The Gospel of Matthew is showing us who this Jesus is and what he has come to do. Matthew 9:35-38 sets the table for what we are going to read in chapter 10. What we are going to see is a beautiful, hopeful picture that can be found in Jesus’ mission. Not only this, but this picture of Jesus is going to show us who we are to be and what our mission must be. Let’s look at the end of Matthew 9 and see this picture of Jesus and what this will look like for our lives.
Be Compassionate (9:35-38)
Verse 35 summarizes what we have seen in the life of Jesus in this gospel. Jesus is going from town to town, preaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and affliction. Now consider verse 36. “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them.” When Jesus saw the crowds, he was not filled with disgust. When Jesus saw the crowds, his stomach did not turn and his skin did not crawl. When Jesus saw the crowds, he did not do everything he could to avoid them because they were so sinful and so rebellious. Jesus saw the crowds and were filled with compassion.
What did Jesus see when he looked at the crowds? Jesus saw that the people were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus sees people who are distressed and downcast. What I want us to see that Jesus does not merely look at the sin but looks at the reason for their sinning. They are harassed, distressed, helpless, and lost. Jesus’ solution is the proclaiming of the gospel. The solution to every person’s situation is the gospel. The gospel is the only answer that can provide help and hope to the world. Jesus has come as the compassionate shepherd.
We need to think about how do we look at people in the world. Are we disgusted when we look at sinful people? Are we angry at them? Do we feel hatred for them? We need to be have compassion for people who are involved in sexual sins. We need to have compassion for people who are confused by gender identity. We need to have compassion for people who are living without God in their lives. Most of these people were never given the moral compass of Jesus. They are confused. They are lost. They are distressed. They are downcast. They are looking for joy and satisfaction for life in all the wrong places. Do we look at the condition of people in the world and are moved with compassion? This does not mean that we overlook sins. It does not mean that we do not show the world what sins are and why they matter. Proclaiming the gospel includes the need to do this. But that does not mean that we do not have compassion for people who are involved in these sins.
We need to ask ourselves a very important question. Is this going to be a safe place for such people to come and hear the gospel week after week? Is this going to be safe place where the sick of the world can come and hear the good news because the church is to be the spiritual hospital? Are we going to be safe people who will be able to encounter people in the world and not be disgusted by them, but have compassion for them because they truly are like sheep without a shepherd?
Notice the perspective of Jesus in verse 37. Jesus told his disciples that the harvest is plentiful. He did not look at the people and say that the harvest is scarce because these people are so sinful. Seeing sinful people means that harvest is plentiful. There is a great work that needs to be done. There are so many people who need to hear the gospel so that they can be reconciled to God and have their lives made whole. If you watch the news, your response should be to see that the harvest is plentiful. If you look at your community, your response would be to see that the harvest is plentiful.
So what is the problem? The problem is that the laborers are few (9:37). There is a lot of work but few people who want to do the work. So what should we do? Jesus says first we need to pray for laborers to go into the harvest. Again, notice Jesus’ perspective. Jesus does not say that we need to pray to send laborers into the dark abyss of evil. Jesus looks at the situation as reversible. Go into the field, proclaim the gospel, and bring in the harvest. Jesus says that the problem is not the harvest, but the lack of workers. Jesus does not tell us that we need to huddle up and hide from the darkness. Jesus does not teach us to run from the city and huddle in the country so that we can keep the morals of God in society in a small town. Jesus says that this is the problem. The problem is that no one wants to go into the city. No one wants to get in the field and proclaim the message. The problem is that there is a deep lack of care and compassion for people. We are far too content with our own daily lives and far too content with the size and consistency of the church so that we do not care about telling others the good news. The harvest is plentiful. But there are not workers who care or who have compassion. Pray for the Lord to send out workers into his harvest field.
Be the Answer (10:1-4)
But notice what Jesus does next. After praying for the Lord to send workers into the field, Jesus in chapter 10 selects his twelve disciples and gives them authority to do the work. In other words, do not simply pray for workers to go into the field. Be the answer and go into the field. Jesus does not say that we should just hope and pray for someone to do something. He sends us to go into the field, compassionately teaching the good news so that people will come into the harvest. You will notice that the disciples were given authority to help the world. They were not able to just display power to wow people or to draw attention to themselves. Jesus gives his twelve disciples authority over unclean spirits, and to heal every disease and every affliction. They are going to show compassion to the people as they proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. The miracles show the compassion of God who has come to help and heal.
Be Ready for Two Responses (10:5-15)
Finally, Jesus prepares his disciples for the work. You will notice that he instructs the twelve to only go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The time was not for the Gentiles yet. The message was to begin with Israel’s lost sheep. Then the message would go to the lost sheep of the world. They were to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven was near (10:7). Do the good works that Jesus authorized them to do for free. Notice verse 8. “Freely you have received; freely give.”
I want to stop on this point for a moment because I am stunned at what I am beginning to see more and more among Christians. Friends, the gospel message is to be always be free. Free grace to you means free grace to others. We do not charge people to listen to the gospel. We do not use the gospel as a business. The church is not in the money making business. I am stunned to find out that Christians are gathering preachers to preach messages and charging tickets to hear them speak. The money is not collected to simply pay for some expenses. It is a business and the operator is making money. Sermons and teachings are being put behind pay walls on websites so that money can be made. Friends, if you want to be an entrepreneur, then you need to find another business to work. There is nothing wrong with being an entrepreneur. But there is something wrong with being an entrepreneur when it comes to the gospel. The message was given to you for free and for free you should give it to others. We do not capitalize on the gospel.
Jesus then tells his disciples that when they enter a town, they are going to find two responses. Some will welcome them with peace and some will not welcome them or listen to their words. When people will not welcome you or listen, they were supposed to move on and not get stuck in that house or town. The apostle Paul had to practice this in Antioch as recorded in Acts 13:51. The directions were simple. If people will keep listening, then keep working with them. If people will not listen, then stop and move on to another would will listen.
We need to see that we have been given a mission. The scriptures are filled with pictures of this mission. Isaiah 61 is one of those pictures. After describing the word Jesus would accomplish in Isaiah 61:1-3, Isaiah then declares what those who receive God’s blessing in Christ will do.
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’S favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; but you shall be called the priests of the LORD; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; (Isaiah 61:1–6 ESV)
Notice that we will be the oaks of righteousness so that we can rebuild the ancient ruins and the former devastations. We are called to be the repairers of the people. We are going to be the priests of the Lord and ministers of our God. We are continuing the work that Jesus began in the proclaiming the good news of the kingdom (cf. Acts 1:1-2). But the work begins with having care and compassion for people. Without having compassion for the lost, we will never complete the mission we have been assigned.
Jesus looked at sinful people and had compassion. He knew they needed healing. He knew they needed the gospel. He knew that they needed him and the help he could offer. We must see people in the same way. How can we look at sinful people in this way? By remembering that Jesus looked at you this way. We must be grateful that Jesus was not disgusted by our sins. Jesus did not turn away from us because we were worthy of God’s wrath. Jesus was not angry with us but was moved with compassion and came to save us. We need to see that the harvest is abundant. The problem is not with the harvest. The problem is that we lack workers. Pray for workers and be the answer to the prayer. Do not run from the field. Step into the field, tell people about Jesus, knowing that some will listen and some will not. But some will listen. Some are seeking. Some are looking for something more. Let us be ambassadors for Christ. Let us be the priests and ministers of our God who reach out to bring people to Jesus.