Praying for More Workers

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Matthew 9:35-38 (Jesus’ disciples)

INTRODUCTION: This is the last message in our Ten Miracles of Jesus series. We saw at the beginning of this series that Matthew 8-9 contains ten miracles of Jesus and four dialogues that Jesus has with various people on the topic of discipleship. We looked at the last two miracles last week, and today we come to the last of the four dialogues on discipleship.

By way of review, the first dialogue was with two would-be disciples and focused on the cost of discipleship. The second dialogue was with the Pharisees and focused on who Jesus calls as disciples, that Jesus calls sinners to follow him, not the righteous. The third dialogue was with some of John the Baptist’s disciples and focused on leaving the old behind, that everything changed when Jesus came.

This last dialogue is with Jesus’ own disciples. In many ways it is a precursor to the Great Commission in Matthew 28 where Jesus will tell his disciples to go into all the world to make even more disciples. In this dialogue Jesus shares with his disciples the great need for evangelism and instructs them to pray for God to send more workers into the world to spread the gospel. (Read Matthew 9:35-38 and pray.)

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How does being in a crowd affect you? Do you like being in a crowd? Some people love crowds and find lots of people around them energizing. Others don’t like crowds much at all. Lots of people all around make them feel nervous or even isolated. Neither attitude is necessarily right or wrong, and a lot of how you feel about crowds is probably based on your personality more than anything.

But whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, when it comes to crowds, there are two things we find in today’s passage that should be true of all followers of Jesus Christ. Regardless of your personality type, we should all be people of compassion and prayer. That was Jesus’ response, and if we are Jesus’ followers, that is, if we are disciples of Christ, then that should be our response too.

We are going to look at today’s passage in three sections this morning. We will look at Jesus’ ministry to the lost, Jesus’ compassion for the lost, and then finally, Jesus’ instructions to pray for the lost.

I. Jesus’ ministry to the lost (35)
      – cf. Matthew 4:23

So, let’s begin with Jesus’ ministry to the lost. Look at verse 35 with me: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” (Matthew 9:35)

Now this is not the first time Matthew has described Jesus’ ministry in this way. In fact, if you go back to Matthew 4:23, you find this almost identical description: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23) We’ll talk about why Matthew does this in a moment, but first let’s see what verse 35 tells us about Jesus’ ministry to the lost.

   A. Jesus went through all the towns and villages

First, Matthew tells us that Jesus went through all the towns and villages. Jesus had a widespread ministry geographically. He didn’t stay in one town or one synagogue. He didn’t wait for the people to come to him. He went to them. As he went forth with his ministry, he didn’t leave anyone out. He went through all the towns and villages.

By this Jesus was showing his disciples and us that he was a Savior for everyone. This was a precursor to Jesus’ later commission to the church. Later on, Jesus would tell his disciples to go into all the world, to every nation, to every unreached people group, to everyone who has never heard about Jesus.

Every person deserves to hear about Jesus – his nature, his character, his salvation, his life, his miracles, his ministry, his mission and his work. Jesus went through all the towns and villages, and we need to go into all the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

   B. Jesus had a ministry of teaching, preaching and healing

And then Matthew tells us that Jesus had a ministry of teaching, preaching and healing. He not only had a widespread ministry geographically, but his ministry was wide in its scope. He taught in their synagogues; he preached the good news of the kingdom; he healed every disease and sickness.

We looked at all three of these aspects of Jesus’ ministry back in Matthew 4:23, the verse which mirrors this verse here in Matthew 9 so closely. We saw then how important the synagogue was to Jewish life, that it was really the center of life for Jews in the community, culminating in worship and teaching on every Sabbath. We saw also that preaching is different from teaching. Teaching involves detailed instruction, whereas preaching is more proclamation. Jesus specifically proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God. And then thirdly, we saw that Jesus’ healing ministry was a visible sign that the kingdom Jesus was preaching had truly drawn near in the person of Christ.

These two short verses in Matthew 4:23 and Matthew 9:35 function as bookends around the two much longer sections of Scripture we have studied together. We saw how Matthew 5-7 gives us Jesus’ authoritative teaching as found in the Sermon on the Mount. And then in Matthew 8-9 Jesus backs up his teaching with these ten miracles, showing his power and authority over nature, Satan, sickness, sin and death. Jesus preached the kingdom of God, and then he demonstrated that the kingdom of God had come through his authoritative teaching and miracles.

This is important because Matthew is about to explore another aspect of Jesus’ authority – his authority to commission us as his disciples to pray for workers and to go into all the world with the gospel.

II. Jesus’ compassion for the lost (36)

But before Matthew gets to Jesus’ commission, he first gives us a word about Jesus’ compassion. Look at verse 36 with me now: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) And here we get a glimpse of Jesus’ compassion for the lost.

   A. When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them
      – Matthew 14:14, 15:32, 20:34, 23:37

Matthew tells us when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them. Jesus’ compassion for people is something we see all through the gospels. For example, we read in Matthew 14:14: “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:14) Or again in Matthew 15:32: Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” (Matthew 15:32) We read about the two blind men in Matthew 20:34: “Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.” (Matthew 20:34) And then we read of Jesus’ cry of compassion and anguish over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37)

Matthew tells us when Jesus “saw” the crowds, he had compassion on them. Compassion always begins with seeing – not just glancing and turning away, but seeing, really seeing people, seeing their need, getting our eyes off of ourselves and onto the needs of others.

Once again, how do you respond when you are in a crowd? Jesus responded with compassion, because he didn’t just see a bunch of nameless faces. He saw real people, people in pain, people in need, people who were lost, people without a Savior.

   B. They were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd
      – Psalm 23; Isaiah 40:11; Matthew 11:28; John 10:11; Romans 5:6

Matthew tells us Jesus had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. The word translated “harassed” is a word that means “bullied or worn down.” The word translated “helpless” is a word that means “cast down or exhausted, no longer able to fend for yourself.”

Author Phillip Keller in his well-known book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, tells how as a shepherd one of the greatest dangers for his sheep was when a sheep became “cast” or “cast down.” This is an old English term for a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot not get back up again. If the shepherd does not find and restore the sheep, especially on a hot or sunny day, the cast sheep can die within a matter of hours.

That’s what Jesus saw when he saw the people. They were harassed and helpless. They were tired and worn out. They were cast down, like sheep without a shepherd.

We’ve all heard the advertisement, “Help, I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” That’s true of all of us spiritually. We are all cast down. We have all fallen into sin, and none of us can get back up on our own. We all need the good shepherd to come and restore us.

And who is the good shepherd? It is Jesus himself. Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) We were helpless and hopeless, but Romans 5:6 says: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still [helpless, hopeless] powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)

Isaiah 40:11 says: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:11) Psalm 23 says: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:1-3)

When you feel like the crowds in Matthew 9, harassed and helpless, tired and worn out from life, Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

III. Jesus’ instructions to pray for the lost (37-38)

People need the Lord, which leads us to the third and final section of this passage: Jesus’
instructions to pray for the lost. And it’s very interesting how Jesus instructs us to pray. Look at verses 37-38 with me now:

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:37-38)

   A. Great opportunity and need – plentiful harvest, but few workers
      – Matthew 28:18-20

In these verses Jesus tells his disciples there is both great opportunity and great need. There is great opportunity because the harvest is plentiful. There are many people who would gladly receive Jesus if they only knew about him. There is great need because the workers are few. In other words, there are more people ready to hear about Jesus than there are people to tell them.

Once again Jesus’ commission to the church is to go into all the world with the gospel. (Matthew 28:18-20) Jesus went through all the towns and villages. He calls us to go into all the world with the good news of the gospel, to tell everyone everywhere that Jesus is the good shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep that we could get back up again.

The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. It was a problem back then, and it’s still a problem today. We have too few workers in the church, and we have too few workers in the world.

We have two of our missionaries here with us in church today – Ryan and Amanda Kennedy. They are working hard to share the gospel with unreached people in Indonesia. They know the burden of too few workers in the field. Imagine if we could send even four more couples to help with their work in Indonesia, what a difference it would make.

The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. There is both great opportunity and great need. There are more people ready to hear about Jesus than there are people to tell them.

   B. Our great responsibility – pray for God to send more workers into the world to spread the gospel
      – Romans 10:13-15

This is a great tragedy and should drive us to our knees in prayer. Which is exactly what Jesus addresses next. Jesus says in verse 38: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:38) In view of such great opportunity and need, our great responsibility is to pray for God to send more workers into the world to spread the gospel. Notice that prayer comes first. Prayer always comes first. There is no successful mission without prayer.

What do we pray for? For God to send out workers into his harvest field. Just as harvesting a physical crop is hard work, gospel ministry is hard work also. Just ask Ryan and Amanda. It’s not easy packing up your bags and going to another part of the world. It’s not easy going to language school and learning a foreign language. It’s not easy leaving family and friends behind and adapting to a new culture. It’s not easy sharing the gospel in a foreign land, planting churches and discipling new believers. It’s hard work, but it’s a good work. And Jesus tells us it our responsibility to pray for God to send more workers into the world to spread the gospel.

Notice that we pray for God to “send” workers into the world. We pray; God sends. And just like prayer, sending is also essential. We can’t skip prayer, and we can’t skip sending. Yes, prayer comes first, but sending is the next essential step. Listen to what Paul says about sending in Romans 10:

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:13-15)

Romans 10 starts with people being saved and then works its way back to God sending workers into the world with the gospel. Putting Matthew 9 together with Romans 10 we get the following forward progression on how missions works.

1) We pray.
2) God sends.
3) Workers share the gospel with the lost.
4) The lost hear the gospel and believe.
5) They call on Jesus and are saved.

Every step is important, and the sequence itself is important. No step can be skipped or done out of order. We pray. God sends. Workers share the gospel with the lost. The lost hear the gospel and believe. They call on Jesus and are saved. But it all begins with prayer. If we don’t pray, none of the other steps happen.

So, let me ask you, are you praying? Do you do this? Are you asking God to send more workers into the harvest field? If we are to be obedient disciples of Christ, we must be global Christians with a global outlook on missions. We must recognize the great opportunity before us for the gospel, we must recognize the great need of the lost, and we must pray for God to send more workers into the world to spread the gospel.

And let me just add this here. You can’t truly pray for something unless you are willing to be part of the answer. You can’t pray for more workers for the gospel unless you are willing to be one of those workers for the gospel. God doesn’t send everyone, but he does call all of us to be part of the great work of missions. We can all pray. We can all give. We should all be ready to go where God sends us.

CONCLUSION: And so, Matthew ends these chapters on the ten miracles of Jesus with this final dialogue of discipleship between Jesus and his disciples. And this final dialogue on discipleship has to do with what? Making more disciples! Praying for God to send more workers into the world to spread the gospel.

Multiple thousands of people die every day without ever hearing about Christ. That is unacceptable. And you and I can make a difference. We can pray. We must pray. We must pray for our missionaries. We must pray for the nations. We must pray for God to send more workers into the world to spread the gospel.

We have a number of resources available to you to help you with this. Each week we announce a different missionary prayer focus for the week. We put it in the weekly email newsletter; we put it in the bulletin; we put it on the screen in church. We encourage you to pray for that mission every day during your prayer time with God. Do you do that? If not, why not? Why not make a fresh commitment to pray for the missionary focus each week?

We also have brochures available listing all of the missions and missionaries we support as a church. They are in the literature rack in the foyer. You can pick one up on your way out today. You can use this as a guide when praying for our missionaries and for the missionary prayer focus each week. Perhaps put it as a bookmark in your Bible to remind you to pray for missions when you open your Bible for reading.

Two other great resources for praying for missions are Operation World and the Joshua Project. Operation World lists the missionary prayer needs for every country in the world. You can purchase the book from any Christian bookstore or online. The Joshua Project gives you a different Unreached People Group to pray for each day. You can access their material online, or it’s even available as an app you can download to your phone.

So, you see, there are many ways you can apply this message today. They are all simple and very doable. But we need to do it. Jesus calls his disciples to make more disciples. And it all begins with prayer.

My prayer for you today is that you will devote yourself to more fervent and disciplined prayer for the nations. Pray for God to send more workers to spread the gospel. Give yourself wholeheartedly to God for this purpose. Be willing to give or to go as God directs.

Click here for more messages from the book of Matthew.
Click here for more messages from the Ten Miracles of Jesus series.
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