Four Foundational Biblical Truths for World-Impacting Ministry
Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and curingevery disease and every sickness (35). When he saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (36). Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few (37). Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (38). Then Jesus called his twelve disciples to him, and he gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. (1) Now the names of the twelve apostles are these. …(5) And these twelve Jesus sent out and instructed them.
Matthew 9:35-10:5 contains an explosive set of divine truths to create a world-impacting ministry among Christians. This passage, along with the rest of Matthew 10, represents a critical transition point in the ministry of Jesus, and this transition has to do with a strategic step on Jesus’ part toward expansion (Mt. 4:18-9:34). Jesus is about to establish the conditions to advance his global redemptive plan so that his church is capable of worldwide impact. Now, Jesus’ followers must go from observing to being “learners-by-going-and-doing.” At this critical point in the Gospel, we have the ministry-expanding words: “And these twelve Jesus sent out and instructed them” (Mt.10:5f).
Surely Christ wants to move his church, even today, into a glorious partnership with him. Here, then, are four harvest-time truths that should move us from being passive observers to active participants with the Lord of the harvest!
(1) From Seeing… to Saying; from Battered Sheep… to Wheat (vv.35-37a):
If we are going to be Christ-like harvesters, then we need both to see and say things the way the Master does. Verse 36 describes what Jesus saw as he ministered throughout Palestine: “When he saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” These words are remarkable because of what Jesus saw in the people: a pathetic excuse for life! They were “harassed,” which can mean butchered, cut up, skinned, and even to be raped. And they were “helpless,” which can mean the state of shock a sheep goes into when it is highly traumatized. Ancient shepherds said (and even sheepherders today say) that a sheep becomes “shut down.” Do you know anyone who is so battered and traumatized by life that he or she is “shut down”? Together, harassed and helpless paint an awful but accurate picture of the masses of people in our world outside of Christ!
But then comes the revelatory, because Jesus immediately says something very different from what he sees! He saw mangled, abused and defeated sheep, but what he says describes wheat: “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few,’” (v. 37). In other words, Jesus immediately goes from sorry sheep to life-giving wheat! Oh, that we would have the eyes of God and see the potential in the millions all around us! Oh, that God would raise an army of believers to speak His divine and hope-filled perspective into the world!
As a metis Native American believer of the Seneca Nation who was born and raised in inner-city Buffalo, and as an urban pastor in core-city Buffalo for some 25 years, I have come to the conviction that you can never reach anyone you look down upon. You can only reach into the hearts of those that know you love them, despite all they may have done or had horribly done to them. Oh, for God’s harvest eyes!
(2) Bringing the Whole Gospel, to the Whole Person, to the Whole World (v.35):
Verse 35 reveals yet another world-impacting principle. World-harvesters will (1) take the whole Gospel to people, teaching the mind, preaching the good news to the spirit, and curing the physical body; (2) take God’s love to all places (the cities and villages: dangerous, close-minded innovative and beautiful alike); and (3) reach out to all types of spiritual appetites (the synagogues, yet also the crowds who may care far less about God).
Tragically, we say things like, “Oh, the city is filled with evil… small towns are narrow-minded… these people are lazy leeches, racial bigots, rich snobs, or…” But! Harvest hearts respond with a resounding “No!” because these statements betray sinful attitudes that we must reject.
World harvesters, like Jesus, go to all places! If you would have run into me in my early twenties, you might have crossed the street to avoid me. But a couple of harvest-minded believers pushed past my drug-hardened heart and saw the marred image of God in me. One wise church leader has said that if the church will reach out in faith to those that everyone else is avoiding, it will eventually have those that everyone will want. Former tax collectors—like Matthew!—have made great disciples, and whole nations formerly closed to the Gospel are now vibrant centers of world mission. Why? Because someone had harvest eyes and refused to write off any field, person or people!
Finally, world harvesters never minister to just one part of the person, but to the whole person: mind, body, emotions, social needs and spirit. We have a saying at RiverRock, the church that I pastor: “As many gates into the kingdom as necessary and Biblical.”
(3) A God-Assured Harvest, or Pray Like You’re Casting Out a Demon! (vv. 37-38):
“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.
Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out (thrust out) laborers into his harvest.’” Notice the words of Jesus indicate that the greatest challenge of world ministry is not the harvest, but rather the harvesters themselves. Jesus says the harvest “is plentiful.” The word “plentiful” here means very full and manifold. The harvest is huge and God-assured! We bemoan far too much that people are not open. While this can be true, based on this Scripture there is always an abundant harvest awaiting willing workers. We have met the enemy, and the enemy in mission… is us!
This is why we never find an instance in Paul’s letters where he asks his readers to pray for the unsaved. As the great apostolic missionary to the gentile world, Paul repeatedly asks that they pray for him. For Paul, the harvest is the lesser of the two challenges: Paul knew he had a harvest!
This is also why Jesus says, “Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to thrust out laborers into his harvest.” Harvest eyes will notice two things here. First, despite a harvest waiting for workers, Jesus does not say, “So guys, just dive right into those fields!” Rather he says, “Therefore pray.” Pray first, because communion must always precede commission. Prayer is our declaration of dependence. This is why it is translated in places as, “Supplicate the Lord of the harvest.” Supply, oh Lord! We need you, Lord!
Second, harvest eyes will see the words “thrust out” (some translations have “send out”), which mean in the original language “to cast out” or “to vigorously thrust something out with a mighty force.” Part of the original word in Greek sounds like our English word “ballistic.” Of the seventeen other times Matthew uses this word, thirteen of them refer to the casting out of a demon! What must Jesus be telling us when the very same action needed to cast out a demon is needed to move us to ministry!? Oh, may it not be true that believers are as hunkered down in the comfort of their own salvation as ungodly demons are dug-in to those they possess! If we are to be numerous enough to meet the awaiting harvest, then there must arise from within the church a spiritually violent heart-cry. The church must cry out in passionate prayer… to go ballistic!
(4) Reproduce the Jesus in Yourself in Others, to Multiply the Harvest Brought in (10:1-2, 5):
“Then Jesus called his twelve disciples to him, and he gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these. …And these twelve Jesus sent out” (10:1-2, 5).
Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “The harvest is so big that I’m going to knock myself out and get all the glory for myself.” Rather, his plan for expansion is one of reproducing himself in others and then releasing others into God’s Kingdom. Remember! The harvest is huge, and it demands believers who understand there must be a huge army of harvesters. This requires believers and churches who call and raise up others (10:1a, 2); give these others true authority (10:1); equip them to send them out (10:5-42); plant new churches; and above all, walk in an attitude of humility, cooperation, team-building, broad apostolic vision, and unity in Christ.
This applies to every truly committed believer in God’s church, not just to its prominent leaders (and certainly not only to an isolated few at the top). Every believer can nurture and develop somebody else—a Sunday school child, a younger brother or sister in Christ, a struggling friend. In fact, those who have already become true harvest people usually have done so because they have been able to follow a worthy model and are always striving to return the favor with someone else.
Harvest people pass it on! And understand this: The “ripple-effect” can change the world!
Oh… for… harvest… eyes!