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 9:36-38
In this time of lockdowns and social distancing it is too easy for us as Christians to become passive consumers of video content on Sundays, and to spend the rest of the week either holed up in our homes isolating, and working online if we can, or out doing vital work which must continue. But what of the work of the gospel? What of sharing the good news with others? What of serving others to demonstrate the love of God? Churches are busy doing great work through food banks and other initiatives. But there are many opportunities for us to reach out and be Christ to a needy world.
Interestingly Jesus doesnt just tell us to get up and do something for him. Instead he urges his disciples to pray that God himself will send out the workers needed into the harvest field. In the pressure that dealing with people often brings that sense of commissioning is crucial. As we pray he will stir up our compassion for the lost who are described and we will find ourselves being the answer to our own prayers. Jesus has promised that HE will build his church, but he does so through you and I. As Piper puts it:
“Jesus tells us to pray for the workers that will be required to spread the gospel to all the nations. “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:38). Yet nothing is more certain than that the kingdom of God will triumph. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it … this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 16:18; 24:14). There is no uncertainty about the triumph of God. Nevertheless, in God’s providence it depends on human prayer.
This implies that prayer is not only a duty of man but a gift of God. Jesus will awaken in his people the spirit of prayer that asks for everything it will take to accomplish God’s purposes in the world. The prayers of Jesus’ followers and the purposes of God will not fail.”
Piper, J. (2006). What Jesus demands from the world (p. 112). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
The motivation for mission is compassion. Many of us have almost forgotten what a crowd looks like. Jesus loves to look at crowds. He sees them not just as a faceless multitude but as a mass of humanity. Jesus cares for each individual. He knows the individual pain that everyone has faced. This year has surely been a year where if our eyes are open we have seen the suffering that this world contains. Some of us spend most of our lives in relative comfort and ease. But if you live long enough on planet Earth suffering will hit you in the end.
I have spoken to some this year who have lost loved ones to COVID19. I have spoken to others who’s loved ones are critically unwell.
For so many this year, the pain has been real. The struggle is real. Many have struggled with a sense of isolation and loss of purpose as they have lost the ability to perform their normal roles in society as businesses have been forced to shut.
And faced with a pandemic which has ravaged us not just in terms of the disease it brings but economically, socially, and emotionally, lets face it what human leader has been up to the task? The crowds have surely felt harassed, helpless and at many times badly led – like sheep without a shepherd.
There is no doubt in my mind that having a faith in Jesus, who is the Good Shepherd, at a time like this makes all the difference. It doesn’t take away the pain, but it does give you hope.
Jesus’ compassion led to him weeping at others suffering. And it led to him asking his disciples, as he surely asks us today to pray. To pray for the lost. To pray for the suffering. That somehow God would send to each of them a worker. Not someone to bash them over the head with the Bible. But someone to demonstrate the love and compassion of Christ to them.
As we pray God will soften our hearts. Maybe that one person who irritates you the most is the precise person God is sending you out to as his Ambassador. It is as we feel Jesus’ Compassion towards others that we will feel his call to go and serve them.
Earlier this year we had a sermon at Jubilee about how we can use digital media to connect with others. This inspired me personally to start a website and online community for people with blood cancer. I have thus been able to connect with many who like me suffer from blood cancer and who’s concern about COVID19 given our damaged immune systems is all too real. Around 30% of published case series of people with blood cancer who contract COVID19 end up dying.
It has been a privilege to connect with people who are in the midst of great suffering. I have learnt from others as well as being able to offer hope. There have been times when I have questioned whether I am myself in the right place to help others. But I have learnt that Jesus uses those who are broken to reach others who are broken. And along the way the Good Shepherd cares for his own sheep and, sometimes slowly, heals our pain and teaches us to trust him even in difficult circumstances.
You and I may be the closest thing to Jesus many of our friends, family, neighbours and work colleagues will see.
Jesus desire is that we show his love to the loveless. His hope to the hopeless. His peace to the restless. His joy to the sorrowful.
Something is very wrong if all the world sees when it looks at the Church is hatred and judgement. There is an anger seen in so much evangelical communication which is frankly unbecoming. There have even sometimes been untruths proclaimed in the service of political positions, and tragically in some circles implicit racism remains unchallenged.
As we look at the broken world and the broken Church, our first response should be to pray. And as we pray we ask Jesus to catch us up first in his compassion and then to send us ALL out into the World as his representatives. The God who determines exactly where we live, and every step we take will place us alongside precious individuals who he wants us to show love to whether that is face to face in a brief conversation, through some kind of organised programme, or even online.
Who is God calling you and I to demonstrate his love to?