In his soul-searching book entitled: ‘Your Personal Titanic’, author Ronald Hutchcraft uses the Titanic tragedy as the main illustration for his emphasis on the importance and significance of evangelizing the Lost. In so doing, he begins his book by recounting the tragedy in the following words (And I Quote)
“In the early 20th century, the R.M.S. Titanic was the crowning achievement of human technology- and yet an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean sent her to the bottom in 2 hours...For the seven hundred survivors- more than 1,500 passengers and crew died- the images of that horrific April night in the North Atlantic are unforgettable...
The survivor accounts of that night tell us that there were only twenty lifeboats aboard- about half of what was required to fully evacuate the ship. Most of them were only partially full, some were actually half-empty!
As the Titanic was sinking, many passengers were able to put on a lifejacket, but they could not find an available lifeboat. They jumped or fell into the ocean, left floating in the (cold) waters, crying into the night for help.
Again, there was room in the lifeboats for hundreds of them...Though those in the water continued to cry out for someone to rescue them, the people in the lifeboats just kept rowing away. They thought rescue was too risky. So out of those TWENTY lifeboats, only ONE finally turned back, in time to save only SIX passengers.
Three days later when the funeral ships arrived from Nova Scotia, they were greeted by a ghostly sight (of) life-jacketed men, women and children floating in the water, frozen to death. And why did they die? Not because the Titanic sank, but because the people who were already saved would NOT go back for the people who were not.” (End of Quote)
With a much greater passion than the aforementioned author, Jesus (in our text this morning) also emphasises the importance and significance of evangelizing the Lost and Dying. But in so doing, He instead uses animal and crop farming as metaphors to drive home the point.
Similar to how it is lamentable that so many lives were lost in the story of the Titanic because those who were already saved in the lifeboats failed to rescue those who were not; so too it is lamentable that souls are dying daily while those of us who are already saved are virtually rowing away from them in our sanctified lifeboats!
Similar to how it is lamentable that wayward sheep and wasted harvests are at times ignored by farm-workers, so too it is lamentable that the backslidden and unsaved are at times ignored by those of us who are saved-sinners!
It is against this backdrop that the action and reaction of Jesus in this text serve as timely and timeless reminders of our duty and responsibility to rescue the perishing and care for the dying; to indeed snatch them from sin and the grave! To weep over the erring one and to lift up the fallen, to tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save!
And so, from this text we are reminded of 4 main things which are important in this regard:
According to verse 36, Jesus “saw the multitude”.
Now, there is a distinct difference between “looking” at people and “seeing” people. Indeed it is possible to “look” at someone without “seeing” him or her. And thus many persons literally “look” at people, but very few actually “see” them!
If we are to take evangelism seriously we will need to be observant of people, in terms of “seeing” them and not just “looking” at them.
When we “see” the multitude as Jesus “saw” the multitude we will “see” them both “as they are” and “where they are”. We will see them, not only in terms of “sight” but also in terms of “insight” and “foresight”. In other words, not just in terms of their wants, but more importantly in terms of their needs. Not just in terms of who they are, but more importantly who they can become.
In the story of the Titanic it is obvious that those in the safety of the lifeboats kept rowing away because they “looked” at those in the ocean but never really “saw” them. In Jesus’ metaphor within the text, it is obvious that the farm-workers only “looked” at the scattered sheep and the huge harvest but never saw each sheep and crop for what they were really worth!
What about us this morning? Do we really “see” people instead of just “looking” at them? How much do we take the time and make the effort to “see” people “as” they are and “where” they are? How much and how often do we “look” beyond their wants and “see” their needs? How much and how often do we “look” beyond who they are to “see” who they can become?
Now as we continue to explore this text within the context of evangelism, we not only see the importance of OBSERVATION but secondly we see the importance of:
Again according to verse 36, “When He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.”
Now ‘Compassion’ is quite an interesting word for 2 main reasons: For one, the Greek word actually means “a deep feeling about someone’s difficulty or misfortune”. And secondly in the New Testament it is often prefaced with the words “moved with”, signifying that Compassion presupposes an “active” rather than a “passive” response to a given situation.
The sad fact is, many people may have “passion” but only a few have “compassion”!
Essentially, true Compassion moves from just “feeling” something to “doing” something, even if there are risks in or costs for doing so. Such was the case with Good Samaritan who, because of his compassion, reached out to help the half-dead man, even though it was both risky and costly!
In the story of the Titanic, those on the lifeboats who allegedly chose to row away quite likely did so because they feared that if they returned to rescue those in the water, their boats would be swamped and eventually sink. It was just too huge a risk to take!
Like Jesus, if we are to take evangelism seriously, we also need to be “moved with compassion” toward the multitude of souls that are lost and dying.
According to the verse, Jesus was so moved with compassion toward them Because Of and In Spite Of: Because of their Weariness (in that they had fainted) and In Spite of their Waywardness (in that they had scattered as sheep without a shepherd).
Please permit me here to elaborate a bit about this sheep analogy and imagery. You see, recently I stumbled upon an interesting and intriguing article on sheep where the writer notes the following:
- Sheep are slow learners.
- Sheep are stubborn animals.
- Sheep oftentimes stray.
- Sheep are copy-cats.
- Sheep are oftentimes unpredictable.
- Sheep are restless and oftentimes get little sleep.
- Sheep are very demanding creatures.
- Sheep are easy prey and are prone to many diseases.
- Sheep are extremely dependent on their shepherds.
Need I say more? True Compassion encourages and enables us to reach out to others in spite of their and indeed our own “sheepish” behaviour!
A further and closer examination the passage reveals that along with OBSERVATION and COMPASSION, the task of evangelism must also include:
In verses 37 to 38 Jesus then turns to His disciples and says to them: The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest.”
The original Greek word for “Pray” here actually means “to entreat, to make a request, to beg or to petition”. Its imagery is that of a citizen going to a king or a servant going to his master petitioning him for help.
In this statement to His disciples Jesus ostensibly asks and answers 3 important questions:
- Why the Petition? Answer: Because the harvest is plenteous and the crops will spoil if they are not reaped! This highlights the importance of urgency in reaching the Lost.
- Whom should we Petition? Answer: The Lord of the harvest. This point to the priority of prayer in all our evangelistic efforts.
- What should be the Petition? Answer: That He will send forth labourers into the His harvest. Note that Jesus did not say we should pray that sinners come into churches. Instead we are to go into the harvest field of the world and reap the souls that ripe and ready to be harvested!
On that note of going into the harvest field, the text implies a fourth and final important ingredient:
Again in the closing verses of our text, Jesus instructs His disciples to “Pray to the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest.” Who were these labourers that He was talking about? Well the answer is found in the opening verses of the very next chapter of Matthew where Jesus Himself calls them by name and commissions them to go and preach that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Of course, in that initial stage He told them to go primarily to the “Lost sheep of the house of Israel”. But in the final days before His ascension into heaven, He told them the following: “Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always.” The simple fact is, those disciples were to be the answers to their own prayers. In essence Jesus was telling them in Matthew 9 verse 38 that they were to prayerfully petition Him to send them into the harvest field to reap the harvest of souls!
Obviously Isaiah understood this principle very well when, as he records in Isaiah 6 verse 8, he heard the voice of the Lord asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And he instinctively and immediately responded by saying, “Here am I, send me.”
Unfortunately, a number of us Christians today seem to be asking the Lord, “Where am You” instead of saying, “Here am I.” And a number of us seem to be suggesting to the Lord, “Send them” instead of saying “Send me”!The fact is, if we are to take evangelism seriously, if we are to reach the Lost at any cost AND if we are to reap the harvest of souls, we must be in submission to the call of God be labourers in His vineyard.
Submission means yielding wholly and fully to the plan and purpose of God, in a way which says, “Wherever You lead me I will go.” It speaks of living the sacrificial and surrendered life to the glory of God, and to do so in spite of our flaws, faults, failures, fears or frustrations. And speaking of flaws, faults, failures, fears and frustrations, we should always bear in mind that the 12 disciples were called and commissioned by the Lord even though He knew they were far from perfect.
Indeed they included persons such as Impetuous Peter who obviously had the “foot in mouth disease” in that he oftentimes talked before he thought. Furthermore, he was the guy who once said to Jesus, “I will die for You” and then a few days after, deny ever knowing Him! Then there were James and John, the Sons of Thunder (and may I add Lightning!), who seemingly had a serious temper problem, as in a flash they wanted to call down fire on a group of Samaritans because they prevented Jesus from passing through their hometown. Incidentally, these were the same brothers who requested of Jesus to grant them VIP seats in the Kingdom of God!
And who could forget that the 12 disciples included Doubting Thomas who demanded that he had to see for himself the nail-prints in order to believe that Jesus had truly risen from the dead!
Still Jesus called each and every one of them to be labourers in His harvest field! This morning He is still calling for more labourers to go into His harvest field and reap the harvest of souls that are there. This morning He is still inviting us to go into the highways and byways and rescue the perishing, while caring for the dying.
Maybe this morning He is calling or recalling someone to Pastoral Ministry or any other Ministry for that matter. Maybe this morning He is reminding someone of the promise or pledge they made months or years ago to be more involved in winning-souls for Christ. May we never be like those in the Titanic story who kept on rowing away from those who needed rescue and were dying in the cold North Atlantic Ocean (over 105 years ago).
In so doing, may we forever see the importance of Observation, Compassion, Petition and Submission as we join with Isaiah in declaring to the Lord, “Here am I, send me!” In Jesus name...Amen
Scripture: Matthew 9: 35-38:
(Christ For Today – July 23 2017 – Dylan Toussiant)