Text: Matthew 9:35-38
The Condition of the Harvest
Matthew 9:36 — When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
- They were Harassed
- They were Helpless
The Opportunity of the Harvest
- When the harvest is ready, it is a time of great urgency
- When the harvest is ready, it is a time of great effort
- When the harvest is ready, it is a time of great joy
The Challenge of the Harvest
The Hope for the Harvest
- Get a Goal
- Get a Plan
- Get Busy
Introduction: The ancient Hebrew historian Josephus said that at the time of Christ there were 204 towns and villages in and around Galilee that had a population of at least 15,000 people. If you do the math that comes to a little over 3,000,000. In our passage for this morning we read that … Jesus went through all the cities and villages teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. Some people refer to His approach as wholistic ministry because the Lord was concerned both with the spiritual and physical needs of the people He met. Just think about the magnitude of this mission for a moment. If Jesus only spent a half a day in each place, preaching the gospel and healing the sick, it would still have taken our Lord about three and a half months to visit every town. How physically and emotionally draining do you think that was for Him? Think about the energy necessary to keep up such a pace while serving hundreds or even thousands of people. This at least in part explains why the Gospels include times when Jesus sought to get away from the crowds and be alone with the twelve (See Mark 6:31). They needed to rest. Still, it’s plain to see that Christ spent the majority of His time in these places moving toward people in need and demonstrating compassion for them. That’s what we read in Matthew 9:36 — When He saw the crowds He had compassion on them. Because our Lord understood THE PRINCIPLE OF SELF-DENIAL (Matthew 16:24 — If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me) and THE PRIORITY OF MINISTERING TO PEOPLE (Acts 10:38 — LISTEN TO HOW PETER DESCRIBED TO CORNELIUS JESUS’ ROUTINE — … God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him), He never hesitated to sacrificed His time and energy for the sake of those who were suffering. This He did, mind you, while most of His countrymen were only concerned with their own problems and how to solve them. Jesus, however, had the ability to see the needs of others and the willingness to do something to help them. And that, my friends, is what neighboring is all about!
Two weeks ago we started a new preaching series that I’m calling Neighboring 101 in response to God’s commandment calling us to love our neighbors (See Leviticus 18:19; Matthew 22:39). This implies that we should intentionally walk out our front doors and really get to know those living across the street. With each message I hope to convince you that our deepest motive for engaging with our neighbors is love and our highest hope is faith (if they do not yet know Christ). Oh yeah, and one more thought. The Bible reminds us that we should love them for the simple reason that we’re Christians controlled by Christ’s love (2 Corinthians 5:14), and we should share the good news because we really believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through Him (John 14:6).
Now we began this series by first looking at the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which you’re likely familiar with. It describes how a Samaritan man, who would have been hated by most Jews, stopped to offer help to a fellow who was beaten, robbed and left unconscious on the side of a dangerous stretch of road that went from Jerusalem to Jericho. This he did while a priest and Levite passed the same man by, ignoring him altogether. Then we jumped to a story in Acts 3 involving the healing of a lame man by Peter and John, two of Jesus’ better known disciples, as they were entering the Temple to pray. Both stories provide us with an example of the kind of compassion that God expects all Christians to demonstrate to the people He places in our lives. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we’d have to say that not all believers take the commandment to “love our neighbors” as seriously as we should. Too many, like the majority of the Jews of Jesus’ day, are very short-sighted when it comes to the suffering that goes on all around us. It is part of our human nature to focus so much on our own needs and problems, that we fail to see the hurt and pain of those living nearby. A while ago I read about a New York ophthalmologist who made an interesting comment about the people living in his city. He observed that there were more nearsighted people in New York City than in any other. (I don’t know how he knew this, but he did.) His reasoning was that people routinely operate down on the street surrounded by very tall skyscrapers. Hemmed in by the walls of these high buildings, their field of vision is very limited. For many, the only opportunity to see far away is to look up at the sky, which very few do. Thus, he said, the constant use of the eyes for short distances tends for nearsightedness and (interestingly enough) dissatisfaction. I’m not a medical expert, so I cannot attest to the validity of this claim, but I do see a spiritual counterpart here: Sometimes we as Christians can be so focused on our own little worlds that we lose sight of everyone else. Yet this passage in Matthew 9 reminds us that there are still many people in desperate need of our attention. The compassion of Christ, that stirred His heart to teach, preach and heal, serves as an example for us to follow. In our passage here in Matthew 9, Jesus used the word “harvest” to refer to those people living in and around Galilee who were discontent with the religion of the Pharisees and looking for something more. Of course, He would expect us to apply the same term to the people we encounter every day who have also come to realize that there has to be more to life than what they’re currently experiencing. Notice that He made several interesting observations about them in verses 36-38.
The Condition of the Harvest (Matthew 9:36 — When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd). Jesus talked about the state of the people to whom He was ministering. He used a metaphor to which His disciples could relate–shepherding. In his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Phillip Keller argues that the primary job of a shepherd is to manage his flock so that they are content, well fed, safe and flourishing under his care (p. 31). With each town and village that Jesus visited, He saw people who were anything but flourishing because their leaders had failed to provide proper care for them. In fact, He said it was as if they had no shepherds. Note the two words used to describe their emotional and spiritual condition.
- They were Harassed – The word means, “to flay,” as in tearing off the skin of an animal. The Greeks used the word when they compared trouble to the pains of being skinned alive. Here Christ warns that, just as sheep, in the absence of a good shepherd, are subject to needless suffering, so also HIs fellow Jews were facing similar distress because their leaders failed in their responsibilities to them. Jesus pointed this out to Pharisees and teachers of the law on another occasion: Luke 11:42-48, 52 — “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.” One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs…Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering”. The Pharisees were so preoccupied with doing what would benefit them, that they neglected the most important things in the eyes of our Lord…providing for the emotional and spiritual well-being of those under their care.
- They were Helpless – The word refers to the weariness and fatigue that results from the burden of hard labor. Jesus saw the people being weighed down by the rules of the Pharisees. They had created 613 extra-biblical laws for the Jews to follow. Because the Jewish people were neglected by those who should have been enlightened teachers, they did not receive compassionate care and attention. Instead, they were given an impossible yoke to bear in the expectation that they would keep every one of the rules. Who would wish that on anyone? Application: Listen whenever our faith becomes more about keeping up the appearances of religios piety than about experiencing a relationship with the Living Lord, someone has missed the boat. Illustration: I heard about a man and his wife who attended a legalistic college where students were to live according to very strict rules. Now I understand that the students agreed to submit to their rules prior to being accepted, but anytime you burden people with extra-biblical rules, they will cease to be a blessing. Well, it turns out that the students at this school weren’t supposed to do any work on Sundays. None! Guess what? This guy spied on his wife and caught her hanging out a few articles of clothing she washed on a Sunday afternoon. He was so upset by what she’d done that he turned her in to the college authorities. I’ll bet she was fun to live with for the next few days. He should have read Proverbs 10:14 – “ the mouth of a fool invites ruin.” SO THAT WAS THE CONDITION OF THE HARVEST (the people). THEY WERE HARRASSED AND HELPLESS.
The Opportunity of the Harvest (Matthew 9:37 — Then Jesus said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful…). Changing the metaphor from shepherding to agriculture, Jesus envisioned a large crop of ripe grain that was waiting to be harvested for the kingdom. That’s why He said to the twelve elsewhere in John 4:35 — Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Now I didn’t grow up on a farm (though I did help out on a couple of them), but it seems to me that timing is everything when it comes to bringing in the harvest. Here’s what I mean.
- When the harvest is ready, it is a time of great urgency (2 Corinthians 6:2 — Paul writing to the Corinthians says, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation”). There is a sense of urgency when it comes to bringing in a crop. It is possible for a farmer to wait too long and lose the fruit of his labor. Application: Here Jesus wants us to understand that believers can make the same mistake by ignoring their neighbors because there’s always tomorrow. Now I’m not arguing that we should force a discussion on them even if they don’t want to talk about spiritual matters. That would be foolish and probably turn them off. But, on the other hand, we must not lose sight of the fact that opportunities to minister to people come and go. Should we neglect them, we may not have another chance.
- When the harvest is ready, it is a time of great effort (1 Corinthians 15:58 — … be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain). Farmers work hard most of the time, but during the harvest, all the time. They’re up early and they often are out in the fields long after the sun goes down. Why? Because that’s what it takes to bring in the crop. Our Lord wants us to understand that we, too, must put real effort into bringing in a spiritual harvest. It will not just happen. Having said that, there are certainly a few things you can do to better prepare the soil of your neighbors hearts and make a bountiful harvest more likely. Illustration: My first pastor (Alan Brindisi) knew that if he just preached the gospel without building bridges to his audience, many would probably turn a deaf ear. So when it came to me, he took time to demonstrate that you didn’t have to be weird to be a Christian. He enjoyed many of the same things I did including hunting and sports. He also took time out of his busy schedule to be with me. In doing so, he showed me that I mattered to him. And finally, he opened up his home and his life to me. By doing these things, I was able to see that his faith was real and made a difference. That’s when God began to tug at my heart. The relationship he built with me didn’t happen by accident. He had to put real time and effort into getting close to me, but it made all the difference in my spiritual journey.
- When the harvest is ready, it is a time of great joy. When a farmer finally brings in the fruit of his labors he is filled with overwhelming joy! In fact, in ancient times the Jews had a feast to celebrate it! It was called Pentecost. It was the celebration of the wheat harvest. Remember that it was on the Day of Pentecost that the early church was also filled with great joy when God gave His Holy Spirit to His people to empower them to live holy lives and be effective witnesses, which of course, is the key to a spiritual harvest. Illustration: If you’re in your early twenties, you may remember the amazing rescue of the nine miners trapped in the Quecreek mine in Pennsylvania in July of 2002. They were trapped 240 feet beneath the surface for a total of 77 hours. I recall staying up into the early morning hours and watching on that final day as they were hauled out of the darkness to safety one-by-one. But the rescue was anything but easy. A drill bit broke in the rescue shaft they had started to drill. They couldn’t get the broken pieces out so after a new one was flown in they had to start another shaft. Communications was disrupted for a while and the miners themselves almost gave up and wrote notes to their loved ones. Their rescue was the result of a coordinated effort by hundreds. I remember cheering and stopping to thank God when they finally emerged. God says that there is the same response in heaven over one sinner who comes out of the darkness into the light (Luke 15:10 — There is joy, Jesus says, before the angels of God over one sinner who repents). URGENCY, EFFORT AND JOY ARE ALL FOUND IN THE OPPORTUNITY OF THE HARVEST.
The Challenge of the Harvest (Matthew 9:37 — The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few). Sadly there just aren’t that many people who are really concerned for their neighbors. When Jesus walked the earth, most of the time He labored on His own. Since He ascended to heaven, His plan for reaping the rest of the harvest has been to commission His followers to join Him.
- This included the twelve disciples. The book of Acts details how they shared the good news of the Gospel while ministering to the needs of everyone they encountered along the way. Theirs’ was a verbal witness and a visual one. Motivated by love, their highest hope was faith.
- This includes all His disciples (See Matthew 28:18-20). If you’re a follower of Christ, you are under the same commission to make disciples of Christ and it all starts with your first step toward your neighbor.
The Hope for the Harvest (Matthew 9:38 — Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers into His harvest). Jesus is ready and willing to send out workers in response to our prayers. Actually the word translated “send out” can also be translated “thrust out.” And so here it could refer to those who are yet to be sent and to those who have already been sent but who need to have a fire lit under them so they can get back to loving their neighbors in the way God intends and with the result He intends.
Actions Steps: We are great planners. We plan dates, vacations and our retirements. But how many of us take time to think about how we can impact our neighbors for the cause of Christ. Here are three suggestions to help us get there:
- Get a Goal. That’s logical. Remember … if you aim at nothing, you hit every time, but who cares. Here’s a goal you might want to consider: Ask God for the opportunity to meet and get to know your ten closest neighbors this year.
- Get a Plan. This is how we take our goal to the next level. We come up with a way to make it happen. Here’s just a few suggestions:
- Take your neighbors a meal when they’re sick.
- Invite your neighbors to do something fun with you.
- Offer to help your neighbor do some outside work around the house.
- Invite your neighbor to join you in serving in the community.
- Pray for your neighbors.
- Here’s one more: Later in the summer, we’ll be asking several of our families to host a “front yard barbeque” to get to know your neighbors. We’ll provide some money for the meat, and everyone else can bring a dish to pass.
- Get Busy. This is the biggest stumbling block for some of us. We’ve got lots of good ideas, but little sense of follow through. But if we want to love our neighbors, we’re going to have to be intentional about it. The time to begin is now!
Conclusion: Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman, famous evangelist, said that the New Testament tells of forty people, each suffering from the same disease, that were healed by Jesus. Of this number, thirty-four were either brought to Jesus by friends, or He was taken to them. In only six cases out of forty did the sufferers find the way to Jesus without assistance. Of the vast number of people who find their way to Jesus today, most of them reach Him because the friends of Jesus are concerned about the welfare of their souls…and with that thought in mind, they engage in bringing in the harvest!