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Matthew 9 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

More Laborers for the Harvest

Matthew adds a summary statement similar to 4:23-25, making clear that the incidents he has reported are merely some prominent examples of Jesus' many works and teachings. At this strategic point, however, we learn that Jesus' mission is not his alone. This section, which introduces Jesus' mission discourse in chapter 10, parallels Jesus with the disciples who must carry on his works (see also, for example, Davies and Allison 1991:411-12; Allison 1993b:138-39). As Jesus perpetuated John's message concerning the kingdom (3:2; 4:17; compare chaps. 5-7), his followers will do the same (10:7). As Jesus demonstrated the kingdom by compassionately healing (9:35; compare chaps. 8-9), his disciples must do the same (10:8). In short, at this point in the Gospel Matthew clarifies the suggestion of 3:11, 16 that much of Jesus' mission is likewise the church's mission. Matthew rearranges material from various sections of his sources in chapter 10 to emphasize not a past, historical mission with little current significance but a historical model for his community, hence for us who recognize all Scripture as relevant (2 Tim 3:16-17; compare S. Brown 1978).

Jesus Devotes Himself to Reaching People Everywhere (9:35)

Jesus' ministry required much mobility on his part (see comment on 4:23-25).

Jesus' Motivation Is Compassion (9:36)

Jesus knew that people needed what he brought them, both the message of the kingdom and physical healing; he came for our good, not his own (Jn 3:16-7). It is to our own hurt when we do not serve the Lord (Jer 2:13; Hos 7:1, 13; 13:9), and it hurts him because it hurts us. We can approach him with our needs precisely because we know how much he cares for us.

When lacking God-appointed leaders, God's people in the Hebrew Bible often appear as sheep without a shepherd (Num 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; 2 Chron 18:16), inviting the compassionate Lord to shepherd his people himself (Ezek 34:11-16), including feeding them (Ezek 34:2-3; Mt 14:19-20), healing them (Ezek 34:4; Mt 9:35; compare harassed in 9:36, literally "torn") and bringing the lost sheep back (Ezek 34:4-6; Mt 18:12-14). This implies that the religious leaders of Israel who purported to be their shepherds had failed to obey God's commission (Ezek 34:2-10; Mt 23). The disciples will carry on Jesus' mission to these sheep (10:6).

We Need More Workers to Complete the Task (9:37)

Jewish teachers understood that each of them could handle only so many students, even if the students were still minors (Safrai 1974-1976a:957). The term Jesus uses for workers here recurs in 10:10, indicating that the workers Jesus wished to send forth into the harvest were his own disciples. He trains us in our life with him so we can reach the world for him, making other disciples who in turn can carry on the work (28:19). The urgency of harvest was a potent image that sparked similar analogies among other Jewish teachers (compare m. 'Abot 2:15, probably concerning study and teaching of Torah).

Those of us involved with evangelism in cities have often seen the harvest falling to the ground and rotting for lack of laborers. For instance, on one evening in two hours of street ministry in the Bronx, New York, sixty-three people provided names and addresses for follow-up after praying to accept Christ as Lord and Savior; on other occasions we sometimes saw forty-four or forty-five people make a similar commitment in two hours in Brooklyn. In other parts of the city, where we were breaking new ground among other cultural groups, we might go for weeks without seeing a conversion. We nevertheless witnessed the work of the Spirit prying open the hearts of elderly people who had never before had a conversation with a Christian about the gospel. In the years following such ministry in traditionally closed groups, the gospel has begun to spread significantly as well. Yet even if we led a hundred people to Christ a day, at the end of a year the new Christians would have numbered fewer than forty thousand-not one-half of one percent of the city itself, and only about one-fifth of one percent of the whole metropolitan area.

The only hope for taking Jesus' message to all people is in Christians' multiplying their labors by training disciples to continue and expand the work (see Coleman 1963). If just one of us could win to Christ a few people a year and train them to do the same, all other factors being equal (which they are not), the results of that seed over two or three decades would be billions of people won to Christ. We each have different gifts and callings, but to the extent that we share our Lord's values and commitment to his cause, we will devote our time, energy, wealth and other resources to the task of reaching this world with the message of the kingdom and practical demonstrations of its power.

Jesus Summons His Laborers to Pray for More Laborers (9:38)

Not all Christians will cross major cultural boundaries or become full-time missionaries, but all of us must be mobilized to pray for the world vision he has summoned us to share with him. An excellent resource in this respect is Patrick Johnstone's Operation World, which lists every nation of the world, aims to depict accurately the state of the church there, and provides important points for prayer; it ranks among those classic resources of which all missions-minded Christians should avail themselves. After praying through it, Christians may find themselves burdened for specific peoples and parts of the world and perhaps may seek ways to minister to representatives of those peoples in our own land. And who knows-in the end God may call some of us who pray to go, just as in chapter 10 Jesus sends those who shared his burden in prayer in 9:38.

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