Last week we talked about faith from Matthew 9 and we didn’t spend a whole lot of time looking at the end of the chapter when Jesus looks at the crowds and he had compassion on them and he said, the harvest is plentiful, there are souls that are ripe for harvest, people who are in need and who are on the verge of salvation, but the problem is there’s a shortage. The workers are few.
Why is there a shortage of workers? One word – fear.
We are all afraid of something. I googled “what are people most afraid of” and I got the following answers: Blood, injections, and other medical procedures, certain animals, enclosed spaces, flying, heights, insects or spiders.
I had 2 fears growing up. One of them was public speaking. I was so shy I was even afraid to raise my hand in class. Then, it happened. It was the end of the day and I had to go, but since I was going home, I thought I would hold it in. Unfortunately, I couldn’t…
The other thing I was afraid of growing up was my dad. I dreaded those days when I got my report card and I had anything less than straight A’s because I had to get the report card signed. One time, I lost it and I cussed out my mom. Youth, please don’t do this to your parents. I normally hold in my emotions, but I lost it. And my mom said calmly, wait until your dad gets home. I said, I’m not scared. Then, my dad came home and I was suddenly scared.
There is plentiful harvest and yet there a shortage of workers. Why? One word – fear. We’re afraid. Satan wants the church to be afraid. Fear paralyzes many churches today. And knowing that we would be afraid of going out, what does Jesus do? He sends out his disciples. Were they ready? No, they had just been called. In the first couple verses of chapter 10, for the first time in the book of Matthew, all 12 disciples are introduced by name. The team had just been assembled. And Jesus sends them out to the harvest fields. That’s like arriving on your first day of boot camp and war breaks out on the same day and you get sent out to the frontlines.
Why do we gather on Sundays? To worship God, yes. To fellowship with other believers, yes. To learn about God, of course. But we are not to stay here within these walls. Church, we gather to prepare ourselves for battle. I see church as kind of a military hospital. We walked in here with some shrapnel in our backs. We came here with all kinds of burdens and wounds and issues. So through the Word of God and the care that we show one another, we are supposed to get bandaged up and get some rest and regain our strength. Because the moment this service ends and we step out that door, we’re entering the battlefield.
And what were the 12 disciples instructed to bring with them into battle? Nothing. v9-10.
No guns, no tanks, no heavy artillery. No money, no bag, only the clothes on their back. I bet some of them wondered, Jesus, you mean, you’re not going with us?
Jesus gives them some strategy in v11-14, which is basically, stay where you are welcomed. If there is a person who is willing to take you in, then stay there and preach to his household and to his town. If no such person is there to welcome you, then shake the dust off your feet and leave that place.
Jesus sends them out right after calling them. He tells them, take nothing with you. And lastly, he says, and oh by the way, the battle is going to be fierce.
16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
Sending out sheep among wolves? That’s a suicide mission. They are going to be eaten alive. This means, we have to exercise some prudence and wisdom when we are sharing our faith. I don’t think holding up a sign, “Repent or burn in hell” is shrewd, or wise, or prudent. Also, we don’t want to be so shrewd that we come across like a used car salesman in our evangelism. This is why being shrewd needs to go with innocence. Innocence without prudence becomes ignorance, even naivete, unless it is combined with prudence.
We are trying to reach people and we’re like sheep surrounded by a pack of wolves. Many will reject our message. We have to be shrewd. We have to exercise caution and avoid conflicts and attacks wherever possible. But not overly cautious or suspicious to the point that we are fearful and we stop trying to reach people.
I think Christians in America are leaning heavily on the side of shrewdness at the expense of our innocence. We may have tried to share our faith before and we’ve been rejected countless times. So after a while, you stop trying. The verse–the harvest is plentiful–doesn’t seem to be true from our day to day experience. Where are the people who are ripe for harvest? Everywhere you turn, doesn’t it seem like a wall? And so we stop believing the words of Jesus. We lose our innocence. We rely on our shrewdness. We need to do marketing campaigns and social media and emails and fliers to reach people because my face to face, word of mouth attempts are not working. We have become shrewd at the expense of our innocence. This is one reason we have stopped engaging the world.
But the biggest reason for our inactivity is fear. We know that there are a pack of wolves outside the door ready to pounce. We’re afraid to face the world so we stay indoors where it’s safe and warm. Fear paralyzes the church.