When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36) Once again, we hear that Jesus had compassion. This is that compassion that moved Him deep down inside. It is a compassion that is primal, part of the essence of His being. The compassion of Jesus is one of the deepest, richest, and most comforting of His qualities.
The reason for this compassion is the state of the people. The words harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd tell us that the people were the constant target of an evil bully. They were like a flock of sheep surrounded by a pack of wolves. The wolves constantly probing, nipping. Which member of the flock is the weakest … the slowest? Constantly under the pressure of knowing that one false step … one stumble … any sign of weakness, and the wolves will have their next meal.
Things haven’t changed that much. College students demonstrate against the newest microaggression. There are men who want to be treated as women, and women who want to be treated as men. Even though they can never have children, women wish to marry other women, and men wish to marry other men. Some people even want to marry themselves. At the same time, couples who are producing children don’t want to marry. Planned Parenthood convinces mothers to kill their own babies to the tune of 60 million and counting. And these are but a few examples of people who are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
As much as people like this make us nervous and uncomfortable, they end up doing more harm to themselves than to anyone else. While their poor life style choices may give brief pleasure, they find that, in the long run, they are always angry, sad, depressed, and never satisfied. I don’t know about you, but I often wish they would just stop, listen, and think. I wish there was a way to tell them that they are looking for love, joy, peace, and fulfillment in all the wrong places. Most of the problems they have are of their own making.
Of course, many people are looking for love, joy, peace, and fulfillment in all the wrong places. We are born with a desire for the spiritual … or at least with a desire for our lives to have meaning. Look at all the art that searches for a deeper meaning to life … paintings … sculptures … songs … books … movies … and so forth. There are religions all over the world that offer to help us learn what there is beyond this world. Every human being knows that something is missing and they go and search to find it.
There are several possible outcomes of this search. Some search for a while and then give up and decide to get on with their lives as best they can; they take up diversionary activities to take their mind off their dissatisfaction. Others incorrectly believe that they have found the answer; they too take up some sort of activity to help them fulfill the requirements of that answer. Finally, the truly honest seeker continues to search indefinitely … finding nothing that satisfies the need for meaning.
In the end, all searches lead to intense activity that accomplishes nothing. We are like little pet rodents running on wheels … expending a lot of energy, but not going anywhere. Or as Lewis Carroll had the Queen say to Alice, “It takes all the running YOU can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” The truth is that no merely human activity can ever find the true meaning of life. The only thing that a mere human search can find is eternal separation from God.
That is what Jesus saw when He looked out at the crowd. That is still what we see as we look around us today. People endlessly searching for something they can never find. That is the reason his heart went out to them with such deep compassion. He saw the meaningless struggle of their struggle for meaning.
That is the reason that Jesus stepped forward from His heavenly throne. That is the reason that He took humanity onto Himself. He became something infinitely greater than a mere human being. He became the God-man Christ Jesus.
He became true man to take our place under God’s law and fulfill it perfectly. He also took our place as the target of God’s justice against our sin with His suffering and death on the cross. As the Son of God, the ransom of His life, suffering, and death was enough to redeem the whole world from sin. As true God, He defeated sin, death and the power of the devil.
With His resurrection on the third day, He proclaimed the restoration of our relationship with God. He proclaimed His victory and He validated everything that He taught during his ministry. His resurrection provides the assurance that the true meaning of life is ours once again. His resurrection promises that we too will one day rise from death to live with Him forever.
Jesus looked at the crowds around Him and He also looked beyond them to the hungry souls of all time. He saw a vast harvest of souls ready for redemption. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37–38)
Even as He instructed His disciples to pray for laborers to work in that harvest, He prepared His disciples to carry on that labor. He called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. (Matthew 10:1) Jesus passed His mission on to the Twelve Disciples. He taught them about the true meaning of life … Who He truly was and how He would save the world from sin. Then He prepared them to carry this teaching to others. He gave them the privilege of working in His harvest. The harvest continues to this day and God has had His laborers in every generation. He has thrown them into His harvest and passed the Good News of Jesus Christ to generation after generation.
When I was a child, we often had missionaries make presentations on mission Sundays. I learned about mission activities in faraway places like New Guinea, the Philippines, Kenya, Liberia, and so forth. I thought that the work these missionaries did was wonderful. I still do. At the same time, it didn’t occur to me that there was mission work to do right here at home. I tended to think of the harvest as something that people did in faraway lands with exotic names. While it is marvelous that the Church of God continues to spread and grow in those faraway lands, there is also a harvest right here.
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matthew 10:5–6) Jesus did not send these twelve to some far away land on that day. He sent them to their neighbors, the lost sheep of Israel … the sheep without a shepherd. Yes, the day would come when Jesus would say, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, …” (Matthew 28:19) and God calls some to work in nations that are far away. He also calls some to labor in the harvest nearby. The Great Commission is not about going to faraway lands. Instead, it is about confessing your faith as you go about your daily life living out your vocations.
At your earliest convenience, open your Small Catechism and check out the phrase that Martin Luther appends to the title of each section of the book. After each heading, Luther added the words, “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.” Some of you are already heads of households. Some of you are still preparing to become heads of households some day. Luther wanted you all to know that the closest mission field to you is under your own roof. There are people in your own family who are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. The Lord has given you the opportunity to confess your faith to them.
Let us give thanks this day for the laborers that the Lord of the Harvest has sent into His harvest and let us continue to pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Then even more people can hear the good news that Jesus Christ is true God and true man, that He redeemed us from sin, death, and the power of the devil with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, and that we shall be with Him forever even as He has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. Amen
Please quote from my sermons freely. I expect people to copy my sermons or I wouldn't put them on a site like this. I only ask that you quote accurately if you attribute anything to me.
Should you decide to contact me, I would be very interested in knowing where you are. Please include the name of your city, state or province, and country when contacting me.
Send James T. Batchelor an email.