Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators, gave a speech called “The Need of the hour.” He began by asking what is the need of the hour? He then honed the question saying that our need of the hour is often very specific depending on what is going in our lives. e.g., if you’ve broken down, you need a Breakdown Company. If your credit card has been declined, you need money. But, what Dawson was talking about was much bigger – he was talking about changing the world. Some might say hope, peace, new leadership or Law & Order. Others in the church might say money, staff, a new minister, better/improved buildings or new programmes. But, here is what Dawson said:
“Let me tell you what I believe the need of the hour is. Maybe I should call it the answer to the need of the hour. I believe it is an army of soldiers, dedicated to Jesus Christ, who believe not only that He is God, but that He can fulfil every promise He has ever made, and that there isn’t anything too hard for Him.”The Need of The Hour, Dawson Trotman Speech in 1955
At a basic level, Dawson’s answer was about people – specifically, people who love Jesus, and, who are trusting in His promises. God has chosen to work through people like us … ordinary, everyday people, like you and me! The need of the hour is, therefore, people who trust God, and respond with faith and obedience – workers to serve in His harvest.
1. Moved by Compassion (9:35-36):
In Matthew 8-9 we saw how Matthew threaded the themes of Faith, Fear and Doubt. We saw that the near identical Matthew 4:23 and 9:35 bookend this section of the Gospel. These verses tell us that Jesus’ modus operandi for this time was teaching in the Synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom, and healing every disease and illness.
Then verses v35-38 are Jesus’ classic teaching on workers in the Harvest. Verse 36 tells us that “when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”. We need to lift our eyes to see people as Jesus saw them. It is so easy to fail to see the need all around us, and miss developing a vision for investing in others. These words illustrate this well, because they reveal His heart as He looks upon them with compassion. It is a pretty big deal for sheep to be shepherd-less, and it doesn’t usually end well. The sheep get neglected, scattered, weary and have no direction. Perhaps a pretty apt description of what life is like without God!
My friend Thompy Wright sadly died in 2019, but he lived such a life. A life of compassion amongst all God brought into his life. He was able to invest in a huge number of people over many decades. The truth is that God could send legions of angels to do this work, but He instead chooses to use ordinary people like us, working with the strength and resources He provides to make an impact in the lives of the people around us.
2. Workers in the Harvest (9:37-38):
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.’Matthew 9:37-38
Having looked at the crowds with compassion, seeing all of their deep need, Jesus now declares that the harvest is plentiful, but there is a need for workers. A good harvest can go to waste if there are not workers to take advantage of it. Do you agree that the harvest is still plentiful? I think we would have to say that working in the harvest can sometimes feel pretty tough – often we are not seeing rapid growth for the gospel in the West, but elsewhere is a different story! Either way, the toughness of the harvest does not negate the need for workers – those who are working hard amidst the people that God has placed around us. Notice also that Jesus calls on us to pray to the Lord of the Harvest. These are His people, and the harvest belongs to Him. In order to meet the needs of the people all around us, Jesus calls us to pray that God would send out workers. Once again, the need of the hour is for people – specifically people who would work amongst His Harvest field.
So what exactly is a worker? The Greek word is “ergates”, and it is interesting that 11 of the 15 usages in the New Testament relate to harvesting. A worker (or labourer) is involved in the work of harvesting. The word can be defined as “a worker in the fields” and is a workman, hired hand or agricultural labourer. The basic term means “to work”, denoting action . The “ergates” kind of involvement is described in Matt 10 and Luke 10, when Jesus sends out the 12, and the 72. Another Greek word “sunergos” means co-labourer, or fellow worker. This word is used of Priscilla and Aquila, Urbanus, Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus, Aristarchus, Mark, Justus, Philemon, Demas, and Luke. Remember Paul says “…we are fellow workers (co-workers) in God’s service…” (1 Cor 3:9).
Following Jesus doesn’t necessarily equate to being a worker. In theory, it should, but while many profess to following Jesus ‘the workers are still few’. Are you willing to co-labour with God? Do you want to make your life count? The vision of a disciple-making movement is to multiply workers throughout the world to see workers in God’s Kingdom. Workers who draw alongside others to strengthen, encourage and equip. For me the harvest-fields include my immediate and extended family, friends, fellow parents, neighbours and so on. What a joy to co-labour with God amongst the people God has placed all around us.
3. The Workers are Sent out (10:1-42):
It is surely no coincidence that the following chapter (10) contains a worked example of Jesus sending His disciples out as workers. Jesus sends them out to do what He has been talking about, and He gives them power and authority (v1) to drive out impure spirits, and to heal every disease and illness. Jesus gives the disciples some quite specific instructions about how they were to go about their assignment. It’s interesting to compare this with the occasion when Jesus sends out the 72 in Luke 10. Five significant facts apply to both assignments:
- They were told to “go”, and went on a brief trip.
- They were told to “Preach” that the Kingdom of God was near.
- They performed deeds: healed the sick, drove out demons.
- They were supported by the people to whom they went, and they stayed with them.
- They ministered only where they were welcome.
It is a clear example that God wants both His disciples, and by implication us, to be intentionally active amongst His Harvest – we are to be workers, and there is going to be sacrifices to make. Then in v16-42, Jesus gives them a series of warnings about what they were to expect. Firstly, in v16-23 He was sending them out like sheep among wolves (v16) and they were to expect persecution. But, there was also a promise that the Holy Spirit would be with them, and would give them the words to say in such situations. Secondly, in v24-31, Jesus tells them that no servant is above His master, and so they should not expect to be treated any differently than He was. But, Jesus encourages them that there was no reason to fear those who could only kill the body, and not the soul. We are worth more than many sparrows to God. Thirdly, Jesus says that on account of Him there would be much division (v34-36). We must not love anyone more than Him. Instead, we should take up our cross, and follow Him. Finally, in v40-42, Jesus promises that whoever welcomes them also welcomes Him. Whatever good people do for Jesus’ disciples it will be as if they are doing it for Him, and it will be rewarded.
Satan will do anything to stop us being involved in the harvest, and to stop this harvest being reaped! Peter later writes that “Your enemy the devil is prowling around like a lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). Satan wants us to be distracted, side-lined, and discouraged by even the smallest hint of trouble. He wants us to count the cost, and decide that we are unwilling to pay it.
The harvest is ultimately Jesus’ responsibility, but it is one in which He calls us to labour with Him. To reap this harvest, we have to rely on the work of the Spirit in the hearts and minds of those we are seeking to get alongside. It is worth it, and the subsequent rewards Jesus promises are worth it. There will be hard times, but Jesus will never leave us, or forsake us.
Matthew doesn’t record how they got on, although Mark 6 does confirm for us that they did report back. So I want to finish with an observation from Luke 10 when Jesus sent out the 72. After the trip the disciples returned with joy reporting:
17 …‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name’ to which Jesus replied 18 …‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’Luke 10:17-20
Then we have one of the most exciting moments in the Bible! Do you think Jesus would have got excited at a big sports event or popular TV contest? Would He have joined the cheering, felt embarrassed, or shown emotion? We know Jesus was an emotional man who showed tears, anger, sorrow and compassion. But, do we read about a defining moment of unfettered joy? A hallelujah moment? Was there anything that really touched a raw nerve of delight?
21 At that same time Jesus was filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, and he said, “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way”.Luke 10:21 (NLT)
Jesus was so excited by their reports that He shot up this spontaneous prayer to his Father. It was a hugely significant and memorable moment. I think Jesus let rip. He was exuberant in the Holy Spirit. Perhaps He was never more excited than when He saw his disciples involved in His mission – when He sent them out as workers.
The need of the hour is for everyday people like us who are willing to go. To that end, Jesus commands us to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers. My instinctive reaction to this overwhelming task would be to try and work this out in terms of activity; my natural inclination is to want to be the solution! Jesus’ mission, however, was born out of prayer, and it is to the Father that He tells us to turn to meet the needs of the many. While the starting point is prayer, He also wants us to be proactive towards that end. Our actions may well prove to be part of how God chooses to answer that prayer as we get alongside someone and see what God will do in them, and through them.
See other posts in this series: Breaking the Mould
- Brave Enough to Follow
- A life of Abundance
- Living Distinctively
- Renovation of the Heart
- Above All Else
- Why Worry
- Building with Wisdom
- Faith, Fear and Doubt
- The Need of the Hour