4th Sunday After Pentecost July 10, 2011
384, 496, 439, 770 [TLH alt. 495]
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.”
In the name of Jesus, who fills our hearts and lives to overflowing with His gifts, dear fellow Christians:
Have you heard of the “population clock”? I stumbled across it the other day. It is a website which keeps a minute-by-minute running tally of U.S. and world population growth. During the 60 seconds I watched, the U.S. population grew by seven people and the world’s by 150. Our country now has well over 311,000,000 people and the world is filled with 6.9 billion.
How many of those people do you think about? It’s the tiniest fraction, isn’t it? We think of our families and other loved ones. We pray for fellow Christians. But what about the others? When you’re standing with your cart in the checkout line at the grocery store, do you wonder whether the person ahead of you believes in Jesus? Do think about whether the baby in the stroller at the mall is baptized? What about all the other drivers on the freeway? Are they also on that narrow path which leads to eternal life? How about the 30,000 fans with you at the ball game? How many of them will also be with you before Christ’s throne singing His praises?
Most of the time we don’t think about it at all. Our selfish nature is programmed that way. When we do think of others, it might be to look down on them because of their spiritual ignorance or sinful lifestyle. Sometimes we may excuse ourselves by saying, “How could we ever do anything for all those billions of people anyway?”
But there is one Person who thinks of all those people—the Lord Jesus. He knows and cares about every one of the 6.9 billion people on earth. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). In His Word today He also gives us a new attitude toward them, one of caring love rather than careless indifference.
Jesus had already spent a great deal of time among His fellow Jews preaching the good news that He was God’s Son who had come to save them from their sins. He had backed up His loving words with loving actions and healing miracles. But for the most part the leaders and people rejected Him. From our perspective He would have had reason to be angry, frustrated, and hurt so that He would have nothing more to do with them.
Instead, when He saw the crowds He was filled with compassion. Jesus’ “compassion” in this verse refers to the innermost parts of a person being moved with sympathy for others. Compassion is seeing and feeling the suffering of another and stepping in to help. The Good Shepherd looked out over the crowds and saw sheep scratched, torn, and bleeding from trying to struggle through the thorns and brambles of life: hardships, sickness, disappointment, and death. They had been crushed in the jaws of Satan and left for dead. Their religious leaders had only made matters worse when they loaded down consciences with hundreds of rules regulating the minutest aspects of life but did nothing to lift the burden for the people. Jesus’ heart was filled with the deepest compassion for all of the lost.
Do you have that kind of compassion for lost souls? Do we have such great sympathy for those trapped by sin that we are eager to reach out to them even when they don’t want to be found or helped, even when they are much different than we are? That’s what God requires. He commands, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). John writes: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). Yet, we don’t always do that. Love for self blinds us to the needs of others. We write them off as lost causes not worth the bother.
We need to realize how terrible that thinking is. Our lack of concern pronounces a death sentence on lost sinners we know and meet. They don’t even realize they are lost, and if we don’t warn them they continue on in sin and unbelief as captives of Satan. Not only that, our lack of compassion condemns us too for we are failing to do what God requires. We too by nature are lost sheep bleeding and battered.
But the Good Shepherd had compassion on us. “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly….God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6,8). Look at what Jesus did. He took all our lovelessness upon Himself and suffered every last bit of our punishment. “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). In exchange He gives us the credit for His perfect compassion. God now sees us as though we have always shown Christ-like love toward others.
All that Jesus did for us transforms the way we think about others. Jesus’ compassion creates compassion in us for the lost. We no longer live, but Christ lives in us and so we have His perspective. We are not going to see ourselves as a cut above others for there is no difference, all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (cf. Romans 3:23). We will not look down on others as expendable. We will recognize everyone as a precious soul redeemed by Jesus’ blood. May the Lord not hold our lack of compassion against us, but rather forgive us for the sake of His sacrifice on the cross. May His compassion work in us true compassion and love for the lost whoever they are.
Real compassion expresses itself in action. Jesus shows us the great need and urgency. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” [v.37] Picture a field of golden, ripe wheat waving in the summer sunshine and stretching as far as the eye can see. The grain is there ready to be combined and brought in from the field. The farmer isn’t going to sit back and relax for a week or a month. He is going to get to work immediately because he knows that if a wind or rain storm were to hit the wheat would be beaten down and rot on the ground. There are millions of souls to be brought in from the Lord’s harvest field. Time is of the essence because the clock is ticking down to the final judgment. There is a huge need for more workers to get out into the field.
“Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers,” Jesus urges. [v.38] That is what we ask for when we say in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come.”
The Lord’s kingdom is His gracious rule in hearts by faith. We ask for that rule in our hearts and in many others through the working of the Holy Spirit. Keep on praying for those yet to be brought into the kingdom. Write down the name of someone in your family or circle of acquaintances who does not yet know the Savior or who seems to have forgotten Him. Keep the name where you will see it, perhaps in your Bible. Pray for that person every day asking that the Lord will reach them with the Gospel. Pray for all the lost in our community, country, and around the world. Pray for all those who have done horrible things to harm others asking that the Lord would bring them to repentance.
Pray for more laborers to be sent out. Pray that the Lord would lead young people from our congregation and across our church body to prepare for the public preaching and teaching ministry. Pray for our high school, college, seminary, and our CLC mission program in both the U.S. and abroad. Pray remembering that the prayer of a believer is powerful and effective. May the Lord’s compassion move us to pray continually in love for the lost.
Jesus answered the disciples’ prayers in part by sending them out as His apostles. Read through the list of names and you will find a very diverse group of men: fishermen, a tax collector, the outspoken, and those less in the spotlight. But none had wealth, an impressive academic background, or high social status. What stands out is how ordinary they were. They had flaws and fears. They were slow to learn the Lord’s teachings and believe His promises. How could they possibly go out and evangelize Israel and from there the entire world?
The only way was by the Lord authorizing and equipping them. It is His field and He alone deserves the credit for the harvest. Jesus sent out the apostles as His representatives. He gave them power to perform miracles to show others that they were indeed coming in Jesus’ name. Best of all, He gave them the only message which saves: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” [v.7] It was a call for people lost in sin to look at what was ruling their lives, to turn from sin in sorrow, and to trust Jesus as the Savior who would set them free from slavery and bring them into God’s granary.
Jesus did not stop with Peter, Andrew, Matthew, Thomas and the others we read of in Scripture. He also sends out Bill, Dick, Elizabeth, Elaine, and Dave. He has called each of us by name in baptism into His kingdom that He might then send us back out to work in His field to bring still others in. When we pray for more laborers the Lord answers by saying: “I am sending you too.” All of us belong to the priesthood of believers. “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9 NIV). Pray, “Lord, please send out workers, and use me too.”
The Lord authorizes and equips us for the work. He doesn’t enable us to perform miracles, but He puts into our hands that miraculous message: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Look around and you will see people torn and bleeding, battered and lost in sin. To those ruled by worry, lust, greed, or uncertainty, you can bring the Gospel good news. You can tell them there is no need to wander aimlessly through life wondering what it’s all about. There is no need to suffer under an unrelenting burden of guilt because of past actions. There is no need to be afraid. Tell the friend, the fellow fan at the ballgame, the shopper in line with you that God loves them and that Jesus died for them so they might live with Him forever. Don’t forget to assure them that it doesn’t matter what they have been or done, either good or bad. God’s blessings don’t depend on them. Salvation is a free gift of His compassion.
The population clock keeps ticking. Just during the time of this service our country’s population will have grown by nearly 300 and the world’s by 9,000! To some these people are just statistics or drains on the world’s dwindling resources. But to the Lord they are not just numbers. They are priceless souls for whom He shed His blood. May they be the same to us. May we love them all in Him. Freely we have received God’s gifts; freely let us give! Amen.
All are redeemed, both far and wide,
Since Thou, O Lord, for all hast died.
Oh, teach us, whatsoe’er betide,
To love them all in Thee!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.