Bible Passage: Matthew 9:35-10:8
Pastor: Pastor Berg
Sermon Date: June 18, 2017
Moving to Madison almost 2 years ago was certainly an adjustment. Some things were easy to get used to. I certainly don’t mind the 5 minute trip to Menards when compared to the 45 minutes it used to take. The overall conveniences of living in Madison have been easy to get used to. The noise of the city, though, is something that has been an adjustment. I think I’m at the point now where I really don’t notice the sirens so much any more. But one of the hardest things to get used to, something I never even thought about before we moved here, is the panhandling. I just never thought about seeing people, at nearly every major intersection, begging.
Perhaps the lifelong Madisonians among us aren’t fazed by this. Perhaps this is just part of the normal experience for you. But regardless of where you fit, whether your “new” like me or you’ve lived here your whole life or somewhere in between, I want you to think about this question for a moment. What do you see? What do you see when you see the panhandlers on the street corners? Do you immediately become cynical? Are you tempted to hand them a job application to one of the dozens of places that are hiring? Do you avoid eye contact, maybe roll up your windows? Or do you see someone who is truly struggling. Do you see someone who’s been beaten down by life, someone who really has nothing and nowhere to go? Do you feel compelled to help them, to give them something, even though it’s illegal? Do you feel sorry for them? Do you pity them?
That’s how Jesus is described this morning at the beginning of our lesson. Jesus had been preaching and teaching through all the towns around the Sea of Galilee, and everywhere he went, crowds of people followed him. Jesus’ reputation preceded him. When people heard that Jesus was around, they would all flock to him, bringing all of their sick friends and relatives. Right before our lesson today, Jesus had healed someone who had been paralyzed. He healed a woman who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years, he gave sight to two men who had been blind, he gave speech to a man who couldn’t talk because he was demon-possessed, and he brought back a little girl from the dead. Matthew says that “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” What did Jesus see when he saw these crowds with their lame, their blind, their deaf, their sick, their destitute? “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus saw all of the physical problems, to be sure. His healing activity is proof of that. But that’s not where Matthew focuses our attention. No, it says Jesus had compassion on them because they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
It wasn’t the physical condition of the crowd that moved Jesus deeply. It was their spiritual condition. The Greek text gives us a very vivid picture here. The word translated here as “harassed” literally means lacerated. The picture is that of a sheep who has been cut by briars or predators. “Helpless” literally means dropped or thrown down. It’s a picture of a sheep that’s completely exhausted and is unable to move because of its condition. It has been “thrown to the wolves,” so to speak. Jesus saw a people that had no spiritual leadership, no shepherds. The leaders of the people, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were not caring for the sheep of Israel. Instead of gathering them and protecting the, they were exhausting them with man-made laws that they couldn’t possibly keep. People with sickness, diseases, and other hardships were just tossed to the side. At a time when the sheep needed to hear that God’s love for them still remained, they received no comfort. They were lacerated by false teachings and exhausted with guilt. That’s the picture Jesus saw, and he had compassion on them.
I wonder what Jesus sees when he looks at this crowd. I’m sure we’d like to think that he’d be pretty impressed. Not only are we members of a Christian congregation, but a Christian congregation that takes his Word seriously. And even more than that, we are the ones who are here on a Sunday morning, in the summer. That makes us the best of the best, right? Or instead, does Jesus see that we claim to love his Word, but most of us will tell him we don’t have time to study his Word as Bible Class attendance dwindles during the summer? What does Jesus see when we tell him that he comes first in our lives, but our checkbook shows that he’s not. What does Jesus feel about us when he sees the things we look at on our computers, or hears the way we talk about other people, or the way that we so often complain about the things that happen to us, as though we were calling him a liar when he tells us that everything is happening for our good? Sometimes you just have to wonder what Jesus thinks when he looks at this crowd.
Except, we don’t have to wonder, because he tells us. If it were us, our natural reaction to the way we so often live would be thoughts of anger or disgust or cynicism. But not Jesus. The compassion that Jesus had for the harassed and helpless of Israel is the same compassion he has for us. And that compassion is the only thing that can explain what he did. He had all power and glory and might in heaven, but he chose to live here as one of us and live under all his own laws. He chose to have parents to obey, rules and regulations to keep, to face the same temptations we face every day. Jesus chose to face them and the resisted them for us. And then, as though that wasn’t enough, he chose to die the death we deserved. His compassion for us wretched sinners ran so deep that he took all our punishment upon himself so that we would never have to face it. Our debt to God is paid in full; our sins are forgiven and forgotten. All of our selfishness, misplaced priorities, our lack of trust—they’re gone, just as if they’ve never happened, because Jesus has washed them all away. We are no longer helpless sheep, but because of Jesus’ great compassion for us, we are dearly love, adopted children of God who will receive a full inheritance in heaven.
So, what do you think Jesus sees when he looks at Madison today? I think it would be safe to say that there are many in Madison today who are spiritually harassed and helpless. They’ve been burdened with false religions that say there’s no God at all, that man is the center of everything. Others have been told that it’s all up to them and what they do to make things right with God. There are people who are trapped in Satan’s chains, wounded by sin at every turn. I think it’s safe to say that Jesus would feel compassion for many in Madison today, just as he did in Galilee.
So what did Jesus do when he saw the crowds, who were like sheep without a shepherd? “He said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” He told his disciples to pray. He told them to pray for more workers. Literally, that God would throw out more workers, not that he would carefully ration workers, but that he would throw more workers out in the the field, so that more people could be brought in. That’s what he told the disciples to pray for. Put yourself in the disciples’ shoes. What does that prayer sound like? “Lord, we sure could use some help down here. There are so many people who need to hear about your love. It would be great if you could send some people here to work in the field, to share the good news about the kingdom of God.” And after they were done praying, do you imagine them scanning the horizon, waiting for the reinforcements to arrive? But God had something different in mind.
“He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.”
Do you see what happened here? Jesus told them to pray for workers, then he sent them out as workers. The disciples became the answer to their own prayer. Could the same thing be happening at Eastside? We pray on a weekly basis that God would use the gifts we bring to share the gospel. We pray that our church will continue to grow and prosper. We’ve been blessed by the Lord to now have a full teaching staff and in just a few weeks, two full-time pastors. But, could it be that the answer to our prayers is actually looking back at us in the mirror every morning?
When we pray for our church to grow, could it be that the growth starts with us as we commit ourselves to worshiping weekly and joining a Bible Class? When we pray for God’s Word to be shared could it be that the sharing starts with us as we look for more people to teach Sunday school and help out in our Lutheran Elementary School? Could it be that we are the ones that will share the Good News as we talk to our Friends, Relatives and Neighbors about what Jesus has done? Friends, help is certainly on the way. But instead of gazing off into the horizon, waiting for our prayers to be answered, look in the mirror. See what Jesus sees: a blood-bought child of God who has been equipped to share the good news wherever God has placed you. See a capable harvest field worker. God has given you his grace, his love, his mercy, his salvation free of charge. Ask the Lord of the harvest to help you to offer those same gifts to those you meet! Let the love of Christ dwell in you richly! May it move you to live every day in thankfulness to Jesus! May Christ’s compassion for you be reflected as you confidently tell of Jesus’ love! AMEN