The following is an excerpt from the Winter 2016 issue of Explore the Bible: Adults. Explore the Bible is a book-by-book group Bible study that encourages participants to let the Word dwell in them and challenges them to live it out in their own context. Preview one month free at lifeway.com/explorethebible.
In His Service (Matt. 9:36-38)
When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd” (v. 36).
As Jesus ministered in the towns and villages, He perceived their spiritual condition to be comparable to sheep without a shepherd. Sheep without a shepherd would have become weary and worn out
in their aimless wandering. Applying the analogy to the people He encountered, Jesus perceived that they lacked spiritual leadership, which was a reflection on the formal priesthood, along with the scribes and Pharisees. Without leaders that helped them understand God’s truths and His provisions for purposeful and fulfilling lives, the people were living in a kind of aimless spiritual vacuum.
Jesus’ compassion obviously was the driving motivation for His ongoing engagement with people and their needs. The observation that Jesus felt compassion is quite revealing. Another way of expressing what He felt is that He was “moved with compassion.” The phrase renders a single Greek verb that is derived from a term that commonly referred to inner bodily organs, such as the bowels and kidneys. We may well deduce that such was the depth of Jesus’ compassion that He literally felt something of a physical, gut reaction. His compassion was strong enough
to stir Him to action and impel Him to involve the disciples in joining Him.
What scenes move you to compassion? How do those scenes compare with what Jesus was observing?
Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few” (v. 37).
Jesus’ compassion for the needs of people prompted Him to address the disciples about His concern. Changing from the analogy of sheep and shepherds, Jesus invoked that of a harvest and workers. He saw people with needs as a waiting harvest that needed reapers to join the work.
Given the range of needs Jesus encountered and the number of those needs, He could have felt despair. However, He saw the needs as ripe opportunities for ministry. Therein is an example for all of us. Almost overwhelming needs come to our attention from all corners of the globe, as well as many lying within the shadows of our own lives. We have the option to despair over the depth and breadth of the needs or to see them as opportunities to follow Jesus’ example of caring and helping.
Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (v. 38).
As a first step, Jesus challenged his disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers to assist in His work. By identifying himself as Lord of the harvest, Jesus affirmed His deity.
Something in us wants to ask, Why doesn’t the Lord just go ahead and send forth added workers? Why wait on us to pray? While the full answer may be bound up in God’s own heart, we can discern a principle about prayer. God wants to do many things in our world but has determined that He will do so only in answer to believing prayer. In such a principle, can we not detect the honor He bestows on His children by making us partners with Him in blessing humanity? If this principle is valid, then much divine help for our needy world is awaiting our devotion to prayer.
What is the impact on the person who prays for God to send harvesters? How can the answer be found in the one praying?
Excerpted from Explore the Bible: Adults © 2015 LifeWay Press®. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission.