Our Harvest is Plentiful
Passage: Matthew 9:35–9:38
Our Harvest is Plentiful
January 4th, 2009
Way of Grace Church
I. Pictures of Provision Prevented
Picture this: picture a farmer who sits at his kitchen table staring at a stack of bills, wondering how he will pay them, while just beyond his walls the house is surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of acres of fields filled with a pristine crop.
Picture this: picture a manager who is trying to keep his minor league baseball club afloat, at his desk, staring at a list of fantastic players, who unbeknownst to him are waiting eagerly beside their telephones for his call.
Picture this: picture a school board meeting where members are racking their brains in frustration trying to figure out a way to get more parents involved, while just outside, standing behind doors that someone failed to unlock, a hundred parents are waiting, and knocking, in order to learn more.
The farmer. The baseball manager. The school board. All very different settings, and yet, all very similar situations. Did you see what all of these scenarios had in common?
They are all pictures of provision prevented by inaction. They are frustrating pictures, aren't they? There the kinds of situations in which you wish you could jump into the picture and tell these people, "Hey, open your eyes! What you need is right there! Get up! Get up!"
This morning we once again have a wonderful chance to have God jump into our hearts and minds and speak to us through his word.
Turn with me, if you will, to Matthew 9:35-38 (page 814).
II. The Passage: "When He Saw the Crowds" (Matthew 9:35-38)
Let's look together at what the Gospel of Matthew tells us about Jesus...
35 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. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for 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 laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."
Now, as we attempt to understand what the gospel writer is communicating to us here about the life and words of Jesus, I'd like us to focus in on one word. It's a word repeated three times in this passage. It's the word "harvest".
Did you hear what Jesus told his disciples in verse 37? "The harvest is plentiful...", full stop. The harvest is plentiful. But what harvest is Jesus talking about here? Is he directing their attention to a field filled with produce? Is he trying to persuade them that they should stop following Him and get into the farming business?
No, look at what the end of verse 38 tells us about this harvest. The final two words of that verse tell us that this harvest is "his harvest"? Whose? Well, just move backwards in that same verse. The harvest belongs to the "Lord of the harvest".
And verse 36 tells us that when Jesus said this, his eyes were not directed at a field full of produce, but at a field full of people. "When he saw the crowds", verse 36.
What Jesus was trying to communicate to His disciples here is that God, the Lord of the harvest, stands ready to reap a harvest of lives in His grace. Now, the next time Jesus uses this term "harvest" in Matthew's gospel, in chapter 13, he uses the word to describe that future day in which God will gather, in which He will bring into a transformed eternity all those who have trusted him.
And here, as Jesus looks at the crowds of people standing before Him, he declares, "the harvest is plentiful."
Now, as we attempt to be careful with this passage, we need to ask, "Does Jesus statement have application beyond that moment when he looked on these people?" Well, obviously the writer of this gospel believed it did. If he didn't, why would he include it here for his readers?
But the ultimate answer to that question lies beyond this question in another question: "Does the Lord of the harvest still have a harvest? Is there still a harvest that we could call "his harvest"? Is His harvest still ready to be reaped?"
The rest of the New Testament confirms that wherever there are men and women, boys and girls who remain without the grace of God in Jesus Christ, there remains a harvest of lives to be reaped.
This is why the Apostle Paul said in Romans 15, many years after and many miles away from these crowds in Galilee, "it has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known". He goes on to speak in that chapter about traveling to Spain, the extreme western edge of the Roman Empire.
And in keeping with this harvest imagery, Paul told his readers in I Corinthian 3 that his job was to plant seeds through his preaching. He trusted that God, the Lord of the harvest, would cause those seeds grow up for a harvest of lives.
Thus as long as there remain fields of people, places where men and women, boys and girls, live without the hope of Jesus Christ, there remains a harvest.
Way of Grace Church, have you looked around you? Have you looked at Buckeye and the Southwest Valley? What do you see in these ‘fields'? If Jesus revealed himself to us right now, if he took all of us to the highest point on the White Tank Mountains, what might he say as He looked out over all of this?
"The harvest is plentiful!"
Today, there remains a harvest that truly is His harvest. And part of that harvest is right here in the Southwest Valley. This is His harvest. This is our harvest.
III. Learning from Jesus about Our Harvest
What we need to do is go back into this text and think more carefully about what it tells us about the heart and mind of Christ. There are principles here that are just as true for us today, just as true for this harvest, as was the case with the harvest of lives that Jesus was looking at in this passage.
A. The Planter behind Our Harvest (v. 35)
First of all, listen again to what the gospel writer records for us in verse 35:
35 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.
What we see here is that just like the harvest Jesus pointed out to His disciples, there is in fact a planter behind our harvest today. The crowds of verse 36, this mass of people, were assembled for one reason and one reason only: because 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.
The harvest had grown up because of the faithfulness of Jesus to His mission. Why is this so important for us today, so long after the events recorded here?
It's important because we need to know how God wants this harvest, in Buckeye and the SW Valley, how God wants this harvest to be prepared for reaping. Jesus sets the example for us, doesn't He? As he taught, so we must teach. As he proclaimed the gospel, we too must proclaim the gospel. As he demonstrated the mercy of God in order to adorn His message, so too must we demonstrate God's mercy in good works in order to point all people to the good news of God's ultimate mercy in the cross of Jesus.
The harvest is not prepared by watering down the message. The harvest is not prepared by having the best music in town. The harvest is not prepared by simply being friendly, or by having programs for every member of the family, or by being socially involved.
The harvest is prepared by God's people being committed to the example of Jesus. But more than that. The harvest is prepared by God's people, by this church, trusting that Jesus began, and is continuing, a work that cannot be stopped.
He planted, is planting, and will plant God's harvest of transformed lives. Are we trusting Him to do that?
B. The Heart behind Our Harvest (v. 36)
But look again at this passage, specifically at verse 36:
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Now notice the response indicated here to Jesus mission of teaching, preaching, and healing. Not just a few people were drawn in. "Crowds" were drawn to Jesus.
But more importantly, and critical for us, notice how Jesus responds to these crowds that are responding to His ministry. We're told that He "had compassion for them". Compassion. Now this is not simply Jesus saying, "Ohhhhh". In the original version of this Gospel, the word behind our English word "compassion" is the Greek word splagnidzomai, and it literally means, "to have bowels or guts".
No, Jesus wasn't reacting to something he ate; in the ancient world, the bowels were thought to be the place where love and pity came from. So this is a strong word that indicates being moved deeply. When He saw the crowds, he was deeply moved with compassion. But why?
The verse tells us, doesn't it? "...Because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Jesus was moved to compassion, not because of the people's physical suffering or political struggles or economic difficulties. He felt compassion because of the people's spiritual condition. The words of God through the prophet Ezekiel help us understand the imagery Jesus is using:
...‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. (Ezekiel 34:2-6)
You see the crowds that Jesus looked upon were harassed by the religious leaders who failed to shepherd with the heart of God. The people were helpless and confused in terms of spiritual guidance. There had been no to seek after them.
But this is why Jesus came. As he expressed it in Luke 19:10, "The Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost."
This is the heart behind the harvest Jesus speaks about. This is the heart that can see a harvest where everyone else would see just a crowd, or just a hopeless situation. What he's trying to do here is give his disciples the eyes to see as He sees; to see the spiritual crisis, the spiritual opportunity that exists right before their eyes.
Brothers and sisters, this is the heart that needs to stand behind our harvest. We need to look out at Buckeye and the SW Valley, we need to look at our neighbors and we need to be with compassion because of their spiritual condition.
Sometimes we look out and think, "Well, they're not doing too badly. They seem like nice people." Or we think, "What's wrong with those people? Why don't they get their act together!"
But regardless of how together or not together our neighbors seem to be, can we see that they are like sheep without a shepherd? Can we see that they are harassed by the lies of this world? Can we see that they are helpless in terms of their spiritual struggles?
We're moved with compassion when we see a child in a third world country surrounded by flies. We're moved with compassion when we see a puppy that's been abused by its owner. We're moved by compassion when we see a family walking among the smoldering ashes that used to be their home. But are we moved with compassion when we see a harassed and helpless sinner lost, possibly eternally, in the darkness of their own hopeless condition?
It doesn't break my heart like it should...but it should.
We will not reap "His harvest" in our community until we begin to see as Jesus sees and feel as Jesus feels; until His heart is our heart.
C. The Prayer behind Our Harvest (vs. 37, 38)
But look again with me at what Jesus goes on to say in verses 37 and 38:
37 Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."
Once again, Jesus is not depressed by what He sees. He is moved with compassion, but He is not despairing in light of the tragic spiritual condition of these people. No, he sees with eyes of hope. He says, "Look! All of these are waiting. They are hungry for what God wants to give them. These are the lives that God wants to rescue and remake."
But...but...there is a "but" in the middle of Jesus' statement. "...But the laborers are few".
There is field full of a pristine crop, but there is no one who will bring it in. There is a fantastic new team ready to be assembled, but there is no one who will make the calls. There is a mob of parents who want to help the school, but there is no one who will open the door. The laborers are few.
But Jesus doesn't respond with frustration or condemnation or despair. He doesn't respond by calling his disciples to plan or even proclaim. No, He calls his disciples to pray. There is a prayer that needs to be behind this harvest. It is a pray not just for laborers, but that God, the Lord of the harvest, would send laborers into HIS harvest.
Jesus is not simply looking for numbers. He is not simply looking for manpower or for warm bodies. No, He is looking for, He is calling his disciples to pray for, sent ones.
Those who are sent by the Lord of the harvest do not go out with a sense of obligation; they go out with a sense of compassion; the compassion of Christ.
Brothers and sisters, if we believe that God has harvest a right here and right now, in this community, in the SW Valley, if we believe that Jesus began something that cannot be stopped, that He continues to look upon the crowds and be moved with compassion, then we must respond with prayer, prayer that God would send laborers.
Are you praying that prayer for the SW Valley? Are you praying that prayer for Buckeye? Are you praying that prayer for your neighborhood? Your street? For the family or couple or individual next door? Are you praying that God would send laborers to reach them?
That is the prayer behind our harvest.
IV. Softened and Sent by the Son
Now, at this point, I hope that all of us have a sense that something is missing. We've talked about what Jesus did and is doing. We've talked about the kind of heart and perspective God wants us to have. We've talked about the kind of prayers he wants us to be praying.
But you may be wondering, "Is that it? Isn't there some kind of new campaign, or program, or study, or resource to go along with this? Isn't there some kind of strategy with a catchy title like "Reaping Buckeye 2009" or "Harvest of Hearts 2009" that will mobilize us? Is this really just about understanding and feeling and praying in light of this passage?"
Well, yes. That's exactly what it's about. Listen to what the writer of this gospel tells us about what happened after Jesus pointed out this plentiful harvest and called his followers to prayer.
And he [Jesus] called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction... These twelve Jesus sent out... (Matthew 10:1, 5a)
Do you see what's happened? Jesus has prepared their hearts, he has softened their hearts by first calling them to the right perspective and relentless prayer. And then Jesus himself, the Son of the Lord of the harvest, the Son who possesses all authority, Jesus sends the Twelve out to do what He has been doing, to participate in His mission.
He calls for prayer for laborers and then He responds to that prayer by sending laborers.
Way of Grace Church, a new year is upon us. God has blessed us with another year of ministry. But what will define us in the coming year?
Well if we are being softened by understanding and feeling and praying in light of this passage, then I believe that we will be defined by what Jesus still does today. We will be defined by our sense of being sent ones for Jesus Christ.
Someone might say, "Well it's easy just to pray for your street or neighbor next door, but what about speaking to them? Are we praying that someone else would come and speak with them?"
No, were simply praying that God would send laborers. But when you pray that prayer, and God is giving you Christ's perspective and compassion, do you know what's happening? You are being prepared to be sent. And when you recognize that you're sent by and for Jesus Christ, it does affect how you speak with, how you minister to, how you love your neighbor.
God wants to use you. He wants us to use us as a church to bring in the harvest. But he will also use other laborers. Other disciples. Other churches. Even other people in your neighbor's life. All we're called to is faithfulness to the perspective and prayer described in this passage; and consequently, a submissive to go as those sent.
Let me finish this morning by talking a little bit about the labor itself. If God wants to send us as laborers into God's harvest, what are we sent to do? Well, I think the best answer comes from the passage itself. God wants to use us to bring to the crowds exactly what they don't have: a shepherd. God wants them to be sheep with a shepherd. He wants them to be shepherded sheep.
Our calling as a church is not only to proclaim the Shepherd, but also teach sheep how to be follow that Shepherd. One Lord. One Body. One Truth. One Mission. Or we could just as easily say, One Shepherd. One Flock. One Voice. One Path.
Are you ready for the Harvest, Way of Grace Church? Are we ready to be sent by Jesus Christ to the crowds all around us who are harassed and helpless in the midst of economic pressures, in the midst of failing marriages, in the midst of troubled families, in the midst of misplaced priorities, and despair, and counterfeit spirituality, and broken dreams. Are we ready? Are we looking? Do we feel? Are we praying?
Are you available? To welcome visitors in love? To take a meal? To send a note? To sit with those hurting? To help a new believer? To work behind the scenes? To love our children? To burp a baby? To stuff an envelope? To use your gifts and talents? To commit to a home group? To make a call? To give more than you can spare? To pray more than you ever have? To love more than you thought you could? Are you ready? Are we ready?