Hands for the Harvest | Matthew 9:35-38

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  • Hands for the Harvest | Matthew 9:35-38
  • Matthew 4:23 reports: “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” In almost identical language, Matthew 9:35 reports: “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” Matthew records various episodes of Jesus teaching, preaching, and healing between these two progress reports.

    Jesus had compassion for hurting, harassed, and helpless people. Verses 37-38 record his response: “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”

     This passage marks a turning point in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus acknowledges that he would not be able to touch everyone who needed God’s love. Limitations of time and space would render it impossible for him to reach everyone who needed his divine touch. He would soon die on the cross for our sins. What did Jesus do? He turned over the reins of his ministry to his disciples. He has never repossessed those reins from his disciples. Jesus wants to use you to reach people. 

    Matthew 28:19-20 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” If people want to meet Jesus, they have two options. They can read the Bible or get to know Christians. Since most non-Christians have no interest in reading the Bible, Christians must know Christians to meet Jesus. 

    • How clearly can unbelievers see Jesus through your life? 
    • How clearly can they see him through this local church? 
    • Are you and this church offering a clear view of Jesus? 

     The Lord wants to continue his ministry to lost and hurting people through you and me. How can we become hands for the harvest?

    Embrace the Lord’s Compassion for the Lost. 

    E. Stanly Jones pleaded with a group of young people in India. “Why will you not become Christians? What do you think of Christ?” “Your Christ is wonderful,” a young man answered. “But you Christians are not like him.” What does it mean to be like Jesus?

    Jesus Serves. Verse 35 says, “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” The key words of this verse are “Jesus went.” The Great Commission commands us to go and make disciples of all nations. It is simply a call to imitate Jesus. We are to be a going church for a coming Christ. 

    Jesus did not wait for people to come to him. He went “throughout all the cities and villages” to reach people. Jesus visited urban centers and rural communities. He did not skip over any area. The Triumphal Entry is the only reference to Jesus riding anywhere. He walked everywhere he went to minister to people in truth and power.

      The message Jesus proclaimed. Jesus taught in their synagogues and proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom. Israelites were expected to make a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem for annual feasts. Regular Sabbath services met in local synagogues. Jesus was marked present in every city and village if visited. As a rabbi, he was permitted to teach. And Jesus proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom. He declared the good news of the inbreaking rule and reign of God. Matthew 6:10 teaches us to pray: “Your kingdom come.”

      • The kingdom of God was inaugurated in the first Advent of Christ. 
      • The kingdom of God will be inaugurated in the second Advent of Christ. 

      The Power Jesus displayed. As Jesus proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom, he was “healing every disease and every affliction.” Jesus was not like “faith healers” today. Jesus healed everyone. He did not require a “seed offering” to heal people. Jesus healed every disease and affliction. “Incurable disease” is not in Jesus’s vocabulary. In Matthew 9, Jesus heals a paralyzed man. He healed a woman’s chronic disease. He raised a little girl from the dead. He gave two blind men their sight. He cast out a demon from a mute man. 

      The physical healing Jesus performed symbolized his power to provide spiritual healing. 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

      Jesus Sympathizes. Verse 36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

       Jesus Sees. Verse 36 says, “When he saw the crowds.” This was more the physical sight. The vision of Jesus transcends our casual observance, fickle attention, and limited perspective. It is divine omniscience married to steadfast love. Jesus saw beyond the outward appearance. He saw their hearts: “They were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” This is Old Testament language with messianic implications. In a word, the people were lost.

      • Christians should practically help with physical needs. 
      • Christians should ultimately help with spiritual needs. 

      Someone has said, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” That famous quote is not true. The only way to preach the gospel is with words. As we work, we must witness. Lost people need the gospel. God is holy, and we are not. We will answer to God for our lives. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There is no good thing in us. Our righteous deeds are as polluted garments. But God sent his only begotten Son who lived righteousness, died sacrificially, and rose triumphantly. 

      Romans 10:9-10 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

      Jesus Cares. Verse 36 says Jesus had “compassion.” The root Greek word is a medical term that refers to the visceral parts. Strong emotions move our stomachs. The ancients believed the bowels were the seat of emotions. When Jesus saw lost, needy, and hurting people, he was moved in his innermost being. 

      • Jesus felt the darkness of the blind. 
      • Jesus felt the pain of the sick. 
      • Jesus felt the weakness of the crippled. 
      • Jesus felt the isolation of the leper. 
      • Jesus felt the sorrow of the grieving. 

      Jesus was moved with compassion. This is not the truth of this text. It is the story of Jesus. A politician dons a hard hat and visits a factory. A social spends the night with the homeless. A general eats a meal with the soldiers in the mess hall. But the politician leaves when the cameras are off. The social worker sleeps in her bed the next night. The general eats the rest of his meals in the officer’s quarters. Jesus became one of us to die for our sins. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  

      Respond to the Lord’s Call for Laborers. 

      Matthew 9:35-38 is a statement passage. The point of the text is found in what Jesus said to his disciples in verses 37-38: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” What is the significance of this statement? 

        The Problem Christ laments.  In verse 37, Jesus laments, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”

          The Plentiful Harvest. The Lord uses an agricultural analogy here. The crowds he met were a field to farm. It will soon become evident that the people of Israel would reject his messianic claims. Yet Jesus ministered to them with great expectations. He believed the seeds he labored to plant would reap a harvest of souls. The ingathering would be plentiful, not meager. 

          John 4:35-38 says, “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. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

          The Labor Shortage. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” You would think it would be the other way around. Many laborers and a meager harvest. Willing workers ministering to hardhearted sinners. But that is not what Jesus says. The combination of seed, soil, labor, weather, and providence produced a huge harvest. But the heavy heads of wheat were starting to bend over, and the entire crop was so ripe that it would perish if reapers did not quickly bring in the sheaves. 

          Why the shortage? One reason is the nature of the work. We would rather be leaders, not laborers. We want to be served, not serve. Jesus called us to be fishers of men. We rather be keepers of the aquarium. The big tragedy is people die. The bigger tragedy is that they will go to hell without Christ. The biggest tragedy is that people will die and go to hell because no one introduced them to the truth and love of Jesus. 

          The Solution Christ prescribes. 

          • Verse 37 diagnoses a severe problem: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
          • Verse 38 prescribes a powerful remedy: “Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

          The church needs gospel workers. It uses everything from general announcements to personal manipulation to address the labor shortage. Yet we refuse to do the one thing Jesus says to do about the situation: Pray! How should we pray for laborers? 

          Pray Earnestly. This call to prayer is not a good idea, helpful hint, or optional recommendation. It is a divine command. Jesus commands us to pray for laborers to touch hurting people. This imperative verb means to ask or request. But it is more emphatic here. It is to pray earnestly, fervently, and zealously. Pray as if it all depends on God. Earnest prayer is effective prayer. James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power as it is working.” Your prayer will never mean anything to God until it means everything to you.

           Pray Confidently. Jesus says, “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest.” This divine title only occurs here. It affirms the sovereign authority of God the Father. 

          • Question: If God is sovereign, why pray? 
          • Answer: If God is not sovereign, why pray? 

          Pray with confidence that God is willing to hear and able to answer prayer. Matthew 7:11 says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”   

          Pray Specifically. Jesus commands, “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” When the church needs workers, we beg people to serve but do not beg God to send them. Prayer is the Lord’s solution to labor storage. Luke 6:12-13 reports Jesus prayed all night before choosing the twelve apostles. Acts 13:1-3 reports the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas part to missionary work as the church fasted and prayed. It should always be at the top of our prayer agenda that God would send out laborers into his harvest.

          Pray Submissively. Matthew 10:1 says, “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.” Verses 2-4 name the twelve disciples. Verse 5 says, “These twelve Jesus sent out…”

          Jesus commanded the disciples to pray for laborers to be sent out. Then Jesus sent out the very disciples he commanded to pray. Prayer works when you are willing to be a part of the answer to the prayer. James 4:2-3 says, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your own passions.”

          Can the Lord use you to be his hands for the harvest? 


          H.B. Charles Jr.

          Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.