As I return from serving Christ for a few weeks on a mission trip to Africa, my mind has been drawn to a common passage of Scripture on missions: Matthew 9:35-38. In these verses, once Jesus called His disciples to follow Him, they traveled to the cities and villages in the region of Galilee. It is here that Jesus speaks about His great need in missions. While I have heard this passage read and preached more times than I can count, as I meditate on what was happening in Galilee and connect it to today, I am reminded of the following truths:
The Compassion of Jesus
In these towns, Jesus would go into their synagogues on the Sabbath and teach. He would stand up and preach the gospel of the kingdom. The kingdom that God had promised His people was finally arriving through the ministry of Jesus. By believing and following in Him as King, they would be citizens of the kingdom of heaven. To confirm His kingship, as well as His prophetic message and His priesthood, Jesus healed every sickness and every disease among the people. As Jesus healed them from their sickness, He was showing them that He would also heal them of their spiritual sickness of sin. As He looked around, Jesus saw so many people in the bondage of sin that needed to hear of the redemption and freedom of His kingdom! He was moved to compassion for them. He mourns for the lostness of humanity and wants us to be saved. It is Christ’s compassion for the multitudes that leads to the missionary efforts of His church. But how often do I lack this compassion for the lost in the business of my day-to-day life and in my selfish heart? I need to confess my sins and come to Christ to gain His heart for the nations!
The Plentiful Harvest
Jesus’ compassion drives Him to call His disciples to action. Comparing this lost world to a wheat field, He remarks that the harvest is plentiful. This means that we should look for and even expect people to hear and respond to the gospel message proclaimed! Of course, there will be opposition. But this will not stop the fields from being harvested. When I look around today, in my pessimism and cynicism, I can begin to think that the world is going to hell and only a few will be saved. I don’t think the harvest is plentiful—I think it is lean. But this isn’t what Christ says, because He knows that there are many who will be saved! So many, the Apostle John writes of seeing “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10) Now whenever people come together today, people number them. 73,000 people attend the Super Bowl game. A million people march in Washington D.C. But we look forward to a day when all of Christ’s church will be gathered and it will be such a great multitude that no one can number. How this great future should fuel our missions today, knowing the field is ripe for harvest until our Savior returns!
The Few Laborers
At the same time, Christ contrasts the greatness of the harvest with the few laborers who will reap the harvest. Jesus could only travel to so many places in Galilee, and He knew that it would take many more to reach the harvest in the multitudes that He loved. Without laborers, they were harassed and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd. This is a picture of many who are in danger without hope. And there is hope along with protection and care in Christ’s kingdom! So we need more men and women heralding the gospel to the peoples of the world. We should never be content with how many laborers there are—we need more. Where will they come from? Since God is the one who raises up and sets apart men to preach the gospel, He is the one who ultimately sends laborers into the harvest. So what can we do?
The Call to Prayer
Jesus calls us to pray. Our prayers are the means through which God will send out more laborers. With this in mind, how much of our prayers are focused on sending church planters into our communities and missionaries into the nations? We already have church planters and missionaries in the field that need our prayer support, but how easy it is for us to forget about them? Out of sight, out of mind! At the same time, Christ is asking for more. We must pray for more men willing to labor in harvesting souls for His kingdom. This takes an intentional and ongoing focus in our churches. The need is so great! Our worship services, prayer meetings, and personal devotionals should all follow Christ’s call to pray for God to send out laborers into His harvest.
The Lord of the Harvest
In calling us to pray for missions, Jesus also gives us great confidence and security in our prayers. So we must not be overwhelmed as we consider the fields that remain to reap. Why? Because God is the Lord of the harvest. He is our Sovereign Lord! He makes the field ripe for harvest, and He will make sure that the harvesting will be completed. So the responsibility to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth has not been left up to us, but God has given us the privilege of being involved by praying to Him so that more will be sent. Even as our risen Savior gives the Great Commission to His church before He ascends to the right hand of the Father, He promises us: “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 29:20b). The future is sure and certain, and God uses us to help accomplish His plans. So let us pray to the Lord for missions!