“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
The Love of Jesus for Lost Souls
Jesus has a deep love for unsaved souls. In another place, Mark tells us that when Jesus looked at the rich man who sought salvation by his good works, Jesus loved him (Mark 10:21). Jesus loved him in spite of his greed, misunderstandings about salvation, and lost condition! In this passage we see the compassion that Jesus has for the unsaved crowds that gathered around him during his earthly ministry. He looked upon them with pity as they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (v. 36). Lost sinners need a shepherd, and Jesus is the only Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11) and calls them by name (John 10:3). A key part of following Jesus as our Shepherd means that we begin to love what he loves. This means that we learn to love unsaved men and women as he loves them. We begin to see them as those who are harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. We look at them in their dead (Ephesians 2:1), lost (Luke 19:10), blind (2 Corinthians 4:4), and bound (John 8:34) condition of sin and misery and long for them to be delivered by the grace of Jesus. We remember when we were lost in sin. Do we have a love for lost sinners? Do we see them and have compassion on them as Jesus does? Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to give us a love for the unsaved!
The metaphor shifts from sheep in v. 36 to a harvest in v. 37. Jesus speaks of lost souls in need of salvation as a great harvest. He tells his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful.” Jesus wants us to know that there are many people who are ripe for the gospel. In another place, Jesus says, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35). One of the reasons that we do not speak to unsaved souls about Jesus is because we do not believe what Jesus tells us about the world. We do not really believe that “the harvest is plentiful” and that “the fields are white for harvest.” We falsely assume that the harvest is scarce and that the fields are bare. We do not share the good news of Jesus with others because we assume that they will respond negatively. Nevertheless, Christians who share the gospel with others often discover that unsaved friends and family do not respond in the way that we expected. We expected them to get angry, but, instead, they are interested. We expected them to make fun, but they ask questions. Of course, this is not always the case, but we find it to be the case more often than not. Jesus tells us that people are ready for the gospel. The fields are ripe. Do you believe him?
The Laborers are Few
Jesus also reminds us that “the laborers are few” (v. 37). Unfortunately, there are few people who love souls so much that they are willing to labor for them in the harvest. Labor implies effort and hard work. True evangelism is not an easy task. It requires persistence and prayer. Rarely do we lead another sinner to Christ after one conversation. It normally takes years and years of faithful explanation, love, care, and prayer. Harvesting souls is not for the faint of heart or the lazy. We must be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might (Ephesians 6:10) and remember that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).
Jesus tells us to pray for more laborers (v. 38). Obviously, this means that we must first be laboring in the harvest ourselves lest we become hypocrites. How can we pray for God to send laborers into the harvest if we are not willing to lift a finger in the service of our Master? So we must be active in the harvest of souls. Jesus tells us to pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest. We cannot be lifeless and dead in this endeavor. This must be a frequent and fervent prayer on the lips of God’s people. And we are to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out more laborers. God is sovereign here. He sends the laborers. “And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:15). God sent the apostles. God sends missionaries, evangelists, and preachers today. And God sends us to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). Are we loving souls and laboring in the harvest? Are we praying for God to send other laborers to help us? Let us unite our hearts in passionate prayer for unsaved family, friends, and neighbors! “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6).