Matthew 9:35-38 The Greatest Mission
Today is Father’s Day. Like Mother’s Day last month, we celebrate the role that fathers play in the lives of families. I would suggest that if men are called to be fathers and leaders of their families, then they should also take the charge in leading the church in the greatest mission that God has given them.
Right now as Southern Baptists, we are not doing a great job with the greatest mission. The Annual Church Profile statistics came out this week at the SBC Annual Meeting in Phoenix, which I wrote about. They show that to reach just one person, it takes 54 people. That means that it would take 54 people in this room to bring one person to Christ. To put it another way, one person in this room would have to go out and meet 54 people, talk to 54 people, knock on 54 doors, before one comes to Christ.
That is not really talking about church growth. Because salvation is the first step. We have to go beyond just inviting people to Christ. We have to bring them into community with this church. Let them be part of Sunday School. For a comparison, when I entered the pastorate twenty years ago, the ratio was 27 to 1. Now it is 54 to 1. It is twice as hard as it was twenty years ago. The greatest mission is getting harder every year.
The greatest mission is also the hardest mission any father can face. It is going to take fathers who will step up and join in this greatest mission on a personal level. But how do you do that?
I want to share with you three different areas in which fathers can lead in both their families and in the church. To help you through this sermon, I have provided a little gift bag for every father today. I am giving each father a plastic bag that contains three items. Each item relates to one of the ways God can help us complete the greatest mission.
First, there is the Father’s ministry. You can take out the first item in your Father’s Day gift bag.
The Father’s Ministry (Matthew 9:35) – “Cotton Swab”
“Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.” (Matthew 9:35, HCSB)
You can take out the cotton swab. This cotton swab represents the ministry that God has given fathers. You may be wondering how does a cotton swab relate to preaching the good news, and healing every disease. Well, the Good News and healing are both examples of fixing. The Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ fixes a person’s eternity. Healing fixes an illness.
I don’t know about you, but I know many fathers who have unusual tools. They have a toolbox which they use to fix different things. Well, this cotton swab represents a tool used to fix and clean different things. I know what you are thinking. Cotton swabs are used by women. They use it to apply makeup and clean up. Yes, but did you know that men can use them for other reasons. You can use a cotton swab to clean a computer keyboard, or to clean your ear (although that is not really recommended). You can use it to clean a rifle. It can be used to make a bow and arrow. You can use it to oil baseball mitts. You can use it to paint your keys. But the most important way to use a cotton swab is to clean your TV remote.
Fathers, we are not just in the business of fixing things. We have the opportunity to participate with God in helping to fix people’s lives for eternity. God does the hard work of fixing. We just get to help.
Now you can take out the second item in your Father’s Day gift bag. This is the antacid.
The Father’s Compassion (Matthew 9:36) – “Antacid”
“When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36, HCSB)
Matthew describes here that Jesus felt compassion for the crowd. That compassion was a form of empathy. He felt for other people and their concerns. The same word is used when Jesus felt compassion for Mary and Martha at the loss of Lazarus. The same word is used to describe the Samaritan who had compassion on the Jew who was beaten up the road from Jericho to Jerusalem.
Jesus’ response is very strong; “compassion” literally means a “stirring in the bowels.”1 Jesus had heartburn. His heart burned for other people. An antacid is used to help soothe heartburn. Jesus wants the hearts of fathers to burn with compassion for His people.
“who will go out before them and come back in before them, and who will bring them out and bring them in, so that the Lord’s community won’t be like sheep without a shepherd.”” (Numbers 27:17, HCSB)
Moses entreats God to lead Israel lest they be as sheep without a shepherd.
“So Micaiah said: I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd. And the Lord said, “They have no master; let everyone return home in peace.”” (1 Kings 22:17, HCSB)
The prophet Micaiah saw Israel scattered as without a shepherd. In both cases, these father figures had compassion for the people they lead – the people of Israel. The shepherd picture is a perfect picture for fathers. The people in a family are sheep without a shepherd unless the father leads them. The people in both and the community are also sheep without a shepherd. The heart of a father burns with compassion for others.
Sometimes, dealing with kids and people who you lead can cause you heartburn. They can be stressful. You take that antacid to ease that pain. But when you look at an antacid, I want you to be reminded of the need for your heart to burn for the people you lead. Have compassion on your wife and children, on the workers you lead, on the lost people whom God has put in your path.
The Father’s Vision (Matthew 9:37-38) – “seed”
“Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”” (Matthew 9:37–38, HCSB)
Let’s look at the final item in your Father’s Day gift bag. You pick up a seed. We talk about planting seeds. Yes, that is part of our role as Christians. But when you look at this seed, I want you to pray for the harvest. Jesus says that God’s vision for the church is the harvest of souls. He wants more workers to come out into the harvest. Yet, Jesus doesn’t my work just yet. First, He wants my prayer. Fathers need to be praying fathers. They need to be praying for their families as well as their church. They need to be praying for the harvest in God’s Kingdom.
That is what the seed represents. God brings the abundant harvest from one tiny seed. As a matter of fact, the seed reproduces with multiple seeds inside the fruit. We need to pray for multiple harvests. So when you look at this seed fathers, I want you to pray.
It is his harvest, and that is a relief. It does not all depend on us. We are not lords of the harvest. We are called on to pray. Why do we not go? Why do we not care? Because we do not pray. The harvest is great. Opportunity knocks.4 Because the harvest starts with you and your children. Let me end with this story.
At the funeral of Ronald Reagan, his son Michael described the greatest gift a child can receive:
I was so proud … to be Ronald Reagan’s son. What a great honor. He gave me a lot of gifts as a child—a horse, a car, a lot of things. But there’s a gift he gave me that I think is wonderful for every father to give every son.…
Last Saturday, … when he closed his eyes, that’s when I realized the gift that he gave to me, the gift that he was going to be with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He had, back in 1988 on a flight from Washington, D.C., to Point Mugu, told me about his love of God, his love of Christ as his Savior. I didn’t know then what it all meant. But I certainly, certainly know now.
I can’t think of a better gift for a father to give a son. And I hope to honor my father by giving my son, Cameron, and my daughter, Ashley, that very same gift he gave to me. I know where my father is this very moment; that he is in heaven. I can only promise my father this: “Dad, when I die, I will go to heaven, too. And you and I and my sister, Maureen, who went before us, will dance with the heavenly host of angels before the presence of God. We will do it melanoma- and Alzheimer’s-free.”5
1 Cynthia M. Campbell, “Exegetical Perspective on Matthew 9:35–10:4,” in Feasting on the Gospels: Matthew, Chapters 1–28, ed. Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson, First Edition., vol. 1, A Feasting on the Word Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 251.
2 Jeannine K. Brown, Matthew, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015), 109.
3 Myron S. Augsburger and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Matthew, vol. 24, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982), 18.
4 Michael Green, The Message of Matthew: The Kingdom of Heaven, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 134.