Heart of the Harvester

This is the sermon I preached yesterday (2024-04-28) for Ethos that follows last week’s sermon on the Huge Harvest.

Praise the Lord, we are now nine weeks into soft-launching Ethos Communion Church! It is wonderful that we have made it thus far, and I am so grateful for your excitement and your faithfulness up to this point. I have to say that these last two months have been restful for me. It’s very nice to go to a church that is so low-key, and we can worship the Lord, and just enjoy each other’s company.

And while I am grateful for the season of rest, I think I am now ready to start shifting gears. For me, the call to church plant began with a re-awakening of my initial call to ministry, “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.” We’ve been worshiping the Lord, which is central, and we have been enjoying fellowship with each other which is wonderful. But church planting is more than that. We do not gather each week to merely have a holy huddle and to feel good in ourselves. In football, you huddle to go out and make a play. Likewise, while we huddle as a church, when we break our huddle we need to go out and do something. Having been blessed by God, we need to go out and be a blessing to others. We need to go out to the nations and make disciples of Jesus Christ.

I’m reminded of what the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9. He said, “I am under compulsion, Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1Cor 9:16). Try to get a sense for his heart; for his motivation. He said, “I am under compulsion.” There was a holy necessity laid upon him. He not only had a driving passion to preach the gospel, he had an obligation. He didn’t have a choice. He not only felt obligated, but he felt like he should be condemned if he did not. “Woe to me” he says. Basically, he is cursed if he doesn’t. You can imagine the prophet Jonah running away from God’s call to preach the gospel and condemned for his disobedience.

Now, it’s not that guilt should be our primary motivator when it comes to evangelism. But if we are living in disobedience, we should feel some guilt. This is a very clear command that God gives to us. Make disciples (Matt 28:19). It’s clear. So we NEED to be doing it.

But, again, we don’t merely do it out of guilt. The guilt should wake us up at first. But we do it because of the joy. Making disciples, preaching the gospel, brings joy to our Father in heaven, it brings joy to the angels, it brings joy to those who are saved, and what a joy if by God’s grace we are his chosen instruments to bring about this joy.

Now with all of this potential joy, what keeps us from sharing the gospel and bringing in the harvest? It seems to me that this is the number one area of sin that I see in most disciples of Christ. Why don’t we share the gospel more often? Is it a head problem? Is it because we don’t know enough? Perhaps. But I don’t think that’s the issue. If we know enough to be saved, we know enough to save others.

I think the real issue is a heart issue. Sadly, I think the reality is, I just don’t care enough. I obviously care. But I don’t care enough. I care, but it’s a matter of priorities. There are just other things that I care about more, and so evangelism is put on the back burner.

But if we just take a step back and think about our Lord; the one whom we are supposed to take up our cross to follow. What was his priority? What was Jesus’ priority in life? He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). That is why he came. He could have stayed very comfortable in heaven enjoying perfect communion within the Trinity. But there was something that compelled him to leave his heavenly glory, and to lay aside his divine privilege, and to take on human weakness in order to seek and save the lost.

What was it? What motivated Jesus to be so concerned about the lost, that he would so inconvenience himself to save us?

We get a glimpse in our verse:

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

In this verse, we get a glimpse into the heart of the Harvester. I see three qualities: 1) Active Awareness, 2) Emotional Engagement, 3) Shepherding Solution.

1) Active Awareness versus Ingrown Introspection

It would be very easy to pass over this detail, but notice that “He saw…” This means he was actively looking around. And he saw…the crowds. This doesn’t imply that he was just looking at numbers. We know from how the verse continues, when he saw the crowd, he saw individuals close enough so that he could see their emotional and spiritual condition.

And so this is where evangelism, harvesting, begins. By looking around. Before we even say a word, are we listening? Active awareness or active observation.

As an introvert, I confess that I can very easily get lost in my own world and in my own thoughts that I become oblivious to the condition and needs of others. In Korean, they say I lack noon-chi. A literal translation of this word is “eye-sense”. It is using your eyes, looking around, reading nonverbal social cues to gauge people’s feelings and thoughts so that we can act in tactful and appropriate ways. I don’t have good social noon-chi.

And I confess I have not had good evangelistic noon-chi either. I can get so busy with my own business that I don’t take notice of others. In some ways, I can naturally do the spiritual monk thing. I love spending time alone with God in prayer, or meditating on the bible, or reading theology books. That is my natural mode. I love evaluating my own soul and my own personality traits. But it is unnatural for me to spend time thinking about others.

And this is how the Christian bubble happens. Or we can call it Christian cliques. We are just so busy having a good time amongst ourselves, we don’t even notice there is a harvest out there that is ripe for the picking.

How wonderful to know that we have a Savior who notices us. As Psalm 139 tells us, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand.” (Psalm 139:17-18) God has more thoughts of you than you have of yourself. Because he loves you even more than you love yourself. How wonderful that Jesus saw us in our need, and he came to seek us out to save us. And having received his caring love, he calls us to partner with him.

Two ways we can do this is to have an active curiosity into the lives and especially souls of those around you. I’ve been reading The Sacrament of Evangelism by Jerry Root. And he shares the gospel in two ways:

First, he just prays for people and then he tells them he prayed for them. He tells of this one story of a man who would frequent the same restaurant for months. And every time, he would talk with the owner and just let him know that he was praying for him. He did this for months, and he said it so often, the restaurant owner began to actually believe he was praying for him. So eventually, he started sharing prayer requests with him. So here’s the first rule: Before speaking with someone, speak to your heavenly Father about them.

Second, ask unthreatening questions and go as deep as they will allow: Do you have siblings? Are you married? Do you have children? And then listen. Just listen. I think often we are so worried about what we are going to say, when all we need to do is learn to be good active listeners. In fact, there is one evangelistic method called Questioning Evangelism. That is, it is sharing the gospel only through questions. Asking good, thoughtful questions.

The goal here is described well by an old song: “To hear with my heart; to see with my soul.” That’s what we really want to do. You don’t just want to small talk. You start there of course, but you are trying to hear the heart of your friend, and to see into their soul.

This is what we learn from our Master about evangelism. Active awareness.

Emotional Engagement versus Apathetic Detachment

The second quality we see in our Lord was emotional engagement. So the text says, “He had compassion…” This word literally means he felt something in his gut. One translation says, “His heart broke.” So we move from active awareness, to emotional engagement. Jesus not only perceived deeply, he also felt deeply.

This means that evangelism cannot be a merely intellectual activity. We also need to be emotionally involved. Emotionally connected with those with whom we share. Put it another way, we need to have some skin in the game. In Acts 20, the Apostle Paul is saying his farewell to a church he helped to plant, and this is one thing he says, “I am innocent of the blood of all for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:26-27) I remember hearing a classmate of mine preach on this passage, and he thought of the people in his life whom he had been so apathetic in sharing the gospel with them. In fact, one of them had died without him sharing the gospel to him. He starting weeping in the middle of his sermon. He was weeping because he knew he had blood on his hands. There were people with whom he could have shared the gospel, but for whatever reason he didn’t. That was on him.

This is the kind emotional engagement we need. God has sovereignly placed the people in our lives around us so that we can testify to the way, the truth and the life found in Jesus Christ. And if we don’t, we have blood on our hands.

I think the thing is, we tend not to see people as being so needy of the gospel. Everyone seems to be ok, at least on the surface. I mean when you meet someone who is really broken, then ok, but most of the time, people seem fine. But notice how Jesus perceived the people, he saw that they were “harassed and helpless.”

Now these two words can be translated in various ways. But you can think about it this way, to be harassed is something done to you. Where as to be helpless is something you are. I prefer to translate it as wounded and broken. When you think it about this way, we’ve all been wounded by others. But the reality is…we’ve also wounded other also, thus, we’re broken.

No matter how strong people may seem on the surface, everyone is wounded and broken. We may not be able to see it, but Jesus sees it. He sees it in us. But rather than condemning and exposing us, he comforts and covers us. In fact, he allowed himself to be wounded and broken so that by his wounds we could be healed.

But the point here is that he saw our wounds, and he saw our brokenness and that moved him to feel compassion. We know everyone is wounded and broken. And if you prayerfully wait for it, you’ll see it soon enough. When God leads them to a point of vulnerability, and then we have the opportunity to share the love of Christ with them who invites all who are weary and heavy laden to come to him and find rest for their souls.

But we need to be ready. We need hearts that are emotionally engaged like our Master, so that whenever we meet with a yet to be believer, we feel it in our gut, “Ah man, I know this person is wounded and broken, I can’t wait to lead them to Christ.”

And this leads to the third and final quality.

Shepherding Solution versus Programmatic Devices

After Jesus saw, and Jesus felt, he comes to a conclusion. His diagnosis was that they were, “like a sheep without a shepherd.” What does this mean? Shepherding is a super-rich image found all over the bible. But let’s just think about this physically for now. What good are sheep without a shepherd? I looked this up and it turns out that most sheep have been bred and domesticated. There are some wild sheep that are quite capable to survive on their own, but domesticated sheep, are pretty much useless without a shepherd. Without a shepherd, they are vulnerable to predators. Without a shepherd, they get lost and can’t even find food and will starve.

There is a reason that God chooses the image of sheep to describe us. The reality is we are helpless without the Good Shepherd. And we are lost. Just wandering through life, doing our best to find meaning, and hoping our lives can count for something. But the reality is life is full of grief and sorrow. There are so many things that are unexplainable and impossible for us to figure out. Unexpected accidents, unexpected layoffs, unexpected deaths, broken relationships. Depression, panic attacks, schizophrenia, dementia, cancer, war…

For all our technology, and all our wealth and power, we are still so foolish and still so weak. And in addition to all of that we still have not been able to solve the problem of death. Death still wins, every time.

There is only one way to make it through the valley of death. We need a shepherd. One who is infinitely wise. Infinitely strong. And yet became weak and foolish in the eyes of the world in order to carry our grief and sorrows and to show us the way home to God.

And so this is the final quality of an evangelist. We need to always be mindful that the people around us need a shepherd. And that includes me. I need a shepherd. The word ‘pastor’ simply means shepherd. But you know what, I’m really just a guy pointing people to the real Shepherd, Jesus Christ. That’s what we do. Like Paul, he saw himself as a matchmaker who introduces people to Christ (2Cor 11:2). This is evangelism. We can’t save anyone. It won’t be because of our cleverness in answering their questions. It won’t be because of our winsome personality. They need a shepherd, and there is only one who is the way, the truth, and the life. That’s all we do. Introduce them to the shepherd who can lead them home.

And so that means to be a faithful harvester, we simply need to be good sheep. Sheep who follow Jesus every single day, and every single moment of our lives. And as we follow him, we can invite others to join the flock, to follow him too. That’s what we do.

Conclusion

And so those are three qualities of The harvester: 1) Active Awareness, 2) Emotional Engagement, 3) Shepherding Solution. Or we can phrase them as questions: 1) Are you looking? 2) Do you care? 3) Where is your shepherd?

And as we feel our wounds, and our brokenness. As we see our inadequacies; that we have not be sharing the gospel as we ought to. As we have been so introverted and detached, we especially need to go to our Shepherd. “Come to me,” he says, “all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” Let’s take this time now and go to Jesus, the healer of our souls. And let’s pray that he gives us his heart.

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