(Sermon from 2009-09-20)
A while back in Adult Class, when we began the topic of how to study our Bibles, I showed a video to illustrate the importance of paying attention. I want to show it again for those who missed it. If you’ve already seen it, then don’t say anything. We’ll see how observant the rest of you are…
So how good was your power of perception? Not as good as you thought?
Well, let’s try one more test to see how observant you are. Open your Bibles to Matthew 9. I’m going to read the majority of this chapter, up to verse 35. What I want you to do is imagine you are an eyewitness, watching the various events in Jesus’ ministry taking place. Maybe you’re one of the people in the crowd following Jesus, or perhaps one of the disciples. What do you see?
And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven. 1 ” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority 2 on earth to forgive sins”-he then said to the paralytic-“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came 3 and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” 4
Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast 5, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests 6 mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 7 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” 8 And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went through all that district.
And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” 9 Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.” 10 But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.
As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages 11, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.
– Matthew 9:1-35 (ESV)
Ok. You’ve just witnessed, along with hundreds of others, a portion of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. And while all these people have seen the same events, if you were to ask them one at a time what each one saw, you would probably get different answers.
For example, if you were the average Joe that followed Jesus around, you would see this prophet, this man of God, doing amazing miracles, healing the paralyzed and raising the dead, and you would praise God for the awesome power He gives to men. You would see Jesus as a great man of God… but just a man.
However, if you were a Pharisee or a scribe, you would see Jesus as a corrupting influence. You would say, “This man is unclean and sinful: he blasphemes, he eats with taxcollectors and sinners, and he casts out demons by the prince of demons… and yet the whole world has gone after him!”
If you were one of Jesus’ disciples looking on the crowd, you might have conflicting thoughts. You’d see them as an undesirable but necessary burden. On the one hand you’d be proud to be identified as a close follower of the future messiah. Yet you’d also despise those people: they keep imposing on your Jesus, and the more time He spends with them, the less time He has to spend with you. So, when parents bring their children to your Master to be blessed, you shoo them away. 12
WHAT JESUS SAW:
Each person saw something different, but only one person saw the reality that everyone else missed. Everyone else saw externals, but Jesus saw what was going on in people’s hearts.
If I were one of Jesus’ disciples following him around as he ministered to people’s needs…
- In verses 1-2, I would have seen a paralyzed man. Jesus saw the faith of those who lowered him into the room.
- I would also have seen a stranger who came for physical healing. Jesus saw a son ready to have his sins forgiven. He saw the unspoken repentance of the paralytic.
- In verses 3-4, I would not have noticed anything about the scribes, but Jesus “saw” their evil thoughts.
- In verse 9, I would have seen Matthew, a political traitor to my people, someone I’d want nothing to do with, while Jesus saw a new disciple, and chose him to follow along with the rest of us as equals.
- In verses 10-13, I would have seen what the Pharisees saw: Jesus eating with a bunch of sinners. Jesus saw them as spiritually sick, in need of healing, and was mercifully leading them to repentance.
- In verses 20-22, at the most I would have seen an unclean woman brush up against my master, but Jesus saw a daughter’s secret sickness, and her faith to be made well. Also, He noticed her touch of faith, not the casual touch of everyone else.
- In verses 23-25, I’d have seen a dead girl. But Jesus saw her asleep.
Verse 36 shows us something else that Jesus saw:
But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.
– Matthew 9:36 (ESV)
- If I were one of Jesus’ disciples, I would have seen the crowds harassing my master, and hoping they would go away. Jesus saw them as harassed and scattered sheep and was moved with compassion towards them.
How many of us, as we followed Jesus around in our imaginations through the different towns and villages, saw what Jesus saw? Did we see the people as weary and scattered sheep? Were we moved with compassion for them?
…or did we just see them merely as objects upon which Jesus was to perform His miracles? It’s easy to do. We think of the sick or demon possessed in the gospels as people whose sole purpose in life is to show off Jesus’ power.
But these people had lives of their own just like you and I. They had relationships, loves, cares, worries and struggles. Jesus healed them because He loved them. He had compassion on them. He was not about showing off His power, but revealing His love and compassion.
Keep your finger in Matthew 9 and turn to Ezekiel 34.
Jesus saw the people as weary sheep. “Weary” is more accurately translated “harassed”. The people were burdened not only under the cares of life, but the heavy load of the scribes and Pharisees. Countless people came to Jesus with needs. These needs were very burdensome to them. Some had been suffering for a long time. They had striven to overcome their afflictions in the past, but everytime they would fail. Mark says that the woman who had the issue of blood “had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse” (Mark 5:26) She was only one of many who were harassed.
It says that Jesus also saw the people as neglected, scattered sheep, wandering aimlessly out in a spiritual wilderness with no protection from predators. How did they get this way? Where were the ones who were supposed to be taking care of them? They had abandoned their charge a long time ago.
Hundreds of years earlier in Ezekiel chapter 34, God gives an employee evaluation of His shepherds, the spiritual leaders of His people Israel. He tells Ezekiel in verse 2:
“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds 13 of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
– Ezekiel 34:2-6 (ESV)
Doesn’t that exactly match Jesus’ description of the harassed and scattered crowd? If the people went to their spiritual shepherds for help – the priests, the rulers, the experts in the law, the Pharisees, – those shepherds would probably consider it harassment themselves. They would lay heavy burdens on the people, and not lift a finger to help them. They would feed themselves at the expense of the people: using and abusing the people for their own benefit. They would keep their distance from them, especially from the sinful ones like… tax collectors. “What was Jesus doing eating with them? Didn’t he know that a shepherd’s job is to keep from becoming contaminated by the sheep?” So the selfish shepherds avoided their flock.
No wonder the people were in the state they were in.
God goes on in Ezekiel 34 to describe what He is going to do. He will judge the bad shepherds, removing them from their position, and He will shepherd His people Himself. He says in verse 11:
“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel 14, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
– Ezekiel 34:11-16 (ESV)
What a great hope for God’s troubled people! But that is not all. Skipping down to verse 22 God says:
I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken.
– Ezekiel 34:22-24 (ESV)
And so we see Jesus, the Son of David, fulfilling God’s promise 15. Only Jesus saw the true spiritual condition of the people and had compassion on them, because He has the eyes of the good shepherd, not a hired worker. The bad shepherds have eyes only for their profit; Jesus has eyes for the sheep. The crowds were wearing on Him and He got tired at times 16. But He kept selflessly serving, and eventually He laid down His life to save them.
Turning back to Matthew 9, in verse 37 Jesus then speaks to His disciples:
Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.
– Matthew 9:37 17 (ESV)
At this point in the narrative, Jesus begins to prepare them for a mission. He does this by giving them a vision of what He sees. Before they do anything, He wants them to first see the people through His eyes.
Notice He doesn’t describe the crowd to His disciples as harassed and scattered sheep… at least not yet. Instead He uses a different metaphor 18. Picture a large field of wheat. The time for plowing, sowing, watering and weeding is long past. Now the grain is fully grown and matured and is ready for harvest. Actually, in John 4:35 Jesus says “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!”, indicating that the field has been ready for harvest for some time and was in danger of being lost! It was starting to spoil.
In what way was the crowd like a field? Jesus used agricultural illustrations a lot, and one time He spoke a parable of someone who scattered seed on different kinds of ground. He explained that the seed is the word of God, and the type of ground that the seed fell on determined not only how the seed would grow, but how much fruit there would be, if any.
Sowing seed is not an end in itself. It is done in the hope of having a good harvest later on. Sowing and harvesting go together. There is no harvest without sowing seed. And if there is a harvest, then you can be sure that it did not come about by chance: seed was sown in the past.
The Old Testament prophets had sown God’s word in Israel for a long time. They constantly echoed God’s plea for the people to repent. For the most part, that seed fell on rocky, shallow, or unweeded soil. The people’s stubborn refusal to worship God on His terms had brought much suffering to them, and now they were tired of it and many were ready to repent. John preached “repent for the kingdom of heaven is near”. So did Jesus. In the next chapter, we’ll see Jesus telling His disciples to preach the same thing 19. All of this was done in the hope of gathering a harvest: seeing people return to the Lord.
This vision of the crowd as an over-ripe harvest was not something that took supernatural sight to see. In John 4:35 Jesus calls His disciples to look on the people to see for themselves. The spiritual condition of the people should have been obvious to them. Harvest occurs in the dry season, and these people were going through some really difficult spiritually dry times. They were primed and ready to hear the good news.
The only problem was that there were too few workers available to do the work required, and people were being needlessly lost.
So, what does Jesus do? He tells His disciples in Matthew 9:38:
Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
– Matthew 9:38 (ESV)
First of all notice what Jesus didn’t say.
He did not say “pray the Lord of the harvest to clear the field of all those weeds so we can plant something more valuable”. Perhaps the disciples viewed the people as a burden and a nuisance. After all, sometimes we do the same thing when strangers come up to us and ask for help. But nobody is a weed. Jesus saw every individual as valuable, and showed love to all. He cared just as much for the sinners and tax collectors as for the ruler’s daughter. Combining the two metaphors, the harassed and scattered sheep are the valuable harvest, not a burden and nuisance.
Jesus also didn’t say “Go out, find as many workers as you can, and hire them”. Hired-hands wouldn’t have the proper mind-set. They hadn’t received God’s vision of the people. They’d only be interested in their wages 20, not in the harvest 21. And besides, there were already too many hired workers.
But Jesus did tell His disciples to ask God the Father, the Lord of the harvest 22 to send out (literally “thrust out”) workers into His field. God owns the field, but guess what? He also owns the laborers, and believe it or not, they’re available to be sent out. All we need to do is ask, and keep on asking.
After Jesus gives His disciples His vision and tells them to ask God for workers, He sends them out:
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…. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 23
– Matthew 10:1-8 (ESV)
After Jesus told His disciples to pray for workers, He equipped them, instructed them, and sent them out into the harvest – into His harvest. The ones who were to pray for workers were to be the answer to their prayer.
Jesus did not send out His disciples unequipped. He gave them power to do the work, which they would need because the harvest was great and the workers few. The task was too much for them to do under their own strength.
But Jesus not only gave them the ability to do the work, He gave them His authority. They acted as His deputies, His representatives, to do the work of God – to cast out demons, heal the sick, and announce the kingdom of God. This made God’s word effective through them.
Jesus not only gave them power and authority, He also gave them specific instructions on how to go about accomplishing their task. These instructions go all the way down to verse 42, which we’re not going to cover today. Suffice it to say that Jesus provided everything they needed to do what He wanted them to do. All they had to do was obey 24.
So, what were the results of this mission that the disciples were sent on? We’re not told in Matthew but Mark says that many were healed or had demons cast out 25. Luke records another instance where Jesus sent out seventy disciples using the same picture of a lack of harvest workers and similar instructions. When they came back from their mission, they rejoiced, saying “Even the demons are subject to us in your name!” While that was news to get excited about, Jesus told them not to rejoice in the effectiveness of their power and authority, but to rejoice that their names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).
He also told the seventy in Luke 10:23-24:
…”Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
– Luke 10:23-24 (ESV)
Psalm 126:5 says “they that sow in tears shall reap in joy”. For many hundreds of years the prophets and kings sowed the seed in tears. Now the disciples were rejoicing as they began to reap the harvest. 26
In John 4:36-38, Jesus said:
Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’; I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
– John 4:36-37 (ESV) 27
When it comes to doing the Lord’s work, we can learn much from this section of Matthew’s gospel. I’d like to summarize it in three words: Look, Pray, and Go.
First we need to look on those around us, but not with our eyes. When I look on the needy with my eyes, say a homeless person, I don’t see the reality. I see someone who is probably dishevelled, lazy, smelly, and most importantly, a bother and inconvenience to me. But if I look at him through Jesus’ eyes, I see the truth. I see an important lost sheep, someone greatly loved by God, and a person intended to reflect God’s image and glory.
The needy people who came to Jesus in the gospels such as the blind or lame, the demon-possessed, and lepers, were certainly not outwardly attractive or appealing. If you were to travel back in time to meet them, you would probably find yourself just as uncomfortable in their presence as those you meet today… maybe more so. But to Jesus, they’re lost sheep. So, why do we feel uncomfortable when someone living on the streets comes towards us?
We need a vision of God seeking His lost sheep, especially those in Beatty. And we need to see these people as Jesus saw them. So, ask God for eyes to see what He sees. Ask Him for His love and compassion for the lost in Beatty.
The people we have been avoiding are in desparate need of the good news of Jesus Christ, but I don’t think we can’t do the work properly without first receiving this vision.
Second we need to pray for more workers.
When we receive the vision, many times it will overwhelm us. We need to recognize our insufficiency to meet the need, and this should lead us to seek the Lord of the harvest for more workers.
It’s real easy to go recruit people into Christian work without seeking the Lord. But most of the time the results are disappointing. After the initial training and pep-talk, the furvor dies down, and the workers start falling away or their love for the sheep turns cold. Many mission organizations die slow deaths because their succeeding leaders don’t have the same God-given vision as their founders. Whenever a good Christian organization loses it’s founding leader, I get concerned about the whether the replacement leader received a vision from God for the work. Only time will tell.
We are not to seek hired hands, but we’re told to pray for workers, those who have seen the people as the Lord sees them.
We can’t see people’s hearts to know who has received the vision, but God knows. Jesus told us to ask Him for workers. They come from Him, and He will send them if we keep asking.
We’ve prayed for people to work with our children and young people, and we’ve seen God answer our prayers. Not only are some of you assisting with Sunday School, but last year (2008) God sent us a youth team all the way from Riverlakes Community Church in Bakersfield to work in whatever way we needed. We asked them to put on a VBS and they did so. God also sent us Larisa and her team who come here regularly from Owens Valley to work with the kids. These things did not happen by chance. It is the result of our asking God for workers to work in His harvest. But we need to keep on praying, because the harvest is still too great for the number of workers. There are not enough helpers for the Sunday School.
We also need to pray urgently. A harvest does not stay “ready” indefinitely. It must be harvested at the proper time or else be lost, so pray urgently!
Third, we need to be willing to go into the mission field, wherever Jesus may send us, whether across the street or across the ocean. In other words, we need to be willing to become a part of the answer to our prayers. But it must be at our Lord’s will and direction, and in His power, not on our own. 28
When Jesus sent His disciples out, He gave them very detailed instructions on where they were to go, what they were to do, and how they were to do it. We don’t have His physical presence today to give us verbal instructions on every detail of our mission, but He still makes His will known to those who spend time seeking His face in His word and in prayer.
Who knows what will happen when you obey the call to go? You may reap where others have sown. You may be the answer to a mother’s prayer for her son or daughter.
Look, Pray, and Go. And we need to do all three of these things:
- If we just pray and go without looking, we’re going to go without the heart of God, and probably with a hired-worker mentality.
- If we just look and go, without praying for more workers, we’ll go without the power of God and we’ll be overwhelmed.
- If we just look and pray, but don’t go when and where He tells us to, we’re deliberately disobeying God by avoiding the responsibility He has given us.
So remember: Look, Pray and Go.
- It’s interesting that the man’s forgiveness is linked to their faith, not the man’s healing. ↩
- Authority is not something that is taken. It is only given/received. ↩
- Why did they come? I sense they were comfortable being in Jesus’ presence. This would not have been so if some other rabbi was there. Perhaps Matthew invited them immediately after his call. ↩
- What is the object of the call? Repentance. This was the message of the gospel beginning with John the Baptist. This event is not a parenthesis in Jesus’ ministry. It is a direct fulfillment of His purpose. ↩
- You could read this as two questions, the first of which we tend to overlook: why did John and the Pharisees fast? Because they felt God was not with them? ↩
- Why are the disciples called “guests”, not the “bride”? ↩
- Here is another example of one person being made well through another’s faith (as in vs. 2). ↩
- Almost like “Don’t make all that noise… can’t you see she’s sleeping?” ↩
- The blind men had never seen one of Jesus’ miracles… they believed on hearing the witness of others. ↩
- Try listing the other miracles Jesus did where He instructed not to let people know. What is in common? What is different versus where he didn’t prohibit them from telling? ↩
- This is a general observation over His time of ministry – not just true at this point in time. ↩
- Besides, if Jesus acquires more disciples, that reduces your chances of attaining a position of glory and honor in His future kingdom… you’ll have to share His glory with others. ↩
- As the spiritual leaders of the church are called “shepherds” (1 Peter 5:1-4), let this chapter also serve as a warning. Verses 1-16 are a warning to spiritual leaders of the church, and verses 17-31 are a warning to all believers. ↩
- As Jesus did on the sermon on the mount. ↩
- In Ezekiel 34:30 we see Jesus as Emmanuel: “God with us” ↩
- John 4:6 ↩
- Is there an Old Testament reference to Jesus fulfilling a role in the harvest, just as in His fulfilling a role in shepherding His sheep? ↩
- Why? Perhaps their hearts weren’t ready to love and care for the people as shepherds, so He gave them a vision that didn’t required a heart of love? Or perhaps so there would’t be a mixed metaphor? At this time, Jesus left the shepherding role to Himself. ↩
- See also Mark 6:12. ↩
- Beware of those who attract people to spiritual service through promises of personal benefits. There are benefits, but service is not about that. ↩
- See what Jesus says of the hired shepherds in John 10:12-13. Also I’ve noticed that there are no commands or instructions for men to call other men to discipleship. There is only the command to “make disciples”. God does the calling. ↩
- John 15:1 ↩
- Jesus says not only what to do, but how to do it. ↩
- Define “harvesting” in this spiritual sense. What did the disciples do to harvest? How do we harvest? My answer: The harvest is accomplished through the gospel message – us presenting the message and the Holy Spirit granting repentance. The meeting of people’s needs removes stumbling blocks so that the people become receptive to the gospel. ↩
- Mark 6:13 ↩
- John 4:36 – The sower only rejoices later when the reaper brings in the harvest. The purpose of sowing has been achieved. The goal is not the sower’s payment for work done but the harvest coming in. Sowing is in vain if there is no harvest. ↩
- Note the context of this passage. It is the time when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus, the good Shepherd, offered the woman water to quench her spiritual thirst (vss 11,14). ↩
- To go out without God’s direction will place a heavy burden on you, and Jesus said His load is easy and burden is light (Matthew 11:29-30). ↩