Our Ministry is Given by God out of Compassion for His People
(Matthew 9:35-10:8 / June 28, 2020)
For three weeks now we have been looking at various texts from the Gospel of Matthew under the theme of “Our Ministry”. It is really God’s ministry that takes place in our congregation, but he has graciously shared it with us, his children. The word “ministry” means service. The greatest service ever done for humanity was when God sent his Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins.
Well, if that was the greatest service extended to mankind, then the greatest service we can render to another is to share the message of Jesus: that he died not only for me, but that he died for all. “He died”, we can say, “even for you!”
Now, when Jesus was in the world, he carried out his ministry primarily by himself. The disciples accompanied him, but he was the one preaching, teaching, and healing. On two occasions, however, he sent out his disciples to do his work as his representatives. They went out preaching, teaching, and healing. Jesus knew that one day he would return to the Father in heaven. It’s not that his ministry on earth would stop, but rather his ministry on earth would change. Rather than do it himself, he would now do it through his disciples.
And that is what we see in the New Testament following Pentecost. The task of preaching, teaching, and healing is now carried out by Christ’s disciples, or if you like, the Christian Church.
Now, all of us who believe are part of the Christian church. “Church” just means assembly. It is the group of people who have been called out of the darkness of sin into the light of Christ’s forgiveness. God wants many more people to be called out of the darkness of their unbelief and into the light of faith. He wants them to know and believe that Jesus died for them.
But Jesus no longer speaks in person here on earth. He speaks in his Word, the Bible. And the people who speak the Jesus’ words in the Bible are primarily pastors. It is not that moms and dads do not also speak God’s Word. They do. Children speak God’s Word to each other. But the ones who publicly teach and preach God’s words as representatives of Christ are what the Bible refers to as “pastors” or “shepherds” of sheep.
So, last week we talked about the offense the Bible arouses in people when it says that they are in need of God’s pity. Well, today the Bible continues to offend our pride in that it refers to us as sheep. Matthew 9:36 says, “When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
So, that is the way God sees you and me. He sees us as harassed. He sees us as helpless. And he sees us as sheep without a shepherd. You see how humbling Christianity is.
But this is not a derogatory statement. Rather it is one that flows from his compassion. If you saw a scattered flock of sheep, chased after by wolves, lost and bleating and alone, you wouldn’t laugh at the sheep, you would feel sorry for the sheep. And if you had any decency in you, you would run after the wolf with a big stick, and you would pick up the bleating lamb in your arms and carry it back home.
Well, Jesus says, this is the role he has given to pastors. There is a reason why pastors are called “pastors”. The word is Latin for “shepherd”. Now, it’s interesting that most people see pastors as completely irrelevant to their lives. When they do happen to show up, people see them as a nuisance. But that goes back to what we learned last Sunday. They don’t see themselves as helpless and lost and needing God’s mercy. They don’t see themselves as sheep.
If you don’t see yourself as a sheep, the pastor will always be a bother to you. If you don’t see yourself the way God sees you, you will never understand why the pastor doesn’t just give up on you and go away. But once you understand this metaphor, that all humans because of their sin are constantly enticed to wander away from their Chief Shepherd, Jesus, then you understand why humans need a pastor—we sin! And therefore, every one of us needs one, not just, it is good to have one. No. We need one.
That’s the first metaphor Jesus uses. The second is the picture of a harvest. Jesus sees the people, and in doing so, he sees a great harvest just waiting to be gathered into the barn. That it is harvest season, of course, means that the grain is ripe. It is ready to be picked. And if nothing happens, it will soon fall off the stalk onto the ground and be lost forever.
So, Jesus says, “There needs to be someone who goes out and gathers in the harvest. The grain isn’t capable of harvesting itself. In the same way that sheep aren’t capable of guiding themselves. Again, you see how humbling Christianity is. We are not capable. When it comes to our spiritual life all we can do is wander, become attacked, bleat for help, fall of the stalk and rot.
So, God sends out his workers. The workers are also human, but because they have a strong relationship with Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, they are able to go out and bring back the wayward sheep. They are able to go out and gather in the ripe grain. And in doing so, they save the harvest from ruin and the sheep from death.
But notice what Jesus says—the workers are few. Verses 37 and 38: “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. As the Lord of the harvest therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” And surely the disciples did pray for more workers.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for you to pray for your pastor. It’s not that the pastor is more special than anyone else in the congregation; it’s that his role is unique among the congregation. Not all can teach. Not all can preach. Not all have the patience and compassion of Jesus to put up with wayward sheep and to gently lead them back to the fold.
We also need to realize that there are many more people out there that need to be saved than one pastor can reach. As Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”. So, we also want to pray that God would provide more workers (more pastors) to work in God’s harvest.
Some of those future pastors may be your children, and I hope they are. We need more pastors from the many cultures represented in our nation. It’s a good thing to encourage your son or grandson, “Maybe God is calling you to be a pastor one day.” We also need women who are spiritually mature that can serve as a mentor and guide for other women in ways that men can’t.
For surely you all know just how difficult life is. Life is terribly difficult and even more so when you’re all by yourself. And when life becomes too difficult, and when you have no one to turn to, that is when people despair and give up on God. And they turn away from him and turn towards sinful pleasures that promise much but deliver little. And the devil has them right where he wants them.
So, we need pastors. And we need spiritually mature men and women to help the pastor. And if we take these roles seriously God’s kingdom will grow. I promise you; this congregation will grow.
Now, the rest of our text (chapter 10:1-8) is the answer to the disciple’s prayers. Jesus had just told them to pray for more workers, and so they did. The answer, however, to their prayers may have surprised them. For it turns out that the way God answered their prayers was by selecting them. They were the workers who were to go out and gather in more followers and believers in God.
Jesus started out with twelve of them: “First, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew [Nathaniel]; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him” (10:2-4).
Their mission? “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel” (vv. 5-6). In other words, says Jesus, “Start with the Jews. Start with your own people. Then you can go out into the rest of the world”, which is exactly what you and I are tasked with today.
Well, what are we supposed to say? Verse 7: “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.” Those weren’t the only words they said (that would be a very short sermon), but they sum up the same message that John the Baptist and Jesus, himself, preached. Heaven is near to each and every one of us because Jesus is near, and Jesus is the entrance into heaven. In John 10:7 Jesus says, “I am the gate for the sheep.” In John 14:6 he says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
So, wherever Jesus is, heaven is close by. God is close by. And the love of God and his healing power touch the life of the believer.
You see, Jesus gave the twelve disciples the “authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” They themselves didn’t have that power. They themselves had no authority to do those things. That’s why we don’t worship them. That’s why we don’t pray to them. That’s why we don’t ask them to heal us and our loved ones. The authority and the power came from Jesus. And that is why we pray to him. That is why we ask him to heal us and our loved ones!
Well, does Jesus still do these things? Yes, he still does them today. The miracles by and large have gone away, but Jesus still shows mercy to his people through other human beings: doctors, psychologists, pastors, and others. Every time the pastor comes with the Word of God the power of Jesus is present to heal, to cleanse, to drive out demons, to pronounce the resurrection from the dead.
So, we need pastors. And we need pastors who come to the people with the Word of God and not with their own words. Would you pray for that? Would you, as Jesus says, “Ask the Lord of the harvest … to send out workers into his harvest field”? Would you pray that God’s kingdom comes to more and more people in our city? Would you pray for me?
“Lord Jesus, in your mercy hear our prayers, and let our cries come unto you.” Amen.