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Gospel: Matthew 9:35-10:8 (NIV)
- Hymn CW 716 “O Christ, Who Called the Twelve”
- Hymn CW 892 sts. 1-2 “By All Your Saints Still Striving”
- VBS Kids “Lord I Lift Your Name On High”
- Hymn CW 897 “Lord Jesus, You Have Come”
- Hymn CW 927 “Lord, Dismiss Us with Your Blessing”
June 18, 2023 Matthew 9:35-10:8
God’s heavenly harvest plan
First century Israel was a far more agricultural culture than our own. God often used pictures of farming and shepherding and raising crops to make a spiritual point. One of the very common comparisons our Savior made was comparing God’s work to save souls with bringing in a harvest. God is the farmer, souls are the crop. His angels, and more often we believers, are the ones who bring in the harvest. It’s such a common description of our work to share the gospel that our outreach committee even calls our framework of events in our school a harvest plan.
The picture of the harvest is a perfect one for evangelism because it has so many applications. Many of you know I grew up about an hour to the east of Stillwater in Wisconsin. It was just a small dairy farm and we mainly planted and harvested just enough crops for our own cattle. Some corn, but mostly hay. We made a lot of hay. And when it was time to make hay everything else stopped. If the fish were biting, if there was a new movie at the theater, if your friends were going out…none of that mattered if the hay was ready to harvest. If the harvest was ready it was all hands on deck to bring it in. Every member of the family had a job and every job was important to bring in as much as we could. It’s the same with the harvest of souls. God has a heavenly harvest plan, and it includes all of us.
Last Sunday we heard Jesus call Matthew to follow him in our gospel reading. With the disciples following him, Jesus went to work. Our first verse tells us, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness.” And while we might think that this part of God’s Word is about calling us to action, or seeing Jesus in action, I think the true heart of what God is telling is actually in the verse between what Jesus does and what he calls his followers to do.
In verse 36, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them.” We’ve talked about this word before – it’s the deeply felt, moving love that reacts to someone in need with an almost physical felling in your stomach. Jesus felt for these people because they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” These people were suffering and sick. They were lost and hurting and it broke Jesus’ heart. His concern for them, his compassion, was a stomach-wrenching desire to help.
And his reason for going out to them and being with them, MUST be the center of any “harvest plan” we would make to share our Savior. You see, in God’s harvest plan, each of us looks at the others in this room, in our communities, and in our world with that same compassion. Compassion that sees the souls the way Jesus did. Compassion that powers the mission to share our faith, both together as a church and separately in our own personal ministries.
Jesus loved the people and served them in love, but the crowds kept coming. So Jesus turns to his disciples and says those famous words, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” In the face of every sick person and harassed child Jesus saw a soul that needed the gospel. And he knew that reaching them would not be his work alone, but the work of those he had called to follow him. Last week we saw God’s call to every believer to be a part of serving him by serving others. Today we see our reason for it. To praise God, yes, but also because the harvest of souls is ready. We are the workers God has brought into his family for this purpose and our compassion for others drives us into action, in whatever way we can.
Do you know that in our world today about 2.1 billion people claim the Christian faith as their own? That’s a lot of people who know the name Jesus, and who hopefully trust in him alone to get to heaven. But do you know how many people there are in the world total? 8 billion!
That means, right now, there are almost six billion people who don’t believe in Jesus. And what will happen to them when they die? Jesus tells us very clearly, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Just a few weeks ago we heard Jesus’ words in the upper room when he said that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And that no one can come to the Father, except through him. Peter wrote that there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved.
The Bible couldn’t be more clear about our spiritual condition. God is perfect and holy, and so is his heaven. Unless we are too we don’t belong there with him. The wages of sin (even just one sin) is death in hell. And we have a lot more than just one sin. But praise God, Jesus died for all sins. This was the truth we heard over and over this past week at Vacation Bible School. Every morning I got to stand in front of 100 kids and tell them God is powerful. God is present. God is perfect. God is love. I got to tell them Jesus died for them. He rose from the grave. He watches over us and protects us and we sing his praise in response. Jesus paid the price, and all who hear that and believe that and put their trust and hope in that have the gift of eternal life already waiting for us. We’re just waiting for the day.
But I wasn’t the only one sharing that love and compassion of God. Compassion for souls may be the reason I do my ministry, but I’m not alone in that. We had over 50 members and friends of members help us with VBS this year. Every day I saw teens and seniors, men and women, walking out into a field of souls and tending the crop. They planted seeds of faith as they taught Bible stories and did crafts. They watered those seeds with loving care and concern. They built bridges of compassion as they played games and sang silly songs and served snacks.
And as you think of the value of a soul and the danger of unbelief, you see how it has to be that way don’t you? The holy ministry of sharing our Savior can’t be reserved for the pastor or the teachers or those who went to school for it. Those who get to call it their full-time job. No, God’s plan is bigger than that. Much bigger.
Not surprisingly, Jesus was right. The field is ripe for harvest, but the workers are few. In our church body, the WELS, we have over 100 churches without pastors right now and the graduating class at the Seminary last month numbered 30. I’m not sure there’s ever been a time like this in our Synod, when we’re limited more by manpower than money. From our own country to Southeast Asia to Africa there have never been more opportunities for us to reach out in compassion to save souls. You’ll hear more about it in the video after church.
So, what do we do? A world of people who need Jesus. A shortage of men and women to do it full-time as pastors and teachers. Well, first, pray. Jesus told the twelve in v. 38, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Pray that God would raise up workers. Prayer is powerful and effective, and God lovingly gives us the opportunity to direct his mercy.
But don’t fall into Satan’s trap of being one who offers “thoughts and prayers” but fails to love in words and action. Remember how I’ve told you in the past that the selection of readings we use for worship is centuries old? It might seem odd at first that those believers of long ago chose to include the verses from chapter 10 in this reading. If the goal is to motivate people to go out and share the gospel, why not end it with that prayer for God to send more workers? Why include the list of disciples here and their specific instructions and work? But I think I know their reason. Jesus told the disciples to pray for workers to go out and share the gospel. But then he sent them out to do the very thing they prayed for. They were a part of the answer to their own prayer! They were the workers they were praying for.
Brothers and sisters in faith, I hope you realize that you are part of God’s plan to answer your prayers too. Fellow believers, you are witnesses for Jesus. You are the answer to our prayers. You are the ones called to go out in Jesus’ name. You are the ones God intends to go out in compassion to answer the great need of souls who are dying all around us. We are the ones today who proclaim the good news, comfort the lonely, share with the poor, help the sick. As the last verse ends, “Freely you have received; freely give.” That’s the heart of our own hope for heaven –saved by the undeserved love and sacrifice of Jesus.
That’s what the holy ministry is all about. The holy ministry that every believer has been called into personally. The ministry we’ve committed to together as a church. We give what God gave us. But there’s an urgency to our callings. The harvest is ready. It’s time to get to work. It’s time to invite. It’s time to speak. It’s time to serve. It’s time to love the way Christ loved us. To go to others the way he came to us. The day is here to work right now, but the night is coming when we can’t work anymore.
So let me offer you an encouragement this week. There are 6 billion lost souls out there that Jesus died for. You have the message that can save them. Pick one. Any one. First, simply show them love. Invite them to dinner. Strike up a conversation. Give a word of encouragement. And then, show them Jesus. Share your hope for heaven. Invite them to see Jesus too. Let’s get to work and see what God has in store. Amen.