Compassion In OutreachErwin W. Lutzer | September 15, 2013
Selected highlights from this sermon
In Matthew 9, Jesus looks upon the troubled masses with compassion. Even now, our world is crowded, hurting, suffering, and lost.
The fields are white for harvest. We are called to go as laborers in this world, both near and far. Will we take up the authority and compassion of Christ and share the reconciliation that is found in Jesus? Many are ready and waiting for us to graciously ask questions and share our story of salvation.
Let me begin today with a question. How big is your world? You know there are some people whose world is only as big as they are. We call them narcissists.
We’re all narcissists to some degree, but the true narcissist says to himself or herself, “The only thing that really matters is how I look and how I feel.” Everything else revolves around them. They have very little compassion for others and if you would be a sociopath actually you would only see others as an opportunity to do them harm and not to do them good. Is your world bigger than that? I hope so.
Now there are some people whose world includes their families, so they have a much bigger world, but they are only concerned about their own families. That’s all that really matters. I’ve met people like that and they never extend hospitality and care to those beyond their little group, and some of them maybe have lots of resources, but they don’t see any place where there is a need that they can help. And then of course you have those who have a larger family, a larger world, and that is the world of their church. And how we thank God for that and the hundreds and hundreds of people here at the Moody Church who are involved in various ministries. We need you and we value you. But if that’s all there is to your world, your world needs to be expanded. My world needs to be expanded.
As I’ve been preparing this message I need to say that it applies to me as much as it does to anyone else who is listening. My own world needs to get bigger because I work in a Christian environment. I’ve been here many, many years at the Moody Church and I’ve not yet heard a swear word. Maybe there have been some close calls on occasion but many of you live with that all the time. You live in a different world and in a sense I admire you and envy you because you have an opportunity to expand your larger world, and we’ll be explaining what that’s all about as all of us expand our world.
In Matthew 9 Jesus is doing ministry and now we come to a very familiar passage and I’m going to begin reading at verse 35. “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Let’s read just that far for now.
Could we pray together and ask the Lord to use this passage to change our lives and to enlarge our world?
Father, we come to You as basically selfish people. Today we pray that we might have the blinders taken off. Help us to see like we’ve never seen before. Grant us, oh God, Your compassion for a world that is helpless and broken down. Do that in mercy we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.
What I’d like to do today is to give you four steps that are necessary for us to expand our world, and we take all of those steps directly from the life and the ministry and the example of Jesus.
Number one, what we need to do is to see with our eyes. I read it there in verse 36. It says, “And when He saw the crowds, and when He saw the multitude.” You see, what we are determines what we see. For example, if you are into gardening you will notice gardens throughout the neighborhood or wherever you go. If you travel abroad one of the things that you’ll be looking for is the gardens because what you are in your heart determines what your eyes see.
I love to tell the true story about a farmer from Iowa who came to this lovely sanctuary here at the Moody Church – this large sanctuary. I feel sorry for those of you who are listening by radio or other means and you’ve never had an opportunity to see this lovely sanctuary of Moody Church, but he came in and said [and I quote], “Boy, you could put a lot of hay in here.” (laughter) And you could. What we are determines what we see.
Do you remember that little poem? You probably learned it in school. At least I did. I hope I can quote it correctly.
Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?
I’ve been to London to see the Queen.
Pussy cat, pussy cat, what saw you there?
I saw a mouse sitting under her chair.
I can imagine that when Pussy Cat came home and she gathered all of her human friends together to show them her slides of her trip to London (She lived during a time when there were no video cameras; she only had slides.), they might have asked her,
“Pussy Cat, what was the Queen wearing?”
“I have no idea.”
“You didn’t see her crown?”
“I have no idea.”
“What were the pictures on the wall?”
“I never saw a single picture.”
“What did you see?”
“I saw a mouse sitting under her chair,” because she had a pussy cat heart.
Jesus explained this one time in that great parable of the Good Samaritan. The priest saw the man who was wounded and robbed and walked by on the other side. What did the Levite see? He saw the same thing and they went back to Jerusalem and they said, “We saw somebody who was in great need. We saw somebody who had bad luck. We saw somebody who should have taken more precautions.” Maybe they went to the Sanhedrin and said, “Do you know what we need? We need a social program so that we have guards all the way from Jerusalem to Jericho because it’s a dangerous piece of road,” but the problem was they did not see somebody whom they could help.
And you and I can see poverty in this city. We can leave the beautiful sanctuary of the Moody Church and walk out onto LaSalle Street and Wells Street and all over and we do not see people to help. Jesus saw the multitude and He saw them because He was looking for human need. What we are determines what we see. In fact, in John 4 Jesus is at the well talking to a Samaritan woman, and you remember He’s sitting there. The disciples have gone away to buy some food and they come back and they are troubled. They are troubled because a Jewish man did not speak to a woman, particularly an immoral woman and a Samaritan woman at that, without other people being around. And that’s all that they saw. And Jesus said to them, “The harvest is plentiful; the laborers are few (essentially the very same text that we read here) and the fields are white unto harvest.”
Jesus saw there somebody who wasn’t just an immoral woman, a Samaritan woman, but He saw a woman who needed the hope of eternal life. And that’s why He sat there at the well. He saw differently than everyone else. We ought to be praying that God will give us new eyes to see the way in which God sees.
The first step is we have to see with our eyes. Secondly we have to feel with our hearts. Notice what the text says. We’re still in verse 36. “He saw the multitude,” it says, “and He felt compassion for them.” His heart was tenderized to the needs around Him. He felt that compassion because He saw them as sheep without a shepherd. The text says that they were harassed and helpless. He saw them like helpless sheep.
You know that the imagery that is used here probably refers to sheep that sometimes are cast down. A cast down sheep is the sheep that is walking along and perhaps lies down for a rest and then decides to turn over onto its back, and cannot on its own get up. As a matter of fact, soon the oxygen is cut off, circulation stops, and sheep can die that way. And so what the shepherd does is he comes and he massages the sheep to get the circulation going again, and after the circulation gets going he helps the sheep stand up, and then steadies the sheep so it can begin to walk on its own.
What a vivid picture of the world in which we live! Could we just for a moment look beyond ourselves to the world? What kind of a world is it? A friend of mine has pointed out that first of all, it is a crowded world. Seven billion people live on this planet. If I remember correctly, when I was in grade school we were told that there were two-and-a-half billion people on the planet. Now there are nearly seven billion. You get to a country like India with its near billion, and China with a billion, and you begin to look at the population explosion around the world. It is a crowded planet. It is an urbanized world. The flight is to the big cities.
I looked it up and discovered that Mexico City is probably the biggest city in the world (if you consider the metropolitan area) with twenty-one million people. It’s hard to get our minds around it but it is an urbanized world. It is a suffering world, and it is suffering because of natural disasters even as we suffer here in America with natural disasters with floods and tornadoes and tsunamis and what have you.
And yet the world continues to suffer for other reasons because of poverty. Twenty thousand children die every day because of malnutrition. I can say the words but I have to tell you I can’t get my mind around it. And if we aren’t there to see it - somehow out of sight, out of mind – we have no idea, but could we just for a moment try to enter into the pain of parents and children who are starving on this planet? It is a suffering world.
And then it’s a suffering world because of divorce and the break-up of the family. You know, if we could look into the high-rises here even within this area we might be surprised at the kind of abuse that is taking place in some quarters. It is indeed a suffering world.
It is a persecuted world especially because of the rise of militant Islam. What you have in many of the countries of the Middle East is great persecution today. I have pointed out in the past that about 400 Christians a day die and are martyred in North Korea and throughout the Middle East for their faith simply because they believe in Jesus.
Do we understand what that means? Would we be able to endure that kind of suffering? It is a suffering world. It is a persecuted world. But above all it is a lost world. People don’t know that they were created for the glory of God. People don’t know how to connect with the Almighty. People don’t know how to manage their own guilt and their own failure because they don’t know the Father and His mercy. They don’t know how to get through to God. They pray but have no assurance that they have been heard.
And then think of this. This is hard for me to say but I’ll say it. After they die the eternity that they are going to endure is even worse than the life that they have had here on earth. It is a lost world. Can we be touched by the feelings of that pain, that lostness and that alienation from God?
Now, of course, it’s fine to talk about the world that is distant, but what about our world? What about your neighbors, your friends, where God has planted you? Let us keep in mind that we must have compassion. We must feel with our hearts. Jesus saw the crowd, the Bible says, and was filled with compassion.
Third, we must go with our feet. Now Jesus changes the figure of speech. Your Bibles are open there to verse 37. He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest field.”
Let me make a couple of comments. First of all, the harvest is God’s. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this as clearly as I did this week as I meditated on this passage - “The Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” I was brought up on a farm. I know something about harvest. I know that there is only a window of time when you can really reap, and if you miss that window you can never recoup it. You can’t come back in a month because by then everything will have rotted. You can’t come back and say, “Well, we’ll do it next week or even particularly next month or next year.” When it’s gone, it is gone.
I want you to see for a moment today the multitudes that are here today. They will be gone tomorrow. “The harvest is plentiful,” Jesus says, and then what He says is that we should pray that the Lord of the harvest will send forth laborers. It’s been pointed out that that phrase, “send out laborers,” is actually ek balo. In Greek the word balo means to throw. Ek means to throw out. It’s the word that is used frequently in the New Testament for the casting out of demons.
When Jesus spoke the word, you know the Bible says that the demons ek balo. He cast them out. Jesus is using the very same expression and what He says is that we should pray to the Lord of the harvest. When you and I pray we can go behind enemy lines. We can go to any country of the world. We can stand with missionaries. We can go with other Christians because God is not limited by human borders, and all the rest. But also please keep in mind that we should not just be praying for the world out there. We should be praying for Moody Church, that among us God will ek balo (send out) many different laborers into his harvest fields. Chicago needs laborers like that but so does the whole world, and we thank God for every one of our missionaries and your gifts to our missionary ministry helps support that ministry. But I pray that God might from this congregation raise up many people who will still go because they sense the call of God and we sense upon their lives the call of God to touch the world.
Jesus said, “Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send forth laborers into His harvest field.” But let us go into the neighborhoods, let us go into the areas of Chicago that are in great need. Let us support ministries such as By the Hand Club for Kids, but also ministries in India like As Our Own where we help support an orphanage and are trying to help build a brand new orphanage. What we need to do is to see the larger world. Jesus said, “Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send forth laborers into His harvest field.” He’s saying we have to go with our feet, and we most assuredly do.
And then we must speak with our mouths. Now your Bibles are open and I am turning to chapter ten10. Chapter ten10 is an example and an extension of what Jesus just simply said, and it says, “And He called to Him His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to cast them out and to heal every disease and affliction.”
What you need to understand is that these twelve were called to do the very same thing that Jesus did. He gave them fully His authority to do these miracles. Now some authority is very weak. There’s a story about a man, an officer, who worked for the D.E.A., that is the Drug Enforcement Agency of the United States of America, and he went to a farmer in Kansas and said to him, “I’m here to inspect your fields to see whether or not your are growing marijuana.” And the farmer said to him, “Hey, you can go anywhere you would like on my fields except that field over there. Don’t go to that field over there.” The officer whipped out his badge and said, “Wait a moment. Do you see this? This gives me authority from the federal government of the United States of America. I have authority to go wherever I want to go.” The farmer said, “Oh okay.” A few moments later the farmer hears blood-curdling screams and he sees a bull come across the field toward the official, and the official is calling out. And the farmer says, “Show him your badge.” (laughter)
A badge issued by the federal government does not stop a raging bull, but the authority of Jesus given to disciples will stop demons in their tracks. Aren’t you glad for that? (applause) And so these disciples went out with the authority of Jesus.
Now we have to ask a question and answer it. And the question is simply this. Do we have that kind of authority today? Jesus said to them in verse 5, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans but go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel, and proclaim as you go saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. You have received without paying. Give without being paid.”
Folks, what we need to understand is that this was very unique. You see, when Jesus came He offered the Kingdom to the nation Israel. He offered Himself as Israel’s king, and that’s the Gospel of the Kingdom. And in order to authenticate the fact that the offer was valid, Jesus did all of these miracles. I mean, you know, the dead were raised, 5,000 people were fed with a few loaves and a few fish, and He did all of these miracles, and He delegated all of this authority to the disciples.
But notice to whom they were to go. He says, “Do not go into the towns of the Gentiles. Do not go to the Samaritans. Go to the lost house of the people of Israel. Give it only to the Jews. I’m giving you this authority so that they recognize that the King is here, and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom.”
You and I live in a very different era. We don’t preach the Gospel of the Kingdom. I don’t preach the Gospel of the Kingdom. I preach the Gospel of the Grace of God. The grace of God isn’t limited to the Jews or the Samaritans or to the Gentiles in any kind of definition but to the entire world because the Gospel that we preach now is a gospel that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. And when He died on that cross he got what He didn’t deserve, namely our sin, and we in turn get what we don’t deserve, namely the gift of His righteousness. He died for sinners.
And there are some of you who are listening right now who need that message. It is proclaimed from this pulpit virtually every week here at the Moody Church because we know that we are speaking to people who have never experienced the reconciliation that Jesus Christ provided for all who believe, and today you can receive that reconciliation.
And so we don’t have authority to raise the dead, to do the miracles that Jesus did, but Jesus Christ did delegate it for a time to those disciples, those apostles who would be the ones who would go only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel and proclaim the fact that “your king King is here.” And so it was a unique period of time.
But there are principles, of course, connected with Jesus Christ’s instructions that do apply to us, for we also have authority. So what Jesus is saying here is that we need to speak. We don’t only need to do good things. He said proclaim. If all that you do as a Christian is good works, people may admire that. They may think that you are great, but unless we explain to them the Gospel as I’ve just explained it a few moments ago, and let them know that there is a friend of sinners who can reconcile us to God, unless people understand that, they have not heard the Gospel. They just may know that we are different but they don’t understand why. And so that’s why I am emphasizing here that we have to speak with our mouth. We have to evangelize.
Now what I’d like to do is to nail this down for us with just a couple of comments. First of all, the fields are ripe unto harvest. Jesus said that. He said that the harvest is plentiful here in this text. What did He mean by that? I believe that one of the things that He meant is that as we go out witnessing God already is preparing hearts for our message.
Can you imagine how ripe the harvest is? Can you imagine how empty life is for so many people? I mean they don’t know God. They don’t know the meaning of life. They have to accept their emptiness. They have to deal with their guilt on their own. They have to deal with their problems all by themselves, oftentimes getting unwise counsel from others. Do we understand what it’s like to be disconnected from God, groping to try to find Him but notw knowing how?
Jesus said that there are plenty of people out there who are open to the message. In fact, in this text you’ll notice that as Jesus Christ sent them out He said, “Go into the various villages of the Jews, the House of Israel.” And then He says, “If you find a house or a town that is worthy, stay there and explain to them the Gospel of the Kingdom.”
What is a worthy house? A worthy house is a house that is open to the truth, a house that God has already prepared so that they can hear the message. And I believe that there are thousands of people here in the city of Chicago who in many respects already have a heart that has been prepared by God, but God is saying, “Pray to send laborers and connect to them that they might know the Gospel that they might believe.” What you give as great encouragement is that this is not our harvest. This is the Lord’s harvest, and we get the opportunity of being co-partners with Him in the great harvest fields of the world.
Yesterday I was on WMBI from 9 to 11 for two hours answering questions that were sent by e-mail, and one of the questions was from a man who said he’d been saved for forty years. God had brought him through all kinds of trials. He loved the Lord, but he could not witness. He was just totally paralyzed. He couldn’t talk about his faith. And so I told him that there was no reason in the world why he could not. I said, “What you need to understand is that you have to befriend people and just ask them questions. You don’t have to have all the answers. For example, simply ask them the question, ‘Where are you on your spiritual journey?’ Ask that of the person who works next to you at a bank or a hospital or wherever you might be. Simply let them talk, and when they say, ‘Well, you know, I’m nowhere,’ or ‘I’ve done this,’ or ‘I’ve tried that,” keep asking questions to build that bridge and God will give you an opportunity to share your testimony as to what Jesus has done for you, and that is the entry point into their lives.” It’s really not that complicated.
The harvest is plentiful. Jesus says elsewhere, “It is white unto harvest. Pray that the Lord sends laborers.” And it isn’t just for those who leave our midst and go to another country. It is for you who live in the city of Chicago with all of its great need, with all of its brokenness. I want you to see today our city for the most part as helpless and broken down, and the message of the Gospel that God has ordained is going to come through the lips and the lives of His children. So we share the Good News of the Gospel. That is the first thing that we must recognize. We are on a journey and so is everyone else.
There’s another question. I mentioned this to the man, and you can write this down. It is so simple. You know you want to witness to somebody you meet on a plane or somebody you just meet casually, or someone that you’ve come to know. Simply ask them this simple question. Would it be okay if I shared with you something that somebody once shared with me that changed my life? I’ve used that many times. I’ve never yet had a person say, “No, I don’t want to hear it.” Let me give it to you again. “Is it okay if I share with you what somebody once shared with me that changed my life?” Give a testimony for Jesus as an entry point because the fields are white unto harvest.
I remember witnessing to a man who was dying. I mean he was within about two weeks of death, and he had attended church for years. This is the scary thing. He had heard me preach many times, and so I said to him (he was a medical doctor), “You know, you’re going to be dying soon. Do you know Christ as your Savior? Have you received him?” and I’ll never forget what this man said who heard the Word a good part of his life. He said, “I know I need to do that but I don’t know how.” I mean it was amazing. He was totally prepared. I told him how by faith you have to receive Christ as Savior, that you have to believe that when He died and rose again He did all that will be necessary for you to stand in God’s presence, and you must embrace that for yourself and transfer your trust to Him. And I prayed with him that he might do that. Afterwards he lived maybe two weeks, but all he wanted people to do was to read the Bible to him. “The fields are white unto harvest,” said Jesus.
Finally, and I think that this is very important, when we pray for others, we are actually praying for ourselves. Do you have the nerve to ask God to send forth laborers into His harvest field, because if you do, God may be sending you as an ambassador because as I’ve already mentioned, it is so important for us to recognize that no matter where we are, regardless of the neighborhood and the place where we work, what an opportunity to represent Jesus Christ as His ambassador. So we pray, but we pray for others and we also pray for ourselves.
You know, Dietrich Bonheoffer is certainly one of my heroes and probably a hero of yours as well. You know Jesus said, “When you clothe somebody you’ve clothed Me; when you’ve fed someone then you have fed Me, and inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, you’ve done it for Me.” Bonheoffer challenged his congregation in Nazi Germany with this. He asked, “Who is Jesus Christ for you?” In his day it was the Jews, of course, who were being persecuted and put to death under the Hitler regime. But who is Jesus for you? Could you just use your imagination for a moment? Who is Jesus Christ coming to you? Is it the mother who is single? Is it a child who is being brought up in a broken home that you can connect with and encourage and pray for? Is it someone in the neighborhood who is out of work? Is it someone who is addicted? Who is Jesus Christ for you? Who is Jesus Christ for me?
What I want you to do this afternoon is take a piece of paper, and this is very critical for something you are going to learn about in a couple of weeks, and write down four or five people for whom you can pray, people whom you know that need the warmth of the Father, the comfort of our Heavenly Father, the forgiveness of the Father, and the knowledge that they too are sons and daughters of the Most High. Would you do that? And what happens is that as we pray for others we end up praying for ourselves that we might be the conduits that God uses to touch the lives of people.
This afternoon hundreds of our people are going to be doing various projects, as we will explain later, within the neighborhood. I suspect that as a result of these acts of kindness there are going to begin many conversations, touching many people’s lives that is only a drop in a bucket for us to live out our faith because Jesus said that what you must do is first of all see.
People oftentimes don’t just throw out their needs and say, “You know, I have this need.” Would you and I have eyes to see? Would we have hearts to feel? Would we have feet to go and words to speak so that we aren’t always just in our own little clique? Who is Jesus Christ for us today?
And for those of you who don’t know Him as Savior, who is He for you today? Is he a teacher, a good man, or the Savior of the world? Let us see this city with new eyes.
Would you join me as we pray?
Father, today earlier we did sing the song, Break Our Hearts for What Breaks Yours. Would you do that, Lord? Would you break through our agendas, our small circle of friends, our inability to see human need? Lord, we know that we can’t touch the world, but we can touch our world if it is enlarged and we begin to see with Your eyes. We can effect a change in people’s lives this afternoon and tomorrow when we leave here today. We can shower compassion upon people that they might see Christ. Grant us, oh God, that because we need You for this. We’re too selfish. Break our hearts today for the city and for our world. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.