This morning we continue to look at the mission of God. We are in Matthew 9:35-38. We will see the human condition apart from Christ, the character of Christ and the call of Christ to prayer.
First, the human condition apart from Christ.
Matthew uses two adjectives and a word picture to describe humanity in the eyes of Christ – harassed, helpless and like sheep without a shepherd.
The word harassed in the Greek means literally skinned or flayed. It’s a very strong way of describing someone who is vexed or troubled.
The word helpless means knocked down or on the ground.
When I look at the crowds around me in our city sometimes it seems to me that they are comfortable and content. Some would say that in 2021 we are well educated and entertained.
But harassed and helpless? Really?
The Bible tells us that humans look at outward appearances, but God looks at the heart. We don’t always see the heart under the surface.
We are very good at distracting ourselves from the painful realities of life.
We are bad at openly admitting our painful realities.
In my experience, the outward face of contentment in the crowds around us is often a mask for a more troubling inner experience.
Some are harassed by guilt and regret. Some are harassed by relational conflict or difficulties with children. Some are harassed by illness or disability.
Some are beaten down by never ending financial troubles. Some are knocked over by grief and sorrow. Some are on the ground in the grips of addiction.
Does it seem sometimes that the Bible is negative about human nature?
The Bible is realistic, but it is not negative. There is no worldview that gives more dignity to human life than the Bible.
The Bible tells us that humanity is made in the image of God. Every person you will ever meet carries within them a divine spark. Every individual has tremendous capacity for creativity, beauty, goodness, nobility and love.
At the same time the Bible tells us that humanity has fallen from our original state. Our hearts have been bent by sin towards an obsession with the self. Our fallen hearts are capable of terrible pride, greed, lust and destruction.
We have forgotten the heights from which we have fallen. We are cut off from the Spirit of God and the source of all life, spiritual beings trying to find fulfilment in a material world.
Anxiety, stress, depression, guilt, alienation, restlessness – this is not the way it is supposed to be.
When Jesus looked at the crowds he saw souls made for glory yet searching for life in pits of mud.
Like sheep without a shepherd. Adrian Rogers points out three defining qualities of sheep – they are dumb, dependent and defenseless.
When Jesus walked among the throngs of humanity, this is what he saw. What was his reaction?
The Character of Christ – Compassion
Matthew tells us Jesus was moved with compassion by the human condition.
The word compassion in the Greek is an interesting one. It is splanchnizomai – to be so moved by something that you feel it in the pit of your stomach.
The sight of a defenseless lamb lost and alone, harassed by predators produces a visceral reaction in the heart of a shepherd. To make it more relevant in todays terms, you Moms might think of a toddler without a parent, wandering the streets all alone without a guardian. Does that produce a physical reaction in your gut? That’s splanchnizomai. That’s the compassion of Christ.
Think of it like this.
Imagine you are driving to work and you see an accident on the side of the road. You see emergency vehicles and someone being lifted on stretcher. You may think, “oh that’s terrible”. But you will keep driving and soon forget. Now imagine you look over at the stretcher and realize you’re your brother is there, face marred with blood. Now you have a very different reaction. You have a reaction that forces you to pull over, jump out of your vehicle and get involved.
That’s the character of Christ Matthew describes for us. And it’s not just here in chapter 9.
Splanchnizomai is a recurring feature in the life and teachings of Jesus.
In his life:
- Matthew 14:13-14. After John the Baptist died and Jesus had left for a solitary place (presumably to mourn privately) crowds of people followed him. Compassion drove him to turn back to the crowds to serve them.
- Matthew 15:32. Even the simple practical needs of the crowds moved Jesus to action.
- Matthew 20:29-34. As Jesus traveled with his disciples two men on the side of the road began to cry out and harass the group. The disciples sought to quiet them. Jesus was moved with compassion and stopped to help them.
- Mark 1:40-42. When a man with leprosy approached Jesus and the disciples backed away in terror, Jesus was moved with compassion and moved in to heal the man.
- Mark 6:30-34. When a weary band of disciples came back from a mission trip, they sought a place to rest. When a crowd found them, Jesus once again was moved with compassion and gave up his rest time to engage with their needs.
In his teaching:
- Matthew 18:27. In the parable of the unforgiving servant, a master who represents the God figure in the story is moved with compassion to forgive a large debt.
- Luke 10:30-34. In the famous parable of the good Samaritan, a man is robbed and left beaten on the side of the road. Several people pass by until a Samaritan is moved with compassion and stops to care for the wounded victim.
- Luke 15:20. In another famous parable, the prodigal son shames and walks away from his father. After coming on hard times and deciding to seek forgiveness, the son return. When the father sees his son coming up the road he is moved with compassion and runs to embrace his beloved child.
Compassion is a major theme in the life and teachings of Jesus.
You might say, “That is wonderful, but why have I suffered so much? If God is compassionate why hasn’t he stopped by suffering?” You may not connect on an emotional level with the compassion of Christ.
The Bible tells us that God’s way are not our ways.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Sometimes pain and suffering is a tool that God uses to accomplish a greater good in life.
Sometimes pain is the only thing that will capture our attention.
“But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
– CS Lewis The Problem of Pain
Sometimes pain is required to draw out and transform our character:
“I will turn my hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities.”
Sometimes my pain will bring about a glorious purpose that will only be seen and understood at a later time.
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
In his compassion, God may use temporary troubles to save me from long term ones.
There are 3 verses that really help me when I can’t feel the compassion of God in difficult times:
“Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.”
“The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the LORD binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted.”
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Someday, the compassion of Christ will drive him to an ultimate victory over sin, sorrow and death. Someday compassion will have the final word.
You can’t judge God’s character or his plan for your life based on your present circumstances anymore than you can judge a painting half way through it’s completion.
When Jesus saw crowds of people he saw need and he was emotionally and physically moved to action. The greatest need he saw was the problem of sin and his response was the greatest act of compassion the world has ever seen. Jesus willingly endured the shame and suffering of the cross in order to save us from the two great enemies of humanity – sin and death.
So what does this mean for us? If the condition of humanity all around me is harassed and helpless, if Jesus is moved with compassion to act on that condition – what should I do?
The call of Christ to prayer.
In Matthew 9, Jesus moves from sheep on the hillside to wheat in the field.
The crowds looked like sheep without a shepherd. They also looked like wheat ready to be gathered at harvest time.
The image of a ripe harvest conveys the feeling of urgency. Harvest time is a short window of time which calls for hard and fast work.
Jesus saw a great field ripe with harvest and he spoke of an urgent need. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
It is easy for us to jump to application from here. It is easy for me to say, the workers are few so go get to work. But that’s not what Jesus did.
He said the workers are few, so get to praying. That’s the application of Matthew 9:38. To understand the human condition and the character of Christ is to pray urgently for God to raise up laborers to enter the human condition with grace and truth.
Prayer is our first and greatest response.
People all around us are harassed and helpless. Jesus within us is moved with compassion. So pray earnestly for laborers in the harvest.
Let me give you one simple application. You all have smartphones. Set a daily alarm for 9:38am and every time that alarm goes off, pray for the Lord of the Harvest to raise up laborers in our city.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown