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. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 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.”
(Matthew 9:35-38 ESV)
As Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, He executed His 3-step approach to evangelism, which we studied previously: proclaiming, teaching, and healing. Cities were walled to protect from invaders and were inhabited by people of wealth. Villages were outside the cities and were much more vulnerable to attack.
Jesus went to both the rich and the poor; the secure and the vulnerable. There was no one He was unwilling to interact with.
Where ever He went He saw the crowds and had compassion for them. Jesus, who is God, is not uncaring. He does not look down upon us or condemn us for all the mistakes we make. He cares so much for us that He came from heaven to save us [John 3:16-17; Philippians 2:5-8]
Jesus sees our suffering. We are harassed and helpless. The Greek word for “harassed” is related to the word for being whipped to the point of having our skin removed. The Greek word for “helpless” is just as vivid. It describes someone lying on the ground who can’t stand up under their own power.
Jesus was motivated by His love for others to teach them truth. He didn’t just leave them alone in their ignorance. Contrast that with today where we’re told that being loving means keeping the good news of Jesus to oneself. Culture believes that ‘tolerance’ (i.e. silence) is the best policy. God definitely does not agree with that.
God saw, and continues to see, our desperate condition. He sees the mess we are making of our lives. And He is moved. He cares. He sees that we are wandering through life towards the wrong destination, like sheep without a shepherd. That is exactly why He sent His son to earth – to be our shepherd. Jesus is our direction. He is the way to heaven and He wants to lead us there [John 14:6].
Jesus’ words to His disciples at the end of today’s passage form a transition in Jesus’s ministry. Up until this point we’ve seen Him single-handedly teach and heal. Starting tomorrow Jesus will begin to mentor His disciples to do the same. This is a proven teaching method: let others watch you as you do something, then let them try it themselves.
Sadly, the condition Jesus describes – the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few – is still true today. There are billions of people on this planet who desperately need someone to teach them the truth. But not enough people are willing to do that. We’re all too concerned with our earthly comfort. Tragically, this will come at the expense of other’s eternal comfort.
We should all be praying earnestly to God, asking Him to send out laborers into His harvest. Despite what our leaders and judges tell us, the world needs more people doing evangelism, not less. People cannot see heaven unless they believe the truth. And they cannot believe the truth unless they hear the truth [Romans 10:17].
Just like in Isaiah’s day, God is still looking for people to spread His message. And just like Isaiah, everyone one of us who is an adopted child of God through faith should be saying “Send me!” [Isaiah 6:8; John 1:12].
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