The need of the hour
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. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:35-38, NIV)
Jesus was at full stretch. The first-century historian Josephus tells us there were 204 towns and villages in Galilee, and Jesus was seeking to reach people in all of them. Because the Son of God was incarnate, He couldn’t be in two places at once.
His sense of people’s needs only increased as He looked at the crowds who flocked to Him. They were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Centuries of poor leadership had left them without proper knowledge of the living God. So, filled with compassion, He called for prayer - and gave you and me a prayer we must pray, too.
He starts with His analysis of the situation. Changing the farming metaphor from pastoral to arable, He says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” The picture is of a crop which could go to waste because there simply aren’t enough harvesters to bring it in.
Do you wonder why Christianity isn’t making more progress in our land? Some would say it’s outdated, or untrue - but we know that’s not the case. Or are we just too hard-hearted, or materialist? That may be a partial explanation, but Jesus’ analysis, fascinatingly, is that the harvest is plentiful. It is lack of workers that’s the problem. My own testimony is that before I became a Christian I simply hadn’t understood what I’d been rejecting. I needed someone to explain it to me. I’m so glad they did. Surely that is true of millions more!
How many people in Cambridge have never had a friend explain the good news to them? And we are in a city relatively well-stocked with churches. The sad truth is that there seem to be many towns and villages around the UK without what a Bible-teaching church. I’m not thinking of any particular denomination; just a church where it would be easy for people to hear the truth about Jesus accurately explained, and where the members are actively taking that message to their community. And there remain, of course, large areas of the world which are unreached with the Christian message.
So Jesus’ prescription is simple: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” We are to start by praying. For God, whose harvest it is, to send out workers to gather in this huge crop.
This could be a Christian who starts to help a neighbour, family member or friend to understand the gospel. Or a Christian who starts a Christian meeting in their work place or school - so that people can come and hear about Jesus. Or a Christian who moves to another town to serve a pioneering Bible-teaching church.
Or it could be a suitably gifted Christian who seeks to be a cross-cultural missionary, or a full-time Bible teacher.
And it could be you. Will you pray this prayer? Over the years the Lord has graciously sent out many from our church family for all of these roles. In a world of rapidly growing population, the need has never been greater.
Graham Daniels preached on this passage recently in our 5pm sermon series on Matthew 9-10. Do have a prayerful listen to that. We continue the series this Sunday.