Pentecost 4a

Preached: June 8, 2008

What a Harvest!
Matthew 9:35-10:8

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus is Matthew 9 & 10.

Jesus was going around to all the cities and villages teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every illness. When he saw the crowds, his heart went out for them, because they were harassed and scattered like sheep without a shepherd.

Then he says to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out works into his harvest field.”

When he had summoned his twelve disciples, he gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to heal every disease and every illness. These are the names of the twelve: first Simon, called Peter, and his brother, Andrew; James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother, John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew, the tax collector; Jacob, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; Simon, the zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Jesus commissioned these twelve commanding them, “Do not go out on a road to the Gentiles and do not enter into a Samaritan city. Rather, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim, ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, heal the lepers, drive out the demons. Freely you have received; freely give. (Matthew 9:35-10:8)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed in the blood of our risen Savior:

What a plentiful harvest! I know if you look at the fields the corn is only this tall. It could be a plentiful harvest, but that depends whether it warms up, whether we get hail and high winds, whether the rain comes at the right time. Only God knows what the corn or bean or beat harvest will be. We leave that in his hands, trusting that he will care and provide for us, no matter what kind of harvest.

But what a plentiful harvest is out there! I'm not talking about anything that grows in the fields or the gardens. I'm talking about the harvest Jesus saw. What a harvest that was! And what a harvest that still is!

Now bringing in a harvest is hard work and long days. But think of how you feel when that last field is combined, the silos are full, and the market is eager to pay you for your harvest. What a joy to have put in that work, to have gathered that harvest, to have accomplished that purpose!

So also in this greatest of harvests, Jesus invites you to share in that work. What joy and celebration will soon come! But for now the harvest is plentiful but the works are few. So see the harvest through Jesus' eyes, pray compassionately and give freely. For what a harvest it is!

A. See the harvest through Jesus' eyes

1) What is the Good News of the kingdom?

During the first part of his earthly ministry, Jesus went around to the towns and villages of Galilee teaching and preaching and healing. He proclaimed the Good News of the kingdom.

What was this Good News of the kingdom? It was the Good News that God was raising up the King to rescue his people from their enemies, from sin and Satan and death -- just as he had promised. Yet this kingly reign was not coming with displays of earthly power and splendor. Rather, it worked quietly, unnoticed like yeast in dough. Though it would spread throughout the world, it began small like a mustard seed. This kingly reign came to people's hearts as the Word of God was spread like seed scattered on the ground. Those who hear and understand the message in faith produce a good crop. Those who do not believe will be burnt like weeds at the final harvest. How precious, then, this kingdom is! Like a pearl of great price or a treasure buried in a field, it's worth more than all that we have.

You know who this King is. Jesus, the Son of God, your Savior. You know how he rescued you, ransoming you to be his own. He gave his life on the cross as the bloody sacrifice in your place. You know his victory. He rose from the dead because he has paid for sin, defeated Satan, and broken death's chains. As your kingly Shepherd, he has gathered you into his flock. He knows you, his sheep, and you know him. You listen to his voice and follow him.

2) How did Jesus view those who were without his kingly shepherding?

But as Jesus went throughout Galilee, he saw many, many people who did not know his voice. They had no king to shepherd them. False shepherds, hirelings, had abandoned them or led them away from the truth. Picture sheep wandering aimlessly. They wander into thorns and bramble. Their wool dirty and knotted. Their skin scraped and bloodied. Scattered all around as if dumped out from on high, they're helpless prey for any beast that comes along.

Jesus' heart goes out to them. Compassion fills him. How sad their spiritual condition! What pity and mercy well up in Jesus! For “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36 NIV). And he says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37 NIV).

Do you see the lost with the eyes of Jesus? Do you see them as sheep without a shepherd, as a plentiful harvest ready to be brought in? It's a struggle for me to see with Jesus' eyes. When we see a Muslim, it's so easy to think “potential terrorist” rather than a lost sheep. When we see a Hispanic worker, it so easy to wonder whether they're here legally rather than seeing a lost sheep. When we see someone involved in drunkenness, drugs, or a promiscuous or homosexual lifestyle,we throw up our hands wondering what this world is coming to rather than seeing a lost sheep. When others are nasty, cruel, hurtful against us, it so much easier to want to get back at them rather than to see a lost sheep.

But look at them through the eyes of Jesus. He, your Shepherd-King, laid down his life for you, while you were still his enemy. He laid down his life for us, although we are sheep that love to wander. See the lost through Jesus' eyes, for he laid down his life for them just as he did for you.

B. Pray compassionately

1) What can you pray for as compassion fills your heart?

Then with your heart filled with Christ's compassion, hear Jesus say to you, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:38 NIV). Pray compassionately. Pray with hearts filled with mercy and love for the lost. Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers, so that those lost sheep are brought into Jesus' flock.

Pray for our worker training schools, for Martin Luther College and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and the two prep schools. Pray that the Lord bless them with willing students eager to prepare for the preaching and teaching ministry. Pray that the Lord bless them with faithful professors and teachers who hold to the truth and are filled with love for God's people and for the lost. Pray that the Lord continue to provide many harvest workers through these schools.

Pray for our pastors and missionaries at home and abroad. Pray that the Lord open up doors to their gospel preaching. Pray that they continue to have the courage to faithfully proclaim God's Word despite set backs and rejection. Pray that through them the Lord bring in his harvest.

Pray for young people, some whom you know, who could be future pastors, teachers, or staff ministers. Pray that the Lord guide them, encourage them, and give them the necessary gifts.

And pray for yourself, that the Lord work in you an ever deeper love for the lost, that he opens your eyes to see the harvest that he has placed in front of you, that he gives you the courage to speak his word at the right time.

Yes, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out harvest workers. Pray compassionately with love for the lost. For as you pray you are sharing in the harvest work. What joy awaits you when that harvest is brought in! What a harvest it is!

C. Give freely

1) What have you received free of charge?

And as you pray, give freely. Maybe when you see this third part about giving, you figured it must be about money. But Jesus asks us to give much more than just our money. He asks you to freely give your all, your very self.

After Jesus tells his disciples to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the harvest field, notice how Jesus answers that prayer. He sends them out to do the work. At this time they were only to go to the lost sheep of Israel. After his resurrection Jesus tells them and us, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19 NIV).

They were to go out preaching the Gospel, the Good News of the kingdom. For you see, only the Good News brings in the harvest by making disciples -- the Good News that Jesus, our King, has rescued sinners by his death and that through his resurrection he has brought us into the kingdom of his Father.

Now at this time when he sends them out, he also gave these apostles the power to drive out demons and heal the sick. They had freely received both the Good News of the kingdom and this power to heal, and so were to freely give helping others. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NIV).

You and I have been given power to work a greater miracle than healing bodies. You have the power to heal souls sick with guilt. You have the power to raise those dead in sin. You have the power to bring in the harvest. For that power is the Gospel, which has been entrusted to you. “I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 NIV).

2) What can you freely give to bring in the harvest?

Freely give the Gospel to others. When the Lord brings you an opportunity to talk about Jesus, to talk about sin and forgiveness, to talk about death and life, freely give the Good News, do it. It may cost you some time and tension. It may cost you some ridicule or teasing. But “freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NIV).

Freely give your children. Encourage them to think about serving Jesus in the full-time ministry as a pastor or missionary, as a teacher in a Christian school or a staff minister. Yes, our synodical schools have recruiters to encourage young people to consider the ministry. But you are the best recruiters. In you homes speak well of the Lord's work and his workers. Let your children know that you would support them in the decision to prepare for the preaching or teaching ministry. Encourage them to share in that great harvest work. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NIV).

And freely give yourself. Think about how you share in the harvest work as you serve as a Sunday school teacher, or VBS helper, or church elder. Think of how your life as a Christian can shine with the Gospel. Think of how you can support the harvest work with your generous offerings so that others can devote themselves to the full-time ministry and still provide for themselves and their families. And especially you young people here, think about giving yourself to serve the Lord as a pastor, missionary, staff ministry, or a teacher in a Christian school. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NIV).

What a harvest! What a harvest of souls who believe in Jesus, their Savior! Share in that harvest work. Yes you, share in that work, Share in it, as you see it through Jesus' eyes, as you pray compassionately, as you give freely. Share in this harvest work. For what joy awaits us on that day when Jesus brings all his people into his heavenly harvest barn. A much greater joy than having a bumper crop. What a celebration that will be and you will have shared in the work! What a harvest! Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313