There is a big difference in the way Jesus saw the needs of others compared to the way I often see the needs of others. In one verse, Matthew shows us the very heart of Jesus’ motivation to send out workers into his harvest field:
When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then 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.” (Matthew 9:36-38)
Jesus genuinely cares for the crowds who were harassed and helpless, like ‘sheep without a shepherd’. This phrase is not something Matthew wants us to gloss over - it was there to remind his readers of a promise that God made through Ezekiel 500 years before Christ (Ezekiel 34:11-16).
At that time the leaders of Israel were doing a terrible job of looking after God’s people, his sheep. Not only were they failing to look after the sick and the poor, but they were interested only in self-gain: in lining their own pockets and filling their own stomachs. So much so that the sheep became scattered, lacking any godly leaders.
So God made a promise that he would find his sheep, bring them back from where they were scattered and be their shepherd.
What drives Jesus’ mission in Matthew 9 is the same motivation of God when he saw how helpless and lost his people were in Ezekiel’s day. His motivation has always been and will always be love. After all, it’s the reason Jesus came, isn’t it?
‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16)
We see this also in Matthew 9:36, when Matthew uses the word compassion. What wonderful news that we have a Saviour who truly cares for us: the good shepherd who laid down his own life for his sheep.
In preparing his disciples to be sent out, Jesus wanted love to be their motivation too. We know that because he tells them to plead with God for more gospel workers (v37-38) and sends them to the same lost people he cares for (10v6).
So how should this drive our church’s mission?
Firstly, it challenges us to consider whether we love others in this way. So often we hear of people we know about who are going through a difficult time: be that physical or mental health, bereavement, relationship problems… the list goes on. Jesus didn’t just see people’s physical suffering but their spiritual need too. It prompts us to ask ourselves if we share the same concern for others that Jesus had, especially of our non-Christian friends and family.
Secondly, if you hold a place of responsibility in your church, as a member of the church council, missions group, or as a ministry group leader, then this should challenge you to keep mission high on your agenda. As someone with a say in the way things are run, champion the needs of spiritually harassed and helpless people around the world who need to hear about Jesus the Good Shepherd. Support people who do this work, in prayer and financially and keep encouraging each other that your motivation as a church is a love for the lost.
One way of thinking this through as a church is spending a day at one of our mission consultations where you can hear more about God’s plan for mission and how your local church can get involved. Get in touch if you’d like to find out more.
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