We’ve just baptized Arianne and Arthur.
Does it matter? Does it matter whether they grow up as Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ?
Does it matter whether any of us do that? Or is it just a lifestyle choice like many others, and it’s really neither here nor there?
We had a Bible reading from the end of Matthew chapter 9. Just to fill us in on a bit of background, we’ve just had two amazing chapters. Matthew wants to show us Jesus’ total authority. He could heal the sick, give sight to the blind, forgive our sins and even raise the dead.
Today’s reading tells us that Matthew could have written chapter after chapter like this. What he’s recorded in Capernaum was repeated across the whole county. And it didn’t go unnoticed. Huge crowds flocked to him.
Does it matter to Jesus that they do? How does all this make them feel?
Let’s look together at this short Bible reading. We see Jesus respond in two ways to these vast crowds.
Longing for people to follow him
First, longing for people to follow him. Longing for people to follow him.
Verse 36 says this: When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Vast crowds were drawn to him. But that’s not the same thing as actually following him.
In the previous chapters, we’ve seen Jesus call people to follow him. He asks us to put him at the centre of our lives. Jesus wants us to let his wishes, his agenda to take priority over everything else. He is to be our highest loyalty.
The crowds may flock to him. But they don’t follow him. Not like that.
They’re like sheep without a shepherd. That’s an Old Testament picture. The people did not have a leader. No king. Or to be more exact, Jesus was the ruler that the whole Old Testament looked forward to. They weren’t following him. They hadn’t got him as their leader in life.
So Jesus’ heart goes out to them. The phrase in the reading, he had compassion on them, is extremely emotionally charged. His heart went out to them.
All over the country last week, there were disappointed candidates not elected as MPs. They put on a brave face. It would be easy to think of Jesus as dispassionate. People may not want to choose him as their leader. That’s OK. It’s their choice. Other people think of Jesus has egotistical. He wants people to follow him. He has an empire to build.
The reality is quite different. Jesus cares deeply. He longs for people to follow him.
And ultimately, that longing, that emotion, the fact he cares, took him to the cross. The only way that people like us could follow him is if we are forgiven. The only way we can be forgiven is if Jesus dies in our place. And so he did. As he does so, that picture of the shepherd comes back into Matthew’s gospel. The shepherd who dies to save his sheep. That’s how deeply he cares that we follow him.
I don’t know how you’d see yourself relating to Jesus this morning.
Perhaps you’re here looking in from the outside. Happy to be here, but not yet following Jesus for yourself. If so, you’re most welcome. You get to see here how Jesus feels about you. More than anything, he’d love you to follow him, to put him first in life.
Many of us are here as Christians. We see now that we’re Christian because Jesus wanted us to be with him so badly. So much so that he died to make it possible.
As we look ahead to the rest of Arianne and Arthur’s lives, we doubtless have many ambitions for them. But more than anything else, Jesus longs for them to be his followers, and to remain so for the rest of their lives. Putting him above all else.
Jesus: Longing for people to follow him.
Before we leave this first point, there’s one other implication of Jesus’ longing that people follow him.
Jesus wants his followers to share his heart.
Kemsing is a village of 5000 people. How many are here this morning? Even if you add all those who go to other churches, I doubt it’s more than 300. So what about the other 4,700. Here’s the question: How much does that bother us? Deep down? At an emotional level?
It bothers Jesus. He cares deeply. The question is – do we?
As you watch people from the area swarming to the polling stations on Thursday, do you find yourself wishing they’d swarm into Jesus’ kingdom in even greater numbers?
Vast crowds were interested in Jesus. He taught well. He healed their sick. Great crowds pour into our Christmas and Easter service. Does that leave you feeling stirred up inside, yearning that they’d come to Jesus as his followers and subjects, and now just come to church on the big occasions?
That’s how Jesus feels when he sees these things.
Lots of Christians find it really hard to share their faith with their friends, neighbours and family. Of course we do. For some of us, the issue is right here. We won’t have any interest in sharing our faith until we feel how Jesus feels when it comes to those who don’t yet know him and follow him. And we won’t feel how he feels until we’ve truly grasped how he feels about us.
More than anything, he longs for us to follow him.
Longing for people to follow him.
Praying for people to talk about him
That’s Jesus’ first response to the crowds. The second is this: Praying for people to talk about him. Praying for people to talk about him.
Verse 37: The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
Jesus changes picture. Instead of talking about a shepherd and his sheep, he’s talking about the farm workers and their harvest.
It’s a picture we get elsewhere in Jesus’ teaching. The farmer needs to gather the ripe crops into the barn. The crowds in front of Jesus are like those crops – they need gathering into Jesus’ kingdom.
There’s a man in charge of the harvest operation – the Lord of the harvest. That’s God the Father, although we’ve seen that Jesus also cares greatly about this. And the man in charge needs workers. Lots of them. People to go out and tell the crowds all about Jesus.
So what does Jesus do? Does he tell people to go out and tell others about him? Not here. He tells them to pray. Verse 38: Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
We need more workers. So ask God to raise up people who can talk about him.
Not that this prevents us from being the answer to our own prayers, of course. In chapter 10, Jesus will send his 12 closest followers out in pairs. Having been told to pray, they get told to go. But the very first thing we do is pray. We start to share Jesus’ heart. There are vast numbers of people who don’t yet know Jesus personally, and we long for them to come to follow him. And the very first thing we do is to ask God for more workers.
Longing for people to follow him. Praying for people to talk about him.
More than anything, Jesus wants people to know and follow him. More than anything, he wants you to know him, and to follow him.
Maybe that’s a new thought. He’d love each of us to follow him
If you’re here as a Christian this morning, will you join me in praying two prayers every day this coming week.
Here’s the first: Dear Lord Jesus, please help me share your heart; give me the same love that you have for those who don’t yet know you.
Here’s the second: Dear Lord Jesus, there aren’t enough of us to tell so many people about you; I promise to do what I can. Please would you raise up more workers to reach your harvest field in Kemsing.