“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 labor-ers into his harvest’.” Matthew 9:35-38 (ESV)
Jesus as Christ (v. 35)
In Matthew 9:35, we see Jesus in action. He’s on the move “throughout all the cities and villages” and his earthly ministry can be summed up neatly with three verbs: teaching, proclaiming, and healing. And although this verse does not actually contain Jesus’s familiar title, Christ1, we see Jesus as the Christ clearly depicted here. Jesus’s actions show that he is the anointed one to whom the Old Testament Scriptures pointed. One of many places in the Old Testament where the Christ is spoken of is in Isaiah 61:1-2:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound2; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn. (ESV, emphasis mine)
In Isaiah 61, we see the Christ bringing good news, proclaiming liberty and grace, and healing those who are bound. Jesus in Matthew 9:35 meets Isaiah’s description of the Lord’s anointed undoubtedly.
The kingdom of heaven has invaded earth in the person of Jesus, the Christ. Jesus, in the full power of the Spirit, is ministering in every city and village and teaching from the Old Testament Scriptures, pro-claiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing any and all diseases and afflictions. The prophe-sied Christ has emphatically come. And he has come to the poor, the broken-hearted, and those who mourn.
Jesus as Shepherd (v. 36)
In verse 36, we meet Jesus’s audience, the subjects of his messianic ministry. Jesus hasn’t come for those who are socially important, financially well-off, or physically healthy. But notice also that those are not the ones who are attracted to Jesus. The crowds are composed of those who are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” While the church is composed of an exceedingly diverse peo-ple, one thing that all of God’s people have in common is that we are all weak, needy, and dependent. Paul, in First Corinthians, describes God’s intentional choosing of those who are foolish, weak, low and despised to be his followers, so that no one can boast in themselves (ref. 1 Cor 1:27-31). Christian, has anyone lovingly reminded you lately that God’s saving call was extended to you because you were fool-ish, weak, and helpless? Praise God for saving you, a harassed and helpless sheep. Take comfort in Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; an the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
What is Jesus’s response when he sees the crowds? Matthew says, “he had compassion for them.” The crowds’ inability to help themselves or pull themselves up by their bootstraps causes Jesus to have compas-sion for them. Is that your response when you see someone who has great needs or is helpless? Christian, might God grant us to have the heart of Christ toward those who have outstanding needs and require much help.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus calls himself the good shepherd. He is the prophesied Davidic shepherd from Ezekiel 34. Ezekiel 34:15-16 says, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak…” Jesus is the compassionate Shepherd of God who leads and protects his sheep.
Jesus as Teacher (v. 37-38)
After having compassion on the crowds, Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his har-vest.” Two things stand out in Christ’s address here: the need and the instruction.
First, Jesus draws attention to a problem of scarcity. But he’s pointing out to his disciples that this ministry problem is not for a lack of opportunity or a lack of work. The fields are ripe for harvest and they are abun-dant. What is lacking in this equation are the laborers who are willing and able to reap this harvest. Christian, may you never forget that there are lost and harried sheep all around you. What, at minimum, is Jesus calling you to do from this passage? After pointing out the plentiful harvest and the shortage of laborers, Jesus’s instruction to his disciples is not what one might expect. He doesn’t tell them to go mobilize and round up more laborers. And while he is getting ready to send them out to the lost sheep of Israel and give them au-thority to heal and to proclaim the kingdom of heaven, he first instructs them to pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest. Christian, all of your service and good works should begin with earnest prayer. And more specifi-cally in this context, we must “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his har-vest.” In this prayer of dependence, we acknowledge the Lord’s sovereign dominion in two ways: harvest and laborers. The harvest and the workforce belong entirely to the Lord and this should give us great com-fort. It’s a promise that our earnest prayers and even our labors will not be in vain for it all belongs to him.
This October there are many ministry opportunities at LRPC. In addition to the regular weekly rhythm of the church, the Missions Conference is scheduled for 10/8 and 10/9 and the Fall Harvest Festival for 10/29. If you are available to help with or participate in either/both, your presence is more than welcomed. But whether you can or cannot attend, remember that your principle service to LRPC’s missionaries and outreach is that of earnest prayer to the Lord of the harvest. Certainly the ministry of the church requires more than prayer, but might it never be less. Christian, as we enter into this busy season of ministry, may Jesus as Christ, Shep-herd, and Teacher comfort and encourage you in all your labors.
1 – Christ is the Greek word used to translate the Hebrew word messiah, which means anointed.
2 – ESV footnote, Or the opening [of the eyes] to those who are blind;