But the laborers are few

Matthew 9:32-38
32 As they went out, behold, they brought to Him a man, mute and demon-possessed.
33 And when the demon was cast out, the mute spoke. And the multitudes marveled, saying, “It was never seen like this in Israel!”
34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons.”
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.
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.
37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.
38 “Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

Who recognizes the work of the Lord? Cynics will listen to your personal testimony of salvation, and they’ll just mark it down to psychological wish-fulfillment. Scientists will see miracles, doctors see healing, and rather than assign agency to the events, they will simply say it is “unexplained.” Even among those who claim the name “Christian,” there are skeptics who will see the work of the Lord and not believe He has done it. They have their worldview shaped by modern science and popular psychology, and they find it far easier to see God as some nebulous Spirit on the fringe of reality rather than seeing Him for who He is: Yahweh Yir’eh, Yahweh Rapha, El-Shaddai, Emmanuel (God Who Provides, God Who Heals, God Almighty, God With Us).

But among the faithful in Christ, among those who have tasted and seen God’s mercy and grace, His work is well known. We live and work and breathe knowing that He is always with us, knowing that His power alone sustains us, knowing that His like has never been seen before among men. And when we speak to the downtrodden and the oppressed, when we share the gospel of Christ with those thirsty for the water of life, then one thing becomes abundantly clear: despite the beliefs of the cynics and scientists, there are many who are ready for the presence of God in their lives. As Jesus said in today’s verses, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”

Why are there so few laborers? Much of it is because we live in a world so shaped by science and Enlightenment philosophy that we fail to see God moving in the world, and much of it is because that same philosophy has shaped our society into believing we are self-sufficient. Coming from such a secular world-view, it is no wonder that so many people just aren’t interested in becoming laborers for the Lord’s harvest. On the one hand we discount the work of the Lord, and on the other we say that if the Lord is so great then He can do the harvest Himself. In short, we claim we have better things to do, and so the Lord can do His work without us. We explain away His miracles, signs, and wonders as natural phenomena, and thus we miss when He clearly calls us to participate in His work.

Worse today is the lack of true shepherds in the church of Jesus Christ. We have motivational speakers and people who preach a half-gospel of peace without repentance. We have denominational bodies who place more store in contemporary traditions and modern sensibilities than in the Word of God. We have churches that are ruled by committees rather than by Christ Himself and the Holy Spirit of God. We have congregations who want to be coddled and pampered rather than hearing the convicting word of modern prophets. We have men called to teach the flock who instead try to teach themselves how to reconcile God with modern social mores and modern science–rather than reconciling our morals and thinking to God. We have little to no accountability in giant churches–church bodies that have become unwieldy and in which many wander without true pastoral care because they are just faces in a crowd. We have lukewarm congregations who give as little as possible back to their Lord. They give right up until it hurts, but then they won’t keep giving when it does hurt.

Where is the passion for Christ? Where are the laborers for the harvest of the Lord? Where is the fire in people’s bones? Where is the acknowledgment that God is God and we are not? Where is the recognition of the true work of the Lord? Where is the desire to be part of that work?

The Pharisees accused Jesus of being part of the problem when they said, “He casts out demons by the ruler of demons.” They did not recognize Jesus as the Son of God, and so they assumed that He must be associated with evil, that His miracles were just a seductive show to lure people away from the Pharisees and their esoteric rules and expansions of God’s laws. By claiming that Jesus was against them, they assumed that Jesus must not be on the side of God. And when they made that same claim later, Jesus replied, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25) By refusing to heed the prophecies that Jesus so plainly fulfilled, the Pharisees had divided the house of God, and so that house–the temple itself–could not stand. As Jesus further said, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” (Matthew 12:30) Jesus was inviting them to enter into the harvest with Him, but if they would not, then plainly they were opposed to Him and His Father’s work.

We cannot afford to be divided in doing the Lord’s work. We cannot allow His Word to be distorted so that we end up accusing each other of not following the Lord our God. Sadly, we see that kind of division today. We see pastors who have abandoned the clearly-written Word of God in favor of modern society’s morality, and then they accuse those who love the Word of God of being insensitive and unenlightened. Some pastors seek to reconcile contemporary lack of morals with a loving Christ who forgives all things, and yet they forget that we serve a righteous God who seeks our repentance and faith–and they forget that the same forgiving Christ they espouse will one day return to judge them according to their true faith. If their faith is in modern promiscuity and systemic oppression, then how will they be judged? Christ is the Judge, and He has said in many ways that He will judge according to faith and righteousness, not according to how well we try to integrate Him into our unchanged, immoral, oppressive lives.

God is calling us to the harvest. His Word rings out from Genesis through Revelation with a clarion call to rise up and participate in His work and His kingdom. He does not ask us to reconcile His ways to our own but to abandon our ways and seek His. He calls us to unity as a body of believers, all working toward the glory and praise of our Lord. He calls us to go among the sheep and preach the gospel of the kingdom of God, to gather the flock and guide them toward the still waters of His provision, His healing, His presence. He calls us to leave behind all we once held dear for something even more valuable than the most precious pearl. He calls us to recognize His majesty and grace and to share His mercy and love.

We will face opposition in this work. Even as we raise the call for people to return to the ways of God, we will be accused of being troublemakers and being unloving. Even as we pray and fast for intercession and repentance, as we work miracles of redemption in His name, we will be accused of not loving the Lord we serve. Even as we speak the Word of God with clarity and conviction, we will be accused of hating modern society and ignoring the oppressed. Even as we share the gospel and try to bring the downtrodden out of their sin and up into repentance and faith, we will be accused of being accusers and judges–no matter how much we point to the One who is the Righteous Judge of all mankind. Nonetheless, we are called to the harvest.

Matthew 5:11-12
11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
12 “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Jesus told His disciples, “Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Let us answer that prayer and be the harvesters sent out to labor in the name of the Lord.

Almighty God and Father, I hear and answer Your call. I know that I once was among those harvested for the Lord, and now I wish to go back into the field and labor for You. Teach me when to harvest and when to glean, when to sow in Your name and when to reap to Your glory. Help me to be guided by Your Spirit and Your Word, with one mind toward bringing the gospel of salvation to all creatures. Amen.


About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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