20230226 Ask the Lord of the Harvest

Matthew 9:35-38 NET

35 Then Jesus went throughout all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were bewildered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.”

We have been walking through the Gospels chronologically, looking at all the commands of Christ – who they were given to and what the situation was when he gave them. Today we are looking at the command in verse 38, where Jesus tells his disciples to ask for more workers for the harvest.

It’s not hard to understand the metaphor that Jesus is using here. We feel sorry for the farmer whose crop has been destroyed by a weather disaster. But in some ways, it is even more tragic when the farmer has an abundant crop, but cannot find enough workers to harvest that crop before it goes bad. The farmer looks out at his field, and the fruit right there waiting to be picked, but he knows he does not have enough time to do it.

Jesus told a parable about a vineyard owner who had the same problem. He went into town many times and hired more and more workers to get the grapes harvested. He was running out of time. That’s the urgency that we read into today’s text.

The metaphor has to do with the harvest of a crop, but the reality to which the harvest is pointing is evangelism. The Lord needs evangelists to harvest the crop of people who are ripe for his kingdom. For the next few weeks, all the commands of Christ we are going to be looking at have to do with evangelism. Today’s passage teaches us…

Every field on this planet needs harvesting (35).

Notice the setting of today’s story. Jesus and his disciples are going throughout the towns and villages of Galilee. This is the beginning of the final campaign in that region. Soon they will all relocate to another region to do their work.  Matthew defines that work as composed of three activities. It involved teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and sickness.

It was all evangelism, but it involved different kinds of evangelism depending on the field. We know that harvesting is different depending on the crop being harvested. Some harvesting requires specialized machinery. Some take more time than others. Some require more harvesters than others.

The evangelism that Jesus and his disciples were doing in Galilee required that they spend time teaching in the synagogues in order to reach the religious – to show that Jesus was the biblical Messiah predicted in the Old Testament. They also had to spend much time doing open-air preaching in order to persuade the masses to repent and accept the good news of forgiveness and repentance. Both of these activities are examples of what we call proclamation evangelism.

Another activity that Jesus and his disciples were involved in is the healing of every kind of disease and sickness. This is what we would call demonstration evangelism. St. Francis of Assisi is famous for his saying that we should always preach the gospel and if necessary, use words. Well, it is necessary that we use words! We can do good things for people all the time and they will not be drawn to Christ unless we explain that he is the reason that we are doing those good things. But it is also true that unless people know that we care about them, they are not going to care about what we know.

By a combination of acts of kindness and mercy and proclamation of the gospel, we can reach every field – the whole harvest.

Every heart on this planet needs help (36).

When Jesus saw the crowds in Galilee, he had compassion for them because they were bewildered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Oh, if we could only look inside the people that we meet every day, we would see hurt and hunger and sorrow and anxiety and fear. Jesus saw that. He looked out upon the crowds of people, and he saw a flock of sheep, endangered by wild animals and helpless to save themselves.

The metaphor has changed now. It has changed from plants that need to be harvested to sheep that need to be rescued and protected by a shepherd. But Jesus is still talking about reaching people for Christ. Every field needs harvesting so we have to go to all the fields to do the work. Every heart needs help so we have to find ways to reach every hurting heart with the gospel. What is at stake is the very life of those scared, confused sheep. They know they are in danger, but they don’t know who can rescue them. They need a shepherd.

When it comes to evangelism, we have a double responsibility. We have a LAW responsibility and we have a GOSPEL responsibility. We cannot succeed unless we communicate both. The LAW responsibility is we have to share the bad news to everyone that they are lost in sin and cannot save themselves. The GOSPEL responsibility is we have to share the good news that Christ has paid the price for their sins and he offers to save them if they come to him by faith.

Every heart on this planet needs to hear the LAW from us. They need to know about the garden of Eden. They need to know about the sin they inherited from their ancestors. They need to know how sin has corrupted them. They need to know that they need a Savior.

Every heart on this planet needs to hear the GOSPEL from us. they need to know that the Son of Man did not come into the world to condemn us, but so that we might be saved. They need to know about the cross – the plan of God to redeem us from sin so that we can live eternally. Every heart needs to come to that cross and surrender to God’s will there. No one is exempted from that need. It is good news for us but it must be accepted by us.

Evangelism is necessary because …

The harvest needs more workers (37).

Jesus said that the harvest was plentiful, but the workers were few. There is a big crop in each field and it is not going to harvest itself. There is always more crop to harvest than there are harvesters to do the work. That is the nature of evangelism.

We like to think that a small town like Delco is immersed in the gospel because we have so many churches. But our churches are small and our population is not flocking to those churches. Even here in Delco, there are some families that do not have a single believer. And even our families who are represented in our churches have many who never darken the door of a church. Even here, the harvest is plentiful, and even here we have the same problem – the workers are few.

There are people in our neighborhood who will come to our church, but they are just waiting for an invitation.

There are also some people who will never be reached by inviting them to a church service of church function. They have needs and hunger and hurts that will require something more than a preacher on Sunday morning. We need workers in the harvest who specialize in reaching those who cannot be reached by traditional evangelistic approaches.

There are also some people who are wonderful at reaching others in their neighborhood but there is a problem. They haven’t been reached themselves yet. Maybe on your street, there is such a person. That is why …

Jesus commands us to pray for more workers (38).

Jesus had chosen twelve to be his apostles but he told them that they were not going to be enough to reach all the hearts in Galilee. Every town, every village, and every life was on its way to destruction in hell. They all needed to be reached with the reality of their lostness and the good news of the salvation Christ offered. Not everyone would be saved, but everyone COULD be saved. All they needed was enough harvesters.

This is Christ’s command for us today. He does not command us to do it on our own. He knows that we cannot do it on our own. We need churches full of evangelists. He commands us not to try to do it all. He commands us to get more workers. He tells us how we can get more workers. He tells us to ASK for them.

Now, our church is a praying church. We pray for the people on our prayer list. We pray for people who are injured in accidents. We pray for people who are sick. We pray for people getting surgery. We pray for families who are grieving the loss of a loved one. But I say to our shame that there is a prayer that we often forget to pray when we gather. It is the prayer that we are commanded to pray in today’s text.

We want to fill our church because we are ashamed of how few cars are in the parking lot on Sunday morning. We want to fill our church because if we don’t, we won’t be able to pay the preacher or keep the doors open. But we should be praying that God would fill our church and every other Christian church in this town because our churches are supposed to be places where workers prepare for the harvest. We want our neighbors to come to Christ so that they can fill the pews in our churches. But that is getting it wrong. We should be praying for workers in our pews so that they can reach all our neighbors and their neighbors for Christ.

LORD OF THE HARVEST, we are asking you this day to make us a church that trains harvesters for your harvest. Give us a heart to reach other hearts for you. Give us ministries that demonstrate the gospel by loving others and meeting all their needs. Give us ministries that teach your truth in the church and proclaim your truth in the open air. You commanded us to ask, so we are asking. Send us workers, O Lord, and make us workers because the harvest is plentiful, and we are too few to harvest it all.