“Pray the Lord of the Harvest”
Sermon by Nate and Ken Wilson on Matthew 9:35-38
I have been a missionary now for over 10 years. Over this time, my job has focused exclusively on helping to organize Christians toward involvement in foreign missions. So, you could say that this sermon has been more than a decade in preparation! However, it was just as I was sketching out the outline that I got a letter in the mail from a long-time missionary friend of mine. I want to read it to you because it so perfectly illustrates the importance of prayer in missions.
“We called the Taiwan consulate, just to ask some questions concerning the type of visa that we would be requesting (a multiple-entry visa). Because we go in and out of Taiwan so regularly, to get a multiple entry visa makes travel much more convenient. The woman on the other end of the phone responded with finality, ‘We don’t give multiple entry visas.’ This came as a surprise to us, in that we have heard of others receiving one. John [my missionary friend] asked several questions, all met with the same clear response, ‘We don’t give multiple entry visas.’
“With John’s language ability and history in Taiwan, we felt that we might have more success in dealing with the consulate face to face, rather than over the phone. So John made a trip down to Houston.
“He approached the counter to apply for our visas and inquired about the multiple entry visa. He was met by the staunch reply of a woman who had ‘ruled’ that office for 16 years. She again reported that they do not give multiple entry visas. John turned on all his third culture charm and asked question after question, and made many attempts to try to change her mind. With each of John’s attempts, the woman became more and more resolute, demanding one after another new requirement. He realized that his situation was only getting worse, and now he was faced with a list of documents that he had to provide in order for us to even get a single entry visa – documents that he did not have. He decided to retreat and try to at least gather the papers that she had requested and come in the next morning to try again.
“Back in Oklahoma at this time, Jamie [John’s wife] was working on the computer, sending some email, when a message came up on her screen that one of our missionaries down in Mexico was online and wanted to visit. They wrote messages back and forth to each other over the Internet for a few minutes, checking in and asking how each other was doing. Jamie informed her that John was in the Taiwan consulate trying to get the visas and that there was a possibility that he was having some trouble. Mary asked, ‘Is it too late to pray?’ to which Jamie said, ‘No,’ and asked for prayer. Mary wrote back that she was praying right then that God would give us our multiple entry visa into Taiwan.
“As John left the office, he waited in the corridor for the elevator to take him down to the street level. Two Chinese men came out of the office dressed in suits and joined John in the elevator. John asked them in Chinese if they were getting off work. Startled and surprised to hear a white man speaking Chinese, they responded with excitement. They struck up a conversation in Chinese that lasted for just a few minutes. By the end of the ride, one of the men said, ‘Hey I want to have lunch with you tomorrow. I know a great Chinese restaurant. I’ll introduce you to it.’ He handed John his card and told him to just come to the front office at 11:30 and show the woman his card and they would go to lunch together. Never able to turn down a great Chinese meal, John agreed. He looked down at the card in his hand and saw that it belonged to the Director General of the Taiwan Consulate!
“The next morning, John entered the office and approached the same belligerent woman at the front desk. She greeted him, expecting to have to deal with his visa applications. Instead, John showed her the business card and told her that the Director General was waiting for him. Her eyes widened with confusion and surprise. Then she ducked her head and summoned the Director General.
“After a wonderful Chinese meal, John returned to the consulate literally arm in arm with the Director. As they walked down the corridor, heads peeked out of the office doors to watch this white man who was being led to the ‘holy of holies,’ the Director’s personal office… [The Director] assured John that his visa needs would be taken care of right away.
“When John finally went out to the front desk to receive his visas, the woman who had just the day before been nearly hostile about giving him a visa at all quietly bowed and handed over multiple entry visas for our whole family!
“The next day, when John and Jamie compared notes, they discovered that as John had been standing waiting for the elevator, Mary was praying, clear down in Mexico, that God would give us our multiple entry visas! That is how important your prayers are for us!”
When we pray like Mary did, God sends His servants out to reach the lost! Turn in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 9. The scripture passage I want to focus on this morning is a command from Jesus to pray for missionaries, but I think the context is very important, so let’s look at that first – Matthew 9:35:
35 And Jesus went about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. 36 But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, as sheep not having a shepherd. 37 Then said He unto His disciples, The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few.
What did Jesus see as He carried out His itinerant ministry around Galilee? He saw people everywhere that were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The phrase “harassed and helpless” paints a picture of predator progressively mangling its prey until it gives up trying to escape and just lies there in the dust. Politically speaking, Israel was at a pretty low point after being conquered by Babylon, Syria, Egypt, and the Romans.
Spiritually speaking, the Israelites were also “harassed and helpless” because their spiritual leaders, instead of teaching them the truth of God’s grace were beating them down with tons of man-made religious rules. The Pharisees were teaching that people could earn right relationship with God by obeying enough laws.
The fact is that we can NEVER be good enough to earn a right relationship with our Creator. The only way there ever has been to God is through belief in His Messiah (whom we know now as Jesus) whose death satisfies the punishment we deserve for not obeying all of God’s rules. It is Jesus who brings us into a right relationship with God, but the people hadn’t been taught this truth.
Today Jesus still looks out over the multitude with compassion and grieves that they are harassed and helpless.
· I think of the Muslims who have the same problem the Pharisees did, confusing outward obedience with salvation. There are over a billion Muslims wandering around today, spiritually “harassed and helpless” because they think that they can earn favor with God by praying and fasting and giving enough, and they’ve never heard of God’s grace!
· Jesus sees not only the Muslims, but all the harvest fields combined - 4 billion people today who will live and die and go to hell without ever knowing the truth that Jesus saves – unless someone makes a new effort to go and tell them.
Do you see them the way He saw them? With His eyes? Does your heart feel the compassion He felt? He sees your neighbors around you harassed with lies of materialism, hedonism, secularism, all the while their personal and family lives are coming unraveled. He sees the people in your workplace and in your places of recreation. Perhaps there is even one here thinking, “I’m harassed and helpless. I yearn for a compassionate shepherd.” He sees you and has compassion on you. Lord, grant us the grace to see them as You see them- with compassion. But what about the rest of us who are following the Good Shepherd? Do we as those in whom He lives see these masses with His eyes?
v.36 “But when [Jesus] saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them”
Compassion is a character trait of Jesus. When we respond in compassion, we are being like Him.
· It is interesting to note that the first occurrence of this phrase “like sheep without a shepherd” occurs in the book of Numbers (27:17) to describe the nation of Israel upon losing Moses as their leader. It was at that point that Joshua came in to shepherd God’s people and bring them into the promised land. In a very real way, Joshua (whose name is Hebrew for our English name Jesus) prefigures Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
· In the book of Ezekiel the same phrase occurs again, in chapter 34 God has harsh words for the spiritual leaders of His people and promises to come Himself to shepherd His people.
· And here in the book of Matthew, we see the fulfillment of that prophecy. God walked on earth and demonstrated His compassionate nature in the form of Jesus.
O.K. Now that we see the context of the passage, let us look at the specific command Jesus gives. If your heart is moved with compassion for the lost world around you, what should you do?
· Should you live under a burden of guilt for knowing the truth when others do not?
· Should you just cinch up our belt and give a little more money this week in the offering plate?
· Should you drop everything and sign up at a mission agency?
· What should we do with this?
We should PRAY.
This is an intense command. Most English Bibles do not give it the kind of intensity that it has in Greek when it speaks of praying and sending:
· The word for “pray/ask/beseech” in this verse (depending on your translation) is not the standard Greek word for “pray” or “ask,” dehqhte, the word here, is generally used in the sense of begging out of a deep sense of need. If our heart is moved with compassion for the lost, our prayers will be intense; we will BEG God to send out laborers.
The word for “send
out” in Greek is also not the standard word for “send,” the word here, ekballw, literally means to “throw” or eject by force.
Why such a strong word? Because this kind of work is difficult – for instance, in France where an Evangelical Christian is considered a minority cultist – a David Koresh who should be avoided at all costs. That could make things difficult! Well, sometimes, we need a kick in the pants because we don’t naturally want to labor in God’s harvest where it is difficult!
Now, tell me this, when Jesus said, “pray,” do you think the disciples said, “O.K., yeah, we’ll remember to record this when we write our Gospels…”?
If Jesus was standing right in front of you saying “Pray,” you’d drop down to your knees right then and there, and start praying wouldn’t you?
Note what happened after the disciples finished praying: they became the answer to their own prayers, because in the next few verses, Jesus sends them out two by two to preach in the next villages!
Does it scare you to think that if you obey Jesus’ command to pray for laborers that you or your children just might end up being the answer to your own prayers? We need to prepare ourselves – and our children – so that we can share the Gospel if and when Jesus sends us out!
“beseech the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into the harvest” RIGHT?
NO! It’s not “into THE” harvest” it’s “into HIS harvest.”
· Yes, “We are His people and the sheep of His pasture,” but He also created the lost billions and so they are also in a sense “His.”
· It’s not like we’re going outside of God’s sovereignty to reach these people, No, they are HIS harvest, and as we go out into them, He will be right there to help us!
· This is God’s baby! If He tells us to pray something it’s because He wants to fulfill that prayer! It He tells us to pray for more missionaries, you better believe that He wants to send out more missionaries!
Most of you are here because Jesus the Good Shepherd has already gathered you into His flock. He saw you “harassed and helpless.” He told one of His followers to pray for your salvation. And because someone prayed, He thrust forth a laborer to declare the good news to you that He loves you and died for you. And when you heard it you gladly came to Him. That’s the way it was for me. Years ago Jesus saw me and my potential to be harassed and had compassion on me, so He put it on the hearts of some people in my life to pray for the Lord of the Harvest to send someone at the right time to share the Gospel- My parents, Caroline Montgomery, Jeff Young and Bob Welch. Then one day Jesus told my mother, “It’s time. Speak to your son. She did, and I became a member of His flock.” If that is where you are, rejoice with me brothers (and sisters). What a compassionate Shepherd we have!!
But there could be some here this evening who are not yet in the flock and you know deep down you are not - you are feeling harassed, helpless, frightened. Well, I have good news for you. Jesus sees you and loves you and is answering my prayers by giving me an opportunity to preach to you this good news. He has compassion on you – He came to suffer and die for your sins. He wants to be your Shepherd—to protect, guide, and comfort you. Will you come to Him tonight and enter His flock?
Now if you’re anything like me, you may be saying, “How can I practically obey this command to pray to the Lord of the harvest to thrust out laborers?”
· Part of fulfilling this command to pray is simply praying the Lord’s prayer – when you say, “Thy Kingdom Come,” you are praying a missionary prayer that more and more people will recognize the kingship of our Lord Jesus! Use the Lord’s Prayer!
· Another real practical way you can pray for the Lord of the harvest to thrust out laborers is to pray for a missionary every day as part of your devotional time. (If you don’t know any missionaries, talk with me and I can hook you up!)
o How do you pray for a missionary? Look at Colossians 4. At the beginning of the chapter, Paul gives some specific prayer requests that we can use to pray for any missionary. He says to pray that “God will open a door” – that God would provide an opportunity for him to proclaim the Gospel, and Paul gives a second prayer request that when given the opportunity, he will “proclaim it clearly.” Those are two great ways to pray for a missionary, pray for opportunities to share the Gospel and pray that they can proclaim it clearly.
· Some other ideas: Pray for lost people that you see as you drive around town and also for people around the world as you hear about them on the news or as you eat ethnic food – if you have a burrito dinner, pray for the evangelization of South Americans and pray that God will send Latin Americans out to reach Muslims!
· I can also help you get printed prayer guides to help you pray for the world. One thing I used in High School was a set of cards that had information about a certain ethnic group printed on each one…
I would get together with my High school friends in the empty gymnasium before school started on Wednesday mornings and we’d pray to do well on our tests and for our sick Grandmas and our lost cats, but we also prayed through one of these little cards for a people group that had never had a missionary before. I remember that one of these cards described a group of gypsies that wandered up and down the Mediterranean coast, so we prayed for laborers to be sent out to them.
Well, I got to go on a short-term mission trip to France the year I graduated from High School, and at one point during this trip, I was having a pic-nic lunch with some missionaries in Aix-en-Provence, near the Southern coast of France. We were eating and playing boules on the park lawn when I noticed a bizarre group of people on the other side of the park, roasting a rooster on a spit over an open fire. These people were darker-skinned than the French people, and they were wearing brightly-colored clothes.
I asked the missionary we were with who these people were, and he replied that it was a group of Gypsies that ranged up and down the Mediterranean coast of France and Spain. My jaw dropped. I had never imagined that I would ever actually see the very people printed on that card that I had been praying for in High School! But there they were. I was almost afraid to ask the next question, “Do they have any missionaries?” “Yes,” replied my host, “although it was hard to find a missionary willing to live a nomadic lifestyle with these Gypsies, just in the last year, a man has decided to join them and travel with in order to share the Gospel with them.”
Wow! Can you imagine my excitement? There I was, seeing the answer to my prayers! After we had started praying, God had sent out a laborer to these Gypsies who might otherwise have lived and died without ever hearing that Jesus saves. I think when we pray for laborers like this, it gets God excited, too - The Lord of the Harvest loves to answer these kind of prayers!
Let us follow in the footsteps of our Master and be “moved with compassion for [the lost], because they have been harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Let us be moved by the fact that “The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few, and therefore [let us] beseech the Lord of the harvest, that He thrust out laborers into His harvest.” He will do it! And we will be glad and rejoice!