You are in line at a grocery store and, while there seem to be 50 checkout lines, it seems as if only 3 are open. What are you most likely thinking while you stand there with your items? What are you most likely feeling? I confess that I too often find myself irritated and frustrated. Do you know what I am most likely not feeling at that moment? Compassion. In Matthew 9, Jesus is already famous. People are coming to Him for healing and the Pharisees are slandering Him. A large crowd follows Him wherever He goes. Now look at Matthew 9:36 at Jesus’ response to the crowd: “When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd.” Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”
The Lord’s Harvest
When Jesus said that “the harvest is abundant”, He was not talking about a physical harvesting of fruit or grain. Jesus was using the imagery of harvesting to tell His disciples about the great need for a spiritual harvest of people. When He said the harvest is abundant/plentiful, He meant that there is an abundance of people to be saved. Jesus wanted His disciples to speak peace to those they meet, heal the sick, and proclaim the kingdom of God. The harvest refers to the Great Commission Jesus gave in Matthew 28-18-20: “Then Jesus came near and said to them, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
What does Jesus say about this spiritual harvest? He says it is abundant because there is much work to be done in the harvest. As of September 2018, there is an estimated 7.5 billion people alive in the world. Of this 7.5 billion alive today, almost 3 billion (42%) live in what we call an “unreached people group”. An unreached people group is a group of people in which less than 2% claim any form of what we would call Christianity. The area of Italy we are partnering in is classified as “Superficially reached”. According to the Joshua Project, this means there are few evangelicals, but many who identify as Christians. In Northeast Italy, while 80% claim to be Roman Catholic, approximately 3% of them attend Catholic services on a regular basis.
Belluno, Italy has a population of 30,000 people with 1 (maybe 2) churches. It is estimated by our IMB Missionary Charles Worthy that approximately 100 people in Belluno identify as “born again” (John 3:3). This is less than one half of one percent (.05%). Contrast that to Scott City. Scott City contains almost 4,600 people, has 10 churches with almost half of the city (2,300) identifying as born again. There are almost as many born again Christians in First Baptist as there is in the entire city of Belluno. If Scott City were Belluno, there would be 23 people in the entire town that would identify as “born again”. Areas like this are in great need of spiritual renewal and commitment to biblical faith. Truly, the harvest is abundant.
The Lord’s Workers
We have an abundant harvest, but who is going to go work in the harvest? Jesus says, “The workers are few.” Why are there few? The workers are few for two main reasons: First, many people in the world do not know about Jesus or do not want to follow Him. The Bible tells us that all people are “by nature, children under wrath” (Eph 2:3). The workers are few because many people love “everything that belongs to the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle” (1 John 2:16) more than they love God.
Another reason is even more tragic. There are many who claim to follow Jesus who are called to work, they are fit to work, but they are not actually working. They are more like spectators in the kingdom of God rather than participants. This doesn’t mean that everyone must go to Africa or overseas, but it does mean that everyone has good work to do somewhere. Consider what Paul says to his fellow Christians: “We are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:9). God has prepared work for every Christian in the harvest. There is labor to be done and we must all do our part.
The Lord’s Compassion
In that grocery store checkout line, are you most likely complaining about or praying for the cashier? When it is your turn to be checked out, do you say or do something to be friendly or to brighten their day or are you just focused on getting out? Why do we share about Jesus? Why do we go into our city and to the ends of the earth? Because the love of Christ compels us. When Jesus saw the crowds, “He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd.” Do you share the same compassion for your neighbors as Christ does?
The Lord’s Commission
The Lord’s compassion drives His commission. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” There is much work to be done in the harvest here in Scott City, in Missouri, in the USA, and in the world. Let us all labor in the harvest and pray earnestly for the Lord to send more workers for this important task.