The Harvest is Plentiful
The Laborers are Few
According to Mathew 9:35-38 Jesus went throughout “all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom (v35).” At some point He felt compassion for the crowds “because they were distressed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd (v36).” Jesus looked at His disciples and said, “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 (v37-38).”
These verses are often taught as a backdrop to garner monetary support of mission programs. Coming from a Baptist background I can’t tell you how many times I heard Matthew 9:35-38 taught during the Lottie Moon offering season. But, is this what Jesus actually meant? Did He want us to pray for God to call missionaries? Did Jesus want to spur us to give money to support others who feel called to be a missionary?
Perhaps the Savior had something else in mind. When we stop at Matthew 9:38 we don’t have a complete picture of the salient point Jesus wanted to communicate. When Jesus said, “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.” He was preparing the disciples for ministry. They had seen how Jesus traveled through cities and villages spreading the gospel. They’d watched as He healed, comforted and forgave and He was about to ask the disciples to become laborers in God’s harvest.
First let’s review some observations about Matthew 9:35-38:
- Jesus went to cities and villages proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom
- He saw the number of people (the crowds)
- He felt compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd
- He knew from the start that one worker was not enough
Jesus recognized the need, “the harvest is plentiful.” He was also aware “the workers are few” but was the answer to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest?” Did He intend to stop there? In order to understand more fully we must read further in Matthew 10:1-15. Jesus wasted no time as He began to speak, “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.” He paired them up, gave them instructions then sent them out; “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (v5-7).” There are five key things Jesus covered in commissioning the new harvest workers:
- He sent them in pairs (for mutual support)
- He gave them His authority
- He did not send them to foreigners (Gentiles and Samaritans)
- He sent them to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (within their sphere of influence)
- He gave them a simple message; “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”
Jesus gave them mutual support, authority, an audience and a simple message but He didn’t tell them to fund a foreign missions program or become a foreign missionary themselves. He also used that pesky verb “poreuomai” for “Go” in the “Great Commission” (Fear is not an Option the Parable of the Sower). He commanded them to ”proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ (v7).” In other words the message was simple, the instructions were clear and the authority was God’s. While Jesus provided the covering, the method and the message He also provided a warning, “..if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town…Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves…you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (v14,16,22)” Just like the parable of the sower, where seed fell in four different places but only seed that fell in one place produced fruit, not everyone will receive the gospel message. As a matter of fact some will be absolutely hostile to the gospel message resulting in persecution. Nevertheless, the command was to continue. In the parable of the sower there is no indication the sower ever stopped sowing and in the case of the harvest workers the message was to “endure to the end.” Now the disciples are aware of the identity of the “Lord of the harvest”, the identity of the workers, the mission and the mission’s operational parameters.
In that context let’s look at a synopsis of the commission in Matthew 10:1,6-7,20,22; “He called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority….go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’…it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you…the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Now compare that commission to the “The Great Commission” in Matthew 28:18-20; “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
There are clear parallels within the two commissions:
- Jesus provides the covering of His authority
- The command is to go
- The purpose is to proclaim
- He’s always present (through the Holy Spirit)
- Continue to the end
In both cases the disciples were given authority then commanded to go and proclaim. Whether within a sphere of influence or across the world the command is the same; “Go” and “Proclaim” under the authority of the Lord of the harvest Himself. In neither case is there a guarantee of acceptance but simply a command to “Go” and “Proclaim”. Not everyone will listen, not everyone will respond to the good news of the gospel and some will display hate and persecute the bearers of the good news. Jesus prepared the disciples for this by promising the power of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 10:19-20, “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you,” and He promised His presence in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you until the end of the age.”
The authority is clear, the command is direct, the message is simple and His presence is assured. No seminary training required. No special degrees, training, ordination or any other accolade of man. No guarantees of success but a directive to continue. Jesus gave His authority to proclaim a simple message trusting His Holy Spirit until…
The question is simple, “Do we put some money in a envelope and call it a day?” Or “Do we, us, you and me, personally ‘endure to the end’ proclaiming the good news of the gospel wherever we go under the authority He has given while trusting the Holy Spirit for guidance?”
Isaiah 6:8 “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
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