Today, we are in week 3 of a series that we’re calling Have Mercy. We’ve been talking about how to have mercy in a world that’s full of hurt. And as we continue this week, we’re going to discuss a verse in the book of Matthew, Chapter 9, verse 37 and 38. Matthew 9:37-38… See more
Today, we are in week 3 of a series that we’re calling Have Mercy. We’ve been talking about how to have mercy in a world that’s full of hurt. And as we continue this week, we’re going to discuss a verse in the book of Matthew, Chapter 9, verse 37 and 38.
“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.'”
I think the hardest part about being a preacher is that there are certain things that we understand that we are supposed to do, but we don’t always feel motivated to do them. Isn’t it true if you’re anything like me, that often our spirituality can be a bit of an object, be a bit abstract rather than being very practical?
Some of the things we hear during these times, or some of the songs that we sang, or some of the spiritual books we read, or even the things we read in the Bible can be a little bit more about information than necessarily helping us put those things into practice. It’s a challenge, right, to move from just understanding something intellectually to living it out practically.
This came to mind when I was thinking about Joe Stearn’s a couple of weeks ago and we had that interview. I mean, if you haven’t listened to the interview, go back, it was just a couple of weeks ago.
But he did such a great job explaining how the doctrine that he held about suffering had prepared him for this, for the stroke and the suffering he experienced while he was in a stroke. And it was kind of a really good example to me that that is ultimately the goal. That the things we think on a spiritual level are supposed to make a difference on a practical level.
That’s the way it works. You know, we’re supposed to have an interaction here. You’re supposed to hear something and then eventually you’re going to want to do something. That’s the goal. In some ways, it would be, kind of a failure of communication, if we just had a conversation for 45 minutes or whatever, you listen to the sermon, you learn something and then you were not compelled to do anything.
In many ways, that would be tragic for me as a communicator. I do take a lot of time of trying to hone the subjects that we’re talking about. I take my role pretty seriously. Spending hours, sometimes hours and hours and hours trying to not only understand the text and explain the text, but present the text in a way that would compel you to do something about it. And the more and more I study the life of Jesus, the more and more I study him as a teacher of the gospel, and the more and more I study him as just a leader of God’s people, I have just been so convinced that he was a master at this.
He’s a master at taking spiritual concepts and making them practical.
Everything he gave was remarkable information, but it also compelled people to live differently. He changed them intellectually, but he also challenged them in the way they lived. And I know this is kind of a confession, but that really is my hope as we preach and teach, my drive, my desire is that that not only would people understand what we’re talking about here, but that they would be transformed by the words of God. And I guess as you’re listening, isn’t that your hope as well?
I don’t think anybody listens to me or watches our services online hoping to be exactly who they were before they heard them. I don’t think anybody listens thinking, you know what? It would just be good information for me to file away.
I think all of us listen with an anticipation that maybe something that we’ll hear will turn the light in our minds and and shift the way we’re thinking about something or change our perspective on the world or help us to live a different life again.
Things on the spiritual level are supposed to make a difference on the practical level.
Anyway, all of this leads me to the study today, because as Jesus pulled his disciples to the mountainside and as he gave them this incredible command that has become a model of Christianity, as Jesus looked at the crowd and spoke to his disciples and said, look, this crowd is a harvest that is plentiful. Would you go out to the harvest and work?
If you grew up in the church you know what this text is referring to. It’s talking about being a harvester of people or at least praying to God that others would be a harvester of people. But here is this short command to work the harvest. That’s an edict, right, for the Christian faith that has been there, has been lifted up ever since. And history will tell us that, as Jesus said, these words, the disciples took them to heart and made commands like the command in Matthew, Chapter 28.
The disciples took them to heart. History will tell us that that little fledgling religion in the small corner of Palestine was able to gather so many people to Jesus that it changed the world. Then much of the morality that that’s found in the Western world comes from the teachings of Jesus. Why we feel like it’s evil to steal and murder and lie.? And all those things come from kind of a Judeo-Christian background perpetuated by these disciples who took this command to heart.
Now, we’re going to come back to this commandment. But here’s the thing: imagine if I stood up here today and I looked directly into the camera and these were the words, I said, “hey, it’s week three of Have Mercy. I want to encourage you to go have mercy on somebody and go reach more people for Jesus.”
Now, you might listen to that command and go, OK. Like five of you really good hearted people would be like, that’s all I need. You know, just command it and I will do it based on the scriptures.
But I don’t know if you’re like me for some reason that doesn’t feel like enough. Doesn’t feel like enough to just command it. There has to be something behind the command. And this is where I would like to study out this passage, because I think it’s so deep. And then we’ll come back to the command and see how it all works together.
How did Jesus compel the disciples to be active in the harvest?
Maybe a different way to say this is how did Jesus compel the disciples to do anything? How did he compel them to do it? How did Jesus on the hill that day transform the life of the disciples in such a way that they became harvest gatherers?
I believe if we learn this, we will not only be ready to become the people God intended for us to be, but also will learn to inspire more people to follow the commands of Jesus.
I want to show you two things that I see in the text, both that I believe shine a light to this question.
Jesus got them to see
Our text comes during a really busy time, kind of an exciting time in Jesus’s ministry. Matthew chapter 9 is still in the early stages of Jesus’s ministry. Jesus is gaining notoriety, is gaining popularity. He’s becoming a famous order and also a famous healer. And so everywhere Jesus went large crowds would go and follow him. He gathered people to himself.
And people were coming, it was just masses upon masses of people. As the chapter opens, Matthew, Chapter nine, Jesus has already healed a crippled man. He also calls Matthew the tax collector to come follow him. And then he is approached by a guy named Jarius, whose daughter was was dying. And so Jesus decided to go to Jarius’ his home.
And on the way, the crowd is so heavy. There is a woman who had issues with bleeding her whole life. She touches its cloak instantly. She’s healed. Jesus turns around. Notices her. And there’s so many people there. He’s able to make his way through the crowd.
He gets to Jarius’ house. He raises Jarius’ daughter to life, and as he departs, there are two blind men that begin to follow him. So he turns around, heals the blind people. And after that, a man is brought to him who’s has a demon possession, who basically makes it so that he can’t speak. Jesus cast out that demon and immediately that man begins to speak.
And so that’s the backdrop of this text in Matthew, Chapter 9, starting in verse 35. Jesus has done so much in this chapter, so many healings, so many profound words to change the life of the people around him.
“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…”
Jesus was working, doing, serving, healing, teaching, proclaiming. And then there’s this line that begins to form, a group of people that again begin to gather. And after hours and hours and hours of caring for the people and maybe days and days of healing their needs., Jesus looks up and he sees the crowd. The word here in the Greek can mean to see, like to physically see, but it also means to notice or to perceive. We have the same definition. It’s one thing to say, I see you. It’s another thing to say. I noticed you. I’m with you. I see you.
We know that this is more of the sense that’s happening here in Matthew chapter 9, because the crowd had been there for a long time. So, of course, he had seen the crowd. But maybe for the first time, at least in this text, the Bible says that he notices them. And when he notices about them is so important, verse 36:.
He saw the crowd. He noticed they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Harassed & Helpless
He peers up and he sees the crowd standing there, thousands, strong men, women, children, the crippled, the marginalized, the outcasts, but also there stood in the crowd, the rich, the well-connected, the powerful, the religious leaders.
For the first time in this chapter, the Bible says that he sees them in their broken condition.
He uses those two words, harassed and helpless. He sees them as harassed and helpless.
Harassed is really an interesting word. It means to be worn out, to be exhausted. It could mean to be beaten up, battered, mangled, ripped, torn, skinned alive.
He looked up after all the healing, after all the ways he had been serving the people. He looks up and he sees that the people are devastated. They’re broken. That they’re exhausted that they’re battered, bruised and beaten.
He’s not talking about their physical condition, as a matter of fact, he sees past their physical condition and he peers into their souls.
He saw them as exhausted. He looked up that day and he saw a flood of people who needed help. He uses another word. Not only were they exhausted or harassed, but they were also helpless.
This word can mean to be thrown down, lying, prostrate. It can mean to be incapable of moving. Powerless, too weak to stand.
There’s a Hebrew translation of the New Testament word they use also in the Old Testament. In Judges. Chapter 4, verse 22 talks about a man who is laying dead with a spike driven through his temple. It’s that same word.
So you begin to get the picture.
Exhausted & Unable to Do Anything About It
Have you ever watched marathon runners who are at the very end of their race, whose bodies break down at the end of the race and their legs begin to look like Jello? They can’t even pump. Rather they’re trying to pump their arms, but their legs just won’t work anymore. Ever seen those videos?
That’s the picture I see.
I see Jesus looking into the crowd and seeing a bunch of people who want to live a better life. But society, the system there had betrayed them.
They can’t even stand on their own. They have no fight left in them. They have atrophied. They’re practically dead, thrown on the ground, lying prostrate. And Jesus looks up and that’s what he sees.
He says he saw his creation, the people he had formed before the creation of the world. People whose names he know, he knew before time even began. People whose hairs he could account for. He saw them and he peered past the facade that they were trying to create, past the mask that they were wearing. He saw the devastation of sin in their lives. They looked terrible to him, hopeless and harassed, tormented and beaten.
I wonder what Jesus would see today. I wonder what words he would use to explain the people who are addicted in our country. People who are caught up in drug use and abuse. And it continues to run rampant.
I wonder with the words he would use to describe the mental health that’s decaying in our nation. Families that are totally being deconstructed, people who are working in the sex industry, greed everywhere, debt that continues to bind people.
I wonder what he would say about the people exhausted trying to chase after the American dream or those who are online all day long, just scrolling up, trying to numb the pain of reality, people worn out by the pursuit of money, by the pursuit of popularity, by the pursuit of fame, by the pursuit of praise.
People living in fear constantly. People who are hungry in our poorest cities, in the poorest cities in the world. People who have incredible corporate jobs, who who are in the top floor of a building with the corner office, who are trying to find some joy where there is no joy.
I wonder what he would say about the people who are just being devoured by a sense of false happiness, trying to find happiness in the meaningless.
I wonder if he would see us and the people in our world and he would say the same thing.
We look skinned alive. We look exhausted. Wandering helplessly with nowhere to turn. I wonder if he would see us as helpless and harassed.
But that wasn’t the only issue with the crowd that day. It would be one thing to be helpless and harassed, but you have somebody bringing you back. You have somebody helping you get on your feet. You have a system that’s trying to help you lift out of poverty and help you solve some of your issues. It wouldn’t be that bad. But then Jesus adds these words: they were helpless and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd.
Sheep Without A Shepherd
It’s not only that they couldn’t guide their way back. It’s not only that they were totally lost. They had no one to help them come back.
You know who claimed to be their shepherds? The religious leaders, the people in the synagogue system, the people that were in charge of their community. This was honestly an indictment on the religious leaders. They didn’t show their people any pastor.
They didn’t feed them. They did bind their wounds. They harassed them. They made them helpless. They mutilated them.
They were in many ways, the people in the crowd, mutilated corpses plundered by the leaders of their society. There’s another time in the scriptures in Matthew, Chapter 10, where Jesus tells the disciples again, “Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.”
Go out and go get them. That’s the phrase that he uses, the lost sheep of Israel. This phrase can mean that the sheep have perished. That’s the way he looked at it. The system had ruined them. The system didn’t lift their burdens. The people who were in leadership were fooling around about stupid arguments, about the law and about tradition. They were just utterly indifferent to the pain of their people. Jesus would say to the Pharisees in Luke Chapter 20 that they’d devour widow’s houses. They bind his people up with needless burdens.
And again, I wonder what Jesus would see today?
Does our culture have a good shepherd? I don’t think so. Do the powerful in the world, really care about the people they serve. At least do they care about them more than their profits, more than their own power? And look, I’m grateful for the country I live in. I’m grateful to be a part of society that allows me to speak freely.
But I wonder if Jesus would see today people who are attempting to lead but not giving their people any pasture. Pushing their agenda, hoping to suppress, and by doing so oppress. Not carrying the load of their people. Jesus looked at the crowd and said, look, your pastors are imposters. And so are ours…
Can you imagine what Jesus would say about our country today?
Can you imagine what Jesus would see in our country today? I bet you that he would walk in to our country.
If he was able to get on cable news, I bet you he would say something like he said in Matthew, Chapter 11.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Maybe he would say something like this.
“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep, and they know me, as the Father knows me, and I know the Father. I lay down my life for the sheep.”
See, Jesus is on the hill that day and standing before him is a harvest that Jesus hopes the disciples will begin to labor in before he does any of that. He first acknowledges what he sees.
The command to be active in the field and the command to be active in the fields of a lost world wouldn’t basically win the harvest. It comes with this backdrop.
Do you see the world the way Jesus sees the world? Do you see it because here’s something that I’ve learned in my own life, in my own faith.
If I don’t see it… It’s hard for me…
And during the Coronavirus, living in this moment, I mean, rather living before the Coronavirus moment, it was kind of hard for me. I’m just being serious. It was kind of hard for me to see when it looks like all people’s dreams are coming true and people have great cars and the economy’s doing awesome and and maybe there’s some injustice, but it’s not everywhere and it’s not on our television screens. It’s just hard to see.
It’s hard to see how much of a better system we need in the course of everyday life. And so it’s hard for me to see it. So what I believe Jesus did strategically in the year 2020, is Jesus pulled all of us onto the side of a hill and he let us see the condition of the world we live in.
See, I believe he’s allowing us to see the condition of the nation we wish to save. To see the corruption of the world that we live in. I believe we are all being brought to the top of the hill so that we can see there’s a little anecdote.
But I found it interesting, there’s a phrase often used in optometry where they talk about seeing clearly someone with sharp eyes. Someone who can really see is said to have 20/20 vision. And basically, that means that they can see well. But I think this is kind of hilarious because in the year 2020, I believe 2020 has been a year of seeing clear.
2020: The Year of Seeing Clearly
It’s been a year of seeing clear as followers of Jesus. We have been given an opportunity.
Some parts of us have begun to awake, to see the system of our world as corrupt, to see the divisions that run like a trench in the middle of our country, to see all these things begin to bubble and surface. The hurting and the people who are absent and the frustration and the fears. To see the suffering that is ever present. 2020 has been a year for me of seeing clear.
It was hard to see. But now it’s obvious.
Race riots. The murder rate and violent crime in major U.S. cities continuing to rise. Police brutality right in our faces, growing financial inequality, COVID-19 and the hundreds of thousands of people dying. And then you see other people fighting in grocery stores because they don’t wear a mask.
There is such division in our political environment. And for the first time in my whole life, it’s like Jesus brought me to the top of a hill. I look out and I can see.
I can see the torment in people’s souls. I can see the duplicity of the world we live in and the broken framework that so many have prescribed themselves to.
“Let me look on the crowd, as my savior did, till my eyes with tears grow dim. Let me view with pity the wandering sheep and love them for the love of him.”
I see it now. I wonder if you see it. Jesus got people to see.
But then he did something remarkable. He taught them how to feel.
So, how are we supposed to feel about our broken world?
How am I supposed to feel about the sheep who have wandered? How am I supposed to feel about the brokenness of man?
How am I supposed to feel about the corrupt systems in our world? How am I supposed to feel about the plight of sin and the frustration it has caused? And I get my marching orders and the disciples got their marching orders from the way Jesus felt.
“When he saw the crowd, he had compassion on them.”
Jesus had compassion
You can picture Jesus pulling away from the crowd on the hillside that day, and he sees the mass of people, they had come for physical issues. But he saw past the facade and saw right into the spiritual need. And he was moved with compassion.
This word in the English means to suffer with somebody, and Jesus certainly did that. He suffered. He felt their pain. He cared for them. He cared because God is love and love cares for people.
That’s the nature of God. And it’s so obvious that that’s who Jesus is. In the Gospels, it’s everywhere. How much Jesus had compassion. This is Matthew 14, it says, “When Jesus landed, he saw a large crowd. He had compassion on them.”
John, chapter 15, verse 32:
“Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion on these people.'”
“The lord of that servant was moved with compassion, forgave him the debt.”
“Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes.”
“Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done and how he has had compassion on you.”
Over and over and over and over and over and over again, we see in the scriptures that when Jesus meets a group of people, even people who have brought their own pain on themselves, Jesus looks at them and says, “I have compassion. I feel for you. I feel with you.”
But also, interestingly enough, the noun form of this word means, the bowels. The noun form of the word means the midsection. It’s the internal organs or the guts, and literally the text could say that Jesus was moved in his bowels when he saw them.
We say a similar expression in English, I love you with all my heart. It’s kind of a weird saying if you think about it, because your heart is this bloody organ. Just to be clear, if you sent, you know, Valentine’s Day hearts, those are not hearts. If you sent a heart, a human heart to somebody for a Valentine’s Day gift, they would call the police on you.
Basically what Jesus is saying, is I hurt in my midsection.
I hurt in my midsection
Because that’s where emotions grip us.
Matthew 9:35-38 in the Message Version
“When he looked out over the crowd, his heart broke.”
How am I supposed to feel when I look at our world?
My heart should break. We should weep and we should mourn. We should have mercy.
I wonder, brothers and sisters, are you more interested in blocking out the things of the world or are you more interested in weeping for the world?
Not just weeping for the people on your side of the political issue, but weeping for everyone who is hurting. Does your heart break? Or are you more fixated on debates? Why is one issue more terrible than another issue?
Let me just tell you this, all of these things should break our hearts. The killing of George Floyd, of Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and on and on and on and on and on should break your heart.
It should break your heart also when police are killed. When they’re treated like second class citizens. It should break your heart when you hear about the news that over 80 people in the Chicago area, I think was two weekends ago, were murdered. That should break your heart.
It should break your heart when children are gunned down in schools. It should crush you. It should crush you when people are lined up to eat food and you have a pantry full of things to eat. It should crush you when you think about all the addictions in America, from pornography to drugs to social media.
All those things should break your heart. It should break your heart when you think about the kids living in slums in South America. It should break your heart when you think about the people whose lives are being utterly destroyed by the addiction to fentanyl. It should break your heart when you hear that someone had to have or if someone felt like they had to have an abortion. It Should break your heart.
I’m not saying again that some of these things aren’t evil or vile or whatever. I’m not. What I’m saying is that you should just be mourning over the world that we live in because that’s what Jesus did.
He had compassion
Have you shed tears for the world we live in? For the thousands of people killed by COVID-19? The people who live in fear? For the people who maybe even their own sin has brought their discomfort?
Do you sit on the sidelines with your arms crossed and say, I told you so? You shouldn’t have done that meeting anyway?
Does your heart break? See, Jesus felt their pain. He didn’t make them pay. In that moment, he felt their pain because he had mercy.
And see this is how he was able to help the disciples follow through on a tremendous command, to be harvest workers.
He got them to see. He taught them to feel.
And it’s in that context that he lays down this remarkable command. He said to the disciples, understanding that maybe for the first time in their whole lives, he gave them the right perspective as to how to feel about people.
Then he lays this command:.
“Then he said to the 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.”
Jesus looks at the disciples after healing so many, after serving so many, and he goes, I can’t save this broken world all by myself. Will you participate?
Will you be an active member? Will you allow your heart to break too?
Will you be an active member in rescuing people from the corrupt system of the world?
Look, do you know what changes things? Do you know what changes our world?
It’s a one word answer.
I shouldn’t have to put this up on the screen, but I think that sometimes we buy into this idea that it’s something else. The whole end game is bringing people to Jesus.
You want to help your community? Bring more people to Jesus. You want people to change? You want racism to end? Bring more people to Jesus.
When you realize how terrible the world is that we live in, when you realize how your heart should be poured out to those people and how your heart should break, you know what the next step is? Bring people to Jesus.
That’s the only solution we have. And so, here I am talking to you. I’m not even I’m not trying to stand up and go, look, you need to obey my command. All I’m asking you to do is to see the world the way I see it, the way Jesus sees it, the way people who are mission-minded see it.
Just see the world for a second as harassed, helpless people who are broken without a shepherd and nowhere to go. See them as exhausted, with no way to save themselves, and also see them as people who have no shepherd to bring them to pasture. See them as helpless and harassed, who are trying to find a recourse in the world where there is no recourse. And then think for a second, what is the command of Jesus?
Be a harvest worker
Brothers and sisters, because we see, because we feel, my challenge for you today is to take a moment, take some time and try to help people find Jesus.
In your class, at your work. In your family. Help some people find Jesus.
I’m not going to prescribe the way to do that. You can share this video if you want. This is kind of a weird one to share. You can share other videos if you want. You can just talk to somebody. You can send scriptures. Rescue this world from the corruption and bring some people to Jesus. It’s our only chance. It’s our only hope. The world has always been messed up.
Maybe if you’re like me, for the first time in 2020, we’re seeing it clearly. What would we do in this world? What would change in this world if our president was a disciple of Jesus, a true disciple of Jesus, or change in this world if our congressmen were true disciples of Jesus? If our mayor, if our police chief, if our police officers were true disciples of Jesus?
We could see a transformation unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. But you have to take a moment to see the world. Take a moment to have mercy on the world and then go and be a part of the work of the harvest.