Friday, October 11, 2013
Where are the Harvest Fields?
I was skimming through the entire gospel of Matthew recently to get a better understanding of how Jesus went about ministering with the 12 disciples.When I got to this passage, I was stopped in my tracks and decided to write down what I learned...
When Jesus talks about the harvest and the laborers, what was the context? Where are the harvest fields he is referring to? Is it our home, our neighbors, our workplace? It is safe to say that we need to be laboring for the gospel's sake in all those places, but I don't think those were the specific places Jesus had on his heart when he spoke this message to his disciples. Let's look at the passage starting in Matthew 9:35:
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-38 ESV)
We see that Jesus was going through cities and villages, preaching the gospel and healing people. He was in the public gathering place of the day, synagogues, where he knew people would be and he could reach many people with a single teaching. In other words, Jesus went to preach the gospel where he knew there would be a significant number of people gathered. He was a fisher of men, and it just makes sense that fishermen go to places where they know fish gather. He wasn't invited to each city and village to be a guest speaker. These weren't people he had spent 6 months (or 6 years!!!) establishing a friendship with and had now earned the right to preach the gospel to. These were strangers, as were most of the people Jesus preached to throughout his public ministry. Jesus' motive was to seek and save the lost through the preaching of the gospel because that was His Father's will. And that is the same reason we are here today, to seek and save the lost, following the example of Jesus (John 20:21).
Next, we see the heart of Jesus having compassion on the crowds. His compassion came from his understanding that these people were harassed and helpless (other translations write confused, distressed, weary, scattered, dispirited, fainted, troubled) and they were also without a shepherd. Now at this moment, after being moved with compassion for these crowds of helpless people that he had been encountering from city to city, Jesus says to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
So, the harvest fields referred to in context here are the crowds of harassed, helpless and shepherd-less people in the cities and villages around us. And Christ calls us to pray for laborers to go into these harvest fields.
The following chapter in Matthew's Gospel makes this passage even more amazing. Right after the statement about laborers in the harvest, Jesus then turns to the disciples and we read, "And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction." (Matthew 10:1). So he gives them AUTHORITY for the task that was ahead of them, namely going into the harvest fields. After giving them authority, he sends them out (ie. he commissions them, Matthew 10:5-15). He warns them that persecution will come on their journey (Matthew 10:16-26), that they need to fear God and not man and to confess Christ before men (Matthew 10:27-33). While Jesus limited the scope of his disciples specifically to the lost sheep of Israel in this case, in Matthew 28 Jesus commissions us to do the same, but to go to the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike.
Matthew 28:18-20 - And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore[c] and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
Mark 16:15 - And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
So, in summary...Jesus's heart was broken for the harassed and helpless crowds of people around him and he was burdened with the fact that the laborers giong to these harvest fields are few. So Jesus then tells his disciples to pray for laborers to go to the multitudes and then commissions them himself to go out and preach the Kingdom of God in the harvest fields. When I read this I was struck at the similarity to the Great Commission given us who call Jesus Lord. We have been sent into the harvest fields, to the multitudes of harassed and helpless people around us in our local cities and villages. That is where we are to go.
By all means, we must preach the gospel in our homes, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, etc. But if we neglect to proclaim the gospel in the places around our city where we can reach many people with the gospel, then we are missing out on one of the specific places that broke Jesus' heart.
I pray that our heart will be moved with compassion for the multitudes around us that are harassed and helpless. That we will not limit our evangelism efforts to the people and relationships already in our lives but we would be burdened for the multitudes and take the time to go to the crowded places in our cities where many souls can be reached with the message of the gospel.