|“A DISCIPLE’S FOUNDATION FOR WORLD IMPACT”
“And Jesus was going about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”
Note the three-fold agenda of Jesus as He ministered to the masses of people He met in “all the cities and the villages”: teaching, preaching and healing—information based on the truths of Divine revelation, an invitation into the Kingdom of God, and intervention into the lives of diseased people to provide Divine cure for their infirmities and illnesses. This is the agenda of Jesus in ministering to people and in establishing and advancing His Kingdom.
The verses that follow the agenda-statement provide His call to His people to join Him in impacting the world for His glory and the good of men. Let me trace the steps of that call.
I. The PICTURE of a CONFUSED CROWD, vs 36
First, the text shows the picture of a confused crowd. Verse 36 says, “The multitudes….were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.”
Two descriptive words are used to picture the crowd Jesus saw. These two words are replete with content which points out the pitiable condition of the crowd without Christ. The King James Version says they “fainted and were scattered abroad.” The New American Standard says “they were distressed and downcast.” The New International Version says “they were harassed and helpless.” The Berkeley Version says “they were mangled and thrown to the ground.” The Weymouth translation says “they were distracted and dejected.” The Philips paraphrase says “they were bewildered and miserable.” Is one of these translations better than another in accuracy? Not necessarily.
These two words are indeed replete with content and meaning, as I said earlier. No single translation can say everything that these two words contain.
Let me explore a bit further the two descriptive words that describe the pitiful crowd without Christ (indeed, they describe every person without Christ, though he may not recognize it or admit it). Grammatically, both words are participles, which means that they describe the normal and continuous state of the crowd. The first of the two words is the Greek word eskulmenoi, which basically means “to be feeble.” It comes from a strong verb which means “to be lacerated,” or “torn.” The idea is that of being wearied by pressure. “Fatigued and forlorn,” one lexicon says. It pictures the people as completely worn out. The second word is errimmenori, which is another full and strong word. The root word means “to throw, to cast, to cast down, to prostrate.” One translation says the crowd was “disintegrated and downcast.” To follow the analogy of the text, they are like sheep lying on the ground in an utterly helpless and forsaken condition. So the two basic ideas of these words are that the multitudes were exhausted and exposed. They were exhausted like Pilgrim in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, who long carried a big burden on his back until it nearly pressed him to the ground in exhaustion. That burden was the load of his sin and guilt. This is the spiritual condition of every person without Christ. Furthermore, he is helplessly exposed to all the spiritual enemies that are bent on his destruction. Satan, “like a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he may devour,” and sheep are helpless against such an adversary. And the wrath of God abides on him (John 3:36) because of his sin. So he is fully exposed and unprotected against the enemies of his welfare.
The total picture is that of helpless confusion. A man parked his car at the edge of a national forest and decided to walk for awhile in the woods. He became thoroughly absorbed with the solitude and beauty of the forest. After some time, he was shocked into the awareness that he had lost his orientation and didn’t know where he was or even what direction he was walking in. Then he remembered the wise lesson his father had taught him years earlier: “Son, if you ever get lost in the woods, you can always tell which way is north by looking at a tree. The moss always grows on the north side of the tree.” He quickly approached a big tree. To his dismay, the moss was growing all the way around the base of the tree. “Good heavens!” he exclaimed, “I’m at the South Pole!”
In today’s world, multitudes have lost sight of the once-trusted markers. They are lost in an endless, trackless forest of competing ideas and impulses. They are confused.
Today, men are confused with regard to truth. We are told continually by Godless teachers that there are no absolute truths, that truth is relative to what each man sees, wants, needs and chooses. A man once said to me, “When a man boards a train, he should ride it all the way to its final destination.” This was a philosophical statement. I do not believe anyone who teaches that truth is relative can see around the next corner, and certainly cannot see to the final destination. There are ominous signs everywhere of the price we are paying for dismissing the absolute, irrevocable and final Truth of God. Proverbs 23:23 sets the agenda of the Godly when it says, “Buy the truth and sell it not.” Note the all-important commodity, “Truth.” Note the course and the cost, “ Buy the Truth.” Note the caution, “Sell it not.” The Christian must man every post, armed with truth, and be prepared to defend that truth and advance God’s cause at any cost. Otherwise, people will remain terribly confused all the way to their eternal doom.
Then, people are confused today with regard to direction. “The gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it” (Matthew 7:13). “There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end of it is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). The Word of God says that the multitudes are on a way that leads to eternal doom. That means that multitudes are going to hell. Are you one of those who have listened to the babble of voices and decided that it doesn’t matter, that you can follow any path and it won’t make any difference? I urge you to turn to the Good Shepherd today; He alone has the words and offers the way of eternal life.
Note that the first thing Jesus noticed about the multitudes was their misery and suffering, not their sin. He did see and declare their depravity, their sinfulness, but He did not begin there. His first response to them was one of pity because He saw how their unwise choices, their unholy character and their ungodly conduct were leaving them destitute. He saw a confused crowd.
II. The PORTRAIT of a COMPASSIONATE CHRIST, vs 36a
Secondly, the text gives us the portrait of a compassionate Christ. Verse 36 says, “And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.” Note the crucial word “compassion.” The word translated “compassion” is never used in the New Testament for another living person except Jesus, and it is used nine times of Him. For example, Matthew 14:14 echoes our text when it says, “And when He came out, He saw a great multitude, and felt compassion for them.” What does this important word mean?
Let me interpret the word. The word “compassion” itself has two parts. The second part of the word, “passion” means “suffering.” You saw the movie produced by Mel Gibson entitled “The Passion of the Christ.” Of course, the movie deals with the sufferings of the Son of God just before and during His crucifixion. The prefix, “com,” means “together with.” Compassion is one person identifying with another person so that he enters into the other’s experience, especially when it includes suffering or grief.
There are four possible attitudes any human being may have toward any other human being(s) at any time: (1) Cruelty. This is the stimulus for all the hostility, animosity, hatred, and violence in the world. (2) Coldness. This is just a step away from the first response. It is the response of indifference or apathy. This response was modeled by the priest and the Levite in Jesus parable of the Good Samaritan. They came upon a battered man on the highway, “beaten and half dead.” Though they were religious leaders, they each passed by on the wide side of the road, avoiding any involvement with the beaten man. They were guilty of “double bypass sin.” (3) Concern. Concern is mere interest in the person and his need without leading to involvement with him. (4) Compassion. Perhaps I can best define compassion by showing its constituent parts.
What are the ingredients of compassion? Compassion is a combination of spiritual vision and spiritual identification, which will necessarily lead to spiritual action.
The first ingredient in compassion is spiritual vision. “When Jesus saw the multitudes.” At this point, I want to repeat an account I recently read from a book which explores the real nature of the true church and the real needs of people.
“One spring evening the elders of our church gathered at seven o’clock for their monthly meeting. ‘Let’s do something a bit different for our prayer time,’ I began. Like good Westerners every single one of us had arrived as a solo driver. ‘You have forty-five minutes. Please get into your car—no music or radio, please—and drive two miles south of the church.’ That would bring us all to the intersection of a U.S. highway and the interstate loop around our city. ‘Park your car outside a restaurant, a store, a mall or any place that you see people. Just watch them. Who do you see? What is your impression of them? Pray for them. Ask God what we need to do in order to bring the good news to the people you see tonight.’
“An hour later we reassembled and told our stories. It had been stunning to see how many people were alone. How many children were out by themselves. How many adults had faces that reflected boredom, anger, or grim determination to accomplish errands. How many people were speaking a language other than English. How many minorities were present just two miles from our church, but whom none of us could imagine as being drawn to our front door.
“Our elders spoke of the power and freedom that came from praying for people instead of merely competing with them for parking spaces. We agreed that over the next thirty days we would find other opportunities to ‘people-watch’—at malls, during lunch breaks, or by tuning in to an hour of MTV. And we would ask God that same question: ‘What would it take, and what kind of church would we need to be, to reach those who are just down the street but may know nothing of your love?’ We didn’t design any new programs that night. First we simply tried to see.” This is where compassion begins.
The ingredient in the middle is identification. One little boy described it as “Johnny’s pain in my stomach.” That’s it! It means that I literally identify with the situation of the other person so that I see and feel as he does.
In Harper Lee’s classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, which was also made into a powerful movie, the main character, Atticus Finch, said, “You’ll never really understand a person until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Compassion requires that kind of identification with other people.
In a much more philosophical description of compassion, author Mike Mason, in his book, The Gospel According to Job, wrote: “Essentially our growth in Christ happens not by being lifted above the level of the world but rather by being immersed more and more deeply in it. What we are involved in is a process not of divinization, but of increasing humanization, for the way we become like God is by becoming more human—more of what we were created to be. The more saintly a person becomes, the more closely he or she will be identified with the common lot of suffering humanity.” (Italics mine)
Jesus in His humanity did this for men (for us) on a regular basis, and it finally led him to the Cross, the ultimate identification with sinful man and the punishment his sin deserves.
Look for a moment at the first ingredient listed above, spiritual vision. What did Jesus see when he looked at the people?
(1) He saw the size of the crowd. “He saw the multitudes.” Do you ever meditate on the vast throng of Christless people on planet earth. Six billion people, multitudes of whom are without Christ and on their way to hell as fast as time will allow. Do you truly “see” that? Does it implicate and involve you in their situation—and does it lead you to do anything about their salvation?
(2) He saw the suffering of the crowd. Do you allow yourself to think of the massive suffering of people all over the world? What could you do to greatest advantage to help in alleviating this suffering?
(3) He saw the simplicity, even the stupidity of the crowd. “They were….like sheep.” There is nothing more pitiable, more helpless, more jeopardized than a sheep without an attendant. Sheep can’t run fast enough to escape a real predator, their jaws are not strong enough to bite an attacker, and they have no shell of defense. And they are extremely, extremely unintelligent. Their only “genius” is to get themselves lost. Aubrey Johnstone, leader of an organization called “Friends of Wildlife,” said, “If you could put all the brains of all the sheep in all the world into the skull of one sheep, you just might have a half-intelligent animal.” You and I, dear friend, are consistently described symbolically in the Bible as sheep. Can you admit that you are as spiritually simple, and stupid, as this picture suggests?
(4) He saw their separation. “They were….like sheep without a shepherd.” A sheep’s only defense and well-being are in the presence of a shepherd. However, sheep have no appreciation of this—just as sinful human beings have no appreciation of their desperate need for the Good Shepherd.
When Jesus “saw” all of these things, He was moved with compassion toward them. The Greek word translated “compassion” means “an agitation of the bowels.” So intense was His identification with the destitute multitudes that He had an organic, internal response to them. He had compassion on them.
III. The PRESENTATION of a CLEAR CALL, vss 37 & 38.
Finally, we see in the text the presentation of a clear call from Christ. Verses 37 and 38 say, “Then He said to His disciples, The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” What exactly is entailed by this call of Christ?
First, it is a call to a certain perception. Note three words: “Harvest…huge (“plentiful” in the NASV)….His.” This is a call to perceive the masses as a huge harvest field, ripe and ready, and it is to be recognized as His harvest. This is a desperately crucial call. Harvests don’t wait? Harvests follow their own schedule, and do not defer to the worker’s convenience. You may fully reap next year’s harvest, but if you miss this year’s harvest, it is gone forever (spiritually, “gone” to hell, and for eternity). Jesus Christ loses something eternally precious to Him (because of our delinquency), and we suffer the loss of failing to join Him in His harvest.
Expand the perception just a little more. There are two figures used here: sheep without a shepherd (an emergency situation) and a harvest without workers (a crisis situation). What can a Christian do? He can introduce the Good Shepherd into every situation where there are such sheep, and he can make himself available to “go” out (far out) into the ripest part of the harvest field.
Second, it is a call to a certain participation. Note the word “workers.” A harvest demands workers. The particular word used, ergatai, actually means “harvest hands” or “field laborers.” If you are a born-again person, a follower of Christ, a disciple in His school, you are responsible to join Him in His harvest as one of His “harvest hands,” one of His field laborers. By your present attitudes and actions, could you qualify to be labeled as one of His harvest hands, one of His field laborers? Do you play an actual reaping role in the field? Are you introducing jeopardized sheep to the Good Shepherd?
Third, it is a call to a certain penetration. Note the words “send out,” and “thrust forth,” and (several times in the opening verses of chapter ten) “go.” Have you ever noticed that you can’t spell the word “God” without the word “go” in it, you can’t spell the word “Gospel” without the word “go” in it, and you can’t spell the word “good” without the word “go” in it? Neither can you be a good servant of God and a co-sharer in the resources and responsibilities of the Gospel without deliberately and purposefully going into His harvest field with the intent of being one of His harvest hands.
One has only to observe the community of “active” believers to see that most of their Christian activity takes place inside the fortress, inside the sheepfold, inside the barn, inside the church building. It reminds me of the old dude ranch slapstick movie comedy that I used to see when I was a boy. The scenes were always hilarious. The “city slicker” or “tenderfoot” came as a guest to a western dude ranch and dressed up in exaggerated cowboy clothes—slick boots, an oversized cowboy hat, embossed chaps, a vest, a colorful bandana, etc. All these city softies would meet at the dude ranch to get a taste of cowboy life, and the hosts would walk them through some make-believe western experiences. The scene was always hilarious when the garbed dude tried to mount his horse for his first ride. The half-dead horse stood there like a statue and probably groaned at having to endure another embarrassment. The dude finally manages to get up onto the saddle, but only for a moment, tumbling off the other side. When he finally gets mounted, he is on the horse backwards! Fortunately, the horse can barely walk a few steps and the ordeal is over. The dude manages to fall off the horse into some you-know-what. Such antics characterize the entire week of “wonderful experiences of the wild west.”
There is a non-humorous (tragic) analogy between all of that and most activities in the church today. The church is like a dude ranch where weekend cowboys (believers on the way to heaven but unwilling to go anywhere else) come to hang around the bunkhouse (the protected church building) and get another taste of “Christian life.” Question: is the church a real working farm (or ranch, to follow the other analogy) where all the hands (all members) come by for extensive instructions and tools while knowing that their real job is out on the range, or out in the harvest field? This is perhaps the biggest challenge for evangelism and world mission today—how to get the “hands” out of the barn and into the harvest field, how to get the cowboys out of the bunkhouse and onto the range, how to get the soldiers out of the boot camp barracks and into the battle, how to get the ambassadors outside the national borders and into the foreign land, etc.
Let me remind you that one common denominator binds together all of the Gospel symbols of the New Testament. “Ye are the light of the world.” Light is worthless if it doesn’t penetrate the darkness. “Salt”—salt is worthless if it doesn’t get out of the salt shaker and penetrate the salad and the potatoes. “Keys”—keys are no good unless they penetrate the lock. “Bread”—bread is no good unless it penetrates the eater. “Water”—water is no good if it does not penetrate the drinker. “Seeds”—seeds are no good if they don’t penetrate the soil. “Pilgrims”—pilgrims are no good if they don’t penetrate the highway, headed out. “Soldiers”—soldiers are worthless if they merely remain in the barracks; they must penetrate the battle lines, usually into foreign countries. “Ambassadors”—ambassadors are representatives who are on foreign assignment, and they are worthless if they don’t penetrate the foreign country. Do you get the picture? The Book of Acts is a book of travel, and still today Jesus Christ fully expects us to “gird up our loins,” pack our bags, and allow Him to dispatch us into His Harvest.
Finally, it is a call to a certain prayer. “Therefore (in light of this assignment) beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” The word translated “beseech” is a strong word for prayer. Note that we are to pray to “the Lord of the harvest.” We should constantly remind ourselves when we pray that we are praying to the headmaster of a harvest, and that our prayer is to have a certain intent with regard to His harvest. As the Lord of the harvest, He is also the Lord of the harvester. You would have expected Jesus to say, “The harvest is huge, so get to work.” But He did not say that. This is a spiritual harvest of gigantic proportions, and it requires the spiritual exercise that sets everything in motion, prayer. Furthermore, when a believer prays about the harvest, he has already taken a first step toward active labor in the harvest, and is very likely to be on his way into the harvest field very soon. The term “send out” in verse 38 is an extremely strong word. It is the same word that is used when Jesus “cast out” demons. It is the word “ekballo,” which means to throw out, or to fling out, or to thrust out, or to cast out. So, when Christians truly pray this prayer which Jesus commanded, active penetration into His harvest field to reap His harvest begins to occur immediately. Christian, will you obey Jesus and begin to pray this prayer, and pray it consistently? If you do, the days ahead will likely be the most productive and gratifying days of your entire life.