Work in Jesus' Fields
A sermon based on Matthew 9:35-10:8
Sunday, July 10, 2011 – Pentecost 4A
I heard the stories. I'd been warned. But, still, I didn't think it would really happen to me. I didn't think I'd ever be caught in bumper to bumper traffic in Kenai. But on Monday afternoon, the drive from the end of the 4th of July parade to where I was to drop off the volunteers who helped pass out flyers where they parked maybe a mile away, took almost 20 minutes. I admit it. I'm not the most patient person, especially when I'm behind the wheel or behind a long line at Walmart.
How about you? How do you feel when you're sitting behind a long line of RV's? How about when you're standing in a long line at the bank and are being herded like a bunch of cattle? Do you enjoy large crowds with too many people packed into the same space? Do you like people getting into your personal space? Or do you sometimes get a bit worked up?
When Jesus saw big crowds and traffic jams, he got worked up too… but not in the way that we do. He didn't see people in crowds as a bother, an inconvenience, a nuisance, or a hassle. He saw hurting individuals with troubled souls. He saw hell-bound sinners, most of whom weren't even aware of their imminent demise. He saw a harvest of souls to be brought into the Kingdom of Heaven at any cost. And he got worked up.
This morning, we see how Jesus' the farmer sees so much work to be done in his harvest field, that he needs to get more workers. His compassion for people moved him to act. And in our sermon text this morning, he says that harvest is plentiful. And he says that the workers are… you! Listen to Jesus compassion recorded for us in Matthew 9:35-10:8. Matthew writes…
35 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. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on 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 workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.
I. The Harvest is Plentiful!
When Jesus looked around at the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Have you ever seen pictures of the Holocaust? What feelings did they evoke when you saw them? Did it make you sick to your stomach to see the gruesome and horrific suffering those in concentration camps went through? If so, you get a hint at what Jesus felt when he saw the crowds. The Greek word translated "had compassion" —splagnizomai—literally means he felt queasy with pain and grief. Not because the people were obnoxious or were invading Jesus' personal space, but because of the fate of their souls.
The crowd was harassed by the problems of life, weighed down by guilt and pain. They were harassed by Satan who loved to drive them to despair or a false confidence in their own smug self-righteousness. Harassed by their religious leaders who added laws to God's laws, insisting the people do something to earn his favor. And they were helpless. They couldn't escape their guilt, whether they felt it or not, whether they'd admit it or not. No amount of work or thought or meditation could ease their pain. Nothing could remove their sin.
And Jesus heart went out to them. He viewed each person as a precious soul; an individual who desperately needed the deliverance he had come to bring. He viewed them as people to be helped, harvested and brought into the barn of God's kingdom. And this compassion, led Jesus to act. He not only took care of their physical needs by healing them of their various ailments, but he especially took care of their spiritual needs, teaching them about their sin and about God's grace, preaching to them about what he had come to do for their souls, just as he had previously instructed his disciples!
And just as he's had someone do for you… You know each one of us were once like the people in that crowd. Do you always have the same gut wrenching feeling for people that Jesus had? When you look around do you see hurting souls that are helpless and harassed? Do we always consider every person to be extremely valuable and precious? Or do you sometimes view people as a nuisance to be dealt with or an obstacle in your way? Someone to be used or shoved aside? Someone keeping you from reaching your self-centered goals? I know I do way too often.
The truth is we are harassed by our sinful nature with all its self-centeredness. We are harassed by the devil and the temptations of the world that surround us. We're tempted to view people as objects. And such cold-hearted treatment of others is sin. On our own we were helpless to do anything about it. No amount of work or meditation or church attendance or offerings could ever remove our guilt or take away our sin.
Where would we be if Jesus said of us, "Those people are such a pain! They annoy me. They make life difficult. I wish they weren't around"? That's what we deserve. But when we were sure to perish eternally, to be counted among the weeds to be burnt up in the fire, God had compassion on you and me. He was sick to his stomach at the thought of us going to hell. So he sent his Son to hell in our place. There, on that cross, Jesus paid the price for every sin. And he took it all away—every time you or I have treated someone else without compassion. And what do we have to do to enter the barns of Jesus' paradise? Absolutely nothing! "Freely you have received," Jesus said.
And having had such compassion showed to us, we can't help but have compassion on the lost. Now we open our eyes and when we look around we don't see people as objects to be used. We don't view them as a nuisance or a hassle. Instead we see sinners for whom Jesus died. We view our neighbors as souls destined for hell without Jesus. We view co-workers as helpless sheep with no one to help them escape their guilt. We view the people in the cars and RV's in front of us or the mob at the stadium or the fishermen lining the rivers as those who desperately need to hear of Jesus. And the thought of many of them going to an eternity of hell makes us sick to our stomachs.
And with these new hearts of compassion created in us by the compassion that Jesus had for us, we can't help but freely give, just as we've freely received. And we can't help but volunteer to go work for Jesus in the plentiful harvest field that surrounds us.
II. The Workers Are… You!
Jesus compassion for lost sinners led him to do more that just heal and preach and teach himself. When he saw the crowds, he saw fields and fields of hurting souls ready to be harvested, so farmer Jesus got some hired hands to help in his work. Isn't Jesus' twofold solution to the problem interesting? First he says, "Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field…" But then in chapter ten, Jesus sent out [the Twelve] with the following instructions: "…Go…to the lost sheep…"
And could Jesus have picked any less likely group of candidates for the job? He picked uneducated and untrained people: fishermen, like James and John, who were rash and impatient wanting to call down fire on a town that rejected them, who were selfish and greedy asking to sit on thrones above the other disciples. He picked Peter who often spoke first, then thought later, the same Peter who denied that he even knew Jesus. He picked Matthew, a traitor to his people, a liar and a cheat. He picked nobodies like Bartholomew and Thaddaeus, about whom we still know very little today. He picked Thomas who refused to believe in the resurrection that Jesus promised even after numerous witnesses had seem him alive. He picked Simon the Zealot, who was a part of rebel group of terrorists who attacked the Romans. And he even picked Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him to his death!
What a bunch of misfits Jesus chose! And notice what he calls them. In Matthew 10:1 Matthew writes, "He called his twelve disciples to him…" But in verse two he writes, "These are the names of the twelve apostles…" Jesus called these men to not only be his disciples, his students who would learn from him, but now to be his apostles, sent out by him on their "vicar year."
How amazing! This task that is so important to Jesus that it makes his stomach turn to think about any being lost, he entrusts to weak and sinful people! But he didn't send them out alone. He gave them the power they'd need—power to drive out demons and cure diseases; the very same things he had been doing. He gave them this power to verify and authenticate the message: "The kingdom of heaven is near."
As amazing as it might seem that Jesus chose those particular twelve men for such an important task, how amazing is it that Jesus also chooses us?! We aren't worthy of such a great job—to work for the Lord of the Harvest! We ourselves are greedy cheats and liars, who betray Jesus, deny Jesus, and doubt Jesus. We too are zealous for all the wrong things. We are nobodies in the eyes of the world and sinful rebels in the eyes of God.
But as unworthy as we are, God has made us worthy by the cross. With our sins forgiven, we are perfect saints and are perfectly fit to go to work on Jesus' farm. And our mission field isn't confined to just the Jews— "to the lost sheep of Israel." That command was just for this step of the disciples' training. Soon Jesus would tell them to "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." (Mark 16:15) And that mission applies to us too. There are no limits on the mission field that we get to harvest! And how exciting that is! We not only can pray for more workers to go into God's harvest field, but we can be the answer to our own prayer!
Since we've freely received salvation without any cost to us, we can't help but freely give—our time, our energy, our comfort—gladly since we're privileged to work for Jesus! Now we no longer think, "What can I get out of my neighbor, or co-worker, or friend?" but, "What I give that will offer me the opportunity to share Jesus?"
And finally, Jesus gives us the power and the tools that we need to carry out the task. Can you imagine a farmer without any farm equipment or even gardening tools? How difficult a task it would be! But Jesus the farmer, gives us the tools we need and those tools have incredible power. You may not be able to go over to CPH and cure diseases or into the morgue and raise the dead. But you do have authority and power in the Word. You can say with conviction, "Thus says the Lord…" You have the power to break up the hard, stony hearts with the plow of the law. You have the power to plant the seed of the gospel that will grow new life in people that will spring up to eternal life.
What a privilege we have, friends! Now, let's get to work! Let's pray for more workers—for more pastors and teachers, for staff ministers and dedicated laymen. And let's do more than pray, but do the work ourselves! Let's help farm and grow new Christians and "[produce] a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times." (Mark 4:8)
Just imagine, if everyone in this room were to share the gospel with just two people. What if those two people each shared it with two more people who in turn shared it with just two more people. Everyone in this room would have reached 14 people with the gospel by talking to just two! Let's get out there, friends, and talk to dozens of people! They won't all listen, but Jesus did promise in 1 Corinthians 15:58, "that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." So, let's get to work! The harvest… is plentiful! …And the workers… are you! Amen!