Matthew 9:35-38

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Matthew 9

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for 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 laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

The first time I ever went to Honduras I was emotionally overwhelmed. I had never seen such poverty but I had also never seen such joy as I saw reflected in the faces of those dear people. It was a powerful reality to behold and, throughout the week, I was deeply touched and moved.

I remember on one occasion on that first trip standing on a high place above the village in which we were working. I, along with a friend, was standing and looking down at the village and at all the people moving about its streets. I was also looking at the long line of people who had lined up early that morning to see the doctors and nurses in our team.

I recall standing there in silence taking it all in. My heart was full to overflowing with love for the people and love for Honduras and, above all else, love for the God who made and loves us all! It was a pure moment. A powerful moment. My friend was standing next to me, likewise in silence.

After some moments, I broke the silence with, “Man, just look at that.”

He nodded knowingly and then responded from some deep place within him: “I know, man. I know. You know, that land would make an unbelievable golf course.”

I looked at him in disbelief and said, “What?!”

My friend and I have laughed at the absurdity of that statement over the many years since he said it. I hasten to add that he is a dear brother who loves the Lord and loved those people and served them well that week. But, somehow, in that moment, we were looking at two very different things!

When Jesus looked at the crowds, His heart was stirred and moved within Him. He felt deep compassion. Our text bears that out. It speaks of His ministry, of His burden, and of His calling of His disciples to join Him in loving the lost. It all raises an important question: what do you see when you see the masses?

In fact, I believe it raises three questions. I ask these questions out of the conviction that the church is the body of Christ—“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27)—and therefore should be about what Christ was about.

What are you doing?

The first question is, “What are you doing?” I ask this because our text gives us a nice overview of the ministry of Jesus. And, as I just argued, this question should be of primary concern to a group that calls itself “the body of Christ.” We must be busy with what He was busy with.

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.

Notice that Jesus’ ministry was one of proclamation and demonstration. He “taught” and “proclaimed.” And what did He teach and proclaim? “The gospel of the kingdom.”

Jesus was a man with a message and that message was the good news about Jesus: who He was and what He had come to do. Jesus proclaimed and presented the truth of the gospel to those He encountered. Tellingly, gospel proclamation became the great joy of Jesus’ earliest followers. Consider what Paul says in Romans 1:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Paul was not ashamed of the gospel. He reveled in it. He proclaimed it. He taught it.

In 1772, the hymn writer William Cowper was recovering from a major bout of depression. In doing so, he wrote the hymn that we know today as, “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.” The last two stanzas speak of Cowper’s commitment to the gospel and gospel proclamation, but hear the heart of each stanza:

1 There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains…

2 The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away…

3 Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its pow’r,
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved, to sin no more…

4 E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die…

5 When this poor lisping, stamm’ring tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save…

I love that line: “Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.” The gospel of God’s redeeming love was Cowper’s “theme.” It must be our theme as well, until, after we die, the theme of God’s “pow’r to save” becomes our reality. But until then, until we are in glory, we must proclaim the great gospel theme!

But notice that proclamation is not all that Jesus did.

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.

He proclaimed but then He demonstrated the new reality of the Kingdom and the power of God by “healing every disease and every affliction.” John Chrysostom put it nicely when he said:

He did not wait for the sick to come to him. He himself hurried to them, bearing them a twofold blessing: the gospel of the reign of God and the healing of their diseases. And for this he went everywhere, not overlooking the slightest village.[1]

The church’s ministry must be “a twofold blessing”: proclamation and demonstration. We must speak the message of love and then we must work works of love. We dare not do one without the other! The ministry of Jesus was holistic. It touched the soul and the body. If we are to be His body then our ministry must do the same! It must likewise touch soul and body.

So what are you doing? Are you seeking to do that? Are you speaking the truth of the gospel? Are you working works of love and mercy? If you are a follower of Jesus, you must strive to do both, for this is what Jesus did.

What are you seeing?

And what did Jesus see and how did He feel about what He saw?

36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

He saw the crowds. He had compassion toward them. David Platt writes:

Verse 36 says, “When He saw the crowds, he felt compassion for them.” There may have been around 200 cities and villages in Galilee at this point, with a possible population of about three million people. When Jesus saw them, the text indicates that He literally felt agony. He was not just emotionally moved, but physically affected with compassion when He saw the crowds.[2]

With all due respect to my friend, Jesus did not see golf courses. He saw people. And He was moved and agitated in His spirit as a result. He yearned to help because He loved them. We are told that Jesus “had compassion for them.” The ESV Study Bible states:

The compassion of Jesus is a repeated theme in Matthew (cf. 14:14; 15:32) and throughout both the OT (e.g., Deut. 30:3; 1 Sam. 23:21; Ps. 103:13; Isa. 49:15; 54:8; Lam. 4:10) and the NT, where Christians are especially admonished to show compassion to those in need (e.g., Col. 3:12; Heb. 10:34; cf. James 5:11).[3]

It must be the “repeated theme” of the church as well. The church must care.

Do you have a sense of compassion? What do you see when you see people? Do you care? Do you feel love toward them?

What of people who you may be tempted to judge? Do you love the homeless person on the corner with the sign? Do you love the prisoner? Do you love the addict?

In Matthew 25 Jesus reveals that our compassion and love or lack thereof will be revealed at the final judgment. Most telling of all, Jesus speaks of love toward the lowly as being truly love toward Him.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ’Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Jesus was driven to proclamation and demonstration by His heart of love and compassion. He identified with the lowly and the outcast. He identified so much that when we similarly show such love and compassion we truly do so to Him! These verses prompted Shaun Groves to sing in his song “Jesus”:

When we love the least
When we love the weak
When we love these
We love Jesus

Jesus brings a meal for tips
Jesus trying hard to quit
Jesus raising two alone
Jesus drives a heavy load

When we love the least
When we love the weak
When we love these
We love Jesus

Jesus with worn wrinkled hands
Jesus sows a patch of land
Jesus hides a tattooed arm
Jesus keeping dinner warm

When we love the least
When we love the weak
When we love these
We love Jesus

Jesus waves a foreign flag
Jesus wrings a washing rag
Jesus leans on prison bars
Jesus swinging in my yard[4]

That song is provocative and true. When we have compassion for the lowly we have compassion for Jesus “in distressing disguise.”

We must love as He loved!

What do you see when you see people?

What are you praying?

Jesus, in the midst of loving and reaching people, next turns to his disciples. What He says is most telling.

37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Jesus says:

  • that the world has great need. (“The harvest is plentiful…”);
  • that there are not enough people meeting the needs of the world with gospel truth. (“…but the laborers are few.”);
  • that we should ask “the Lord of the harvest” to send out workers to meet these needs and reach these people.

David Platt has powerfully observed:

We live in a world of approximately seven billion people, with most liberal estimates labeling about one-third of this seven billion “Christians.” That leaves more than 4.5 billion people without Christ—that’s more than 4.5 billion people on a road that leads to an eternal hell. This is the condition of the lost.[5]

How would your life change if you could come to think like that? More to the point, how would your prayers change?

Let me put the question like this: Do you actively and passionately pray (a) for the lost to know Jesus and (b) for the Lord to send workers into the harvest with the good news so that they can know Jesus? If the answer is “no,” then let me ask another question: Is the reason that you do not pray this because (a) you do not care or (b) you do care but you know that if you pray that prayer God might send you? Are you trying to convince yourself that God has not called you to be the means through which people come to know Jesus? Are you trying to say that the burden is not your burden?

William Booth once said:

“‘Not called!’ did you say? ‘Not heard the call,’ I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters, and servants and masters not to come there. And then look Christ in the face, whose mercy you have professed to obey, and tell him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish his mercy to the world.”

Yes, let us pray that the Lord of the harvest would send workers into the fields! But beware in doing so, for you already know the answer to the prayer! The answer is you! The answer is me! We are the laborers being sent into the fields white unto harvest. We have been given the message and we have been given the Name. All that is keeping us from taking the message and the name is us!

Would that the devil had to oppose the missionary fervor of the modern church. He does not have to because in many quarters it seems not to even exist!

But Jesus has called upon us to pray that God would send workers. He has called upon us to care and has modeled before us what caring looks like.

What are you doing?

What are you seeing?

What are you praying?

It is not until we can answer “What He is doing! What He is seeing! What He Himself prayed!” that we can truly call ourselves His body.


[1] Manlio Simonetti, ed. Matthew 1-13. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Gen. Ed., Thomas C. Oden. New Testament Ia (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), p.190.

[2] Platt, David. Exalting Jesus in Matthew (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (Kindle Locations 2496-2499). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Crossway Bibles. ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 117792-117796). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.


[5] Platt, David, Kindle Locations 2519-2521.


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