Scripture Ref: Matthew 9:35-38
“When he saw the crowds he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36
People without Christ are like sheep without a shepherd. They will soon run out of pasture and starve, or they will get lost or caught in some thicket and die. And in the meantime they are harassed, wearied and helpless. Now the unbelievers you know may not seem to fit that description. But if you see them with the eyes of Christ and are not misled by the shell of self- assurance, you will recognize sheep who desperately need a shepherd.
Notice in verse 36 that Jesus had compassion on them. The word means literally to be moved in one’s stomach with pity. Do you remember the last time you felt real strong pity. Our need is to feel compassion because of their need. Our need is to care and love like Jesus did. He was so much a man for others! We need to be honest and admit that compassion does not come natural to us. It is a work of grace in our hearts and for that reason the product not of works, but of prayer. “He saw the crowds and had compassion for them.”
Then notice that Jesus saw an amazing potential. Not just a deprivation found and compassion felt, but now a potential seen. Verse 37: “then he said to his disciples, ‘the harvest is plentiful.'” The metaphor changes. Unbelievers are not only like sheep who are in trouble. They are also like wheat that can be harvested. There is not only privation. There is potential salvation. And if we need the eyes of Christ to see the lostness of people and the compassion of Christ to feel pity for people, then we need just as much the expectancy and hopefulness of Christ that anticipates harvest time.
Do you look upon your neighbours, colleagues, classmates and associates with the lively sense that here is a potential saint. It has probably been so long since the Lord has used most of us to lead a person from unbelief to faith, that we really wonder if there is any potential left. We still know from scripture that there is terrible privation; we still feel some compassion when we let ourselves think about it, but potential? We wonder. Could it ever be harvest time in my life after so many years of fruitlessness? The answer to that question is resounding, Yes!
When Jesus said that it is hard for rich people to enter the Kingdom, the disciples responded, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus seemed to take away all potential for harvest. But actually, what he was doing was laying a new basis for potential. He answers, “‘What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:24-27). If there is going to be harvest time it will not be because there are so many competent communicators. The harvest we want is impossible with men. New birth is a miracle. Our goal isn’t a big church or fancy statistical charts. Our goal is to see God do the impossible through failures like us. That is the way it has happened in history and that is how it will happen again. In God’s time, he will perform the miracle of harvest and it will be marvelous in our eyes. “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and (then!) you shall be my witnesses (harvesters!)
That leads us to the fourth and final observation. Not only did Jesus find a privation among the people, and feel compassion and see a potential harvest, he also commanded us to pray it in. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few, therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (verse 38). The strangeness of this command points to something very important. It is strange that the farm hands should be told to beg the owner of the farm to send out more workers into his harvest. Surely Jesus doesn’t mean to imply that God doesn’t know there is a shortage of reapers! And surely he doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care whether the harvest comes in! Why then are the farm hands told to beg the farmer to get more help?
There is only one possible answer. God has willed that his miraculous work of harvesting be preceded by prayer. He loves to bless the world. But even more, he loves to bless the world in answer to prayer. It is God’s way before he does a great work to pour a Spirit of supplication upon his people so that they plead for the work. Therefore, the sign that God is going to bring in the harvest will be a widespread movement of prayer among you people.
In summary the text teaches us four things: First, there is a great need in the world just as there was in Palestine — people without faith in Christ are like sheep without a shepherd, no matter how goal-oriented and self-assured they seem. Second, we have need of compassion for these people. We need to feel pity for them, pity that makes us earnest and solicitous for their eternal welfare.
Third, we need to see the potential of conversion. We must look not to our failures and incompetencies. The harvest we want is, in any case, impossible with men. The potential all lies with God. “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” With God, helpless sheep become a plentiful harvest. Fourth, therefore, we must pray to the Lord of the harvest. See the privation of men with the compassion of Jesus; and it turns into a potential harvest to be reaped.
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