Sermon series: Balanced Spiritual Growth
Scriptures: Matthew 9:35-38
Christ's followers have been commanded to go and tell. This sermon underscores that command by reminding us of our field and the responsibility we have in harvesting, sharing our faith.
In the movie, Schindler's List, one of the most moving scenes is near the end of the three-hour drama. Oscar Schindler had invested his energy and his fortune in saving the lives of hundreds of Jews who would have otherwise been killed in Hitler's holocaust. Because the war is at its end, the Jews he saved will become free men and women; while Schindler will become a fugitive. He walks to his car with his Jewish friend. The others are around them. Schindler begins to cry. He looks at his watch and knows if he had sold it he could have saved another life. He looks at his car and knows that he could have exchanged it for additional lives. He says to his friend, "I could have done more."
I could have done more.
Oscar Schindler knew he could have done more to save Jews from perishing in the death camps. You and I could do more to save people from perishing in hell's fire.
Jesus did all he could. "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" (Matt. 9:35 NIV). But it was when he saw the crowds, the multitude of people, who needed to be saved from the eternal death camps he was moved. When you and I see the people as Jesus saw the crowds and as Oscar Schindler saw the Jews in Nazi Germany it will move us.
If we are to see lives saved and won to Christ we need to see the harvest as Jesus saw the harvest of spiritually lost people dying and facing a Christ-less eternity. How did Jesus see the harvest?
I. The harvest is plentiful.
"Then he [Jesus] said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful'" (Matt. 9:37 NIV). The world is big. The crowds are huge. The number of spiritually lost and dying people is overwhelming.
In Jesus' day the population of the world was approximately 150 million people. Today's world population grows 150 million every two years. The world's population exceeds 6 billion people with the population of the United States over 300 million.
II. The harvest is precious.
Not only was the harvest of people vast as Jesus looked upon it, but those people brought tears to his eyes. All those people, then and now, matter to him. Make no mistake about it: Jesus loves people. "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them" (Matt. 9:36 NIV). The word used for compassion is the strongest word for pity in the Greek language. It describes the love that moves a person to the depths of their being. It is the type of love that moves people to cry for others as Oscar Schindler cried for the Jews. It is love that moves people beyond sentimental feelings to heartfelt action.
Roy Fish served as professor of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Seminary. Years ago, his infant son had an illness that brushed him near death. Fish's heart broke at the thought of his son dying. As his son's fragile body lay in a hospital bed, Fish asked in his heart, What would I regret most if my son died? As he pondered that question, the answer came clear. I would regret that he died never knowing how much I loved him.
Jesus' heart grieves over every soul. God grieves because those who die without Christ never know how much he loves them.
III. The harvest is perplexed.
Jesus described the crowd as being "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matt. 9:36 NIV). Harassed meant that they were defeated by life. The toils and struggles had punched them in the stomach one too many times. They are down for the final count. Ready to quit. Helpless meant they were broken and without purpose. They were wandering aimlessly. People without hope, without meaning, without a reason for living. Like sheep without a shepherd meant they would follow any fad or guru or new idea or way even to their destruction. Sheep are dumb animals. They simply put their heads down and follow the sheep in front of them. If a guide or leader does not exist they will simply wander and wander and wander until they destroy themselves.
Those three thoughts, harassed, helpless, and sheep without a shepherd, are a fitting description of our society. Ralph Waldo Emerson was right when he said, "People are living lives of quiet desperation." They are desperate for meaning and purpose distraught by the world's lies and heading for destruction. They are walking down a path that Jesus referred to as "the broad road" that leads to death.
IV. The harvest is perishing.
On another occasion Jesus said to his followers, "Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest" (John 4:35 NIV). While I know little of farming, I do understand that ripened wheat takes on a golden hue when ready for harvest. However, if reaping is delayed, the grain begins to turn a pale white, and will soon fall over on the ground. To speak of the fields "white" unto harvest is to stress the imperative of getting into the fields before it is too late.
There is always a sense of urgency to bringing in the harvest.
Of the 6 billion people in the world, it is estimated that over thirty million people worldwide will die without Christ this year. And of the over 300 million people in this country, it is estimated that 41 percent of the people are radically unchurched. That means they don't go to church at all. Not at Easter or at Christmas or to weddings or funerals. They do not darken the doors of a church at anytime in the year. And if they were to die they would go to eternal punishment without knowing the love of Christ.
There is always a sense of urgency to bringing in the harvest.
The old preacher Vance Havner used to say, "The tragedy of our time is that the situation is desperate but the saints are not." We are living in desperate times. And desperate times demand action. We are living in a time when little boys kill little girls, teenagers take out their revenge on other teenagers, people steal and cheat and kill because they simply demand their own way. We live in a lost and broken world that is desperate for the good news of Jesus Christ.
Three weeks before President John Kennedy was assassinated, he said, "Almost all presidents leave office feeling that their work is unfinished. I have a lot to do, and so little time to do it." As followers of Jesus Christ, we have much work to do and little time to do it. We must give ourselves to it. The times demand urgent action. Remember, the gospel is only good news if it arrives in time.
V. The harvest is priority.
Feel what Jesus feels. He is overwhelmed by his love for people as he sees the vastness of the crowds, the perplexity of their problems, and the sense of urgency in reaching them. Then Jesus says, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (Matt. 9:37-38 NIV). You need to know that the Pharisees, the religious leaders of Jesus' day, saw the common people as chaff to be destroyed and burned up; Jesus saw them as a harvest to be reaped and to be saved. The Pharisees in their pride looked for the destruction of sinners; Jesus in love died for the salvation of sinners.
Herein lies one of the great truths of the Christian faith: The harvest will never be reaped unless there are reapers to reap it. Jesus Christ needs men and women to bring in the harvest. Jesus' followers today need to see people as Jesus saw them - as plentiful, precious, perplexed and perishing.
What can we do?
We can take responsibility for our field. Think of all the people we contact everyday: family, friends, neighbors, work associates, the woman at the cleaners, the guy at the car wash, our tennis buddies, and our sewing club. That is our field. We are responsible for them. We will never have a sense of urgency and priority until we realize that we are responsible for them.
We can pray. When we begin to see people as Jesus saw them then we will pray for the harvest. We will pray for the salvation of the lost, for the church to be trainers of reapers, and for men and women to go into the harvest. We will pray for workers, laborers, servers, and givers. But we must do more than pray.
We can go. When we see people as Jesus saw them we will go into the harvest. We can't bring in the harvest without first going into the harvest. Our job is not to save the harvest - that's God's work. Our job is to tell people about the Lord of the harvest. The gospel begins with go. Without going there is no knowing. If we don't go, who will?
We can share our story. The great sin of the church is the sin of silence. People often say, "I'll let my life be my witness." (By the way, if you are saying that, how's that going? How many people have come to Christ because they watched your life?) We have taken the Great Commission and made it into the great omission. A subtle false teaching says we can be evangelical without being evangelistic. It has us believe that we go to church rather than we go into the world.
But, you say, there are so many people. The harvest is so vast. The needs are so overwhelming. What can I do?
I am reminded of the old man, walking the beach at dawn, who noticed a young man ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. Catching up with the youth, he asked what he was doing. The answer was that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun.
"But the beach goes on for miles, and there are millions of starfish," countered the old man. "How can your effort make a difference?"
The young man looked at the starfish in his hand and then threw it to safety in the waves. "It makes a difference to this one," he said.
I hope that your heart will be stirred to make a difference in the harvest. You see, when we begin to see people as Jesus saw people it makes all the difference in the world. When we see people as Jesus saw people it will cause us to take responsibility, to pray, to go, and to tell about Jesus.
Oscar Schindler said, "I could have done more." Can we do more when it comes to bringing in the harvest of souls?