The Harvest of Souls

Title: The Harvest of Souls

[Audio http://ab86qw.bay.livefilestore.com/y1pmco92R0hBIlWTw9EtOzxYDIX89rVCm_LFK3xDzQPpb41j2yYk_G2n4PKKH-JopsOw3KFGf9lfWL_oTwFCmTGqA/2-8-09theharvestofsouls.mp3%5D

Text: Matthew 9:35-38

Date: February 8th, 2009

When we look at areas of the world such as Europe and North America we have to ask the spiritual question, “Why is Christianity declining so rapidly?” If you visit countries in Europe such as England, France, Germany, Spain, etc. you’ll see that Christianity is slowly but surely declining. Church attendance is going down, down, down. For example, in Great Britain the last statistic I heard was about 5% of British citizens attend church on Sunday. It’s even worse – if we can imagine church attendance being worse – in France. But it’s the same way in Germany and Spain and other European nations. Only in Poland is there still a large, lively Christian church community that meets regularly on Sunday. Now why is this question and topic important? Because today’s lesson is Matthew 9:35-38 which speaks about the spiritual harvest: “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. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 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.’” So Jesus is talking about harvests and harvest fields and harvesters. Now we can see why the topic of receptivity to the gospel and Christianity and the church is relevant. Now we can ask the question, “Are the fields still white unto harvest? Is the harvest still plentiful, particularly in the Western civilization, in places like Europe, North America, Australia, etc. Or has the harvest shifted to such areas as Latin America, China, Korea, Africa, etc.?” I’ll try to give an answer to these questions further along in the message, but as far as obedience to the great commission given by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 28, we are still under orders to teach and preach the Word of God and invite men and women to receive the gospel whether the fields are white unto harvest or not in our area. Now there can be no doubt that there are areas of the world that are yielding little or no Christian spiritual harvest or evangelistic fruit. For example, in the Arab nations of the world, very little gospel harvest is taking place. Yes, there are converts here and there made from Arab nations, but overall, very little movement towards Christianity by Arabs in mostly Muslim nations. It’s the same way in other areas of the world as well. For example, in Japan, very little spiritual fruit is being produced, very few converts to Christianity. India is also a very hard field for harvesting souls for the kingdom of God as far as converts to Christianity. On the other hand, nations such as South Korea and China are experiencing a great harvest of souls to Christ. The whole continent of Africa is very open to the gospel and is experiencing many conversions overall. The same is true with Latin America, particularly Central America. So there are different harvest fields yielding different results. But let’s explore further what Jesus might mean when he says that “the harvest is plentiful.” Let’s examine Jesus’ approach to working the harvest fields.

First, Jesus came teaching and preaching. Matthew 9:35, “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.” The first thing we see Jesus doing in the spiritual harvest fields is teaching and preaching the Word of God. He brought the people God’s Word and communicated God’s will and God’s way. He brought God’s plan for life. He taught what to believe and how to behave in life. And his teachings are still relevant and apply today to our lives as well. I recently watched a movie called “The Lord of the Flies,” in which a group of boys were suddenly thrown into the sea when their boat capsized and all the adults on board were drowned. The boys made it to a small uninhabited island and had to set up camp and organize themselves without any adult supervision. How would they organize themselves? How would they work together? How would they settle their disputes and get along? How would they build their little community apart from all civilization? Upon what principles would they believe and act on the island? I immediately thought of the reality that today, in the 21st century, with so many people abandoning the Christian moral codes and spiritual principles of the Bible, how are we to build our modern society today? Are we like that island of children, left to make up things as we go along, or will we return to the Word of God and build our lives in accordance with the principles of the kingdom of God? It’s an important question. It has always been an important question for every age. But Jesus came teaching and preaching God’s will, the will of the heavenly Father, in order for people to know and practice God’s will on earth. Remember the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, they kingdom come they will be done on earth as it is in heaven?” It’s that very thing. Jesus came teaching and preaching the kingdom of God on earth. The harvest field was the large number of people who responded positively to the message of the kingdom taught and preached by Jesus. Now in Jesus’ day, during the first century, many people responded positively to the message of the gospel. That’s why Christianity grew so fast in those early days. There was a great spiritual revival during the first century during and after the time of Jesus. Now our country, the United States, has seen a couple of great spiritual revival in its short 200 plus year old history. The First Great Awakening came during the early 1700s. The Second Great Awakening came during the early 1800s. But since these times there hasn’t been a great and general revival. That’s why we should be praying every day that God produces another great spiritual harvest in this nation. It might be about the only thing that can save our nation from God’s judgment for our sins and disobedience. Jesus came preaching and teaching the gospel, and that’s what we need to do to see a spiritual harvest too. He also healed the sick. Or in other words, he also met the basic human needs of the people out of compassion. The greatest needs of the people were spiritual, forgiveness of sins, salvation from judgment, returning to God and receiving eternal life in heaven, but they also had earthly, human needs as well, and Jesus also cared about these needs. As we preach the gospel we need to remember the pattern of our Lord Jesus who not only taught God’s will but also helped meet basic human needs also. We need to do both, but in proper proportion.

Second, Jesus came with compassion. Matthew 9:36, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The Greek word here “compassion” literally means “to be moved emotionally and even physically with pity and feeling.” He looked out over the huge crowd of people listening to him teach the will of God in heaven, but he also saw their confused and disorganized inner lives and this prompted the emotion of pity and compassion. He realized that many of them were confused and following some kind of superstition or false beliefs. He also must have realized that many or most of the people were driven by irrational fears and weighed down by foolish thoughts and futile activities in life. We can gain a little bit of perspective as to what Jesus felt as we look out at the world today in all of its needs and wonder why people do the things they do that put them in greater and greater trouble. Think of all the thousands, even millions in our prisons today. What led them there? What were they thinking? What dark and confused thoughts led to their illegal actions that landed them behind bars? But we don’t even have to look in as extreme places as prisons; we can look only down our own streets in our own towns and cities and see people driven and confused. I’m not only talking about the most obvious cases, such as the homeless or the mentally ill, but also professional people and the well-educated with solid middle class upbringings. Even the upper class and wealthy appear to be confused today. I don’t have to tell you that our country and most other countries of the world are undergoing an economic crisis that we’ve not seen during our lifetimes. I think the description that Jesus used in describing people in his day can also be used to describe people today – harassed and helpless. And it has effected people of all levels. Trillion and trillions of dollars have been lost in the stock market in the last year. People who otherwise appear to have their lives together are melting down under the strain of financial pressure. Bernard Madoff was a friend to the wealthy and powerful as a favorite investment expert. The rich trusted him with their fortunes, but he let them down by losing some $50 billion dollars in a biggest scam in financial history. So at the same time the general economy is hurting and average people are under pressure and stress, so are the rich also. Jesus looked out and felt compassion towards people who were without spiritual leadership in their lives. We should feel the same compassion towards people today. The key word is “feel” compassion. It’s not enough to know that people are hurting, but we also have to feel for them. Do you feel bad for people who are anxious and worried today? If we can’t feel what people feel it will be hard to reap a spiritual harvest in the fields. The key to Jesus’ success in the spiritual harvest fields was his ability to feel compassion. We have the gospel and its ability to save and guide people in the will of God in life, but we must preach it with compassion or else nobody will listen. Let us pray to God for this ability.

Third, Jesus came to harvest souls for the kingdom of God. Matthew 9:37, “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 fields.’” Now we come to the question I asked earlier, “Is Jesus saying every field is a harvest field that needs more workers, or does this just apply to certain specific spiritual fields?” If he’s talking about every mission field, for example, is in need of more missionaries to reap the harvest, then I’m confused because not all mission fields are yielding a spiritual harvest at the present time. For example, I mentioned before that in most Arab nations the converts to Christianity are few and far between. Is Jesus saying we need to ask for more and more workers to harvest the converts in this specific mission field? I don’t think so. Is Jesus saying that in every place there is some kind of a harvest field and we need to harvest what we can as far as converts to Christianity there? Yes, I think he is saying that. No matter what the condition of the specific mission field, there needs to be the gospel preached and people witnessed to regardless of whether it’s a time of revival or whether it’s a time of small harvest. For example, in Western Europe today it appears that generally speaking the mission field there is very hard. There isn’t an abundance of converts needing discipled there because not many people are converting to Christianity there. But there should still be workers in the fields witnessing the gospel – some professional ministers, pastors, evangelists, etc. and also the general work of every Christian living in that region witnessing with their words and lives to the gospel. But as far as calling for more and more missionaries to reap the abundant harvest, that doesn’t make sense because there just isn’t much of a harvest to reap at the present time. We need to pray to God for a greater harvest of souls. But in other places of the world, such as Africa and China and Latin America, there truly is a harvest being reaped among souls converting to Christianity, and in these places there needs to be more workers of all kind – professional clergy and ordinary believers witnessing with their lives in order to convert and disciple people. In Jesus’ day a massive spiritual revival was taking place during the years of his public ministry and the disciples would be the ones following up on these converts. The need for teaching and training in God’s will was great. Now where does that leave our nation as far as a harvest field? Sadly, it appears that we are going the way of Europe and the harvest of souls for the kingdom is declining, not because there are not enough spiritual workers, but because there simply isn’t much of a harvest of souls to process. Not that there aren’t specific pockets of spiritual harvest taking place, but generally we are in great need of another spiritual awakening to see souls won and disicpled for Christ. In the meantime, we have to be faithful in our witness to our friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, etc. with the gospel. We have to continue to explain God’s will to people and pray that their eyes are opened and they receive the truth. Maybe we’ll live to see another great revival and an abundant harvest of souls during our lifetime. We should be praying for this. But even if we don’t, we have to continue being faithful witnesses just the same. Are you witnessing for Jesus in your life? Are you reaping any harvest that God puts before you? We need to be witnessing to those who God sends our way, whether it’s many or few.

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