From Hearers to Doers
35Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field."
10:1He called His twelve disciples to Him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. 2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.
Matthew, by way of introducing the next section, again summarizes Jesus’ ministry: "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" (vs. 35). Note again the three activities that comprised Jesus’ ministry: "teaching", "preaching", and "healing". His service was focused, and meaningful. Jesus tirelessly carried out His service. His service to His Father was His life. And He did not perform the works of service rotely. He served because He cared for those whom He served: "When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (vs. 36). Compassion is a godly trait. In fact, compassion is the first trait that the Lord Himself names as He describes Himself to Moses: "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,…" (Ex. 34:6). Let us not underestimate the magnitude of the blessing of having a Lord that feels compassion for us. We do not have a Lord, as agnostics may tell you, that is aloof and apart from His creation. But we have a Lord, who not only sees all that is happening, but also feels compassion for those who are in trouble, who are downhearted, who are lost. Moreover, since our Lord lived as a man, He knows what it is like to be a man, and to experience what men experience. Thus, He is all the more able to feel true compassion.
Seeing Jesus’ compassion reminds us that, if we have the mind of Christ, we will also feel compassion for the "harassed and helpless." "The man who does not feel for the souls of all unconverted persons can surely not have the mind of Christ" [Ryle, 93]. Now, compassion, being a feeling, is not something that can be commanded. I cannot say to you: "Have compassion!" Rather, compassion must be cultivated. Praying for others is a great way to cultivate compassion. As you pray, put yourselves in the place of those you are praying for. Feel their needs.
In this case, Jesus’ compassion on the people was due to the fact that they were "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (vs. 36). Jesus, in all likelihood, was concerned for the lack of spiritual leadership for the people. We have seen in the last few studies how Jesus Himself was "harassed" by the spiritual leaders of the day. In the midst of His good works, Jesus was called a blasphemer (see Matt. 9:3), was chastised for associating with sinners (see Matt. 9:11), was denigrated for not observing man-made ritual fasts (see Matt. 9:14), and was accused of being in league with the devil (see Matt. 9:34). Now, if the Lord of the Universe was "harassed" by the spiritual leaders, most certainly the ordinary people were as well. The people had it worse, though, because they not only were "harassed", but also "helpless". Their spiritual leaders were not actually leading them. The spiritual leaders were not giving sufficient spiritual guidance or instruction. Thus, the people were "like sheep without a shepherd."
Jesus brought this to the attention of His disciples: "Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field’" (vss. 37–38). Jesus seems to be speaking this to His disciples in general, not just to the twelve disciples. Note well that Jesus’ first request of His disciples concerning the "harassed and helpless" is prayer: "Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field." Jesus does not, at first, seek workers to send out. Rather, He tells His disciples to pray that workers would be sent out. Jesus speaks first to what is most important in evangelism: not the sending out of a few, but prayer by all. Don’t underestimate the value of prayer in this area: "By prayer we reach Him, without whom work and money are alike in vain: we obtain the aid of the Holy Ghost.—Money can pay agents; universities can give learning; bishops may ordain; congregations may elect: but the Holy Ghost alone can make ministers of the Gospel, and raise up lay workmen in the spiritual harvest, who need not be ashamed" [Ryle, 93-94]. It is significant and instructive that Jesus spent a whole night in prayer before choosing His Twelve Disciples (see Luke 6:12,13).
Jesus’ times were not unique with respect to the plenteousness of the harvest. Indeed, we could say today, in fact, anytime or anywhere: "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few." The number ready to hear and respond to the gospel was great then, and is great now. Do not underestimate this fact. "It is surely due to lack of spiritual insight that we fail to realize how much men are hungering for God; we are apt instead to judge hastily by cold or hostile exteriors and talk of hardness of soil and need of plowing and planting, when our Master sees crop wasting for lack of reapers" [Griffith Thomas, 137].
The prayer of verse 38 of chapter nine is answered in chapter ten. To answer the prayer that God "send out workers into His harvest field", Jesus "called His twelve disciples to Him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness" (vs. 1). Most of chapter ten consists of the instructions that Jesus gave to the Twelve disciples, as He sent them out to preach, teach and heal. But first, Matthew introduces to us the chosen Twelve disciples of Jesus: "These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him" (vss. 2–4). There were Twelve chosen because there are twelve tribes of Israel. Later in Matthew, Jesus tells the Twelve that they will "sit on twelve thrones" and rule over the twelve tribes of Israel (see Matt. 19:28). While Jesus instructed all of His disciples in chapter nine to pray that workers be sent out, here Jesus specially chooses twelve of them to be sent out. These were ordinary men in their occupations and stations, but they were extraordinary men in the zealousness for the gospel of Jesus Christ. We who are Christians are their children in the faith. Through them, the gospel was spread throughout the world.
In chapter five, we were told that Jesus’ "disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them" (Matt. 5:1–2). The teachings of Jesus to all of His disciples filled chapters 5 through 7 of this Gospel. Here in this chapter, Jesus turns the hearers into doers. Jesus is sending out twelve of those who heard His teachings to put His teachings into practice. For the true disciple of Jesus, there must be a transition from hearer to doer, from listener to servant. There is much work to be done in the kingdom of God. Brothers and sisters, if you are not yet a doer, ask that God would put you to work. Seek that method of service that God has ready for you to do.