This Gospel holds before us again the compassion of Christ, His love in action — preaching, healing, teaching — and that same love that sends out more workers to multiply the benefit. Jesus continues His love and care even today for the harassed and helpless of the world, and He still sends workers that convey His grace on a dying world.
One of the things I noticed about this text, which I don’t know if it came out in the written sermon, was that Jesus commissions the Twelve to do exactly what He’s doing. He teaches, He preaches the good news of the kingdom, He heals; and then He sends them out to do the very same things. The only difference is the focus of the apostles’ preaching, versus that of Christ’s: He preached Himself as the Savior, whereas they pointed to Him as the Light of the world. I thought that was very illuminating. It also made this text harder to apply to us, because we haven’t been given the same tasks as the apostles did. Oftentimes the preacher must bridge the gap between the original people that God was speaking to, and us today.
Another noteworthy thing is Jesus’ response to the needs of the crowds. He doesn’t react by shoving them away, claiming self-defense; He doesn’t hoard His energy or His time, concerned that caring for so many will take too much out of Him. No, He wades right into the sea of human misery in front of Him and starts pitching in. He does what He can for those who came to Him, and for Christ, that’s quite a lot: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Mt 11:5). It’s inspiring, really, and it makes a person re-think all the times we refuse to help others because they might be a drain on our time or our mental energy. That’s what our lives are supposed to be: service to others that honors God.
May Jesus, the Lord of the harvest, bless you with a rich increase of the fruits of His Spirit in your lives, and please continue to pray for more workers in His harvest field. Peace be with you.
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
1He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. (matt 9.35-10.8 niv84)
What do you think the harvest is going to be like this year? I’ve heard not to expect much, because of the weather we’ve had and the fairly late start many got. Even people’s gardens aren’t doing too well this year. Although you never know, it still doesn’t look that great. In our gospel for today we hear about a different kind of harvest – God’s harvest. This harvest is made up of different things, and it uses different means, than the harvests that come from the land around here. Today, we’ll consider God’s Great Harvest. The need is ours. The workers are His.
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” These three activities defined Jesus’ ministry. He always taught. He would teach in the open air, from a boat, along the road, wherever He was – as well as in the synagogues during their regular worship times. This includes rebuking error as well as positive teaching, teaching the truth. Many times He used parables for this teaching. He always preached the good news of the kingdom. This involved proclaiming Himself – that He was God’s Son and the Savior of the world. Everybody wants to preach themselves and talk about how great they are, but only Jesus is right to do so. Before He could proclaim the good news to them, He had to rebuke their sins. Jesus always did this when people needed it. Sometimes they came to Him already crushed by the law, and in that case He comforted them right away, but usually Jesus didn’t neglect the law either. He always healed every disease and sickness. No illness was too hard for Him to cure. No sickness could resist His command. Even today doctors can’t fix or diagnose everything, but yet Jesus cured it all. Nothing was too bad for Him to cure totally. This helps prove that He is the Christ, because it was prophesied that the Christ would heal people.
Why does Jesus preach and teach and heal all these people? Because they need help! “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The people who came to Jesus were bothered and loaded down with cares and worries. They were knocked flat by the circumstances of their lives. They were unable to cope with their sins and their guilt. These people looked at their lives and they felt like they’d been pushed down a long flight of stairs. There was so much they could not fix or deal with on their own. They knew, in one way or another, that they were in for a long time of trouble in this life, and an eternity of separation from God when they left this life. They needed help, badly!
So many today need help, too. A lot of people are hungry and homeless in this world. A lot more people are making it, but barely. You hear about people losing their jobs or their homes, not being able to afford the medical care they need, or other problems. Wherever you look, this world seems to be one big sea of human need. But that’s not what Jesus saw. Jesus saw spiritual need – and that need is even greater than all the hungry or sick or poor people in the world. Think about all the spiritually needy people in this world. You can have lots of money in the bank, two new cars, a big boat, and a bunch of other toys in the garages of your huge house, but you can still be a spiritual beggar. You can live life like it’s one big party, eat, drink, and be merry, go on big vacations and have lots of fun, but you can still be poor towards God. Spiritual need isn’t like physical need. Most people have enough in this life, and some people have a lot, but even Christians can have severe spiritual need. It’s pervasive. The crying out of our souls is not easily silenced. Nothing can replace God for us. We need Him. People are created to be with God, but our fallen state separates us from God and often we’re left yearning for something we can’t have – the love of God, His mercy and healing.
Jesus looked out at the crowds coming to Him, and He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” So many need help, and there’s so much good that could be done, but there’s so few people to help. A lot of good could be done for God with all these spiritually needy people around, but who was going to take care of them? It’s still true today – those who work for the harvest always are outnumbered by the number of people that need them. There’s a great harvest to be won, but so few people to help. So what was Jesus’ solution to the problem of so much spiritual need and so few to help?
First, we see what Jesus was already doing. He was teaching and preaching and healing. He devoted all His time and energy to filling the spiritual needs of others. But He wasn’t going to be around on this earth forever. Soon He would leave and return to the Father, and then what? Somebody else would have to carry on. “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.”
This verse is often applied to pastors and teachers. It certainly is true of them. They are the people we think of working most directly in God’s harvest field. They use God’s Word to bring in the harvest that He has ready to be gathered in. At the same time, this verse is not just about pastors and teachers. This verse is about all Christians! We all have God’s Word, don’t we? We all are baptized, aren’t we? What’s to stop any of us from speaking God’s Word to those around us? It doesn’t have to be elaborate or formal. Anytime marriage or divorce or family or money or morality or any one of a thousand different topics comes up, you can share what Scripture says. Any time you see someone who feels hopeless or guilty or ashamed, you can point them to Christ – to the One who can take away their burdens. The duty and privilege of speaking God’s Word to those around us isn’t just reserved for those who receive their living from the gospel. It’s part and parcel of your baptismal identity. It’s part of who you are as a Christian. Because you are a baptized Christian, you speak God’s Word to those around you. You don’t need a program and you don’t need a title in front of your name. Any Christian can share God’s Word, if they know what it says.
At the same time, that doesn’t mean that everybody has the same work to do. God makes some people workers in His harvest field, and others He allows to serve Him in their ordinary walks of life. His Word is no less powerful for either one, nor are there special powers that one group is missing out on. They simply have different tasks and responsibilities. Take the twelve apostles, for example. Jesus tells them to preach, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse those who have leprosy, and to drive out demons. Yet even among pastors today, who drives out demons or raises the dead? That was part of the work Jesus gave those twelve apostles to do. Each of us has the work God has given us to, but that doesn’t mean that He loves any of us more or that we aren’t all equal in Christ.
So you’re thinking that you’re still not sure what to say or when to say it, or you’re not sure if it’s your place to say anything. You’re feeling a little apprehensive, because speaking for God is a big thing. You might be wondering, I don’t think I can do that, but is there still something I can do? Yes there is! If you’re not sure what to say or if it’s your place to speak up, you can still do what Jesus commands you here: You can pray! Jesus says, Ask – pray – plead – beg! Ask, and keep asking! Beg earnestly and wholeheartedly. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out workers to bring His harvest in. Prayer doesn’t require any special knowledge. It doesn’t require any imposing qualifications. All it takes is a heart that listens to what God says and faith that believes Jesus’ promises to send more workers into His harvest field. Whenever Jesus asks us to ask, you can be sure that He will answer. You don’t have to guess. You don’t have to wonder whether or not God will answer. He will! That holds true for everything Jesus tells us to pray for, not just more workers for His harvest. If Jesus tells you to pray for something, you can be sure that whatever He’s telling you to pray for is something He wants to give you and is ready to give you. God never gives His Word without someone to use it & apply it. As long as God’s harvest is not yet completely brought in, there will always be a need for people to work in that harvest. If you pray for harvest workers, your prayers will always be answered. Even if you don’t feel qualified to speak God’s Word, or that’s not your life’s work, you can still pray that God would send others – and He will.
One of the greatest mission fields in the world today is made up of people who used to be Christian – the lost sheep of Israel. You may even know a few of them personally. Pray that God would give His workers courage and love to reach out to those lost sheep so they can be brought in. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest field, because the harvest is all His. The means we use are His. The workers are His. God has a great harvest in store, even if we can’t always see it. Amen.