The Shepherd’s Call

Posted: February 19, 2012 in Matthew

Matthew 9:35-38, “The Shepherd’s Call”

Why do you do what you do?  Do you ever think about your motivation?  Perhaps it’s with your job – maybe it’s with the way you relate to your kids or your family – maybe it’s just with a hobby or even something in your walk with Christ.  Sometimes it’s good to take a step back to not only look at what it is you do, but to examine WHY you do what you do.

That seems to be the case here with Matthew as he sums up the Galilean ministry of Jesus.  He gives a summary of what Jesus did during the time He was in the region, but also gives a brief glimpse about one of the motivations that drove Him to do what He did.  Obviously Jesus has been known over the past several chapters to do all sorts of miracles in demonstration of His authority – but what we also see is the reason Jesus did much of it was in demonstration of His compassion.  Jesus loved the people, and it disturbed Him to see the people in the spiritual state they were in.  So Jesus did the work of the ministry.  And beyond doing it Himself, He invites us in a glorious call to participate with Him.

  • Summary of the ministry

35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.

  • If this sounds familiar in our study of Matthew, it’s because Matthew used almost the exact wording earlier when introducing the Galilean ministry of Christ.  Matthew 4:23, "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people." []  As a writer, Matthew uses this literary device to close out this section of the book.  The book began showing all of the background showing Jesus to be the King: born with the right family genealogy & according to prophecy – prepared for by John the Baptist – victorious in temptation by Satan.  From there, Matthew showed the doctrine and authority of the King in the Sermon on the Mount & the various miracles that backed it up.  Matthew is transitioning topics & wraps up this section nicely.
  • Jesus went.  If this seems a bit basic, it’s still worth underscoring a bit.  For Jesus to have actually engaged in ministry, He had to go somewhere.  Certainly people came to Him wherever He went, but it’s not like He was baptized by John the Baptist & then hid in a cave somewhere hoping that people might eventually find Him there.  No, He “went” – He travelled wherever He needed to go to be around the people God the Father wanted Him to be around.
    • Of course, this is no different with us when it comes to the ministry.  We need to “go” if we’re to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations.  Too many times, Christians think the people of the world need to come to us, rather than us going to them.  Oh, we might not actually say it in those terms, but that’s certainly how it practically works out.  There’s nothing wrong with big sanctuaries & buildings (praise God for their need!), yet sometimes we think that if we just build a bigger building, that will attract people to Christ.  There’s nothing wrong with musical talent, but sometimes we think that if we just had the “best” band then that will attract people to Christ.  Whatever the biggest & the best & the most current fad is, so many Christians latch on to those things, hoping that this technique will drive people through the doors.  Yet what we need to be doing is actually walking through the doors ourselves to go to those who are outside.  We cannot expect the world to come to us; we must be willing to go & then bring them to Christ.  After Andrew first met the Lord Jesus, he wanted his brother Simon (Peter) to meet the Lord as well.  Andrew didn’t wait for Peter to perchance wander by; he found his brother Simon, told him that he’d found the Messiah, and then brought him to Jesus (Jn 1:41-42).  That’s our model.  We go to them, and then bring them to meet the Lord.  That’s what Jesus did; that’s what we ought to do was well.
  • Jesus taught (doctrine).  Culturally, it was fairly normal for a travelling rabbi to be invited into local synagogues, read a section of Scripture & then give an exposition based upon the text.  Apparently, Jesus was engaged in exactly that sort of thing as He went from village to village.  Jesus placed a high value upon the word of God (for good reason: as God, He inspired it!).
    • People wonder sometimes why some Christians spend so much time emphasizing and teaching the Bible.  It’s because Jesus did the same thing!  Doctrine is important to Christ (which is one reason He spent so much time correcting the false doctrine that had been taught by the Pharisees & others).  Doctrine affects the way we think about God – the way we think about ourselves – the way we worship – the way we witness – the way we pray – the way we serve – the way we love our families & one another & so much more.  Local churches that neglect to teach the counsel of God through the Scripture miss out on what God specifically wants to tell His people.  Christians that neglect to read their Bibles miss out on what God specifically wants to say to them.  Jesus placed a high priority upon proper teaching & so ought we.
  • Jesus preached (evangelism).  When Matthew describes Jesus as “preaching the gospel of the kingdom,” he’s describing Jesus as proclaiming or heralding the good news of what God the Father was instituting through Christ.  Of course the entire Sermon on the Mount is about what it means to live as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven; the good news of the kingdom is that the time is NOW.  Those who had always thought they would be excluded from the kingdom heard how they could be included by trusting Christ as Savior and Lord.  Those who previously thought that their obedience to the law earned them a spot in the kingdom learned of their hopelessness in their action because of God’s perfection, but also of the grace available in the Messiah whom God sent.  Truly this is good news!
    • Sometimes we forget that that gospel that we proclaim truly is “good” news!  Forgiveness is freely available – relationship with God can be yours – new life can be received.  All of it is freely given to those who truly recognize Jesus as the Lord God crucified for sin & risen from the grave.  Those who repent from sin & trust Jesus alone for salvation will be saved.  There’s no work to do because the work as already been done by Christ.  That is GOOD news!
  • Jesus healed (service).  Jesus addressed the needs that were at hand in the way that only He could address them.  Those who needed healing from disease came to Christ and found it.  Those who needed freedom from demonic oppression came to Jesus and received it.  The needs that were at hand were addressed by Christ.  It wasn’t that He did a survey to try to imagine what the “felt needs” of the community might be; it was simply a matter of doing what needed to be done in the power of God in demonstration of the authority and love of God.
    • Don’t miss the balance in Jesus’ ministry.  He engaged in teaching, evangelism, and service…and did so perfectly according to the Father’s will.  Of course there’s no such thing as a perfect church (the only perfect Church is the invisible Church that will be wed to Christ in the millennium – and we’re not there yet!), but it’s important for local churches to try to find the same sort of balance that Jesus had.  Teaching doctrine is vitally important, but not to be done to the complete exclusion of service in the community.  Evangelism is wonderful – but it is only part of raising up disciples; doctrine is necessary for maturity.  Healthy churches attempt to engage in the same three things as Christ: teaching, evangelism, and service.
  • Notice the “every’s” – the generalities.
    • Every place – all over the region of Galilee, Jesus went into all the cities and villages.  Obviously He didn’t cover every square inch, but it seem that He covered every center of population.  Everyone had the opportunity to hear the gospel and see Christ with their own eyes. 
      • Everyone STILL has the opportunity…
    • Every problem.  For all of the sicknesses and disease and demon-possessed, there wasn’t a single problem among them that was a challenge for the Lord Jesus.  There would be disciples who later bring their challenges to Christ, admitting they could not heal the disease or exorcise the demon (Mark 9:18), but Jesus remained unchallenged.  There was no type of sickness too difficult for Him to handle.  Why?  Jesus is omnipotent…
    • Every person?  This one is a bit more questionable.  “Among the people” does not mean “ALL the people.” (And some MSS don’t even include it at all.) Of course many people were indeed helped by Jesus, and in the accounts we read of throughout Ch 8-9, we certainly did not read of anyone being turned away.  Yet there’s no reason to assume that all of the sickness simply flew out of town the moment that Jesus arrived.  Those who came to Jesus received help; those who did not remained in their disease.  That principle still applies today.  Jesus has come.  He died on the cross and His blood is sufficient to save every single soul that has ever come into existence throughout history.  Anyone who comes to Jesus in repentance and faith will be saved.  Yet people must come.  Simply because Jesus died on the cross & rose again does not mean that the consequences of sin simply fly out the window – if we do not throw ourselves upon the mercy and grace of God through Jesus Christ, then we will most certainly answer for these things ourselves.  Jesus’ grace IS freely available to ALL – but we must come.
  • Motivation for the ministry

36 But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.

  • He “saw” the multitudes.  As with the idea of Jesus actually travelling to the villages, the idea of Jesus seeing the multitudes seems obvious, but again – don’t neglect it.  It wasn’t that the multitudes simply past in front of Jesus, but rather He perceived them & took notice of them.  Jesus took care to pay attention to the masses of people…He truly “saw” them.
    • Do we do the same?  People pass by us all the time, and perhaps we forget to truly see them.  Or we certainly don’t see them through God’s eyes.  We drive down the street & see hundreds of cars all headed on the same road.  God sees hundreds of His special creations, many of whom are lost and doomed for hell unless they are saved.  We see a crowd of people in the grocery store & we can’t wait for them to move so we can get our stuff done & get on with our life.  God sees men, women, and children who desperately need to hear the gospel of Jesus.  People who are hurting and need encouragement from His word – people who are angry for no reason and need to be washed in the grace of Christ Jesus.  May God give us eyes to truly see!  Then may He give us the hearts to act upon what we have seen.
  • He cared for the multitudes.  The single Greek word translated “He was moved with compassion” is interesting…it basically means that Jesus’ whole inner being moved in sympathy for them.  It expresses deep emotion & yearning & pity for someone.  What’s so interesting is that GOD experienced this.  We might understand it when we read in the Bible how the psalmists’ soul longed for God (Ps 63, 143).  We can understand deep emotion in our worship and prayer of the Living God who sacrificed everything for us upon the cross.  Yet to read of the Infinite All-Powerful Everlasting God expressing deep emotional pity for US is amazing.  Theologians sometimes describe God as being “impassionate,” which is true and yet we might get the wrong idea.  The Bible clearly states that God is not subject to wild mood swings – He is not fickle in His emotions (as humans are).  Yet God HAS emotions!  The Bible speaks of God rejoicing over His people with gladness & singing (Zeph 3:17).  Other times, God burns with furious wrath at idolatry & rebellion (Exo 32:10).  We see Jesus physically weep at the grave of Lazarus (Jn 11:35).  God does indeed experience emotion.  (Where else would we have gotten it from?  After all, we were created in the image of God.)  And apparently, God can experience DEEP emotion – demonstrated here through Christ whose inner being longed with pity for the people.
    • What love we see in our Savior!  What compassion!  What false god is possibly like the One True God who longs & cares for those He created?  False religions show their pagan idolatrous gods as playing games with their servants or harassing them or terrifying them.  The True God loves them.  Even when we responded to the love of God with anger, rebellion, hatred, and sin, God loved us and longed for us and had compassion upon us.  Some of the very same people that Jesus longed for in this crowd would likely later turn on Him & call for His crucifixion.  Yet it did not change His compassion for them.  His desire for them (as His desire for us) was for them to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:4)
  • The multitudes needed help.  NKJV says “weary and scattered” – ESV has “harassed & helpless” – NASB is “distressed & dispirited.”  The idea here isn’t so much physical exhaustion (per KJV, “fainted”) but rather spiritual distress.  Obviously Jesus was concerned about the people’s physical condition (as seen through the many healings), but what moved Jesus the most in terms of compassion wasn’t physical need, but spiritual.  The physical ailments were but a symptom of what was going on spiritually in their lives.  These multitudes in Galilee were for the most part Jews – they were supposed to be part of the chosen people of God, returned back into the promised land and enjoying their covenant relationship with God.  Yet although they were in the land, they had anything but joy in their covenant promises!  They were physically oppressed by a foreign government (thus they didn’t have the freedom they desired under the Davidic king), and the Jewish leadership of the Pharisees and Sadducees had choked out the joy of walking with the Lord God through dead legalism and meaningless ritual.  The people had much availability to the word of God through the Old Testament Scriptures, yet the promises and truth of the Scriptures were kept far from the people under the pseudo-spiritual guise of “tradition.”  As Jesus would later accuse the Pharisees, they shut of the kingdom of heaven against men, neither going in themselves, nor allowing anyone else to go in (Matt 23:13).
  • The multitudes needed leadership/protection…sadly from the very people who were supposed to be leading & protecting them!  They were sheep without a shepherd & unnecessarily so.  They should have had shepherds…they only had poor ones.  The Pharisees and Sadducees seemingly engaged in the same practice as the ancient priests of Judah who allowed the people to sin themselves into captivity.  Instead of feeding the flock of God they had been entrusted with, they fleeced them & abused them.  Ezekiel 34:4–6, "(4) The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. (5) So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. (6) My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them." []  Yet as much as God condemns the unfaithful shepherds of His people, He also gives a promise that He Himself would search for His sheep & seek them out. (Eze 34:11)  Specifically, that was a promise for God to save His remnant in Israel, yet the principle is just as true for the New Testament people as well.  Jesus is our Good Shepherd!  He calls us by name & lays down His life for His sheep.  Those who know His voice hear Him & are known by Him.
    • Are you weary & scattered today?  Harassed & helpless?  Left dispirited by those who have spiritually abused you & lied to you in the past?  Know that the Good Shepherd is calling you today!  Respond to His compassionate loving call!
  • The work still to be done in the ministry

37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

  • Notice to whom Jesus was speaking: “His disciples.”  What He’s saying here makes no sense to the rest of the world & doesn’t apply to the rest of the world.  It only applies to those who are disciples (students/followers) of Jesus Christ.  The rest of the world has zero understanding of the Great Commission & the desire to see the whole population come to faith in Christ.  They see it as a waste of time & resources.  But Jesus wasn’t speaking to them – there’s simply no way they could understand His words here anyway.  Jesus WAS/IS speaking to us…so listen up!
  • There is a harvest.  The metaphor changes from ranching to farming, but the basic idea is the same.  There are many sheep who are lost & need a shepherd – there is a harvest ready for reaping & in need of reapers.  IOW, the time is NOW.  When sheep are wandering lost, it’s not time to kick back & enjoy a nap – you need to go find those lost sheep before they get hurt.  Likewise with a harvest.  When the crop is ready to be picked, you don’t sit back & decide you’ll get to it next week or next month – you pick it when it’s ready.  That’s the idea here: there is a harvest of souls ready to go, and the time is right to get to work.
    • [The Samaritan woman.]  John 4:35–38, "(35) Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! (36) And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. (37) For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ (38) I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors." []  It’s time to get to work!  Already the groundwork has been laid – God has prepared hearts – the seed of the gospel has already been sown by others (and we continue to sow it along the way) – but right now there is a harvest at hand…we dare not grow lax in the reaping!
  • There is MUCH harvest!  It’s not just a little bit – Jesus said that the harvest is “plentiful.”  This ought to be great news to everyone with a heart for evangelism!  There is work to be done & much fruit to be expected.  Christians so often refuse to take a step of faith in sharing the gospel with their neighbor under the excuse of fear of rejection.  As a whole, we like to be “liked” & we don’t want to be turned down.  Yet what we tend to forget is that Jesus told us that the harvest is “plentiful” – there are many who are ready to be harvested for the Lord’s glory!  Will the gospel be rejected by some?  Sure.  Yet it will be received by many!  Who misses out on hearing the gospel from us simply because we’re wrongly assuming they will reject it?
  • There are few laborers.  What a tragic picture!  A massive field sits awaiting harvesting, yet only a few labor to partake in the harvest.  Jesus is setting up a dilemma – we envision it in our minds & wonder: “Will it get done in time?  More workers are needed!  What will happen?”  Of course if we’re looking at Jesus’ day, the picture is no less tragic, but it’s understandable.  The harvest is ready to go, yet there were only a few who actually followed Jesus as Lord & Messiah.  Only a few were ready to participate in the harvest work.  Yet today it seems that we’re faced with the same dilemma.  The harvest truly is plentiful, but the workers are few.  It’s estimated there are over 6.8 billion people in the world, 2.14 billion of whom are professed Christians.  That means that at best there are at least 4.7 billion people alive on this planet who are lost and going to hell.  (And surely not everyone who falls under the label of “Christian” is actually a born-again believer in Jesus Christ.)  Yet only a small percentage of Christians ever share their faith on a regular basis.  There is a massive harvest, but a dearth of workers!
    • What to do?  Pray!  See vs. 38…
  • The prayer for the ministry

38 Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

  • Pray/beseech/ask.  We have not because we ask not…and there’s hardly a better thing we could ask for then for God to be glorified through His people sharing the good news of Christ so that lost people might be saved.
  • To whom do we pray?  The Lord!  Specifically, “the Lord of the harvest.”  This is HIS harvest – the fields of the earth belong to Him.  How important this is to remember!  Obviously we want our churches to grow in that it’s a sign that people are getting saved & growing mature in their faith – BUT evangelism is not about building up anyone’s personal kingdom.  The harvest belongs to the Lord God.  We share the gospel not to build a congregation, but to participate in God’s work.  That’s why we can rejoice when anyone gets saved!  People wonder, “Why spend all that time & money sharing the gospel overseas?  There are people in your own city who might go to your church.”  We certainly want to reach the people in our city, but the harvest of God is far bigger than our town!  It’s worldwide – and we want to do everything possible to take part in His harvest.  God’s harvest is taking place in Tyler, TX, in India, in Cuba, in China, in Sudan, and all over the world in far too many parts to mention.  It’s never an “either/or” question when it comes to mission work…it’s always a “both/and.”  Local AND global.  God’s harvest takes place all over the globe, so we pray to God to give us opportunities for global ministry.
    • The fact that this is God’s harvest also helps us clarify our motivations.  We don’t share the gospel with people for our benefit, but for the glory of God.  We don’t participate in evangelism so that we can build the size of our congregation – we share the good news so that the people for whom Jesus died will be saved and live eternally with Him.  Praise God for the numeric growth that He provides – it means that people are getting fed & growing in maturity…but evangelism isn’t about our numbers; it’s about God’s kingdom.
  • For what are we asking?  “Laborers/workers.”  You might be the answer to your own prayer request!  Interestingly enough, Ch 10 begins with the naming of the 12 apostles…some of the very laborers Jesus had told them to pray for.  It’s no different with us today.  Who are the laborers in the harvest of the Lord, other than the Church?  Specifically, we’re to pray that these laborers would be sent out into the field.  Literally, the word used for “send” refers to throwing.  As AT Robertson put it, “Sometimes God literally has to push or force a man into the ministry who resists his known duty.”  Beyond the idea of the vocational “ministry,” it applies to all of us.  Sometimes God specifically places us into situations in which we might be a bit uncomfortable, but He’s giving us the opportunity to take part in the harvest work.  He’s “throwing” us into the field.  Pray for workers!  And also pray for the willingness to be used by God in that same work.
  • Isaiah had a similar scenario put before him when he had a vision of God in His glory seated upon His throne.  Isaiah 6:8, "Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”" []  One thing that makes this so interesting is that Isaiah had already been used by the Lord to prophesy (5 chapters had been written to this point!), and it was only when Isaiah got a glimpse of the glory & holiness of God, understood his own sin, and received confirmation that his sin was atoned for, THEN he was ready and willing to be used by the Lord in whatever way the Lord saw fit.  We’ve all heard about the need for evangelism & the call to participate in the Great Commission, but many of us have been able to put it off to the back of our mind or ignore it completely.  Can God still use us?  Of course – He’s God.  But how much better is it when we get a glimpse of the holiness and love of God, truly be reminded of our sin & forgiveness in Christ, and then reconsider the call to participate in the harvest?  Take the time to remember who GOD is – who we are – what Jesus has done for us.  Take the time to be reminded of what we have been given and privileged in Christ, and then listen to the call of God again: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”  Listen to Jesus’ instruction that we would pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.  Are we prepared to answer that call?  How can we refuse the One who had already called us to life and fellowship with Him?  There is a work to be done!  What are we waiting for?

What a ministry Jesus had!  All over Galilee He taught, preached, and healed.  He ministered to their physical needs, but saw the most important need of all was spiritual.  Jesus knows the work still to be done and calls us to participate.  Will we do it?

Too many Christians sit on the sidelines watching & waiting for others to do the work.  They pray, “Lord, I know you need laborers for Your harvest – raise them up.  Just don’t raise me!”  Beloved, if that’s you, be careful!  That’s not the heart of someone who truly understands what we have been given by Christ Jesus in our salvation.  That’s not the prayer of someone who’s gotten a glimpse of the holiness and love of God.  Our Lord Jesus had yearning compassion upon you.  If you can’t yet pray that God might use you in the harvest field, perhaps you ought to pray that you can see people with the same compassion that the Lord Jesus does.  May we truly see the world through God’s eyes – that we would have compassion upon those who are lost that they might be saved.

That’s not to say that everyone’s role in the work of the harvest will be the same.  Please don’t misunderstand.  Not everyone does the same role because not everyone has the same giftings nor does everyone have the same circle of friends, etc.  But how we ought to be used by God as HE desires for us to be used in His harvest for His glory!  May we give ourselves over to the Lord so that He can use us as He sees fit, according to His perfect will.

Perhaps today is a day that you know the Lord is calling you to some sort of service.  Maybe that’s a mission trip – maybe it’s a personal evangelistic conversation you’ve been putting off – maybe it’s something altogether different.  Pray that God would use you as He sees fit for His harvest field.  Pray that God would give you willingness to go, eyes to see, and compassion to love the people as He loves them.


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