By Stefan Bomberger
I’ve recently been studying a passage out of Matthew chapter nine and reflecting on its implications for our evangelism:
“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” Matthew 9:35-38
Three things emerge from this text regarding our mission together. Three prerequisites, if you will, for joining Jesus in the harvest. The first is…
1. Compassion for the Crowds
Verse 36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The crowds here represent the lost masses. It’s not speaking of false teachers or religious hypocrites. It’s speaking of everyday sinners. Our unbelieving coworkers, neighbors, friends and family. What does Jesus see when he looks at them? What emotion is stirred in his heart when his eyes hit theirs? Is he angry at them? Does he feel threatened by them? No. Jesus doesn’t take a defensive posture. He doesn’t view them as ferocious wolves. Rather he sees them as helpless sheep. Harassed sheep. He has compassion for them.
A few years ago another pastor at my church, Doug Hayes, did an extensive study on the theme of “compassion” in the New Testament. And what he found, is that whenever it’s said that someone “has compassion” on another, it causes them to act benevolently towards them. That’s the story of the Good Samaritan, for example. Others felt bad about the beat up man. But the Samaritan felt compassion and therefore was moved to help him. So biblical compassion is always active. It starts with a feeling, but it doesn’t end there. Compassion moves us to action. Like Jesus, it moves us towards the crowd. That’s why compassion is a necessary pre-requisite for joining Jesus in the harvest. Because we won’t be moved towards the crowd until we feel compassion for the crowd. The second prerequisite for joining Jesus in the harvest is...
2. Help for the Hurting
Verse 35 tells us that everywhere Jesus was proclaiming the gospel, he was also “healing every disease and every affliction.” It’s important to remember that Jesus’ primary goal was always to bring us spiritual life through his death and resurrection. No question there. Even so, he never turned a blind eye towards peoples’ physical diseases, pains or afflictions. Rather, he healed them. Yes, this supernatural work of Christ demonstrates his authority as God. But if we stop there, and simply use these as proof-texts to verify the divinity of Christ, we miss something very simple – yet profoundly important and comforting. Jesus cares about our pain. God cares. And wherever the gospel of Christ is preached, the care of Christ ought be expressed as well. Maybe God will use you to heal the sick in the name of Jesus Christ. Or maybe he’ll use you to give out a cup of cold water in his name to the thirsty. Either way, like Jesus, may our gospel proclamation regularly be coupled with help for the hurting. That's the second prerequisite for joining Jesus in the harvest. The third is…
3. Prayer for the Laborers
In verses 37-38 Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Now I love this! When Jesus looks at the crowds he’s not discouraged one bit. Rather, he sees a great harvest of souls. A plentiful harvest. He sees men and women ready to be reaped for the kingdom of heaven! But there’s one problem. There’s not enough laborers to reap this plentiful harvest.
You know, as an evangelist, my impulse is to think the next part would say: “therefore… equip and train more people to proclaim the gospel!” But Jesus doesn’t say that. Rather, he says: “the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” The prerequisite here for joining Jesus in the harvest is not first to go. It’s to pray. To pray earnestly for more laborers. Now of course this doesn’t mean that we’re to simply pray and then not go. In fact the very next chapter, in verse 5, Jesus sends out his twelve into the harvest. And in Luke 10, Jesus says these same words right before he sends out the seventy-two. So it’s clear from both accounts that those who pray are also those who go. Before we go though, we must ask the Lord of the harvest for more laborers. We must pray for the laborers.
I hope these three prerequisites challenge and inspire you the way they have me: compassion for the crowds, help for the hurting, and prayer for the laborers. When the Good Shepherd looks out at the crowds he sees them as sheep that belong under his care. May the perspective of Christ become our perspective as well. May we be willing to leave our ninety-nine friends, who already know Jesus, for that one that doesn’t. Jesus laid down his life for his sheep. Now he beckons us to lay down our lives for them as well – because they are harassed and helpless. Like sheep without a shepherd.