The Way of the Cross: Matthew 9:35-38
“35) Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. 36) Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. 37) Then He *said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38) Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”” Matthew‬ ‭9‬:‭35‬-‭38‬ ‭
Jesus spent His time in the trenches with the hurts and needs of humanity. He came to redeem people from their sin, He focused on ministering to the painful consequences of fall.
He went from cities to villages teaching in synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. No broken condition of the human heart was to big for Him and none were to small.
As He surveyed the multitudes, He was moved to compassion because they were broken. They were distressed. This could be translated “harassed.” They were down-cast. This could be translated “thrown down.” They were like sheep wandering about having no shepherd to care for them. They were easy prey for Satan who roamed about as a hungry roaring lion seeking someone to devour.
Here is the sad part; lost and hurting people were everywhere. They were being ravaged by the consequences of sin and the fall. He saw the potential harvest for the gospel being exceedingly ripe and plentiful.
But keep in mind, He surveyed the lost and broken condition only among the nation of Israel. He went only to His own people who had every advantage of the Law, the priesthood, the temple and the Old Covenant. He did not venture into Gentile countries, but what He saw and encountered broke His heart.
He then instructed His disciples to beseech or beg the lord of the harvest to send out more workers into His harvest. At this point, He was still focused on the gospel of the kingdom, but that was beginning to change. This prayer request exposes the wrestling taking place within Him.
This begs the question; “How does the gospel of the kingdom differ from gospel of salvation? Jesus came as Messiah offering the coming promised kingdom to Israel, but according to John 1:10-13, they rejected Him as Messiah.
They needed more than a King to rule over them, they needed a Savior to redeem them from the consequences of sin and change the human heart. This could not be accomplished apart from His death on the cross to pay for the sins of humanity.
The more time He spent in the trenches with people the more He embraced the necessity of the cross. John 3:16 concludes that His focus embraced more than the nation of Israel, He loved the whole world. If His own people with every advantage of the Old Covenant were this distressed, harassed and cast down, the rest of humanity was predictably being ravished far worse.
This exposes a subtle twist in this call to urgent prayer. The gospel of the kingdom focused on the Messiah as the primary laborer in the harvest of Israel; the gospel of salvation would unleash the whole redeemed body of Christ to go as laborers into the harvest fields of the whole world.
The cross stood between the two gospels. Jesus was asking them to pray that He might have the courage to delay the throne as Messiah over Israel and go to the cross for all of humanity. In a very real sense, His love and compassion needed to go to the cross for sinful humanity was nurtured in the trenches while rubbing shoulders with broken people.
Let me be clear, it wasn’t the rejection of His people that sentenced Him to the cross, it was His deepening love and compassion for sinful and broken people. He was seeing clearly that the Law forcefully imposed from a throne could never change the broken human condition. He was asking them as the Lord of the Harvest to pray for the love, strength and grace to choose between an immediate throne or a painful cross. The choice was His!
Two paths stood before Him. The gospel of the Kingdom would immediately crown Him as Messiah King ruling over Israel and the world with an iron fist. The gospel of salvation would send Him to the cross to die for sinful humanity. It would usher in the age of grace, the mystery of the church, the ministry of the Holy Spirit and hope for all humanity. It would delay His earthly reign as Messiah, but send millions of laborers into the harvest fields of humanity.
From our vantage point in history, we know the path He chose. Ironically, we are now at the threshold of His second return and the establishment of His millennial kingdom. (See Revelation 20)
I believe Matthew 9:35-38 was the pivot point for Jesus. His deepening love for sinful and broken people set the compass of His heart on the cross. The power of sin could only be broken by the cross. He voluntarily chose the way of the cross because of His love for broken people.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global