Summary: Harassed and helpless people in this world are waiting for someone to point the way to Christ.
The Harvest is Plentiful
Text: Matthew 9:35-38
Introduction: A New York ophthalmologist said that there were more nearsighted people in the city of New York City than in any other. His reasoning was that people routinely operate down among the skyscrapers, hemmed in by the walls of high buildings, which in turn limit their field of vision. For many the only opportunity for distant vision is to look up at the sky, which very few do. Thus, he said, the constant use of the eyes for short distances tends for nearsightedness and dissatisfaction. I’m not a medical expert, so I cannot attest to the validity of this claim, but I do see a spiritual counterpart here: Sometimes we as Christians can be so focused on the immediacy of our own little domains that we lose sight of the world around us. Yet this passage in Matthew 9 reminds us that we live in a world that is in desperate need of salvation. The compassion of Christ, that stirred His heart to preach the good news, demands that we do the same. Jesus used the word "harvest" to refer to those people among whom the gospel was sown. He made several interesting observations about them in this text. Let’s review them together.
I. The State of the Harvest (See Matthew 9:36). Jesus talks about the condition of the people to whom He was ministering. He uses a metaphor to which His disciples can relate--shepherding. Christ declares that the crowds, because they lack proper leadership, demonstrate the same symptoms as sheep that have no shepherd.
A. They are Harassed - The word means, "to flay," as in tearing off the skin of an animal. The Greeks used the word when they compared trouble to the pains of being flayed alive. Here Christ warns that, just as sheep, in the absence of a good shepherd, are subject to needless suffering, so the Israelites are subjected to similar distress when their leaders fail in their responsibilities to them (See Luke 11:42-52 -- The Pharisees focused on the external while neglecting justice and love for God. They were preoccupied with "image," and in fact were the source of defilement. The teachers of the law focused on righteousness established through the keeping of their rules.) Legalism is about control. The Law is about love (See Deuteronomy 6:15; Leviticus 19:18).
B. They are Helpless - The word used here refers to the weariness and fatigue that results from labor and being burdened. He saw the people burdened with the rites of religion and the doctrines of the Pharisees; sinking down under their ignorance and the weight of their traditions; neglected by those who should have been enlightened teachers; and scattered and driven out without care and attention (See Jeremiah 23:1,2). Application: No wonder Jesus was moved with compassion for the crowds. Who would wish that yoke on anyone? I heard about a guy who attended a legalistic college where students were to live according to very strict rules. They weren’t supposed to do any work on Sundays. None! Guess what? He spied on his wife and caught her hanging out a few articles of clothing she washed on a Sunday afternoon. He was so upset, he turned her in to the college authorities. I’ll bet she was fun to live with for the next few days. He should have read Proverbs 10:14 - " the mouth of a fool invites ruin."
II. The Opportunity of the Harvest. Changing the metaphor from a flock to a field, Jesus now envisions a large crop of ripe grain that is waiting to be harvested for the kingdom (See John 4:35). Now I wasn’t an agricultural major, but it seems to me that timing is everything when it comes to reaping a harvest.
A. Harvest time is a time of great consequence (See 2 Corinthians 6:1,2). There is a sense of urgency when it comes to bringing in the crop. It is possible for a farmer to wait too long and to lose the fruit of his labor. Application: There are some of us who have been ’sharing’ Jesus with the same people for years, but we’ve never asked them to receive Christ. One might wonder if we ever will.
B. Harvest time is a time of great effort (See 1 Corinthians 15:58). We must work if we’re going to reap the harvest. It will not come to us; we must go to it.
Illus: Do you remember the amazing rescue of the nine miners trapped in the Quecreek mine in Pennsylvania in July of 2002? They were trapped 240 feet beneath the surface for a total of 77 hours. I recall staying up into the early morning hours and watching on that final day as they were hauled out of the darkness to safety one-by-one. But the rescue was anything but easy. A drill bit broke in the rescue shaft they had started to drill. They couldn’t get the broken pieces out so after a new one was flown in they had to start another shaft. Communications was disrupted for a while and the miners themselves almost gave up and wrote notes to their loved ones. Their rescue was the result of a coordinated effort by hundreds. I remember cheering and stopping to thank God when they were finally rescued. God says that there is the same response over one sinner who repents (See Luke 15:3-10).