35 “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35–38 (ESV)
Matthew summarized in today’s text the teaching, preaching and healing ministry of Jesus Christ (Matt. 5-9). The apostle also introduced the mission discourse of Matthew 10. The following excerpt is from Dr. J. Ligon Duncan of Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi.
So far Matthew has been interested to record in his gospel the words of Jesus’ wisdom and the display of His power. He has shown us that the crowds enthusiastically respond to Christ, and that the Pharisees are antagonistic toward Him in their opposition of the Lord Jesus.
From this point on in Matthew, Matthew is not only going to show you the outward results of Jesus’ ministry, he going to start with revealing to you the heart motions, the heart motivations of those who were the central story of the gospel. Here he is going to show you the heart of Jesus. Why is it that Jesus is going about village to village healing? Because He had a heart of compassion for these people who were like sheep without a shepherd.
But he’s also going to start revealing to you the heart of the Pharisees, the heart of the disciples and the hearts of those who are following at the fringe. In this passage, Matthew begins to show the emotional forces motivating the leading characters in the gospel story. And so, Christ’s ministry is seen now as a bitter struggle, and gradually the cross is revealed more and more. But Christ, here in this passage, looks at the ignorant multitudes and He responds not with derision but with love and compassion. As He looks at these people who were in rebellion against God and their lives are a wreck, He looks upon them not with disdain but with love, and longing to see them restored to God.
This passage is so important for us, because when we feel our sin as we ought, our natural tendency is to desire to run away from the judgment of God, but Christ here beckons those who feel themselves sinners to come to Him, for He has compassion, for He sees that we are sheep without a shepherd. This passage is also so important for the free offer of the gospel, for here He calls on us to go into the field of harvest and call those to Him with a serious, well-intentioned offer that all those who will come to him will find rest.
This whole passage shows us that Christ is the proper object of faith, which is to trust into Him, and to believe His claims. This passage shows us that faith is the instrument by which we receive the benefits of Christ’s work, that is, it’s not the source of the blessings which Christ gives us, it’s the means, it’s the vehicle whereby He gives us those blessings. And this passage shows us that we have good warrant to trust in Him, for it reveals to us, and gives us confidence in Him because of the heart He shows to us here.
Embrace Christ in all His fullness. If you come today sorrowing and weak, embrace Him in His fullness. If you come in an awareness of your sin, embrace Him, for He longs to restore the scattered sheep to the fold of the one true shepherd. Let us look to him in prayer.
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Soli deo Gloria!