Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 9:37a “Then saith he unto his disciples, “The harvest
truly is plenteous,. . .”
In our imagination, let’s enter our text and stand next to Jesus as He looks over the crowd and makes this solemn pronouncement. This statement of extreme consequence conjures up several power images worthy of our consideration.
First, the harvest expands our vision. When Jesus began to call the first ones delegated the task of penetrating His kingdom into realms of darkness, He started by giving them His vision. Helping them see what He saw was the opening salvo in His strategy to build an organization which would lead to world conquest.
One of the things Jesus came to earth to do was to convey the vision of a whole wide world in desperate need. The result is the largest vision ever given to humanity, a dream as large as the whole human race itself. Jesus did not come to die for a few. He came with the whole world in mind.
Second, the harvest kindles optimism. The only reason to use the metaphor of a harvest would be to convey a promise of huge spiritual results. Jesus, reader of human hearts, stated what He knew, a crop of souls always waits to be reaped.
Since Christ walked among us, there has always been, in every year of every decade of every century, abundant opportunities to win people to Jesus. The same holds true today. Over the whole planet, harvest fields are growing, maturing, and ripening. Fields everywhere are ripe for harvest, yielding endless possibilities.
Go to Tanzania, where I’ve been; you can win people to Jesus all day long. Go to the lower castes in India, where I’ve been. Sit in a chair, and tell the story of Jesus repeatedly. People will respond longer than you are able to talk. You will lose your voice long before folks will quit coming to receive Jesus.
And in our own culture, do not underestimate the power of God to save sinners. The Holy Spirit, conscience, guilt, and spiritual emptiness are at work, as are the truth and beauty of the cross. We sometimes act as if these forces are feeble, but they are not. When working in tandem, they combine to become irresistible.
USA Christians need to rediscover optimism, a cardinal pillar of evangelism. We all seem depressed, drowning in a sea of despondency. Satan has duped us into thinking times are hard, no one wants to hear the Gospel. But the reality is, next door are many prechristians readier to hear the Gospel than we are to tell it.
Third, the harvest denotes urgency. When crops ripen, reaping is an immediate imperative. Harvests don’t last forever. If not reaped quickly, the harvest rots. The image is stark. People will perish if not reaped. Ultimate judgment lies ahead, awaiting all. Earth’s huge field desperately needs immediate attention.
A crop has to be reaped in its season, or to apply the metaphor, in its generation. Only this generation of Christians can reach this generation of prechristians (Oswald Smith). Christians of yore can’t help us today, nor can Christians yet unborn. Earth’s population has never been larger; we are the ones called to reap in it.
Fourth, the harvest contains value. Jesus was not discussing grass or weeds. He was talking about a cash crop, a harvest of food. Lives and livelihoods depended on it. In my first pastorate, the farmers moaned their plight all summer long, and then showed up at church the first Sunday after harvest in bran new cars.
Harvest is a glad time, for crops are valuable. Farmers count their wealth by the crop they bring in. God, the Lord of the harvest (v. 38), feels the same way.
Fifth, the harvest is the peak, the high point of the year. During the harvest, there is a drive, an enthusiasm, a sense of accomplishment like no other time of year. All else is set aside, calendars are cleared. The farmer, wanting to be at his very best, removes all distractions. Since the harvest is the peak, all workers should seek to be at their peak, at their very best when bringing in the harvest.
My dad, who grew up a cotton farmer in Arkansas, peaked in the harvest of 1948. That year’s crop was good. Dad was in excellent shape, having just left the Marines. Motivation was strong; love was driving him to buy a 21-jewel Bulova watch for my mom for Christmas. He set himself to the task of seeing how much he could bring in. That week he picked 2290 pounds, 514 in one day. That week, Dad reached his peak as a cotton farmer. He gave his all, his best, for the harvest. It’s time for us to give our best, for Jesus said, “The harvest truly is plenteous.”
Matt. 9:37b “. . .but the laborers are few;”
Here we see more power images. Sixth, the harvest requires many workers. Disproportion exists between the work’s vastness and the fewness of the workers.
In Jesus’ day, there were thousands of priests, but reapers of souls were few. This remains the case. Too few deeply care about the many waiting to hear.
When a harvest ripens, the immediate need is workers. To lose a crop due to no rain or bad soil is beyond our control, but losing a crop for a lack of workers is preventable, and thus criminal. When a harvest is lost, no one ever blames the crop. The fault lies in the reapers. Similarly, the primary problem in the spiritual harvest is not prechristians, but Christians. Jesus needs more workers.
Seventh, the harvest requires hard work. My dad often comments, picking cotton was hard work. Unfortunately, Jesus has loiterers many, but laborers few.
Jesus lacks harvesters of like mind with Himself, laborers who don’t play games, who do real work and patiently plod in hard soil. He needs reapers who don’t get too discouraged with the drudgery of toil, and refuse to quit when tired.
Jesus calls us to hard work. Ours is the way of a cross. The kingdom holds no place for idlers. Laziness has no place in God’s economy. Exertion is necessary. We all need to roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty, and sweat for the cause.
Eighth, the harvest requires migrant workers. Harvest fields near and far beckon us to come. The motto of People’s Church in Toronto is true, “Untold millions are still untold.” The Bible still needs to be translated into hundreds of languages. Two billion have never heard the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
We can’t stand at the fence-row and summon the crop to come in. My dad did not stand inside the barn and beckon, “Here, cotton, here cotton, come this way, cotton, and jump into my sack.” He had to venture out among the cotton stalks. We too have to move, to overcome inertia, in order to draw near to sinners.
Considering the harvest and its need for workers, we want to do something. What should we do first? Where do we begin? Verse 38 gives the answer.
Matt. 9:38a “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest,. . .”
When you see a “therefore” in Scripture, take time to see what it’s there for. The need is staggering, “therefore” pray. Don’t give up. Instead, pray, plead your case before the tribunal of Earth’s Supreme Potentate. When everything looks discouraging, when a harvest seems to be slipping away, pray more and despair less.
In all successful work for God, the first step is devout prayer rising from a profound sense of need. In every situation, prayer is the first prescribed remedy. It is presumptuous to begin elsewhere. Begin all projects with prayer–No, wait, let me restate–precede all projects with prayer. Don’t choose a plan and then ask God to bless it. Before the plan is selected, pray to make sure it is God’s will to do it.
God is Chief Proprietor, Owner of the crop, Farmer in charge. He alone knows how to harvest the spiritual fields in the most efficient and effective ways.
No harvester begins by walking straight into the crop. All field hands first have to receive instructions and assignments. The Father presides over every aspect of the harvest. He gives workers strength sufficient for the arduous task. God qualifies the reaper, furnishing ability and talent to handle a sickle with skill.
God works a miracle in a worker’s heart, granting a self-denying love for others; He wants none to be lost (2 P 3:9), and supernaturally transplants this desire into our hearts. He provides joy and excitement in the work, otherwise the laborers become hirelings, paid help, no better than mercenaries.
Matt. 9:38b “. . .that he will send forth laborers. . .”
“Send forth” translates an intense verb used of casting out a demon from a man possessed. It means to cast out, to drive out, to push out, to thrust. The use of such a strong verb proves Jesus was urgent about evangelism and missions.
Jesus spoke in dead earnest, knowing the Father has to “send forth” workers because they are too often initially unwilling to go. People harbor concerns about security, pleasure, family, and low self-esteem.
A reluctance usually has to be surmounted. God has to personally intervene to conquer these inner contradictions. The very fact we are commanded to pray for workers proves they will not be easy to find. Satan resists every effort to extend Christ’s kingdom, and works relentlessly to discourage potential harvesters.
We are no match for Lucifer’s wiles. Thus, human actions and manmade plans will not get the job done. Only God’s call, appointment, empowerment, and direct intervention will accomplish the goal.
Matt. 9:38c “. . .into his harvest.”
Without reapers, the harvest is lost, and when this happens, our Father is the One hurt the most. It should grieve us to think of our dear Lord being deprived of His rightful harvest. The winning of souls to Jesus is the paramount harvest of all.
Being omnipotent, God could reap His harvest without us, but won’t. He sovereignly chooses in certain enterprises to limit Himself to what is accomplished by human agency. Extending His kingdom is one such area. He kindly decided to delegate the joyful task of reaping the harvest, the happiest time of year on a farm.
The living God has no intrinsic needs. He is not deprived in any way. When Israel began to think they were doing God a favor by offering sacrifices to Him, He reminded them, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you; For the world is Mine, and all it contains” (PS 50:12 NAS). Our Father is totally self-sufficient.
Caring for our self-esteem, Jesus decided not to let us enter into our relationship with Him as empty-handed beggars. Not wanting the interaction to be totally one-sided, God graciously designates certain things we can bring to Him.
He invites us to give to His work our tithes, offerings, time, and service. To Him directly He lets us offer praise and worship. By these means, God keeps us from being vagabonds, from feeling totally useless and worthless in His presence. One vital area in which we are granted the privilege of giving to God is by helping reap fields of ripe souls. In the spiritual harvest, God’s operation awaits human cooperation. When the hard and painful work had to be done, God sent His Son to do that, but has now graciously chosen to let human instruments share in the joy of reaping His harvest. In His fields, Jesus enlists our cooperation in the beginning (praying for laborers), in the process (giving), and in the result (going).