In Matthew 9:35-38 there is a massive truth to be assimilated into one’s strategic philosophy regarding evangelism. Jesus has been teaching in the synagogues and villages, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing people. He has compassion on the crowds because they are like sheep without a shepherd. Then Jesus says this to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
This is a familiar passage to many Christians, but perhaps too familiar. It’s easy to read over familiar texts and miss the dynamic truth the passage is pregnant with.
Here is what Jesus says: 1. there are many people who need to be saved and there are few people to go and tell them how to be saved by telling the the Gospel of the Kingdom 2. ask me to send more people to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom
There are some astounding points that need to be made here.
1. Jesus does NOT tell them to go recruit workers, but he DOES tell them to ask (in prayer) for more workers
It’s easy to default to our efforts to get people to go and do the hands on work of the Gospel, but in a pragmatic culture in which our effort reigns supreme, simply praying seems a bit ineffective and underwhelming. In fact, that may be part of the point. It’s not us. It is Jesus who does this work, therefore, he is telling them the most efficient way to get more workers is to ask him rather than go about it with our own inefficient work.
2. Jesus is the “Lord of the harvest” or Jesus is in charge of the harvest or Jesus is master of people’s believing
Jesus is going to make the case, and has already to some extent, that he is YHWH, that he IS God. Yes, there is much Trinitarian overtones, but don’t miss the point. Jesus is showing the world that he is not just a good man or prophet, but he is, in fact, God. Jesus is in charge of people’s believing.
The agricultural imagery of something growing and needing to be harvested provides the vehicle for the truth. The harvest here is not barely or wheat or grapes. The harvest is harassed and helpless people without a shepherd (verse 36). So, if Jesus is the Lord of those people getting a shepherd (and he is the Shepherd), then he is in charge of the preaching and the responding. In other words, evangelism is a divine activity that Jesus is in charge of. Listen to him when you do it!
3. Jesus has ordained that people are vehicles in the divine activity of evangelism
Jesus has ordained that we get to participate in the divine activity of people getting the Shepherd through the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Jesus, typically, does not save people without someone going and telling and then the harassed and helpless believing the message (see Romans 10:5-17).
So if you see much work that needs to be done, then ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers to work with you, but DO work at preaching the Gospel and watch fellow workers join the work with you.