‘Harassed and Helpless’: Sheep in Need of the Shepherd
Something about Jesus drew crowds.
We see this time and time again throughout the Gospels. One time Jesus clambers onto a boat in order to avoid being crushed by the great crowd pressing in on him (Mark 3:9-10). On another occasion he escapes the crowd by boat only to find himself amidst a great storm (which, being God, he calms with a word) (Matthew 8:23-27). And then there is the feeding of the five thousand, closely followed by the feeding of the four thousand (Matthew 14:13-21 and 15:32-39) which always reminds me of when an unexpected visitor arrives and fails to get the hint, even when it has turned midnight, you’ve changed into your jim-jams and are now striking theatrical yawns…
And so, when Matthew describes a particular scene involving a particular crowd, he is describing little that is out of the ordinary.
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. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:35-36)
Matthew helps us understand why it is that huge crowds gather around Jesus. The crowd are like sheep in search of a shepherd. They are ‘harassed and helpless’; they understand that their situation is desperate and they understand that they are helpless to escape their circumstances.
The sheep intensely feel the reality of their situation and this drives them to Jesus in search of rescue and direction.
This is an insightfully accurate description of Westwood. Or Oldham. Or Middleton. Or Chadderton. This is the place where you live and work. This is why it is important that Christians leave their ghettos and spend time in the real world. If you worship at Firwood Church, I challenge you, this Sunday afternoon, to take some time to walk around the Westwood estate and, as you do so, I urge you to pray that God opens your eyes to truly see this world as he sees it.
The people of Westwood, the people of Oldham, the people living on your estate, working in your place of work and shopping alongside you on a Saturday afternoon are like sheep in need of a shepherd. Before I stand up on a Sunday to deliver God’s word, one of the things I pray is, ‘God help me see’. Unless we see the plight of people through God’s eyes and through the filter of his Word, we are unfit for ministry. Our role is to seek out the harassed and helpless and point them towards the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4).
The truth is that this crowd is every crowd. Our joy and comfort resides in the truth that Jesus saw and, as he saw the need, the hurt and the desperation, he felt deep compassion. This is astonishing to me. Where government and non-profit organisation despair in their inability to turn back the tide of increasing poverty, social degradation and rising crime rates, Jesus sees incredible opportunity,
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few (Matthew 9:37)
Seeing is only part of the calling; we are also called to understand.
As the world looks at the harassed and helpless, it is overwhelmed by the extent of the need and is so often led to despair. Where the world sees hopelessness, Jesus sees opportunity, ‘The harvest is plentiful’.
This should help the church understand why this world is as it is. Social deprivation, soaring crime rates, illiteracy, sickness and poverty is used of God to ripen the harvest. In all of this Jesus sees opportunity for the Gospel to go forth and so must the church.
This is the heartbeat of Firwood Church. It is no accident that we find ourselves in Westwood, Oldham, one of the most socially deprived areas in the North West of England. The Lord has called us here and, more than this, he has been busy preparing a harvest for himself.
Now consider Jesus response to this overwhelming need,
“…therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:38)
This is really interesting.
Jesus, the Son of God, is stood right there, the harassed and helpless literally within touching distance. The same Jesus who calms the storm, heals the sick and feeds thousands with the most meagre of portions supernaturally multiplied, shows his disciples and teaches his church that prayer is the solution to the situation and circumstances all around us. Jesus commands us to pray and, more than this, he urges us to pray earnestly.
And this is my exhortation to, not just Firwood Church, but, to the Church of Christ. As we see need, pray. As we see the harassed and helpless, pray. As we see hopelessness, despair, hardship and suffering, pray. Pray from a heart of compassion broken for sheep desperately in want of the Shepherd. Pray earnestly, persistently and unceasingly. Pray specifically; that the Lord of the harvest would send out labourers.
And, for those of us who worship at Firwood Church, this week of all weeks, we can, should and must pray most specifically. As Stephen, Pavlina, Dave and Sarah set about recruiting Eden members at the New Wine Conference, there is a great need to pray that God would raise up many labourers with a heart for the broken and the poor. We pray this not only for Eden Westwood; we pray this for the Church of Christ.
But then Jesus goes further, much further than you or I perhaps dare to imagine.
These twelve Jesus sent out… (Matthew 10:5)
Jesus takes the twelve and shows them the great need and urges them to pray that God would send out labourers. Jesus then takes this twelve and sends them out into the harvest field.
And so I pray a dangerous prayer over you as you read this. I pray God would awaken in you a great passion, a holy enthusiasm, for his glory and his fame. I pray that you would see the need and, in the midst of darkness, that you would see great opportunity for the glory of King Jesus to shine most brightly.
And I pray that you, yes, you, would be convicted, challenged, exhorted and compelled to go out into the harvest field and serve the lost, serve the broken and the desperate. More than this, I pray that you would spend yourself in service of the kingdom and for the honour of his great name.