Matthew 935 Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. 36 Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then He *said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 “Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”
I. The Lord's Constant Ministry (v35)
"Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness."
Here in the ninth chapter of the gospel of Matthew we find our Lord Jesus Christ doing the work of an evangelist. He was "going through all the cities and villages," as an itinerant minister, "teaching…proclaiming…and healing." This is the GodMan's modus operandi, His default activities.
What a busy life it must have been! From morning to night, our Savior opened up the Scriptures and displayed the glories of the Law, the true meaning behind all of God's commands (c.f. Matthew 5-7). Each time He looked at His hearers, He discerned their spiritual state and need, and thrust the healing sword that is the Word of God straight into their hearts. Every lesson, sermon, discourse, counsel, He felt His strained tired voice beg for rest. Every healing and miracle, He felt power leave His body (Lk 8:43-48) and His divine resources tapped. Never has there been a man on earth more tired, more poured out, more giving, that our Savior.
All who would prefer to indulge in leisure and frivolity would do well to learn our of our Savior. He never withdrew from the people for selfish gain; He never shied away from the crowds when they sought true spiritual food; He never thought them a bother or interruption to His life. Instead, He drew towards them in order to teach them of Himself; He gave them Himself as the Bread of Life from heaven; He unashamedly preached the gospel, for that what He came for (Mk 1:38).
Ought we not to do the same? All who wish to die well-rested, comfortable, and pampered in this life will have little rewards (if any) in the true life to come. How much better it is to lay ourselves upon the altar of God for His service and glory! The rewards to come are far better than what little life we will have in this world! What folly to live to protect the flame of a candle that is our self-contained life when the glory of the blazing Sun lays within our grasp! Give all you have and all you are in service to the King who bought you; at the end of their lives, all of His servants who have done so have no regret.
As the Lord was constantly ministering to the people, so must we. As we are each individual members of His body, the ways in which we serve will necessarily vary, yet this must be the common theme: a constant giving of ourselves for the ministry of the gospel. Of course, we would all agree with this exhortation. But the question we have is, "How?" How can we minister like Christ? By what power? By what motivation? What gave Him the desire to keep on ministering, keep on going, when the crowds kept growing, the needs multiplied, and there seemed to be no fruit or results?
II. The Lord's Compassion for the Lost (v36)
"Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd."
This is how Christ did it: compassion. The Greek word translated "compassion" means "to be moved in the inward parts." In our modern lingo, it means to have a gut-wrenching pity, to be moved with longing and loving pathos, to be torn up inside in anguish because you love the one afflicted. This is the kind of compassion that Christ had for those He ministered to.
Why? "Because He saw them as "distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd." Distressed is translated in other places as "troubled," and dispirited is used figuratively here, as it literally means "thrown down." So, Christ sees these people as troubled, harassed, and beaten up emotionally, psychologically, spiritually. What else could the perfect GodMan feel but compassion and pity for such lost sinners?
What's more is that Jesus saw these lost sinners as "sheep without a shepherd." Is there anything more pitiful than scared child lost without his mother? If you stumbled upon a crying, lost toddler in the grocery store, would you not speak kindly to her, take her by the hand, and lead her to her mother? This is how our Lord sees the lost! They are wandering, having no hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:12), stumbling and heavy-laden, apart from the only Shepherd who can lead them. Again, what else could the perfect Shepherd feel but compassion and pity for such lost sinners?
Now, we who have a biblical anthropology (the theology of man) and biblical hamartiology (the theology of sin) understand that all men, from birth, are wicked, depraved, rebels against God, dead in their sins, and destined for wrath. There is not a flicker of spiritual life, and no man apart from the work of the Holy Spirit has any capacity or power to turn away from their sins and to God. The lost cannot find themselves, or even realize their lost save for the power of God. (For those that are interested in an introduction to this doctrine of depravity, see Genesis 6:5, Ephesians 2:1-3, Romans 3:9-18, and Romans 5:12-21.)
Yet, does our theology of the depravity of man have any room for pity, for compassion, for a gut-wrenching love for the lost? Christ's did! He sees straight through every lost sinner, far more accurately than we ever could, sees their rebellion and yet has compassion! He knows to the fullest extend the depth of man's wickedness and evil, and yet has compassion! Should not we? May our theology of sin never lead to a cold, dead, heartless, compassionless religion!
This compassion for the lost is what energized, empowered, and sustained the Lord as He faithfully ministered to the lost sheep of Israel. And if we are to have any hope of ministering like Christ did, we must have this same compassion. A love like this only comes from above. Ask the Lord to grant such a divine love!
Out of this divine compassion, the Lord ministered. But, this compassion moved beyond just His own actions. It also compelled Him to give an all-important command to His disciples.
III. The Lord's Commission to Pray (v37-38)
"Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” "
This is the plight: the harvest of sinners, the ocean of lost souls, is vast and ready to be picked, to be fished, to be brought into the storehouses of heaven. Yet, the workers are few, meaning that there is too much work to be done for the present number of workers. Or put another way: there need to be more workers to bring in the harvest!
This plight leads Christ to give a command: "Beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest."
Now, this is surprising. Imagine a fisherman who has cast his net over the side of the boat and has caught such a load of fish that he cannot pull it in by his own strength. What would we expect him to call out to us? We would expect, "You there, come help me pull in this load!" Or, imagine a farmer who grows wheat and realizes that he has not enough hands to harvest the hundreds of acres in time to make it to market. What would we expect him to call out to us? We would expect, "You there, come help me harvest this wheat!"
Yet, this is not what the Lord calls. Rather, He says, "Pray." This is utterly surprising to us. Why doesn't He call out, "You there, come help me?" Three reasons:
First, it is because God is not One who needs help from men. It is utterly unthinkable to imagine that the harvest is too big for God, and that He would need the assistance to bring in the harvest. He is the Creator, and Self-Existent One. We depend on Him; He does not depend on us.
Secondly, it is because Christ is taking away an opportunity we would have to boast in ourselves. Note that Jesus does not say, "Beseech the Lord of the harvest to send you into His harvest." No, Christ's command is to beg God to send others. Our sinful, selfish selves cry out, "What? Others? Send others? Why not me?" Why does He do this? Christ says, "Pray" to save us. He is saving us from being sucked into the vortex of self-absorption and self-obsession, from believing the lie that we are the Saviors. He is the Savior; we are not, and we need to be reminded over and over again.
Now if Christ had said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore enter the harvest!" we might say, "Christ called me into His service. Look how great I am!" Yet, because He commands us to pray, He destroys any chance at pride. How ridiculous to say, "I prayed to God, and God sent laborers into the harvest; look at how great I am!" Rather, we say, "I prayed to God, and God sent laborers into the harvest; look at how great He is!"
By orienting His command to pray for God to send workers (other than ourselves) into the harvest, Christ is forcing us to focus on others, not the self. Truly, the one who wants the Kingdom to come (Mt 6:9-10) cares not so much that the Lord uses a particular person, namely himself, to do the work, but cares that the Lord uses whomever He wills to bring glory to Himself. Beloved, think this way. Long for the God to be exalted, even if it's not through you. Intentionally find others whom the Lord is using to build His Kingdom and His Church and pray for the Lord to empower them by His grace, to be useful in His service, to be sent into the harvest! Come along them as a counselor, an encourager, a friend, and accountability. Seek to exalt their work for the Lord, and never your own. Is it not enough that the Lord is glorified, even if it isn't through you?
Thirdly, Christ says "Pray for workers," and not "Enter the harvest," because ultimately, men are not the solution; God is the solution and more workers are merely the means. After all, He is "the Lord of the harvest." Remember, it is "His harvest." When we see a work too large to accomplish ourselves, we naturally think, "We need more manpower!" But Christ says, "No, you need the power of God, more God-power."
The prayer centers on God, and pleads, "Lord, You must do it! O raise up men and women who will bring in Your harvest! Make your church alive to the plight of the nations and sensitive to the leading of Your Spirit that the nations would be reached with the gospel and all would bow the knee to Your Son! Choose, train, call, strengthen, embolden, set-apart Thy servants. For Your glory, Your fame, Your exaltation, amen." This is how someone who has despaired of the self and latched onto Christ prays. Beloved, be this person. Pray this way, for workers to enter God's harvest for His glory.
Why? Because Christ's command to pray to the Lord of the harvest was not only true for that moment in time; the truth that the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few remains a maxim until the end of the age. Until Christ returns, there is a need for more workers to bring in the plentiful harvest. Until Christ comes and brings all of His elect home, there is a need for more laborers to bring in His harvest. So we must pray. We must pray! We must pray that the Lord would send more and more and more workers to bring in His harvest. And we must continue to pray until Christ returns or death brings us home, whichever would come first.
The Lord constantly ministered. So must we. He was motivated by a divine compassion for the lost. So must we be. And He commanded us to pray that the Lord would send workers into the harvest. So we must. The salvation of sinners, the good of our own souls, and the glory of God is at stake. May we be ever busy in the Lord's work, of proclaiming the gospel, extending His compassion, and praying for workers in His harvest, until He comes and declares to His servants, "Well done."