36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
THE PRAYER OF HOPE
These verses form the hinge of Matthew’s gospel. Up to this point in his narrative Matthew’s focus has been on who Jesus is together with Jesus’ mission. Attention now turns to the preparation of Jesus’ disciples for their mission.
Matthew begins this passage by describing Jesus’ compassion for the crowds who were harassed and helpless. We can feel his emotion for people who had no hope: they were sheep without a shepherd who could direct them to green pastures. However, with this note of hopelessness, there is a positive encouragement: the harvest is plentiful;… ask the Lord…
The news of the kingdom of God is for everyone,’ Jesus was saying. ‘Once this news gets out there’s going to be no way you will be able to do all the work yourselves. Those of you who have been chosen by me and trained by me are not going to be sufficient for such a vast task – even seventy will not be enough. My kingdom is such that before it is complete the crowds who will be drawn to it will be countless in number. The work will require workers far more numerous than you think. Your first task is to look, not for converts, but for colleagues. “The harvest is plentiful,” Jesus said, “but the laborers are few; pray the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.” ‘Unless you see that God is the one who must raise up these people the task is foiled before it has begun.’ Our first response to the work of the gospel is not activism but prayer.
God has ordered his government of the world in a way that includes our prayers – not least when it comes to mission: praying for those who do not yet believe and praying for the ongoing work of the gospel. (See also Colossians 4:2-4)
It is very easy to feel overwhelmed and exhausted when we read of Jesus’ agenda: ‘The job’s too big,’ we say. ‘What can I do?’ Jesus tells us, ‘First pray for colleagues – pray that the Lord of the harvest will raise up a mighty number of people. The Book of Revelation tells us that in the last day the Kingdom of God will include a huge multitude, drawn from every nation and tribe and from every generation. It will be as countless in size as the stars in the sky. A vast international company like this cannot be reached by just a few. Many thousands will be needed – thousands who are willing to leave their comfort zones and serve the cause of Jesus Christ; thousands who, left to themselves, would sit comfortably in church on Sundays and for the rest of the week forget about their faith and the great task of the church. Pray the Lord of the harvest that he will raise up the missionary mindset and resource that is needed.
You may want to consider:
- the compelling description of Jesus’ compassion for the crowds;
- your own response to people you know and others you see – the cynical friend, the amoral colleague, the plight of God’s people in the Middle East and elsewhere;
- Jesus’ call to us to pray, literally plead, that God would raise up people to tell the gospel.
Let me encourage you to pray
© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved.