Jesus often used metaphors. One his favorite metaphors compared evangelism to a harvest. On more than one occasion, Jesus described the reality of the situation as an urgent need for laborers. There exists no shortage of “crops” to harvest, but there is a shortfall in the workforce.
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said 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." (Matthew 9:35-38 ESV)
At first glance, it seems that Jesus is describing a problem. It has often been said that a problem is just the flip side of an opportunity. One can choose. Will you see your situation as a problem to be solved (or avoided? Or, will you choose to see an opportunity to be seized? I am not talking about semantics, mind games or spin. Our approach really matters. It matters to yourself, and, more importantly, it matters to God.
For many years, Ruth and I lived in rural communities. I am not a farmer, but I have watched the agricultural cycle, up close and personal. Several of our friends have been farmers and others that work in related industries. I guarantee that you will never see a farmer complaining about the inconvenience of harvest season! The harvest is not a problem, it is an opportunity. Months earlier, that farmer could not wait to get in the fields, first to prepare for planting, then planting, followed by pest and weed control. Finally, the culmination—harvest time—pay day!
Do you feel the same way about the Great Commission as a farmer feels about his crops?A lot of people were following Jesus, for a lot of different reasons. But when he looked into their eyes, he saw a harvest, and an opportunity.
May I say it again? The harvest is not a problem, it is an opportunity. We are told that more people live on earth today than have ever lived in all of history before us. If the return of Jesus is near—and it certainly is—the greatest harvest of all time lies before us. Follower of Jesus, are you excited, awestruck, and somewhat fearful as this reality settles into your mind and your heart? The Lord is offering to us the opportunity of all time—to fill heaven!
The harvest is ready, and it is everywhere. This is our opportunity to tell the story of Jesus. Billions of people will hear and receive the good news, if there are laborers to tell it.
Until the crops are actually gathered, they are not a harvest, just the opportunity for harvest. Seizing an opportunity is rarely easy. In the next post, let’s consider how to meet the opportunity of all time.
I love the Christmas season. Everything about it. Well, almost everything. (Lifetime Network Christmas movies, for example, provide nothing except something for my wife to watch on the other television while I watch football.)
I adore Christmas music, classic old movies, gift giving, and a chill in the air. But what I really enjoy during the month of December is rehearsing, over and over, the story of the first coming of Jesus. That story tells you and me just how much we are loved by God the Father, and Jesus the Son.
1. Jesus loves you so much that He created you
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3 ESV)
I knew of a young man and woman who decided to go ahead and marry even though one of them was terminally ill. They knew the pain that waited for them, but were willing to pay that price. Even if it was only for a short time, they wanted more than anything to share their lives.
As God gathered the first lump of clay and began to shape Adam, God knew how it would turn out, but did it anyway. He ignored the knowledge that His creation would turn their backs on Him for their own selfish satisfaction.
You are no biological accident. The Word knew you and loved you before the first revolution of the earth around the sun. God knew whether you would love Him or leave Him and He loves you either way.
Because God is love, He could never be content as a disengaged, distant Creator…
2. Jesus loves you so much that he lives with you
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 ESV)
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:23 ESV)
God has always been Immanuel. It began in the Garden of Eden. Although the Fall ruined the intimate connection Adam and Eve one enjoyed, God continued to be with the people He created. The Tabernacle, then the Temple, served as a limited expression of Immanuel. But it wasn’t enough. God longed to be with His people.
When Jesus entered the human race, He brought Immanuel near to His people. Omnipresence became immanence. The Word stepped outside the confines of the Temple, put on human flesh and pitched his tent next to ours.
God still loves the world so much that he continues to be present through the Church. A few years ago, I met a young missionary family who live in a sensitive country among people who are sworn enemies of the United States. They are loving those people on behalf of Christ.
Long before you received Christ, He was near you. The Spirit relentlessly walked by your side. Immanuel was there through the care of a godly mother or a Christian neighbor.
If you do not know Jesus, He is with you now, and always has been.
But we have just begun to explore the magnitude of Jesus’ love for you and me…
3. Jesus loves you so much that he redeemed you
"Greater love has no one than this that someone lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13 ESV)
Ironically, I am warmed as I reflect on the manger. I have been influenced by the images that pervade our celebration of Christmas. Through the centuries, thousands of artists have crafted their imaginations of the Nativity. They almost always come across as cozy—Mary, Joseph, and Jesus huddled together and surrounded by a subtle glow.
I am a native Midwesterner. Inevitably, the local live Nativity seems to occur on the coldest night of the season. The amateur actors brace themselves against sub-freezing, or even sub-zero temperatures. They experience firsthand the discomfort that Mary and her newborn son endured in Bethlehem.
As harsh as Jesus’ first night on Earth proves to be, it gets worse. Much worse. The life that began in the safety of Mary’s womb will come to a violent end on a cross outside of Jerusalem. The Word becomes Immanuel, and then the Lamb slain for the sin of the world. Jesus would pay the price for every sin ever committed in all of history.
I must confess, that kind of love exists beyond my ability to conceive—it has always been the Son’s mission to die for my sin. “Such love, such wondrous love!” The tiny little hands of baby Jesus are destined to the penetration of a Roman’s spike, the baby-soft torso will be pierced by the point of a soldier’s spear.
But Jesus loves you even more than that…
4. Jesus loves you so much that he lives in you
…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love… (Ephesians 3:17 ESV)
Many legends and false religions contain stories of sacrificed heroes. The uniqueness of Christianity as that the Hero has risen from the dead! God, by the Spirit infused the body of Jesus with Divine life and brought him out of the grave.
Resurrected, Jesus loved you too much to stay here, limited by the flesh he continues to wear. So, He returned to the Father, so God the Spirit could come to live inside each one of us. Unlike other religions, the God of Christianity refuses to live apart from humans, or even to control them through possession. Instead, God dwells gracefully and peacefully within those who believe.
One measurement of Jesus’ love for you remains…
5. Jesus loves you so much that he is returning for you
"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3 ESV)
The Bible describes of the relationship between Jesus and the Church as resembling that of a husband and wife. When Jesus, the Groom, returned to heaven, it was to begin the next phase of his love-mission—to prepare your place in the Father’s house.
Our Christmas celebrations are incomplete if we neglect the Blessed Hope. Celebrating Advent reminds us that Jesus came, but Jesus is also coming again. The baby, who arrived in a Bethlehem stable, will return as the Lord of all. And we will see him face to face. Jesus is coming for you!
Jesus' instructions to his disciples is a well-known text to all of us involved in missions, whether we are missionaries, pastors, or passionate supporters of the Great Commission.
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said 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." (Matthew 9:35-38, ESV)
Included in these instructions are three non-negotiables for missions.
1) The heart of Jesus.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them. (Matthew 9:36)
Jesus loves the lost person. Sure, he recognizes the sin and brokenness, but his shepherd's heart compels him to act on their behalf and minister to them, not to recoil in disgust. His critics often accused Jesus of hanging out with the wrong crowd. Jesus was mission-focused. "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:10 ESV)
2) The ministry of Jesus
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. (Matthew 9:35 ESV)
In a later blog, I will break down this three-fold ministry of Jesus in greater detail. For now, let's note that Jesus engaged in a balanced approach to evangelism-discipleship. He 1) prophetically declared arrival of the kingdom of God, 2) accurately taught the scriptures, and 3) compassionately cared for the physical needs of the lost.
3) The prayer of Jesus
Then he said 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." (Matthew 9:37-38 ESV)
Do you find it surprising that Jesus did not instruct his disciples to pray for the harvest, or to pray for the lost? The same mandate is ours. There is no harvest problem, but there is a workforce problem. The need for compassionate, dedicated, empowered workers continues. With a sense of urgency, let's pray for those workers.
Let's engage in the mission that the Lord has given to us, by doing what Jesus did.
In an earlier post, I made note of the importance that Jesus placed on the need for laborers for the harvest. God uses people like you and me to get the work done.
But the people of God need the power of God. The Holy Spirit provides that power. Read Luke 24:46-49 and you discover that the Great Commission may also be seen as the Great Promise. Before His resurrection, Jesus assured His followers that they would indeed carry the Good News of His grace everywhere. But, their first responsibility would be to wait until the Spirit filled them with God's power.
Ministry in the 21st century requires the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. We depend on that power just as much as Peter, John, and Paul did in the first century. When the good news is proclaimed and validated by signs and wonders, people find an opportunity to respond in faith for salvation.
Dr. Anthony Palma, a leading Pentecostal scholar has written a practical article in which he provides straightforward advice for leaders as they lead their Spirit-filled ministries. Pastors, teachers, and evangelists, please proclaim and lead the people of God to fullness in the Spirit. The harvest demands it.
Click here to read the full article by Dr. Palma.
In a recent Harvest 365 post, Dr. JoAnn Butrin makes a compelling case for viewing missions as a fundamental purpose of the church. In her view, a church, does not "do missions". Instead, a church is missions. The mission statement of a church cannot, be definition, be separated from missions, the primary disciple making mandate that Jesus gave His Body, the Church.
I agree with Dr. Butrin's assessment. With a church-is-missions mindset, there exists no "Missions Department" of a church because missions is embedded in every group or activity of the church, like DNA is present in every cell of a person's body.
Sending missionaries to the world and to every people group in the USA is hard work, it is expensive, and it requires unceasing devotion. If missions is just one thing we do, we will fall short. But, if we embrace the mandate as a fundamental purpose, and with the Spirit empowering us, Jesus will build the Church.
What do you think?
Click here to read the full article by Dr. Butrin on Harvest 365.
Missionary itineration brings us, for a couple of weeks, to the state of Illinois, where I was raised and where Ruth and I spent many happy years in ministry. It has been wonderful to renew friendships and make new acquaintances across the state.
In two weeks we have traveled approximately 2,500 miles across the state. We have seen a lot of corn. And that corn is nearer to harvest with each passing day. I can't help but think repeatedly of the words of Jesus: "Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest." (John 4:35, ESV)
The harvest has not caught a single farmer by surprise. For an entire year they have worked for this opportunity. They are ready and waiting for the harvest to become ready.
For followers of Jesus, harvest also speaks salvation, the wonder of God's grace that forgives, restores, and brings the lost into the family of God. Harvest is what we long for, live for, and work for. There has never been a greater opportunity to fill heaven with harvest than we have today.
But one over-arching need remains. The workforce. "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few," Jesus said. "Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." How important is it that we pray for laborers? Jesus issued this instruction to his disciples before he sent them out themselves.
As we have been driving by miles and miles of unharvested corn, I cannot help but think of the urgency of the hour. The harvest is ready. Are we?
Will you join us in praying for the Lord to send laborers?
David L. DeGarmo (D. Min.) serves Global University as Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Theology. Along with his wife Ruth, he is also a U.S. Missionary. He has extensive experience as an educator, missionary, and pastor.
David writes an additional blog on a variety of topics. Check it out...