and try to find a building where people meet in the name of Jesus, other than the kind of empty Catholic Cathedrals.  Not that there’s no need here….it’s the question of access.  You take a city like Marrakesh, Morocco — it’s roughly the same size as the Denver metro area.  One house church.  Can you imagine the entire Denver metro area with one house church? We know what we struggle with, right?  Is God real?  Who is Jesus?  Why am I here?  My marriage, my family, my dreams…..  What do I do with all that?  Here, we can turn to answers.  There’s access.  You go to other parts of the world and there’s no access.  Who do you turn to?  There’s no where to go.

A few months ago, my family and I went to North Africa, then up to France, then back over to North America. The reality is if you look at Quebec, France, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, there are about 160 million people in those five areas.  Of those, about 722,000 would be considered evangelicals, according to Operation World 2010 edition.  An evangelical is someone who just believes that Jesus came, lived, died, and rose again for our sins and in trusts in that.  Now in the United States there are 320 million people and of those there are 93 million evangelicals, using the same criteria.  So 93 million on the one side and less than a million on the other side. Let’s look at it a different way.  Imagine if you took 200 people from the U.S. and 200 people as representative sample from the French-speaking world.  How many in the U.S. would be considered evangelicals?  About that many.  How many on the French side?  Zero.  {Rob showed slides.}  Rob, I’m not a statistics person.  Okay, here’s a stadium about a third full. {Shows slide.)  Imagine these are American Christians.  {Then shows a slide of an almost empty stadium.}  This is the French Christians.

Today is the International Day for Unreached People Groups.  An unreached people group is basically a group of people that have their own language and culture.  They’re unreached which means there’s no viable movement of Jesus within that group at all.  Right now around the world there are about 6,000 of these unreached groups around the world.  And 3,250 are unengaged.  That means that nobody is going.  That means if you buy and a plane ticket and go there, in the name of Jesus, you’d be the first person and the ONLY person.  I hope that does something in your soul!  My friend Rodney was talking about when he would go and discover some of these groups and they would hike up into different parts of East Asia.  When he would first walk into the region and look at this group, they’d be completely untouched by Jesus Christ.  I asked him how it felt when he walked in. He said, “I get really angry.”  Whoa! What?  Why?  Because the church has been around for 2000 years and this is still a reality.  That’s unacceptable.  I just hope that God can give us eyes to see both physically and spiritually. That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to do here, but, God, open our eyes to see the thousands of people groups around the world and billions of people who DON’T have access to Jesus.  God, break our hearts for these people.

Lord willing, we’re going to Montpelier.  I say ‘Lord willing’ because He’s made it abundantly clear that it’s His plan, not ours, and He’ll redirect it as he sees fit.  It’s all in pencil.  Montpelier — 500,000 people.  Fastest growing city in France.  People are moving from northern France to southern France, and people moving from North Africa over to Montpelier.  We just saw some terrorist attacks in London; there have been quite a few in France.  There’s numerous responses to these attacks.  We have demonstrations.  We have defacing of mosques in Montpelier.  We all know that the ultimate response is not a political response.  We know the ultimate response is not a military response, right?  We know the ultimate response is Jesus transforming hearts — taking people, like the Apostle Paul, who are hell-bent on killing and murdering Christians.  They are full of hatred. God needs to invade their soul and transform them into people who are willing to radically love others in the name of Jesus.  THAT’S the hope that we have.  That Daniel has.  That’s the hope that all of us share here together and if we didn’t have that hope, then let’s just pack up and shut this thing down.

The fourth thing is that love requires sacrifice.  This is the reality as Jesus calls us to obey Him, to step out. Whatever obeying Jesus looks like today.  Following Jesus ALWAYS requires sacrifice.  That’s what Jesus said.  I counted 28 times… not fear.  Fear not…  Be not afraid for I am with you.  But Jesus is very clear — either risk or don’t follow me.  Sometimes that’s physical risk and going to dangerous places.  Sometimes that’s going to people emotionally and opening ourselves.  Sometimes that looks like loving somebody.  Sometimes that looks like financial risk.  But risking and stepping out to love people radically.  But we don’t sacrifice for nothing.  We sacrifice for the good of others because Christ sacrificed and loved us.  Amen?  {That’s to replace the ‘look up at me.’}  We sacrifice with the hope that we will be with Christ forever.  Whatever we sacrifice here when we get to the destination of Jesus, we’re like, “Seriously, that sacrifice looks really small right now.”

As of a couple months ago, we’ve been approved to move on out, which is pretty exciting.  I’m in remission.  But the time with cancer here has been a time….in Psalm 23 there’s that phrase ‘he makes me lie down.’  Have you ever felt like that?  That’s how I felt.  During that time I had the privilege of baptizing my son, I had the privilege of learning online with Western Seminary.  I figured if I’m in bed throwing up, I might as well learn a few things.  God has done some incredible things during this process and sharing the hope of Jesus with multiple people.  And we had the privilege of going back to North Africa and France and praying, “God, what do you have for us?  Do you want us to stay here?  Do you want us to move out?  What do you want from us?”  While we were in France, we had the chance to go to EuroDisney.  {Very missionary thing to do.}  At the end of the day, while the fireworks were going off, we huddled together as a family and prayed and thanked God for the gift of life that he has given us.  We desire to follow Jesus until our dying breath.  Lord willing, we’ll move to Montpelier and be involved in multiplying churches.  Multiplying churches who love radically.  Radically love the French moving south, the North Africans moving north, the university students in that city, and fighting human trafficking together.

Winston Churchill had this iconic speech during World War II.  Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of England.  Germany had taken over Europe.  The United States had not yet entered into World War II.  England was feeling isolated and alone.  This is what Winston Churchill said to the English people:  “We shall go on to the end.  We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.  We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”  Powerful speech.  Why did he say that?  He said it because it was a cause worth giving their lives to.  We know here today that the cause of Jesus, eternal destinies, and physical realities right now, is worth giving our lives to.  Love is hard; the cost is worth it!

It’s worth it because Jesus, the King of the universe, embraced humility and he became a human.  Jesus saw you hurting and he offers life.  I know that there are people here that are contemplating suicide.  I want you to know that you are loved, you’re not alone, your life is full of worth and value.  We want to come around you. Jesus sees you and loves you where you are.  I want to ask you to please choose life and the life that Jesus is offering.  Jesus exposed injustice and he will judge.  Injustice will not go on forever, he will bring it to an end. Jesus joyfully sacrificed His life to you us life.  Is love hard?  Absolutely.  Did Jesus love us?  Absolutely.  He gives us His Spirit to well up in us so that we can overflow in that same love to other people.  That’s the privilege we have as followers of Jesus.

{Rob introduces the song before communion.}