This article on Matthew 9:37 is about the great need for labourers in the harvest of God.

Source: The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, 2010. 2 pages.

The World’s Greatest Need

The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few.

Matthew 9:37

Many of us know by heart the passage from which this inci­sive verse is extracted. But do we truly understand what our Lord is telling us when He refers to this “harvest”? Some think He is referring to all the lost who are in need of salva­tion. Others consider the harvest to be those who are seek­ing salvation or those who are the elect and still need to be brought in to the fold. We sometimes imagine the harvest as an expansive field, bulging to the brim with crops ready for the picking. This, however, is not the biblical picture of the harvest. This word has an ominous ring to it and speaks more of the judgment of God than anything else.

In Isaiah 17:10-11, we read, (T)hou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the rock of thy strength, therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants...but the harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief and of desper­ate sorrow.” Because the people had forgotten their covenant God, the only harvest they would reap from the lands of their sowing would be God’s terrible judgment.

In Mark 1:17, Jesus calls His disciples, saying, “I will make you to become fishers of men.” This term “fishers of men” brings to mind the idyllic picture of someone going for a day of leisure at the fishing waters; the metaphor is then extended to the evangelist whose task comprises “fishing for Jesus.” But fishing in Old Testament language has a distinct tone of divine judgment.

Jeremiah 16:16, 17 states,

Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the LORD, and they shall fish them (for) their iniquity (is not) concealed from mine eyes.

Pronouncing judgment on Pharaoh, Ezekiel prophesies,

I will put hooks in your jaws ... I will draw you up out of the midst of your streams.Ezek. 29:4

In being fishers of men, the disciples were not called, respectfully said, to go out and “catch fish for Jesus.” They were to go and proclaim the kingdom of God and its radical call to repentance and faith, thereby plucking souls up out of the sea of God’s judgment. The same applies to the harvest which, correctly understood, refers to the harvest of coming judgment. The workers are to go into the field and fervently reap, which means impressing upon people the claims of Christ, thus delivering them from God’s harvest of judgment.

It is in the context of such demanding work that Jesus now says that the “labourers are few.” This is why Jesus ministered with untiring compassion among the lost: He, of all people, knew the nature of the coming judgment upon those who were not reconciled to God through faith in Him. An experi­ential knowledge of God’s dreadful harvest is what energized the Apostle Paul’s ministry. “Knowing the terror of the Lord we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). To the Thessalonian church, he wrote,

(T)he Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction.2 Thess. 1:7-9

Mission work or evangelism, then, is certainly not going out and encouraging people to make “decisions for Jesus.” It is a known fact that water creatures, such as crocodiles and hip­popotami, by instinct, leave the water for higher ground well before the rain and floods descend: a fitting picture of what the mission of the church should be. It is going out, hook in hand, and plucking up perishing souls from the water before the raging torrents of God’s judgment crash in and sweep away everything in its devastating path. The same must be applied to God’s workers in the harvest who go out, sickle in hand, and gather the sheaves before the Harvester comes and sweeps clean the field.

This is the overriding purpose of all missions, but it must, as was the case with our Lord Jesus, arise from a heart filled with compassion for the lost. Our deepest desire must be to reach the lost sheep of this world, not wanting them to suffer the devastating end we know awaits them. If this is not the case, our sinful hearts will secretly be glad that the wicked will get what they deserve and thus be lulled into complacent inactivity. Do we who have tasted God’s grace deserve any better than the wicked in the day of judgment?

With this background in mind, it becomes easier for us to understand why Jesus says, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” The disciples are to cry out to the Lord of the Harvest, the Judge who is to come, this very Jesus who is speaking to them, and ask that He would thrust out more laborers into the field. This must surely be the world’s greatest need! There can then surely be no more urgent activity than to pray for it. But be warned when you pray in this manner because the ones who Jesus calls to pray are the very ones whom He often thrusts into the field: “These twelve Jesus sent forth...” (Matt. 10:5). If you are prepared to pray for more workers, be equally pre­pared to be sent yourself.

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