To the Work! (Matthew 9:35-38)
After I graduated high school, I went to the local employment office to find a summer job to save money for college. The nice lady at the office looked over my resume and sent me to the local Domino’s Pizza franchise which desperately needed delivery drivers.
I went to Domino’s, filled out an application, and, after the manager looked over that application, was hired on the spot. She asked me if I could begin that very evening, and I was excited to have a job, get to work, and start saving money for my first semester of college.
That first night I worked four hours. Coworkers showed me the ropes in the kitchen and how to take orders. I went on three or four deliveries–which, when you’re as directionally challenged as I, was rather interesting in an era before GPS. But, I was starting to get the hang of things, and I was scheduled to work a full shift the following evening.
Well, the next afternoon, I got a call from the manager. She had been looking over my application more closely, and she discovered that I would not be 18 for a few more weeks. The company’s insurance required all employees to be 18 or older. Thus, she had to let me go.
I had worked a total of four hours, and I got fired! No summer job for me!
For nearly 30 years, my family has teased me a good bit about losing my first job after only four hours. But, you and I know that losing a job is no laughing matter. Some of you this morning may have lost jobs because of COVID-19 or struggled to make ends meet because of the current pandemic. Some of you were with companies for a number of years when a round of layoffs came, and you found yourself in the unemployment line. You may have made a mistake at work and found yourself in your employer’s office being fired because of it. You may have spent hours tossing and turning in bed, unable to sleep, because you feared for your job and worried about how you’d feed your family.
This morning’s text says that many people are standing around without a job but that jobs are readily available. Jesus is fixing to give his disciples authority over natural and demonic forces and send them out on the limited commission. Before he does so, however, he models proper ministry to the disciples, and he teaches them about the necessity of work in the vineyard of God.
Jesus taught the disciples a vital lesson we wish to hear as a church this morning: “God needs workers in his church!”
Scripture (Matthew 9:35-38)
Jesus went throughout the towns and villages of Galilee preaching the good news in the synagogues. In the days of Jesus’s earthly ministry, Galilee had some 240 towns and villages. This serves to illustrate just how busy our Lord was.
The Lord was teaching and preaching “the good news of the kingdom.” However we want to see Jesus’s ministry, our Lord was primarily a preacher: “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mk 1:38). God the Father intends us to listen to Jesus (Matt 17:5), and since he is the Truth (cf. Jn 14:6), it behooves us to listen to Jesus.
Jesus healed “every disease and sickness.” I fear that too often we read of Jesus’s ministry to the sick and hurting in terms of establishing his identity as the promised Messiah. Of course, miracles did establish the truthfulness of Jesus’s ministry: “God also testified to [the divine message] by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Heb 2:4).
However, the miracles our Lord performed also demonstrated his compassion to the sick and hurting. When Jesus encountered two blind men, he “had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him” (Matt 20:34). When the Lord came across a leper, “he reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’” (Mk 1:41). Jesus cared about what was taking place in the lives of those he met, and he was filled with compassion.
Jesus’s healing ministry was in fulfillment of prophecy: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows” (Is 53:4; cf. Matt 8:17).
In this morning’s passage, the Lord felt compassion on the crowd “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
“Harassed and helpless” refers to the improper leadership from the religious leaders of Jesus’s day. You see, the image of sheep without a shepherd harkens back to the Old Testament where God’s people did not have appropriate spiritual leadership. As Joshua was about to succeed Moses, the man of God prayed for a solid leader “so the LORD’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd” (Num 27:17). When confronting Ahab for his wickedness, Micaiah said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd” (1 Ki 22:17); thus, without a righteous king the people were as sheep without a shepherd.
Jesus looked at these people and saw that they had no proper leadership from the elders, scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. Instead, they were tossed about and “harassed and helpless.”
Jesus says that the harvest is plentiful. The gathering of grain in the first century was an urgent business. Once the grain was ripe, one had to gather the crop quickly to keep it from spoiling.
Landowners would often bring in extra workers to help them gather their grain before it could rot. Remember in the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, the landowner kept going to the marketplace all day in order to find men to harvest his crop (Matt 20:1-16).
The disciples were to pray to the God of the harvest to send forth workers to gather the crop. Prayer is so powerful: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (Js 5:16). Thus, it is only right that Jesus’s people pray for more workers in the vineyard.
“God needs workers in his church!” As I prepare for my work here at Deer Park, the message I wish to give you from the Word of God is simply that: “God needs workers in his church!” I’ve come to work in the vineyard here, but we need to be working together in the vineyard of God. How can we here put the truth that “God needs workers in his church!” into practice in this congregation?
You need to teach.
Jesus went about preaching and teaching in the synagogues of Galilee. God expects us to be teaching others, too: “By this time you ought to be teachers” (Heb 5:12).
To whom can you share the gospel? Take some time this afternoon and contemplate that question seriously. Write down five names of those in your circle of influence who need to hear the truth of Jesus and commit yourself to making sure they hear that word in the next couple of weeks. If you need my help, call me! If you need the elders’ help, call them!
It might be that instead of teaching others the gospel, you need to be studying so that you can teach the gospel to others. The full text of Hebrews 5:12 says this: “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” If you need milk, not solid food, spend serious time in the word “so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Pet 2:2) and teach others!
You need to understand where people are.
As Jesus looked at the multitude, he saw that they were “harassed and helpless.” They were being deceived and misled by the religious leaders of the day.
Understand that many of our friends and neighbors caught up in error are not willfully shaking a fist at God to do things their own way. Instead, most of them are “harassed and helpless” because they are being led astray by their leaders.
You need to show compassion.
Jesus felt compassion on the multitudes, and he demonstrated that compassion. He went about “healing every disease and sickness.” Jesus saw people as needing help in this life with their hurts and struggles, and he worked to alleviate those hurts and struggles.
You and I obviously cannot heal the sick, but we can work to alleviate suffering: “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (Gal 6:10). Work this week to alleviate suffering. What neighbor needs groceries? What friend needs a ride to the doctor’s office? What family member needs a sympathetic ear? Look around you, see what needs people have, and fill those needs.
You need to pray for more workers.
If Jesus urged his disciples to pray for God to send more workers into his vineyard, can we do anything less? Paul was not too proud to ask others to pray for his ministry: “Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (Col 4:3-4).
Spend time in prayer each day this week asking God to send workers into his vineyard. Pray for me and my ministry. Pray that more of the brethren here will step up to the plate and work for the Lord’s harvest. Pray for the elders as they shepherd the flock here. Pray for open hearts to hear the message of Jesus and to respond to it. Pray for your friends and loved ones who are lost: “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (Rom 10:1). Pray, pray, and pray some more this week!
You need to be a worker!
While prayer is so powerful because the Creator of all hears and answers prayer, don’t simply pray for God to send workers into the vineyard. As you pray, determine in your heart to work in the vineyard yourself. Each one of us has unique talents (cf. Matt 25:14-30). Let us use those talents to the glory of God here at Deer Park.
What talent(s) do you have? What can you do in the service of the King of kings? We need workers here at Deer Park. See me, Todd, or one of the elders and we’ll get you plugged in–I promise!
If this congregation really took to heart the truth that “God needs workers in his church,” how would this congregation be different? We’d see more and more people coming to Jesus. We would constantly be changing the population of heaven. We’d share the gospel here in Deer Park, then in LaPorte and Pasadena and then in Houston and then to the rest of Texas. It can be done! Starting with only 12 men in Jerusalem, within a few years, the Apostle Paul declared, “This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven” (Col 1:23). If they could do it in the first century without all the modern conveniences we have, don’t you tell me we can’t do it in the 21st century!
Let us believe with all our hearts “God needs workers in his church!” What a glorious church God will have!
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Deer Park Church of Christ in Deer Park, Texas.