Matthew 9:35-10:8 (Second Sunday after Pentecost—Series A)
“Ask for Harvest Workers”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
June 14, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is the reading from Matthew 9:
35And Jesus kept going around all the cities and villages in order to teach in their synagogues and proclaim the good news of the reign and heal every disease and every ailment. 36Now when he had seen the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest crop is great, but the workers are few. 38Therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” 1And he called to himself his Twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits so as to cast them out and to heal every disease and every ailment. 2The names of the Twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, his brother; and James the son of Zebedee and John, his brother; 3Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus and Thaddeus; 4Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him. 5These Twelve Jesus sent out and charged them, saying, “Do not depart into a way that leads to Gentiles and do not enter into a city of the Samaritans. 6But go, rather, to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7Now as you travel, preach and say, ‘The reign of heaven stands near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received; freely give.”
Pastor, Teacher, Deaconess, Director of Christian Education, Director of Family Life Ministry, Director of Parish Music. These are many of the church work vocations into which qualified men and women are called to serve the Lord of the Church and His people in congregations and schools throughout our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. These ministers of the Gospel are trained and prepared for their various service and then called by the Lord through the Church (the people of God in Christ) into their particular office and vocation.
Now, let me ask this question. When was the last time you prayed and asked God to send more people into church work vocations? To use the words of Jesus, when was the last time you asked the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest? For a few of you, it may have been rather recently, but I’m going to guess that for most of us, this is not one of our top ten prayer requests each week. All of Jesus’ disciples, both then and now, are to ask the harvest Lord to send out faithful laborers. Have we always been faithful in this task? If praying for Christ to raise up pastors and teachers and deaconesses is part of your regular prayer routine, praise God! Well done, thou good and faithful servant! If not, the Holy Spirit can redirect your hearts and minds to this much needed prayer in the life of His Church.
The source for this prayer is the compassion of Jesus. The one, triune God desires that all people be saved from their sins and the punishment of eternal death and hell (1 Tim 2:4). That is why the Father sent His One-of-a-Kind Son into the world—to save sinners! God’s Word teaches us that all have sinned. All of us fall short of what God would have us speak, think, desire, and do (Rom 3:23). When our Lord had seen the crowds as He went around all the cities and villages teaching and preaching the good news of the reign of God, as He healed every disease and ailment, Jesus had compassion on them. He had compassion because “they were harassed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.” These words emphasize that the people were victims of evil spiritual forces around them—the devil, the world, their sinful flesh. Their spiritual leaders were not proclaiming the good news of the reign of God to them, the salvation that God’s Messiah-Savior had come to bring through the forgiveness of sins. Rather, the people were left harassed and downcast under the burden of the Lord’s condemning Law. They saw their sins and their helplessness with no way out.
It is Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior Himself, who had compassion on these men and women. In another metaphor, Jesus viewed these burdened sinners as a crop in the field ready to be harvested. And there was an urgent need for workers to cultivate and prepare that crop with the Gospel message of the reign of God that stands near and is indeed here in the person and work of the Messiah, Jesus. To those burdened by their sins, to people cowering in the fear of everlasting death and hell because they are not right with God, the only message that can remedy that situation is the Good News that Jesus has come to save all people from sin, death, Satan, and all their tyranny.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ sets free from sin and death by applying the forgiveness of sins to each person through faith in the One who came to suffer and die to pay for those sins in full. We heard in Romans 5 this morning, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. . . . God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Rom. 5:6, 8–9 ESV). The Gospel in and of itself is a Means of Grace. It is the Means whereby the Holy Spirit delivers to people the forgiveness of sins purchased with the precious blood of Christ shed on the cross.
The compassion of Jesus for harassed and helpless sinners produced the command to pray for workers in the Lord’s harvest field. All people need what the Word of the Gospel offers, gives, and seals, namely, the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation from death and hell. Truly, “the harvest crop is great, but the workers are few. Therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” If people do not hear the Word of Christ, how can they trust in Him by faith as their Savior and so receive the forgiveness of sins? The apostle Paul addresses this very question in Romans 10: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, . . . ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:9–15 ESV).
Quite obviously the answer is that unless workers are sent to proclaim the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins, people cannot hear and cannot believe. The compassion of Jesus for sinners the world over is placed into the hearts of Christians by the Holy Spirit. This compassionate desire to see that men and women hear the Gospel and come to saving faith, receiving the forgiveness of sins and eternal life by the power of the Holy Spirit, is what produces this trusting prayer that our Lord would send out workers into the harvest of people.
Although the one will lead to the other, Jesus’ immediate and explicit appeal to His disciples was not as yet to go out and harvest, but to pray for harvest workers. Of course, those who prayed (the disciples) did turn out to be the ones who go in answer to that prayer as Jesus sent the Twelve apostles out with the Gospel message. But for us, should not our focus be on the prayer that the Lord would send workers—pastors, teachers, deaconesses, missionaries, Bible translators, and others—into the harvest that is so large today? Like the Twelve, there may be some of you who Christ will raise up to serve as church workers, but there are many that He will not. But He asks all of us to pray for these workers. He wants you to pray to Him that workers in the Kingdom might be raised up in every generation so that all people might hear the Gospel, receive the forgiveness of sins, and be saved by faith in Jesus through the grace and mercy of our heavenly Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Today then, let me offer this challenge to you and to myself as well. And the challenge is simple. In your regular prayers throughout the week, ask the Lord Jesus to send workers into His harvest. Ask the Lord to raise up men who are qualified to serve in the Office the Holy Ministry as pastors. Ask Christ to bring women and men into the teaching ministry of the Church for our parochial schools and colleges and seminaries. Pray the Lord to raise up women of faith to serve as deaconesses in congregations and schools. Ask the Savior to send men and women into the ministry as Directors of Christian Education or Family Ministry or Parish Music. Pray for more missionaries and Bible translators. And I’ll be bold to ask one more thing of you. Don’t resist the tug of the Holy Spirit to explore church work vocations for yourself, for your sons and daughters and grandchildren. It might you or them who answers the prayer that the Lord of the harvest send out workers. Amen.