Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 9:37a “Then saith he unto his disciples, “The harvest truly is
plenteous,. . .”
Jesus watched the people following Him and lovingly viewed them as faint, scattered sheep. This was no cause for despair. Instead, Christ saw their extremity as a call to action. Their spiritual emptiness made them receptive to His message.
Christ saw in this crowd an openness to religious things which made the multitudes ripe for a spiritual harvest. What Jesus saw then, He still sees today.
By giving the Great Commission, His command to take His story to everyone everywhere, five times Jesus in essence said the conditions necessary for a huge harvest would exist the rest of human history. It’s harvest time–always has been, always will be. Many are ripe, ready to be harvested, open to trusting Jesus.
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. Others, like Isaiah, had tried in vain to cast this vision. Only Jesus succeeded in communicating the magnitude of the 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. His aim from the first was to harvest many, not few.
Christ’s command to tell His story to every human being on earth remains by far the biggest challenge ever. The whole planet is a field to be worked by the Church. Fields overseas, fields across the country, fields in our state, garden plots next door–to capture Christ’s vision means taking efforts to work in them all.
Second, the harvest kindles optimism. The image of faint, scattered sheep is sad, and calls forth sympathy, but the notion of a field ready to harvest is glad, and calls forth optimism. The only reason Jesus would use the metaphor of a harvest would be to convey the promise of huge spiritual results. Jesus, reader of human hearts, stated what He knew to be sure, a crop of souls always waits to be reaped.
In speaking of the harvest, Jesus was not talking about the vast number of people on earth who need to hear about Him. He was referring to the vast number ready to receive Him upon hearing. A harvest is not resistant. It does not fight against the sickle. The harvest is that part of a field merely waiting to be reaped.
In the home of Zacchaeus, a Jewish Internal Revenue Service agent, Jesus said He came to seek “and to save” (LK 19:10) that which was lost. He sought with confidence, expecting to find what He sought. He labored, optimistic of success. Whatever you do for the lost, expect God to bring results. His word will not return to Him void, it will accomplish what He wants it to achieve (Isaiah 55:11).
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 went last year; you can win people to Jesus all day long. Go to the lower castes in India, where I went this year. 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. What birds and mice don’t devour, the mildew, rain, and cold putrefy.
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. Harvest time is limited. For any given harvest, it’s always now or never. 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, and 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.
People are His field, made for Him. He is called Lord of the harvest, the spiritual harvest, because people are His crop, meant to be brought to Him. This explains why there is joy in Heaven when the harvest of souls comes in (LK 15:7).
The world is worth winning for Jesus. It contains, in God’s estimation, golden wealth. Reaping it for Him is a cause worth giving our lives to and for.
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.
As stated earlier, earth’s population is its largest, the harvest is at its peak. This is also a peak time for our church. No one knows how long the missions and ministry revival will last among us. No revival lasts forever. We need to cherish, and take full advantage, of every moment of God’s smile upon us. He has granted us His anointing, giving a right mix of confidence and humility, a hunger to pray, a willingness to give and go, a sense of purpose, a groundswell among a body of believers who are being allowed to show how much a local church can achieve.
I consider a world of billions. What can Second do? We’re so few among so many. I almost despair, but then sense a voice, do what you can while this peak season lasts. I look at our city of 150,000 souls. What can we do? There’s not enough of us to make a huge dent. I feel a tinge of discouragement, but then I hear a whisper, don’t wait for better days, do all you can while the peak season lasts.
My dear beloved people, think harvest, to the ends of the earth, beginning next door. Small groups, think harvest. Find a secular venue and minister in it in Jesus’ name. Think harvest, for our Master said, “The harvest truly is plenteous.”