One of the things I love most about travelling is journeying in the country; I love seeing “normal” places, where people are just going about their business. Normal is where we exist, and where the church is called to mission. A few months ago when I was in Nigeria with a small ministry team through the SOMA Network, I was blessed to be able to see the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Jos working for the Gospel in their normal. The Journey to Jos was fascinating as we travelled through so many different towns and villages and glimpsed at a normal life for so many people (even though it took nearly 8 hours!). Watching as those roadside traders risked their lives (literally) trying to sell food or trinkets, seeing some of the roadside stalls selling ice-cooled bottles of water. To see normal people going about their business.
Normal is our Call
Jos might be some 7000Km; yet, when you strip everything away and get to the heart of the issue what you find is people living out the same fundamental pursuit wherever they are. It always challenges me when I am in new places and experiencing their normal, it reminds me of the simple truth of Christian mission – normal is what we are called to. Jesus existed and minister in a contextual normal, he spoke into it and sought to bring people to an understanding of who he was and what he was going to do by communicating in a normal way. Parables, illustrations, and his teachings used everyday things to explain heavenly truths. Even as the church went out from Pentecost with a transcendent message, they consistently used the culture and the context to share the good news of Jesus. Think of Paul and the unknown God (Acts 17). Thus, for some two thousand years, the disciples of Jesus have sought to bring Jesus where they are so that ordinary is transformed and the Kingdom of God advances. Normal is where God has placed us, and it is our delight in response to what he has done for us to seek to transform it for His Glory. We are called and equipped by God to live radically healthy lives, then through proclamation and deed show people something better, the thing they do not even know they are looking for! Thus the question that we must ask today, and everyday whoever we are, whatever we do and wherever we live (these places are where God has put us), as we think about our normal as the places where God has called us, and we think through this passage, as we consider the plentiful Harvest is plentiful: “Where are the workers?”
Passage: Matthew 9:35 to 10:8 (NIV)
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
There is plenty of work to do
The beautiful thing about journeying with Jesus is that as the Holy Spirit works in us to make us more like the Son, it is with purpose. Correctly, God will use us where we are, to bring about his Kingdom and to draw people to himself. When we read the bible and consider any of the tremendous missional passages, we are meant to be challenged right where we are. Yes, God is at work in the lives of some people to call them out of their current ordinary to do different things or to go to different places. That is amazing, but for most of us, our mission is our normal. That too is amazing!
Sometimes we convince ourselves that “real mission” only happens when we do something extreme for God: like travelling to the depths of the amazon…. Thus, we elevate those who we might know to some level of super-spiritual because their call is different from ours. Then we use it to convince ourselves that what God requires of us is somewhat less. All we have to do is be a good Christian, and maybe support missionaries through prayer and finance. Yet, what we see today is that what matters is not where the mission is, but our faithfulness to it. God delights in faithfulness amid normality, or in somewhere abnormal. So whoever we are, and wherever we are let us again centre ourselves on the mission that God has called us to and marvel at the privilege it is to serve God. The common mission is real mission: disciples of Jesus Christ faithfully seeking to fulfil the Great Commission where ever God has placed us.
1. Jesus Models the Way (9:35).
Before I worked in the church, I spent a few years across different IT roles, and I loved it. I loved computers, programming and all the others bits and bobs I still dabble in. Yet, I did not overly enjoy my degree. For those four years at university, all I learned was theories, and models. It was all abstract, never real everyday situations. When I started working, I was soon able to pick up how in the normality of my role, but it took exactly that – a real experience. All the theories in the world about computing where of no use to me unless I put them to use. I learned not from a textbook, but from working alongside someone who had experienced and then learning from them. They modelled what needed to be done. I think the same is true in any line of work if you want people to be able to do something, then model it for them!
Jesus Models His Ways
The end of Matthew 9 is an excellent summary of the methodology of ministry that we see Jesus employ through his time on earth, and then that which the Apostles used as they carried on the message. In verse 35, we see three keys things: Movement, Proclamation, and Action. This is the essence of all our walk with Jesus and the mission he calls us too: to look to him, to walk with him, then in the power of the Spirit to live a life modelled on him so that people may know him. Let us consider the three things we see:
To follow Jesus as his disciple means being willing to move with him for the sake of the mission. Discipleship is a journey, and any trip involves movement. If we are not moving, then we are not going, and within the realm of our walk with Jesus if we are not moving, later we are not growing. Jesus moved between towns and villages to proclaim and practice the ways of the Kingdom; The Apostles moved around to plant churches and make known the Gospel. We are called in the power of the Holy Spirit to move, to be proactive for the sake of Christ. Again I do not necessarily mean that we all have to leave home and move to far-flung places, yet, nevertheless, our discipleship is active. We do not wait for people to come to us, we move to them. We are proactive for the cause of Christ.
“Nobody slouches into faithfulness. They do it on purpose. With our lives intentionally calibrated by the gospel and its expansion, we pursue what Christ has called us to do.” – Erik Raymond 1
When we find something of value, or that gives real purpose to our lives surely we would want to tell people about it?. We have been searching for, the natural inclination would be to say to people. It is only natural to want to share something good. The good news that Jesus proclaims in his ministry is not some sort of new philosophy or secret truth, he stands unique in the history of religious figures and spiritual teachers because in his claims of life they all centre on him. Jesus claims to be the source of life that the world is looking for. Thus, he tells people about himself, and we carry that on as we point to him!
To call ourselves disciples of Jesus means that we have come to a knowledge of him. As a teacher, he centred his teachings on himself, thus to follow his instructions me to look to him as a person, and what he did. There can be no other way about it, there are no teachings of Jesus that we can seek to apply to our lives without acknowledging his claims of himself – that he was God incarnate. A disciple accepts the applications of his teacher and tries to live them, a Christian disciple then delights in the Lordship of Jesus and what that means for their lives, then in natural reaction aims to make it known. The Lordship of Jesus is no small thing, it claims our life. Thus, if we genuinely believe it, it should then consume our lives. It means that we have been captivated by his beauty, power and goodness, and want to know it and make it known. It means that through the gift of Grace, we have been overcome by the wonder of who Jesus is and what he has done for us, and we delight in belonging to him. The question we must consider is doing we genuinely delight in Jesus. If our telling of something is proportionate to our love of it: Think of a newly married couple, a fanatic football fan. Does Jesus resound from our lives, or is he a whimper among much noise? As Jesus proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom, so too must we. Yet, we must first ground any proclamation in our relationship. Our telling of him will only be as good as our walking with him. Let’s be ready to share about him.
“Outside of the cross of Jesus Christ, there is no hope in this world. That cross and resurrection at the core of the Gospel is the only hope for humanity. Wherever you go, ask God for wisdom on how to get that Gospel in, even in the toughest situations of life.” – Ravi Zacharias
Imagine if someone you knew announced they were engaged. Yet, there was never a ring, nor photos, and not even a post on social media, I think you would struggle to believe their news. Why? Because their actions do not match their announcement: we believe something when we see it. Today before he calls them Jesus models for his disciples that the work of the Kingdom is not just one of the word, it is one of word and deed. This essence of discipleship is doing. Consider the Greek word akoloutheō used throughout the synoptic Gospel’s in relation to following Jesus. It infers accompanying by participation. Thus to follow Jesus means to live like him, for him. As he acted so must we.
“Every Christian should be helping unbelievers become believers by showing them Christ. That is making a disciple. And every Christian should be helping other believers grow to more and more maturity. That is making a disciple.” – John Piper2
2. Jesus Demonstrates the Heart (9:36)
Every endeavour has a motivation behind it sometimes that motivation is easy to tell, other times we can struggle to discern they ‘why’ behind someones’ ‘what.’ You could call it the heart behind an action. Some ‘hearts’ are easy to discern, then there are the people we have known our whole lives, and we can never quite figure out what makes their heartbeat. I wonder if we even know our own motivations sometimes? So often we are motivated only by self: in life, family, work, relationships, and even faith we seek what is best for us. Why? because that is how the world around us is conditioning us to think, see, and exist only for ourselves. We are told that the happiness we seek is somewhere within us, our real identity can be found by exploring the depths of who we are. Then, if we do not feel ‘good’ in something (a job, relationship, commitment), it must not be meant for us. The world tells us that the only thing that matters is our own happiness, and then sells us something to help us find it. Yet, we are ever searching and never happy. We are being sold a narrative built on the self, and yet the longer we live in it, the more profound people seem to pursue it they less happy they seem to be.
Furthermore, it is a narrative that stands in contrast to the Gospel, and life of the Kingdom that proclaims to us that our purpose and identity are not found by looking inward, but by looking outward to Christ. Then we have bee captivated by him, our heart changes to longer live for ourselves but to live in service of the Kingdom and for the sake of the other. The church of Jesus Christ is called not to be self-centred, but other-centric, to live in a counter-cultural way. This is to be our motivation, to have the heart of Jesus Christ, as we look to Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit seek to live like Jesus for the Glory of God.
The Heart of Christ
In a selfish world, the person work and ministry of Jesus confronts us differently. It is not just the ‘how’ behind his living that confronts the world, it is also the heart that motivates his activity in the world. Think of the weight of what is described in verses 34-45, as Jesus moved around from towns to villages continually seeking out the lost, the outcasts of society. In every place, he shared the good news and gave of himself in ministry. He was a fountain ever pouring out the Love, Presence and story of Gods work in the world. Wherever we went, he meets demand, and gladly he served. Why? Because Jesus loved those he was called to serve. Matthew 9:36 tells us “he looked upon the crowds and had compassion on them.” Jesus did not see people through the lens in which they approached him; he saw them through the compassion of his heart, and in need, they did not even know they had. They where: harassed/distressed, meaning troubled or annoyed; helpless – literally image sheep roaming on barren hills without grass, protection or direction, and he had come for them if only they would receive him.
It is helpful to remind ourselves of the fullness of the word compassion, especially concerning the life and ministry of Jesus. When you break the word down: passion literally means suffering (think of the film Passion of the Christ), and Com from the Latin means with or together. Thus to have compassion on someone is to join with them in their suffering. To feel their pain with them. Throughout the entire canon of scripture, we see that God is a compassionate God: As he had compassion on the Israelites by rescuing them from slavery, then on the whole world by coming to us in our brokenness to bring us back to himself. The compassion of Jesus should not surprise us, nor the call to mirror it. The church of Christ must be shaped by a heart of compassion.
“ Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.” – Francis Schaeffer
Having the Heart of Christ
We must ask ourselves: What is the heart that informs our living? We might hold to Christian morality, and look like we think Jesus would look in the world. Yet the question of the heart is a much deeper one. May we consider our hearts before God and allow the Spirit and word of God to challenge us to seek to be more like him. May our heart be transformed into the hear of Christ: one that weeps at the state of the world and wants to change it with the good news of Jesus. Today as we seek to live for him, let us make sure our heart belongs to him and is shaped by him.
3. The Challenge and Response (37-38)
I love the imagery of the “Harvest” I think it is continually challenging when we stop and consider it, no matter who we are, or where we might be. For me it is challenging is their broad ways: It Universality, It’s a necessity, and its consistency. So let’s consider what the challenge of the Harvest is for us today, and how we are called to aid the eternal work of God.
3.1 The Universality of the Harvest
Think of an image for Harvest, if you are like me, then the image is probably one of the large tractors roaming fields and bringing in crops. We can all picture something when we think of Harvest. It might seem like nothing, yet the universality in understanding is one of its most potent challenges. No matter the time, culture or context, we have some idea of what Harvest is. It is an image that spans culture and time, thus, at some level, we understanding we need a harvest to survive and thrive. This leads to the second challenge of the Harvest Imagery – the necessity.
3.2 The Necessity of the Harvest
Jesus ministered in an agrarian society: the lives of people and the economy where centred on the Harvest: if the Harvest was good then people where happy: if the Harvest suffered, then everyone suffered suffered. Everything depended on a good harvest. Still today this is reality for 95% of the world’s population. I remember when I was in Tanzania, we had been spending some time with a local farmer, and listening to him talk about life was fascinating, everything evolved around the cycles of the Harvest. The Harvest is necessary for living. In the Kingdom of God, the harvest caries the same necessity, the question is do we see it.
3.3 The Consistency of the Harvest
The final challenge of the Harvest is its consistency. As long as we live, we will need to harvest. To harvest is to eat. Regardless of technology or technique in one way or another as long as humankind lives, it must produce food from the land. As physical Harvest is necessary for the sustenance of the physical world, the analogy then plays into the spiritual realm of the Kingdom fo God. As long as we are on this earth awaiting the King, then we must work at the spiritual Harvest for the sake of the spiritual Kingdom of which we are citizens. The Harvest is universal; no matter who we are or what we do, we can relate to it. The Harvest is necessary for the survival of everyone; if we want to live, then we must produce food. Finally, the Harvest is consistent; as long as there are people on the earth, there will be a harvest in some way or another. Let us consider each of those points and then apply them to the work of the spiritual Harvest God has called each of us too, let us consider: Are we willing to commit to the task?
3.4 A Plentiful Harvest Lacking Workers
To be a disciple of Jesus is to (by the Holy Spirit) belong to another kingdom. As we live day-to-day, we must grasp fully the reality that we live as citizen’s of another kingdom, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. That citizenship carries with it specific responsibilities and privileges. Thus as we live in expectation of the renewal of all things at the second coming of Christ, we live out the call of the Kingdom here today. Here Jesus presents us with the most basic request of the Kingdom – the Harvest. If we are in Christ then we are called to the Harvest, there is no clause, or condition that we have to achieve. It is not the work of a select few, nor is it work to be done in far of fields. As farmer’s plough the land they own, Christians are called to the spiritual Harvest where God has put them.
The problem is not the potential of the Harvest, Jesus assures his disciples that his spiritual Harvest will bear much fruit, the problem is a lack of workers for them at this point. Today perhaps still we are not committed to the work of the Lord. Thus, Jesus instructs the disciples to pray that God would raise up workers to go to the lost sheep and return them to the shepherd. Then Jesus enlists them to that work! They were the answer to their own prayer. Today we pray for the mission of God (vitally important), but our praying is not an excuse to inaction. We must be in some way the answer to our own prayers. We must carry out the work that God has called us to.
This is the duality of kingdom citizenship: we pray, and we do. I wonder what we have been praying over our churches and towns? I wonder what burden that God has placed on our heart that might also be the answer too? Let us consider afresh how we are living out the Harvest in our lives, today where God has us and then let us commit anew to prayer and action for the sake of the universal, foundational and eternal spiritual Harvest.
4. The Way of the Kingdom of God(10:1-6)
What a list of names, twelve disciples of Jesus Christ, eleven of whom would go on to turn their world upside down as God’s chosen representative’s to carry for the message of Jesus. Men who lived and walked with Jesus for nearly three years. The disciples had a fantastic experience, yet the danger is that we elevate them about their station. There are not different levels of faith. There are not different levels of spirituality, and the disciples somehow achieved one that many of us will never get. They are and always will be just men, they happened to be men called by God and equipped by the Holy Spirit to do beautiful things. Surprising: but here is the situation, so is everyone who follows Jesus. What matters is not the level of our faith, but that we have true faith, that we have glimpsed the beauty of the King and then gladly want to live for him. The disciples did so much for Jesus because they eventually grasped all that he had done for them.
Yes, they went on to great things for the Lord, but they were not chosen for their greatness! They were selected because they where the epitome of the way the Kingdom of God works. They where nobodies! Like those, they were called to seek out they where the downtrodden and outcasts of society, people who the powers and influential’s of society would never notice. Yet, God saw them. It should not surprise us because as you read through the Old Testament, and journey with God’s chosen people, there is nothing special about them. They were selected because they were the least of nations. As you read the stories of Kings, Prophets and those called by God, they were called no by any metric of this world but because God can use whoever he wants.
Then when you consider the coming of God into the world, the messiah that Israel had longed for, he came not in triumph or fanfare into a palace, but silently into a stable. He inaugurated his reign not through military conquest, but through silent suffering on the Cross wherein the eye’s of the world he was shamed, defeated and cast aside. Thus when we read this list of twelve men, who are not scholars and warriors but fishermen and tax collectors let us see the challenge and comfort. Let us be encouraged in the way that God works, that he chooses us not because of who we are or what we might bring to the table, no, simply because he loves us, then let us get on with the work that we are called to.
Then, perhaps let us check ourselves before Scripture: The way of the Kingdom of God must be our way as the Spirit of God works in us. We must live in a way that confronts the world around us, so perhaps we must stop and consider the metrics by which we chose those would we lead and serve in our churches and things. Then lets us challenge our eyes to see people, and the world around us with Kingdom eyes, and lets live with the confident hope that God is at work regardless of how high and mighty we might seem, and those with us might look. Let us live in a way that confronts rather than conforms the kingdoms of this world.
5 A Commission of Word and Deed (10:7-8)
God will use anyone, that much is clear from this passage. The defining mark of service in the Kingdom of God is not ability, but identity. We Identify with the King. Then because we have received freely, we are willing to do what God has called us to do wherever he has placed us. Not to earn from God but because we have received fully. What then does it look like to live out the mission of God: simple, it looks like Jesus. As he went through all the villages and towns proclaiming and receiving, now he calls and realises the disciples, and all who follow them to the same ministry – word and deed.
Word in that as the “go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ “(v7). Meaning the first priority of our mission must always be to communicate the message of Jesus, the good news of the Gospel. That will look different to each person and church as they minister where God has called them. Yet, it is important that we remember and then balance all our works with the foundational truth that as we serve we speak the truth of the Gospel so that it might be heard and that people know the why behind our what. So as disciples let us be sure that cause of our individual mission and the ministries our churches are involved is clear in the “how” of what we speak. We are not ashamed of the Gospel because it is our life. We want people to know that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and what that means for the world.
Secondly, we act. Our words must be accompanied by deeds: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” Now those words can seem quite daunting depending on the context that we are reading them in. Yet, the duality of the commission is evident wherever we understand it: The mission of God is one of both word and deed. We proclaim and act in duality to make know Gods name and to show God’s love. The disciples’ deeds may have been miraculous, and it is not that we are not called or capable in the Holy Spirit of the same works. Still, it is that we are mindful that we do not aim for a specific deed instead we simply serve where God has placed us, using the gifts that he has given each of us. That will look different in each setting, and it might seem ordinary to the world, but that is okay. It is not what we do, it the motivation behind it – to point people to God through the saving work of Jesus; to live empowered by the Holy Spirit, in the way of Jesus for the Glory of God.
What if today, we took a moment to consider where God has placed us as our place of Harvest. What is the potential for the Kingdom Harvest in our own context and the communities in which we live, serve, and work? Let’s think of the streets around us, the people in them, the shops and organisations that call them home. This is our mission field right now, and this is where God will use us if we are willing. Then in the power of the Spirit let us go out and speak the good news of Jesus, then under the guidance of the Spirit let us discern what the issues confront our churches and communities and then for the Glory of God act in response to them. Our acts of service do not have to be precisely one thing or another, they must simply be! It is not that if we are not healing the sick through prayer ministry, then we are failing in the mission of God, or if we are not dealing the forces of darkness, then we are not spiritual enough. Our healing might simply be the passing out of food to fill an empty stomach, and our confronting darkness may be simply by offering hope amid chaos. If those are the opportunities that God gives us and then we take them to do the work of the Kingdom then God will be delighted with that.
As We Go From Here
Our Kingdom acts (in word and deed) are fundamental to our discipleship, that can be in no doubt. Yet, we must be clear that they are expressive forms of our delight in God, not excessive acts of duty to earn from God. The work that we are called to as disciples of Jesus is first and foremost a response to Who Jesus is and what he has done for us via the Cross. Disciples are those who gaze on Jesus and marvel at his beauty and worth, then in response to they the proclaim and act. We are they are those who know that Grace is a gift, and we can bring nothing to the table, but that such is the value of this gift that we want others to know it. Today, as we go from here, let us make sure that our deeds and in response to our delight.
This is the constant challenge of walking with Jesus that we make sure we are right with him and working for him. Thus Jesus reminds the disciples: “Freely you have received; freely give.” Their ministry for him is not done to earn from people, but to give to people. Unlike the mercenary prophets who would plague the early church, the apostles worked in dependence on the Lord. They lived out the counter-cultural reality of the Kingdom in every way. Today as we look to Jesus afresh and anew, let us see his beauty and worth, then let us shape our lives on his as we live out the mission that he has called each of us too. There is plenty of work to do so let’s get on with it!