The Call to Ministry
Summary: Jesus asks us to share His burden for the lost through prayer and calls some of us to go do something about it.
This morning we return to chapter nine where Matthew tells us something very important about how Jesus looked at people, how He understood their condition, and what He had in mind to do about it. So, we read in
Matthew 9:35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. 36 But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. 37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. 38 Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
This passage is important because it gives us a glimpse into the mind and heart of God. This helps us know what God is like. And it tells us, when God looks at the world He sees people who are in need AND He is motivated to do something about it. That’s important for us to know. You need to know what kind of God you worship, and we worship a God of strength, power and justice, who is also merciful, gracious and full of compassion.
Jesus looked at the crowds gathering around Him and He saw people exhausted by their troubles and their long, aimless wanderings. He saw people who were bullied, oppressed, and helpless, people unable to escape their tormentors, unable to rescue themselves or retaliate, people who were downtrodden and crushed, people on the outside who needed to be brought in.
They were like sheep without a shepherd, in need of comfort, healing, guidance, and strength.
Most of the time when we think of this, we think about the people who were there – the ones Jesus was looking at: the sheep in need of a shepherd. But we also need to ask: where were the leaders, the shepherds they should have had? Where were the people who should have been leading and loving the people? They had abandoned their posts. They no longer cared about the masses; they cared about themselves and their positions, perhaps their party or their cause. They’re no longer using their office and position to care for people.
So, Jesus not only wants to bring outsiders in, He not only wants to calm and comfort the flock, He wants to recommission the shepherds who should be loving and caring for, protecting, them. Those of you who know your Bible should take note that the last command Jesus gave Peter was “Feed my lambs.” It was important to Jesus, not only that people come to Him, but also that they be well cared for along the way.
So, He told His disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers – that’s an important term, isn’t it? Jesus says, pray, ask God, beg God to send people willing to work for the sake of others. If caring for people, sharing the gospel, or serving in ministry ever feels like work, remember this verse – “pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” You’ve been commissioned to work, but it’s a good work.
And, if you think about it, it’s kind of odd that Jesus would have told people to pray for this. After all, He is extremely competent all by Himself. He’s been healing the sick and even raising the dead, later He’ll feed the masses. There were times when He didn’t do any miracles, or didn’t do many miracles but that was because the people in a certain city didn’t have much faith. We never read that He just couldn’t do it because He was tired or overwhelmed. We never read that His strength gave out. So, why should He ask for help taking care of people? Why would his response to sheep in need of shepherding be to ask people to pray to God to send out workers?
Well, it’s a strange thing, but it’s absolutely true – God’s most preferred way of reaching people is through other people.
He’s capable of doing the work Himself. He’s capable of sending angels, and sometimes He does. He’s capable of working miracles, and sometimes He does. He’s capable of speaking directly to people from Heaven and there have been times when He does – at the baptism of Jesus for example or establishing the Covenant with Israel. And yet, for all that He is capable of, for the options at His disposal, most of the time, when God wants to touch the life of someone else, He’s going to use someone like you or me to do it.
So, Jesus looks out on the crowds, He’s deeply moved, and He tells the disciples to do something. He says, pray. He says bring these things before the throne of God. Put in your requests for the sake of others. Ask God to take action.
Christians have a solemn duty to pray for the lost and for workers to reach them. Giving is good, going is good, but praying is the most important of all. Prayer is the way the spiritual battlefield is prepared for action. Your prayers are battering rams jarring the defenses of the enemy. Are you praying for God to raise up workers today? How much of the world is the way it is because we do not pray?
Jesus gives us a very clear command here – this is something we all should be doing more than we actually do – we need to work to remember this – “pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
If you need help with that, let me give you some resources. There’s a great book out called Operation World. They’ve got a website, and an app too – and they tell you how to pray for every nation on earth asking God to send out workers into the nation for the sake of the harvest. At our house this book sits on the dining table and we refer to almost every night before dinner. It’s such a habit that if we go out for dinner, and one of the kids pray, they’ll pray, “and please bless whatever country we’re supposed to be praying for tonight – send them missionaries to share the gospel and strengthen the churches that are already there.”
There’s also the website of the Joshua Project, (which also has an app) where you can get information to help you pray specifically for people groups, especially those that are unreached – groups of people without enough resources or followers of Christ to evangelize their own people.
In May we’ll also have two special opportunities to hear more about missions. On the 20th Jeff Jackson will be here with us. Jeff has been a pastor in America, a missionary overseas, and he now leads a missions sending organization that helps with the administrative side of things so local churches like ours can send people abroad with the good news. That night we’ll also have a dinner with him to learn more about how we can better support our missionaries as a local church.
Then, the following week, on May 27 we’ll have Samy Tanagho with us. Samy is an Egyptian pastor who has written a book, Glad News, God Loves You My Muslim Friend. He’ll share with us about reaching out to the people around you from a Muslim background.
It’s our hope that having these men here will remind us of the opportunity for outreach, evangelism, and missions – to our neighbors as well as to the ends of the earth – and that they will help us remember the need to be obedient to this command to “pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
Of course, there is something of a danger to all this praying. Because, we’re about to see that as we pray, asking the Lord of the harvest to thrust out workers into His harvest, God begins to answer. Notice what happens next – right after Jesus tells all of His disciples, all of His followers, to pray, twelve men are specially called and given a mission to go and begin reaping that harvest.
Matthew 10:1 And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease. 2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.
When a politician takes office, they assemble their cabinet, when a leader takes on a business or starts one, they assemble their staff, when a General takes command, they’re given their choices for subordinates and staff. Well, this is the team Jesus chooses. This is the team He is going to build with.
We spoke last week of the diversity of the group and how it likely led to some tension at times. After all, you had a guy like Matthew who had been working for the Romans and a guy like Simon the Zealot, a devout nationalist who hated Rome and everyone who cooperated with them, and yet these two men were expected to get along because they had one thing in common – Jesus. And that’s true for some of us. We’re here in this room today because of Jesus not because we’re just like everyone else around us. But the love we receive from Him compels us to love and serve others.
This morning I’d also like you to notice: these twelve men that are presented as part of the answer to the prayer for laborers have NO qualifications or experience to speak of. None of them are recognized as being wealthy, or having social standing, we don’t know anything about their scholarly abilities or academic training. None of them were ready to go off the shelf, they didn’t bring a polished resume, or proven track record of kingdom-building or religious reform – none of them brought anything to the team. They all got on-the-job training. They were twelve ordinary men that Jesus used for extraordinary purposes.
The word disciple means learner. They were called to learn from Christ, sometimes by hearing, sometimes by seeing, sometimes by doing, but the point is: God qualified them for the work He entrusted to them. Now, if that’s true of them, why can’t He use you? It has been a consistent truth through the ages that God uses common men and women to build His church.
And I want to ask: is the God who called this rag-tag group to Himself also calling you? Does He want to use you in ways you can’t imagine? Does He want to include you in things you don’t feel qualified for? Does He want to answer some of your prayers by commissioning you for service? People today are still weary and scattered like sheep having no shepherd, and Jesus still has compassion for them – are you one of the laborers He wants to send out into the fields to reap a harvest? Is God calling you to some sort of ministry?
If so, listen for His instructions about that ministry
5 These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. 6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9 Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, 10 nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.
11 “Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out. 12 And when you go into a household, greet it. 13 If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!
At this moment, when Jesus was speaking, their message was only to go to the Jews. They are the people God has specially chosen to use for His purposes among all the nations of earth. They weren’t chosen because they’re inherently better than any other nation, or any more valuable, but God needed to pick someone to use and for His own reasons, He choose Israel. They have certain privileges from Him but also special accountability too. God says that both salvation and judgment were for the Jew first, then the Gentile.
Later on Jesus will give an even greater commission to take the gospel through Jerusalem and Judea, into Samaria and to the outmost parts of the earth, but for that moment, it was to stay in Israel meaning the twelve apostles should reach out to people who shared their own culture, history, and language.
Now, there is an important principle at work here: there are limits to the ministry God calls us to – and you can’t overstep those bounds. It is not uncommon to look around and see the ministry that others are doing and wish we could go do that. We are tempted to feel like that, whatever it is, is more important, or more fulfilling, or more exciting ministry than what we’ve been entrusted with. But this is not healthy. We need to remember that God puts us where we are, surrounds us with the work He wants done, and calls us to serve here and now even if it doesn’t look like what we wish we were doing.
When you read your Bible you discover the apostle Peter was seen as an apostle to the Jews, while Paul who desperately wanted to reach his fellow countrymen would be called to reach the Gentiles instead. In writing to the Corinthians Paul addressed dissatisfaction and envy in ministry several times at one point noting that the church is like a body full of different parts – eyes, ears, noses, and he writes:
1 Cor 12:17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
The point is: don’t envy other gifts, don’t look around for other fields, work the one entrusted to you – serve where He has put you and called you – don’t despise your ministry or place of influence whatever or wherever it may be.
Many years ago John Brown wrote a letter to a young man he had taught and trained for ministry. The young man had been newly ordained and given charge over a small congregation. Brown, knowing the young man’s aspirations for greater ministry wrote:
“I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at his judgment-seat, you will think you have had enough.”
In other words, you worry about the depth of your ministry, and let God take care of the breadth. Let Him set the boundaries as He sees fit.
I know a woman who is raising and home-schooling six very active children – she says, “I’m running a small seminary every day!” Friends, ministry in the home or to the people of your own family is still ministry and it is to be highly esteemed if those are the boundaries God has given you. Note here that the disciples were to begin with the people in the very houses in which they were staying.
Or what about the person leading a home group or Bible study group with 8 to 10 people in it? Do you realize that’s larger than some churches in the Middle East, North Africa, or parts of Asia? There are places where Christians have never assembled with ten other believers in Jesus Christ before. Do you count it a privilege to feed your flock? Are you grateful for the boundaries, the limits God has given you and for everything within them?
While we’re on the topic, let me say: God has gripped my heart for this place and this church. This is where He has me, and my family, and I want you to know: my heart does not wander in ministry. My eyes are not roaming, my mind is not dreaming of anywhere else. I’m going to raise my kids with you and invite some of you to their weddings. I’m going to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays with you. I’m going lead some of you to Christ, baptize some of you, marry some of you, and one day I will bury some of you and preach your funeral. Because this is the place God has called me, these are the boundaries of my ministry and I’m not thrilled about every aspect of life in DC, but God loves you all, He is doing something here on this hill, and there are even greater things ahead – we have decades of ministry to do together unless the Lord returns.
So, I want to encourage you to accept the boundaries of your ministry and exhaust yourself within them because it is the Lord of the harvest who has put you where you are. (story of ministry in Kenya)
But, I also want you to notice, you need to prepare for the message to be resisted even as you’re sent out into fields where the “harvest is plentiful.” You won’t reap a harvest from every plant that grows. This isn’t precision agriculture. But the Lord knows who are His and they will respond when they hear the offer.
Sometimes we get discouraged in ministry because our expectations are too high. We think that everyone is going to respond, but Jesus says they won’t. As one commentator noted: “Here lies the secret cause why many have turned back, who once seemed full of zeal to do good. They began with extravagant expectations.” (Ryle)
The plain Scriptural truth is: some people are going to resist the gospel. People will go to hell. And some of them will be ugly, bitter, mean, and hurtful to you in the process. Jesus knows all of that and He still sends us out anyway.
16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. 17 But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. 18 You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.
Much of the world is indifferent to the gospel, and some are actually hostile to it, but note: I send you. If you are following Jesus, your problems are His.
We’re going to come back to this next week and look at the issue of persecution, but for now, we simply need to note one last thing and that is the power that comes along with the call to ministry. Jesus tells the disciples:
19 But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.
Jesus told the disciples, when you face difficulty, don’t rely on your own planning, skill, or experience, rely on the provision of the Holy Spirit.
Look back up at verse one and notice that when Jesus commissioned the disciples “He gave them power.” God’s calling always comes with God’s competency. Remember, this is all started with Jesus looking out on people and having compassion. He sees us as we really are. He knows what really need. And He makes it available to us.
Maybe what you need most of all this morning is to come to Him – we’ve talked a lot about ministry this morning – about the need for people to reach out, like the twelve apostles did, to tell others about Jesus and serve in ministry for Jesus, but maybe you just need to come to Jesus.
Maybe someone brought you with them this morning – they’re part of God working in your life – He sees you, has compassion on you, and sent someone to be your friend, to love you, and bring you to church today so you could hear this message.
The next step for you is to give your life over to God – to let Him be the boss. To tell Him you want to be a part of what He’s doing. You want to join His family. You want to be brought in and have a place to belong.
In order to do that, you need to renounce your loyalty to everyone and everything else – you need to surrender entirely to God. Jesus died on the cross in order to make a way for you to be able to come to God. We all do bad things at times, sometimes on purpose, sometimes by ignorance, but we hurt others, we hurt ourselves, and we ignore God. The Bible says that is sin – it’s a crime against God.
When you commit a crime, the government has the right to punish you – to fine you, arrest you, even put you death. God has the same right. But, if you will plead guilty Jesus will take your judgments – in what has been called the great exchange, His suffering on the cross pays for your crimes against God and you walk away from the eternal judgment a free man or woman wearing His innocence.
If you want to enter that plea, now is the time to do it. You don’t need to come up front, you can sit right there in your chair, bow your head and pray something like this. Join me now.
Heavenly Father, I know this true. I know that I have sinned; I know that I have committed crimes against you and other people. I know I am guilty, and I want to be forgiven. So, I surrender to you today – I ask for you to forgive me, to let Jesus take my place, and teach me a new way to live. I give you my life and ask that you would help me to love you and love others from this moment on, forevermore. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
If you pray a prayer like that – admitting your guilt and asking for help, God will hear – He will forgive, and He will give you a fresh start. If you prayed that, or if you have questions about surrendering your life, talk to the person who brought you or contact one of the pastors – we have some materials we would love to give you as you begin trying to understand life through this fresh new lens.
But let me talk for a minute now to everyone else – to all of you who already identify as Christians.
Men and women make a big deal about being a political appointee or being given a special assignment by so-and-so, have you ever considered that you have been appointed by God Himself to fulfill some ministry for His Kingdom? Does that make your chest swell or sag? Do you draw any confidence from knowing you work for God?!?! And that applies to you wherever you’ve been assigned, whatever job you may have been given in His kingdom. Do you take it seriously or do you downplay it?
People are still lost, hurting, and scattered – how does God want to use you to shepherd them? Does He want to send you out to labor for them? People all over the world are praying this prayer – asking “the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
So let me put it bluntly: how does God want to answer it through you? Where, when and how is God calling you to be a worker? Domestically or internationally? We’re all called to something, but God may also be calling some of you in a way that sets you aside. Friends, prayer is dangerous. It changes things in the real world. Someone else’s prayers may be changing the direction of your life. Are you willing to respond? Are you increasingly available to God and what He wants to do through your life? I hope you are – for His sake, for your sake, and for the sake of the people He wants to touch through you.
dn’t write it just for us. This is God’s Word, it’s what God wants all people to know – people from every tribe, and language, and county and jungle and village on the planet – people who lived in the 1800s and the 800s, all over the world and all throughout time. And those people did not, and do not, live in the same media-saturated culture as we do.
To most of them, to most of the people in the history of the world, family is important. If you meet someone new, you want to know where they fit – who is their family, where do they come from, what’s their connection? Today, we meet people in total isolation, as if their past and their lineage have nothing to do with who they are. For most of the world though, and for much of history, people were understood to have a place where they fit. Matthew is showing people where Jesus fits.
And that was very important, especially for the Jews who were the first to read what Matthew had written. They knew what God had said in the past, so they expected the Messiah to come through a particular family line, to come through the line of Abraham and also be a descendant of David. This genealogy shows that Jesus does both. It proves that God kept His promises and did what He said – Jesus is the fulfillment of what Jewish people had been hoping for centuries. That’s why it’s so important to open the book with a family tree.
And actually, if you think about it, we do still care about connection and family today. Some of the most popular stories of our time are about family. Think of Star Wars, Harry Potter, even Downton Abbey, they’re about family: who is related to whom and who is the descendent of whom, who is the father of whom? What family are you in?
And then, think of the popularity of DNA kits where you take a swab of your saliva and send it in for analysis to learn where your ancestors came from, or the popularity of sites like ancestry.com. It turns out there is something in each of us that really wants to know: where did I come from, who am I connected to, and how do I fit in? Sometimes, for all of our modern independence, like Matthew, we wonder if it’s worth the cost of being alone.
Of course, the problem with families is: they’re messy. We might have some family members and ancestors that we’re proud of and get along with, but we’ve also got some people we don’t exactly like, or aren’t exactly proud of, or that we’re disappointed about or tired of. Well, you find the same thing in the line of Jesus: heroes and harlots, victims and victors, role models and rogues.
Take a look at the ladies in this list. Now, first of all, you have to know that it was extremely rare for women to be included in a genealogy, but these ladies are, and when you get to know at a little more about them, you might be shocked that this is line of Jesus.
First you have Tamar, you meet her in Genesis 28 where she put on a disguise and sold herself as a prostitute to her father-in-law Judah because he wasn’t keeping up his responsibility to take care of her, in the process she got pregnant and gave birth to the twins Perez and Zerah. So yeah, you’ve got a bit of a mess right there.
Then you have Rahab who really was a prostitute, and she wasn’t a Jew, she was a Canaanite, a different ethnicity. We meet her in Joshua 2 where God takes extraordinary measures to save her and her family from the destruction of Jericho and bring them into His blessing and promises for Israel. And this is a common thing, to see God adopting people in, bringing people that you would not expect into His family.
It’s the same thing that happened with Ruth who we meet in the book of Ruth – she was from Moab, a nation the Jews hated. She had been married to a man who was a Jew, but he died along with all the other men of the family leaving Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi in a precarious position. But God changed her life and her destiny through the kindness of Boaz, and the woman who once felt as though she had nothing, eventually had a grandson who sat on the throne of Israel: King David, Israel’s most beloved king.
Of course, David didn’t always make the best choices. He’s famous for things like slaying the giant Goliath, but he’s also infamous for stealing the wife of another man. Bathsheba “had been the wife of Uriah” until David used his position of power to take advantage of her, which you can read about in 2 Samuel 11.
Each of these women were in a vulnerable place – Tamar couldn’t get the support she was entitled to, Rahab was a citizen of a city facing destruction, Ruth had lost her husband and all economic security along with him, and Bathsheba was the victim of a predator. Some of them brought difficulty on themselves, others were just victims of circumstance or the choices of others, but God redeemed them all and turned their stories into part of the lineage of Christ.
And then you have the kings – they’re a mixed bag as well. From King David on you have a list of rulers who had a spotty record of righteousness and debauchery. We just mentioned David’s highlights and humiliations, but then you have men like his grandson Rehoboam who was a wicked ruler – so bad in fact that it led to a split in the Kingdom. His son Abijah was wicked like dad, but then things turned around with Asa who was good, and so was his son, Jehoshaphat, but Joram his son was wicked and then he had Uzziah who had some good moments, but was also struck down with leprosy for attempting to enter the temple and burn incense, something only the priests were allowed to do (2 Chronicles 26:16-21).
What’s the lesson here? It’s this: politicians will never be our saviors, it doesn’t matter what party they represent, they’re still human beings and human beings are tempted to make bad choices because of power. They don’t, and can’t know everything, do everything, or fix everything. And even if things are good for a season, they’re going to be bad again sooner or later because human beings are still involved. No political party is ever going to save us or be 100% reliable.
The flip and flop of the character of the kings also shows us that good parents can have bad kids and bad parents can have good kids because we all, every generation, need to have our own relationship with God. You can’t ride on your parent’s coattails on the one hand, but neither are you doomed by your parents on the other. We all need Jesus and we can all have Jesus.
So, what we find in the genealogy is God fulfilling His promises – doing what He said He would do: provide a savior through Abraham and David who would be a blessing to all humanity.
But we also find a sample of the kind of people Jesus came to save: Jews like Jacob, Jesse, and Josiah, Moabites like Ruth and Canaanites like Rahab, men like Solomon and women like Tamar, saints like Boaz and sinners like Uzziah, rulers like David and carpenters like Joseph. People like you, and people like me. We all need Jesus.
This genealogy shows us that no one has it together enough, no is popular enough, no one is powerful enough to create their own forgiveness and salvation.
But it also shows us that no one is too far gone, no one has too much or sinned too big to be forgiven. We all need Jesus who came to call sinners to salvation, and to give us a new identity in Christ.
This genealogy presents God’s extravagant grace on display and we see it again in the life of the man who wrote it down. There is a God who brings the outsiders in.
This morning if you will turn to Jesus He will include you in His family – where your sin abounds grace abounds much more. And if you will make yourself available to Him, He will go to work in your life like He did in Matthew and redeem and transform your skills and abilities for His glory. Will you do that?
We’re about to celebrate communion, and as the men distribute the elements, I want to encourage you to take a moment and pray. Confess your sins to God, ask for forgiveness, and offer Him your life once again – to make of it whatever He pleases. For His glory, and your satisfaction and joy.