I invite you to put on your bifocals as we look at the mission which Jesus sent his disciples on in Matthew 9, beginning with verse 35. Why do we need bifocals? Because we need to focus on two different things: one far away and one close up. First we need to focus on what Jesus was saying to his first disciples, but then we also need to focus on what Jesus is saying to us today regarding the mission of the church.
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. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”I remember the day I took my eldest son, James, to get his learner’s permit. As you can imagine it was a momentous occasion, for both father and son.
Do you remember when you started driving for the first time? Suddenly you were in the driver’s seat. You were no longer just a passenger. You had to start figuring out on your own how to get from place to place. Even journeys you had taken many times with your parents seemed brand new. New drivers often wonder about familiar journeys: “How do I get from here to there?”
The disciples must have had a similar feeling as Jesus sent them out alone on their first mission. Yes, they had seen Jesus preach and teach and heal countless times. But now he was sending them out to do it on their own. They must have been filled with just a bit of anxiety.
And many of us feel the same way today when it is suggested that Jesus is calling us to carry out his mission. “Do you mean me? What about the pastor? What about missionaries in Africa? I thought they were the ones who were supposed to carry out Jesus’ mission.” It is clear from this passage that Jesus is calling all of us to work together to carry out his mission. How are we to do it?
First of all we need to SEE the need. We read: “When Jesus saw the crowds . . .”
What did Jesus see? Jesus looked at people and saw a harvest ripe, ready to be brought into the kingdom. He said, “The harvest is plentiful . . .”
A harvest of people is referred to in Jeremiah 2:3, “Israel was holy to the Lord, the first-fruits of his harvest.” Paul picks up the same image in Romans 1:13 where he writes, “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.” Pentecost was the Jewish feast of gathering in the first-fruits. On the first Pentecost after Jesus’ death and resurrection thousands of Jews were brought into Jesus’ kingdom movement.
But Jesus also saw a problem in reaping the harvest. He said that the workers are few.
The workers in the harvest field in ancient times were the people who did the hard physical labor of cutting the grain and binding it into sheaves. Paul picks up that image and applies it to his fellow “workers” in Christ. And these workers were not just pastors or elders; they were the rank and file of the church in Paul’s day.
Ian H. Murray once wrote, “There is not the slightest hint in the New Testament that evangelism is the special prerogative or responsibility of office bearers. We are to be burdened for men’s souls not because any office requires it of us but because we are Christians.”
The Lord doesn’t necessarily need more pastors or preachers. He needs more people like you to bring in his harvest.
And yet, some time ago only 43% of Americans who described themselves as “born again” agreed strongly that they had a responsibility to explain their religious beliefs to others who may believe differently.
We may complain about lack of workers in the church today, but are we willing to be those workers? I think everything would change if we would see people as Jesus saw them.
The story is told of one little boy who was talking to his friend one day. He said, “I wish I had glasses like my grandma.”
“Why is that?” asked his friend.
“Because my grandma always seems to see when people are feeling down and she lifts them up. She always seems to see when people need a helping hand and she helps them out.”
The boy’s friend said, “Yeah, it must be her glasses!”
Perhaps if we saw people as Jesus saw them, we would do for others as Jesus did for them.
True SEEING leads to true CARING. If we are going to carry out the mission Jesus has for us then we have to CARE as he did. We read, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them.” Literally, Jesus was moved in his bowels; he was moved at gut-level.
The Jews thought of the bowels as the seat of the emotions, whereas we think of the heart as the seat of the emotions. Certainly our perspective makes for better Valentine cards, but the Jewish way of thinking about feelings was certainly graphic—hard to forget!
The old saying is so true: “People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.”
Author Ken R. Canfield, president of the National Center for Fathering, once wrote in New Man magazine:
Some 20 years ago, I was a “Big Brother” to a boy named Brian whose parents were divorced. Brian was caught in that time of his life when he was figuring out his identity as a young man and a son. My wife, Dee, and I were newlyweds with no children—yet. We came to know Brian’s family, and his mother asked if I could spend some time with him.
Brian and I spent many Saturdays together, and I’ll never forget the way he watched me and listened closely to everything I said. We never did anything extravagant—usually just hung out together. Then one experience helped me realize that it’s on God’s heart to provide a male role model for the fatherless.
One day I sat down and wrote Brian a short one-paragraph letter. It wasn’t anything profound or heartwarming but said something like: “Dear Brian, I’m looking forward to getting together again with you this Saturday. I’ve enjoyed our time together, and I just want you to know that you’re a great guy to be around. Your Big Brother, Ken.”
Nothing life-changing from my perspective. But the next time I visited Brian, I noticed my letter was proudly displayed on his wall and surrounded by posters of sports heroes. When I saw that, I realized the impact I could have in Brian’s life.Who is there in your sphere of influence you could show the care of Christ to? Demonstrating the love of Christ in action is essential to draw others into the kingdom, to reap the harvest.
If we are going to follow Jesus in mission we need to see the need and show the care. And thirdly we need to BEG THE LORD. Jesus said, “Ask [or literally beg] the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Jesus does not command us to pray for unbelievers. Rather, Jesus tells us to pray for workers. In other words, every time you see someone who needs to know Jesus, pray for the Lord of the harvest to send someone to share the good news with that person.
In Romans 10:14 Paul wrote, “How then shall they call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?”
The love of Christ must be communicated in word as well as in deed. Sharing of the good news about Christ is an essential part of the vehicle which God has appointed to transport people into his kingdom.
Are you praying for the conversion of specific people? And are you praying for the Lord to send workers to share the good news with those same people?
The associate pastor of the church I grew up in often told how others prayed for her conversion for 17 years.
I am so grateful for my grandmother who prayed for 30 years for my father to turn to the Lord.
I am grateful for those who prayed for Billy Graham as he went and preached the Gospel in Los Angeles in 1949.
Not everyone can go and preach. But we can all pray. We can see dramatic results by God’s grace because of our prayers. And as we pray, we become open to being the answer to our own prayers.
As John MacArthur has said, “It is possible to pray regularly for the salvation of a loved one, a neighbor, a friend, or a fellow employee and remain essentially uninvolved. But as soon as we pray for the Lord to send someone to reach them, we can’t help becoming open to being that someone ourselves.”