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Matthew 9:35-38

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Sigmund Freud, whether you like him or not, was one of the most influential thinkers in recent times.  His work has largely contributed to the state of psychiatry today.  But when Sigmund Freud died at the age of 83, he was a bitter and disillusioned man. One of Freud’s issues was that he had little compassion for the common person. Freud wrote in 1918, 'I have found little that is good about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all." (Veritas Reconsidered, p. 36)   As a result, Freud died friendless. His last days were very bitter.  All of his followers had even broken ties with him. (http://www.crosswalk.com/pastors/illustrations/)

In our passage for today, we are going to read about someone else who’s friends cut ties with him when he died, but not because he had a lack of compassion.  In fact this perfect demonstrated perfect compassion.  Obviously, the man I am talking about is Jesus.  Please join me in turning to the Bible to see this perfect compassion that Jesus demonstrated.  Our passage for today is found in Matthew 9:35-38.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 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."

This short passage is a transition in Matthew’s gospel.  As we will see in a minute, Matthew is using these verses to summarize what has come before, and he uses it as a springboard for what is to come.  In this section of transition, we can see things that Jesus does.  First of all, Jesus demonstrates kingdom work.  Next, Jesus reveals the heart of a kingdom worker.  And finally, Jesus calls his disciple to ask God to send kingdom workers.

So point number 1:  Jesus demonstrates kingdom work.  Matthew has spent the last four chapters of his gospel describing Jesus participating in a multitude of activities.  Matthew summarizes these activities using these words:  Teaching, Preaching, and Healing.

In the last few chapter of this book, Matthew describes some of Jesus most controversial teachings.  In Matthew chapters 5 through 7, we read of Jesus’ teaching not only his disciples, but also vast crowds of people.  His teaching include such hot-button topics as: interpreting the law, how to handle divorce, the proper way to pray, the proper way to fast, what terms like ‘adultery’ and ‘murder’ actually mean.  And this is not easy teaching to hear.  He is not toeing a party line, or trying to make any friends.  Instead, he is turning people’s world views on their heads.  Repeatedly, he uses the phrase:  “You have heard that it was said,...but I tell you...”

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.'  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

“You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:43)

He is most certainly turning people’s world views on their heads.  He is teaching the people that what they have been taught all of their lives isn’t necessarily true.  And his biggest shocker is yet to come!

Not only does Jesus spend his time teaching, but he also spent his time preaching.  And if people thought that his teaching was a little hard to handle, his preaching was even more so!  What did he preach to the people?  He was preaching the good news of the kingdom!    But not the good news of the kingdom that people were used to hearing.  He was preaching that the way to get into the kingdom was narrow, not wide.  He was preaching that for people to enter the kingdom, their righteous has to be greater than that of the most righteous people around.  He even went so far as to say that those who were anticipating a seat at the feast in the Kingdom of heaven will have their seat taken from them, only to be replaced by people who have come from far and wide.  Was Jesus saying that people outside of Israel were going to be part of the kingdom?  Yes.  Yes he was.

Next, Matthew shows us that Jesus was not just all talk.  Not only could he talk the talk, but he could walk the walk.  Matthew records some incredible miracles that Jesus performed as he was teaching and preaching to the people:

§  He healed people of leprosy

§  He calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee

§  He cured Peter’s mother-in-law of sickness.

§  He cast out demons.

§  He healed the blind and the mute

§  He even raised a little girl from the dead!

Ok, so what does all this mean?  In summary, what this means is that Jesus was going from town to town—everywhere that he went—he was teaching people, he was preaching the good news to them, and he was healing them of all their sickness and disease.  Jesus demonstrated kingdom work.  He lived out kingdom work to its fullest.

So, from verse 35, we have seen that Jesus demonstrated Kingdom work.  Next as we read verse 36, we will see that Jesus also reveals the heart of a Kingdom worker.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Jesus most certainly drew large crowds because of his teaching, preaching, and healing.  Anyone who comes along and doing and saying spectacular things like was Jesus was doing and saying would obviously draw a crowd.  But instead of thinking to himself “How great is this?  Look at how people are coming out to see me?”, he thought, “These poor, harassed, and helpless people.”  Instead of being arrogant, Jesus reacted with compassion.  His attention was not on himself, but on the people.

The leaders of Israel in the days of Jesus truly were harassing the people.  The religious leaders were notorious for creating strict laws for the people to follow, especially when it came to the observation of the Sabbath.  The leaders were heaping burdens on the people, telling them “you can’t do this” and “you can’t do that.”  The leaders didn’t love the people like a shepherd loves his sheep and takes care of them.  Instead of caring for the people, they cared about themselves.  They were more concerned with appearances and with their positions of power than they were with the people.

But Jesus was different.  He did not look at the people, thinking “they are doing this wrong” and “they are doing that wrong.”  He didn’t look at them with scorn or with disappointment.  Instead, he looked on them with compassion.  He loved them like a shepherd loves his sheep.  He cared about them and about their well-being where the religious leaders only cared about themselves.  Jesus wanted the people to feel safe.  He wanted them to be cared for and to thrive. 

The compassion of Jesus is the crucial point of this passage.  It is the point at which the passage turn.  One verse prior, Matthew summarized what had been happening.  One verse later, Matthew is foreshadowing what is to come.  What came before and what is to come all hinges on the compassion of Jesus.  It is out of his compassion that Jesus demonstrates Kingdom work.  It is out of his compassion that he calls the disciples to ask God to send Kingdom workers.  The point that Matthew is making in this passage is the importance of having a heart of compassion.

So.  We have seen that Jesus demonstrated Kingdom work, and he revealed the heart of a kingdom worker.  Now, in verses 37 and 38, we see Jesus calling his disciples to ask God to send Kingdom workers.  Then Jesus 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."

In the last verse, Matthew compares the people of Israel to sheep without a shepherd.  Jesus compares the vast crowds of people to a harvest field.  But not just any field.  He says that they are God’s field.  Jesus looks out over the crowds of people and sees the Kingdom of God.  The only problem was that the people didn’t know about the Kingdom!  Jesus was teaching and preaching and healing everywhere that he went, but there were still so many people who had not heard!  Jesus knew that it wasn’t his mission—that God did not send him to earth—to tell everyone about the Kingdom.  Jesus mission on earth was to usher in the Kingdom, which he was doing.  Jesus knew that God would send others to bring people into the Kingdom of God.

There is urgency in Jesus’ voice as he speaks to his disciples.  Harvest time is not a time to relax.  The fields are ripe.  They are ready to be picked.  If you wait too long, the crop spoils.  If you don’t have enough workers, you won’t be able to cover the entire field, and some of the ripe harvest will not be picked!

So, as Jesus is looking out on the vast crowds of people, he gathers his disciples close to himself and says to them “Pray for God to send out workers.  Ask God to send out into the crowds people who know and understand the good news of the Kingdom of God.  The people need leaders who will care for them, love them, seek after them when they are lost rather than harassing and oppressing them.  The people are ready!  They need to be shown love and mercy, so ask that God will send out these types of workers out among the people.”

The same crowds of people that Jesus was talking about 2000 years ago still exist today.  The harvest—as Jesus put it—is still plentiful and in need of workers!  There are still vast amounts of people who do not know about the Kingdom of God!  And Jesus’ physical presence is no longer here on earth.  So what is to be done?

Jesus’ call to his disciples is his call to us today.  Right here.  Right now.  Even today, we are called to ask the Lord of the harvest—we are called to pray to God—that he will send out workers.  The urgency is still the same as it was in Jesus day because the harvest is just as plentiful now as it was back then.

Jesus is huddling us close to himself and whispering in our ears:  “Pray for God to send out workers.  Ask God to send out into the crowds, people who know and understand the good news of the Kingdom of God.  The people need leaders who will care for them, love them, seek after them when they are lost rather than harassing and oppressing them.  The people need to be show love and mercy, so ask that God will send out these type of workers out among the people.”

And what is at the heart of a kingdom worker?  What type of workers should we be praying that God sends out into world?  Workers who have compassion!  People all over the world are being harassed and mislead by people without compassion.  Some even appear to have compassion, but they do not.

As Christians, we believe that Christianity is the only true religion.  We are unashamed of this fact.  We do not waver in our belief that our God is the one true God.  We stand firm believing that salvation is only found through Jesus Christ, God’s Son.  We honestly believe that all other religions are lies. The people that believe in other religions are mislead.  The problem is, they don’t realize it!  They think that they are finding their own way to God, but they are mislead!  There is only one way!  Jesus Christ is the way the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through him!

Misleading people through false religions is bad, but what’s worse is people who—under the heading of Christianity—preach a gospel other than the good news of Jesus Christ.  And it is happening all the time.  I’m not talking about different views on issues like Baptism or Women in Office.  I’m talking about a completely different gospel.  I’m talking about a gospel that preaches health, wealth, and prosperity.  I’m talking about a gospel that gives you 7 steps to a “good life.”  I’m talking about a gospel that gives the illusion of blessing in this life but leaves people empty in terms of eternity.  It’s a gospel that doesn’t mention suffering of sin.  And the biggest question of all is “Where is Jesus?”

In my mind, this is the ultimate form of harassment, and this is complete lack of compassion.  When this gospel is preached to people, it gives the illusion of compassion because people’s lives seem to be improving.  People experience a type of blessing:  restored relationships with others, promotion at work, release from debt, maybe even a new car.  But what happens when you lose your job?  What happens when you get into another fight with that person you just made up with?  What if the car breaks down?  Where does that leave you?

The bigger question is, what happens at the end of your life?  What hope do you have for eternity?  Health, wealth, and prosperity in this life is great while it lasts.  But what happens when you’re in the hospital staring death in the face?  What hope do you have then?  The only true gospel is the only thing that can give you hope then.  And any person who preaches a gospel other than the good news of Jesus Christ, especially to a person on their deathbed, lacks compassion.  The person preaching a false gospel is preaching a lie and leading people away from the one true God.

So, if there are leaders who are misleading people, harassing them and showing a lack of compassion, what type of people should we be praying to God for?  What type of people do we need to ask God to send out into his harvest field?  We need to ask God to send out workers into his harvest field who have the heart of Jesus and who will do the work that Jesus demonstrated.  In the first verse of our passage, we saw that Jesus was teaching, preaching and healing everywhere that he went.  And as he was teaching, preaching, and healing, he was doing so with the heart of compassion on the people.  Those are the type of workers that need to be sent out into the harvest.

What happened when the disciples started praying for God to send out workers into his harvest field?  God answered their prayer!  And they themselves were the answer!  In the very next chapter, we read about Jesus calling and sending out the disciples into the harvest field.  They are teaching, preaching, and healing among the vast crowds of people!  And they are doing it with a heart of compassion!

So what we need to do is we need to get down on our knees.  We need to earnestly pray for God to send out workers into his field because too many people are harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.  And prayer is the start.  Prayer is the turning of a key, starting up the engine. And once you pray for God to send out workers, don’t be surprised if you are the very person who is sent!

If you pray for God to send out people to reach your neighbors, doesn’t that show that you have a heart of compassion for your neighbors?  And isn’t that the type of person that God sends out to work in his field?  If you pray for God to send out people to reach your city, doesn’t that show that you have a heart of compassion for the your city?  And istn’ that the type of person that God send out to work in his field?  If you you pray for God to send out work to mission fields overseas, doesn’t that show that you have a heart of compassion for those people as well?  And isn’t that the type of person that God sends out to work in his field?

When you begin to pray—to earnestly pray—for God to send out workers into his harvest—when that key is turned and that engine starts up, do not be surprised it you are the one that starts moving!

The point to remember in this passage is compassion.  Jesus had compassion in his demonstration of kingdom work.  Jesus had compassion when he looked out at the crowd.  It was out of compassion that he called the disciple to pray for workers to go out into the harvest.  And this compassion is an eschatological compassion.  What that means is that this is compassion for people, both for this life, and for the life to come.  Think of what Jesus called the greatest commandment.  He said that the greatest commandments was actually two commandments:  Lover the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  And the second is like it:  love you neighbor as yourself.  This is reflective of compassion.  What is the greatest form of compassion?  The greatest form of compassion is being concerned with a person’s eternal well-being.  Compassion is also being concerned with a person’s physical well-being.

Take an inventory on your compassion level.  How compassionate are you?  Throughout the writing of this sermon, I have been struggling with how compassionate I am, and I came to the realization that I am not Jesus.  I don’t have the heart of Jesus.  I have a serious compassion deficiency, but only in certain areas.  I am very compassionate when it is convenient or almost impossible not to be.  I got an email this past week from the guy who was the best man in my wedding, and he poured out his soul to me about something that he is struggling with.  I had serous compassion for him.  I prayed for him, and wrote him a very compassionate email back.  I have compassion on the 14-year old girl that my wife mentors who has been the victim of abuse.  We hang out with her as much as we can.  We help her with her homework.  We take her to church with us.  We encourage her.  If I can’t have compassion in these times then something is seriously wrong.  The church usually does pretty well in this area.

But I do not have the heart of Jesus, and the church does not have the heart of Jesus.  Not only do we cherry-pick our compassion and only display it when we feel like it, but our compassion only extends so far.  A church usually responds with tremendous compassion on the family that loses a loved one.  Scores of people bring them casseroles the following week.  But what happens months later when the family is struggling?  Where are the scores of people then?  We have compassion for the poor that we see in the streets, but what do we do beyond feeling sad and helpless?  We have compassion on the people in foreign countries who haven’t heard the gospel, but we think that we can just throw money at missionaries and think that we have done our part to solve the problem.  We have compassion on the person that shares with us a personal struggle in confidence.  But our compassion stops with the words “I’ll pray for you” as we go off and tell the next person that we see all about the other person struggle.  And what’s worse, we disguise the gossip as a “prayer request.”  How sick is that?

What would happen if we were truly moved to compassion as Christ was moved to compassion?  What if we had the heart of Jesus?  If the church—if you and I—truly had the heart of Jesus, we would be on our knees praying that God would raise up Kingdom workers to go out into his harvest field.  And we would be the ones that God would be raising up.  We would be the ones teaching, preaching, and healing everywhere that we went.  If only we could have the compassion of Jesus.  If only we could rise up, and do the Kingdom work that Jesus did.  We need to.  And we have to.

And we can.  Jesus has not called us to an impossible task.  We know it is not possible, because he himself did it.  And like I aluded to at the begniJesus came to earth in perfect compassion, forgoing his position in heaven to become a mere human creature.  He lived a life of perfect compassion, teaching, preaching, and healing everywhere that he went.  He died a death of perfect compassion, convicted of a crime that he didn’t commit and enduring a sentence that was unjust.  Even the resurrection was an act of perfect compassion because Christ, by his resurrection, defeated the power of sin and death and secured eternal life for those who would simply put their faith in him.

And this Jesus who demonstrated perfect compassion in all that he did gives us the ability to have his compassion.  His compassion can be our compassion because the Spirit of Jesus Christ can be the Spirit that lives inside of us.  When we put our faith in Jesus, our hearts are transformed because our hearts become the home of the Holy Spirit.  We don’t become perfect because our sinful nature remains.  But we are given the ability to have compassion like Christ showed compassion.

And with the compassion of Christ, we are the ones who demonstrate Kingdom work as we teach, preach and heal.  We reveal to other the heart of a kingdom worker as we look out on others with compassion.  And we pray with compassion that God will send out Kingdom workers into his harvest field knowing full well that when we pray with a heart of compassion, we are the ones most likely to be sent.

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