One result of the covid pandemic that we find ourselves struggling with is the shortage of workers. Packages may take longer to be delivered, restaurants are slower and have shorter open hours (if they aren’t closed up altogether), hospitals and emergency crews are operating on a skeleton workforce. It makes life – and saving lives – hard. There is another life-giving job that also seems to have run into a worker shortage, beginning at least two thousand years ago.
In the final two verses of Matthew chapter 9, Jesus tells 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 9:37, 38 – NIV) Immediately after this statement, we have the whole passage of Matthew chapter 10 in which Jesus is giving final instructions before sending 12 new recruits out into that harvest field. He’s preparing his disciples for what they will face in this new job. And, it’s a tough picture he paints.
First of all, let’s look at the job description given by Jesus. Their mission is to go to the lost sheep of Israel, preaching that the kingdom of heaven is near (which should be sounding familiar now as we have already heard this from both John the Baptist and Jesus). And, when they aren’t preaching they will, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” (Matthew 10:8) Simple enough – just doing a little raising of the dead in their spare time in between sermons. We may be starting to see why there’s a worker shortage. Much is expected and it is far from an easy job.
Before you start any job – easy or hard – it is important to know what the employer will provide to help you do the job well. Does the position come with a company car? What does the training look like? Did you catch the opening line in Matthew 10:1? “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” They were going to be well-outfitted to do this difficult job. These men weren’t acting on their own power alone. They had participated in an amazing on-the-job training program and they were stepping out armed with the authority of Jesus. They had been changed from their time with Jesus and now they were empowered to go and do likewise – to tell others about the coming kingdom and change lives. As Jesus said so well, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)
A good employer will warn his new hires of the difficulties they will face on the job. Jesus certainly did. Isn’t it better to know what to expect, even if it’s not what you wanted. He warns his disciples of rejection, trouble with the local authorities, being beat up and arrested, deep family division and rebellion, hatred, persecution, and the sword. This is what it may look like to carry your cross on the narrow road. Preaching Jesus and the kingdom saves lives, occasionally at the cost of the preacher’s life. It’s a job hazard. That helps further explain the worker shortage. Even when the difficulties are not to the point of physical pain and death, being hated is hard.
But what about the benefits of the job? Surely it has some good ones to make anyone willing to take this job. Yes, let me tell you about the benefits! How about life, eternal life, salvation. Picture standing before God with Jesus at His Father’s side and Jesus introduces you as one of his faithful workers. The pain will all be worth it.
On the flip side, imagine the one who gave up on the job (or never started), the one who decided it was too hard, the job demanded too much, the one who turned his back on Jesus’ job and went the other way on the wide road, through the wide gate. Whoever disowns Jesus before men, will be disowned by Jesus in front of the Father. (Matthew 10:33)
There is a job to do. And, the worker shortage continues. Will you work for him? Will you tell others what he has done for you? Will you step up and be one of the faithful, regardless of the difficulties? In the end, it will be worth it.
“All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22)
Questions for Reflection & Discussion
- If you have served as a worker for Jesus in the harvest field (carrying your cross and following him), what was the hardest situation you have been in? What did you learn from the experience? What do you think Jesus would say to you after this experience?
- Create a poster, advertisement or commercial for more workers in the harvest field. Don’t forget to include the great benefits and job training.
- What job can you do for Jesus today? How will you “preach”? How will you change lives? How will you take up his cross and follow him? What might you run into? What might it cost you? How have you been prepared and equipped? Pray before taking on today’s job for him.
- At the time of Matthew 10 the disciples were just to go to the lost sheep of Israel, not to the Samaritans or Gentiles. Why do you think these were the original directions? Did it change? If so when and how and why? (Hint: Matthew 28:16-20)