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A Compassion-Compelled Community

Matthew 9:35-10:4

Consider with me a couple of questions.

What should we see when we daily observe the people surrounding us?

What do we see in people coming to this church?

What do we see in people around us?

Tremendous needs exist among the people of our world. In every part of the globe—America included—people are racked with pain, disease, abuse, addiction, war, ethnic strife, hunger, homelessness, and social and political upheaval. Those are the obvious needs, easy to see or, on the other hand, ignore!


As you know, however, that does not represent everyone in our world needing healing. In the United States, in fact, the biggest need is obscured, and therefore easy to miss entirely, because the neediest in America look like you and me on a good day. They seem not to have problems at all. They are people we might consider good; we might even say of them, "It's difficult to witness to them, because they have so much going for them they fail to see their need for Christ."

Obviously, one of Satan's most clever strategies is to allow people to be "blessed to death"—spiritual death. In the third world, his strategy is to take away; in our corner of the world, it is to give too much. If we fail to look at a person's spiritual state, we will miss his great need.


INTERACT: Identify three people you know who seem to be doing very well, but don't know Christ.


How should we respond when we see people's true needs? When Jesus saw the crowds, He formed two major sermons found in the book of Matthew. These define for us the "inhaling and exhaling" of the Christian life, giving us definite responses to our world's conditions.

The first—the Sermon on the Mount—teaches Christian life. The second is the Sermon on Mission, which teaches us how to be a Compassion-Compelled Community/church. We need to specifically apply the first part of the Sermon on Mission and other related passages to our lives. The Sermon on Mission begins with the final four verses of Matthew 9 and continues through 11:1, with Mt. 9:35 one of the most clear and concise solutions for the needy of the world.

Jesus, immersed in the physical and spiritual needs of people, offers a sermon directed to His disciples, and ultimately to us. We will look at just a few verses of the introduction—Matt. 9:35-10:5a.

35] Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36] When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on 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 workers are few. 38] Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." 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. 2] These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3] Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4] Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. 5] These twelve Jesus sent out. . ."

The Sources of Christian Mission

In these two introductory paragraphs of the Sermon on Mission, we learn there are six sources from which the church may draw in order to be perpetually missionary, constantly impacting the world for good. Where these sources are alive in us, mission thrives. They are:


  • The Eyes of ChristSeeing


  • The Heart of Jesus' CompassionFeeling


  • The Prayer of the DisciplesPraying


  • The Equipping and Discovering of Spiritual Gifts in MinistryEquipping and Discovering


  • The Belonging to the Fellowship and Diversity of the Local Church/Ministry TeamBelonging


  • The Sending by Jesus to ServeSending/Serving



The passage focuses first on

The eyes of Christ

(9:36). Our Lord's eyes and heart motivated Him to mission. "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them…" It is difficult, maybe impossible, to have compassion for the physical and spiritual sicknesses of people until we see them as they really are.

Why are we not seeing people as they really are? Many of us have forgotten, or never knew, our true condition when we came to Christ. Some of us have a true picture of ourselves; we know we were helpless before coming to Christ, and therefore we understand we were forgiven of much. Others of us were never taught about our life in relationship to a holy God.

"Holiness" is being completely devoid of sin and filled with every kind of goodness. We often focus on God's goodness and miss His total absence of sin. It affects our entire lives and the content of our questions. People who focus on the goodness of God are quick to ask, "If God is love (or good), why did He let this happen to me?" People who focus on the total absence of sin in God are grateful and quick to ask, "Why is He so merciful to me?" Salvation for many was a reasonable decision based on the benefits expected and testimonies of others. It was good for them, necessary only secondarily.

It is crucial to comprehend God's goodness, but full repentance comes only when we see ourselves in light of a holy God. If we don't fully plumb the depths of our sinfulness at salvation, we may never completely appreciate what Christ has done for us. Furthermore, we will not understand how lost others are. Do you see what a difference your view of yourself can make?

If we have an inaccurate and incomplete understanding of our spiritual need, our eyes will be closed to the spiritual needs of others, and we will look too quickly to the outward appearance. Jesus had to tell the disciples in John 4:35, "Do you not say, 'Four months more and then the harvest?' I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest." Therefore, we must see people clearly, if we are going to affect this world.

INTERACT: Look up the following Scriptures: Eph. 2:1-3; 4:17-19; Gal. 5:19-21; Titus 3:3; Rom. 1:28-32. List all the phrases that describe our spiritual state without Christ, or "in the flesh."


The heart of Jesus' compassion

But seeing is not all that is necessary. This passage reminds us that Jesus not only saw clearly with his eyes, but was compelled into ministry by His heart of compassion. "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them…" The Lord was moved with deep emotion and feeling. The definition of "compassion" is very helpful;
  • here, the Greek verb means literally, "to feel in the viscera,"
  • and in colloquial English can be rendered "feels for," or
  • "I feel it in my gut!"


Even that phrase, however, fails to express the full meaning. It literally means a convulsion in the stomach, or to be moved deep down inside, to be gripped with compassion and brought to tears. When Jesus sees people, He feels for them and they "reach" Him. Our Lord's compassion is deep—"convulsing, or upsetting; from His innermost being." Therefore, if we are going to be compelled into Christian mission, we too must have the compassionate heart of our Lord.

INTERACT: What would it take for you to have the Lord's motivation, that "convulsion in the stomach," to be truly moved for those who need Christ?

Because Jesus sees and suffers with people, He initiates mission/ministry toward them. His mission is not motivated by His disgust for people because they are such sinners. His mission is motivated by what He sees and the compassion He feels. I love that! (Other examples of Jesus' compassion can be found in Matt. 14:14-17; 15:29-33; 19:13-14.)

This passage tells us the reason for Jesus' deep emotion and compassion: "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." What does Jesus see in these "sheep?" He describes them as:

  • Harassed—walking with difficulty; to be mangled, flayed, lacerated, weary, exhausted
  • Helpless—to be cast down, thrown down
  • Like sheep without a shepherd—without guidance, direction, care

This view of people is not obvious. People may not look like helpless sheep to you. A person can, in fact, look together on the outside and yet be in this state on the inside (including your friends and family). That is why we need to pray for eyes like our Lord's, because we just do not see.

Jesus' description makes it obvious that when we do truly see, we should then recognize that these people's greatest need is a Shepherd. This is profound truth. Our mission is not to go out and shape up the world, or simply meet physical needs. Our task is to look through the eyes of Jesus and see the helplessness of people wandering the fields without a shepherd—their depression, their suppression, their mangled, flayed, lacerated, weary, exhausted, and cast-down spiritual states. Then these overwhelmingly needy people are to be introduced to the good Shepherd—Jesus Himself. Oh, how people need Him!

They need a Shepherd who is gracious and helpful, who does not require His sheep to leap through hoops before they get to pasture, but who on the slightest notice of need or danger is there to help. This Shepherd doesn't require clean sheep before He will accept them—only repentance. This Shepherd will lay down His life for His sheep and extend grace and forgiveness. This Shepherd will love and change His sheep. That includes good, religious people; the rich; the successful, as well as the overtly needy. Some of us need to open our eyes and see those closest to us differently.

So, the first task of our mission as the Lord's disciples is to compassionately help people by presenting to them their Shepherd.

INTERACT: What are the characteristics of the Good Shepherd as presented in Scripture? Write a character sketch. See Ps. 23; Is. 40:11; Ezek. 34; John 10:1-18; 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:1-4.

By observing what action followed our Lord's compassion toward others, we note that it moved Him to do at least five things.


  1. He healed them.
    Matthew 14:14—"When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick." This represents all kinds of healing. This is where we get our example to be a healing community. (See also Matt. 20:34; Mark 1:41)


  2. He fed them.
    Matthew 15:32—"Jesus called his disciples to him and said, 'I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.'" The ministry of Jesus was also about meeting physical needs beyond healing. He cared when they were hungry and did not want them to be sent away and collapse due to hunger. This must always be a ministry of Hillcrest, especially to those who are in the crowd and following Jesus.


  3. He taught the crowds.
    Mark 6:34—"When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things." People who do not have a Shepherd, just like those who do, need to be taught. This can mean outreach seminars, public services, etc. The followers of Christ and the crowds of the curious need to be taught. We must continually find ways to do that, in the church gathered and scattered.

    INTERACT: Which of the above aspects of ministry comes most naturally to you? Which is a "stretch?"


  4. He taught us to watch and wait for the prodigal child.
    Luke15:20—"So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." People who follow the Lord must have this same awareness while waiting for the prodigal. Hillcrest will need to watch, run, kiss, and welcome home the prodigal.



  5. He taught His disciples about the harvest.
    In the midst of his ministry to the crowds, Jesus conducted some very specific teaching to His closest men as well. In Matthew 9:37, "Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.'" Many people don't know the condition of the harvest because they don't see what Jesus does. Jesus makes it clear—the harvest is here. We must understand that the harvest is not the problem; it is plentiful. Why is it that all the people of the world have not been introduced to their Shepherd? How will this happen?


The answer to these questions is the next point of the Sermon on Mission. People primarily need the Shepherd Himself, but to be introduced to Him and to grow in their knowledge of Him, people need shepherds sent by the Shepherd. Where will these workers and undershepherds come from? What if there are not enough to meet the need? There is only one way we will get sufficient undershepherds and flock workers, and Jesus explains that way clearly:


The prayer of disciples

(9:37-38. 37). "Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38] Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'"

The metaphors Jesus uses change abruptly, but the message is clear. There is a great need, but little help. Whether sheep and shepherd or harvest and workers, the truth remains: the numbers of people who do not know their Lord are immense, and the numbers who work for their Lord are miniscule. In fact, the task looks hopeless, and Jesus admits as much with His contrasts of "plentiful" and "few" in verse 37. But thankfully, statistics and quantities are not ultimate realities, the final source of information.

The source of mission/workers from the human side is prayer; there is a big God with plenty of help. We can't possibly organize, or challenge, or disciple enough people to meet the need of the harassed and helpless, nor to bring in the plentiful harvest. There is only one solution to the need: We must pray that the Lord will do the impossible and send sufficient workers into the field of harvest.

Jesus is not recorded as saying, "The harvest is huge, the laborers are few; so go as workers into the harvest." Rather, in the face of the immense need and of the scarcity of recruits, the disciples are told to pray for His recruiting of workers. The following principles apply:


  • Sufficient workers/shepherds will be present only when there is sufficient prayer for workers/shepherds.


  • Mission belongs to the sovereignty of God.


  • Where there is no prayer, there will be no mission, no sending of workers.

The people of Hillcrest Chapel have the potential of making a huge impact on the harvest, if we train and send enough workers across the street and around the world. This has been my most consistent prayer: for Christian education workers, small group/campus core group leaders, social services and Ministry Central workers, missionaries, campus pastors, pastors of local churches, teachers, professional people working in the harvest, youth workers.

INTERACT: What could be the elements of such a prayer? Write some ideas.

This verse also contains a simple but profound truth: God wants obedient workers who gather an already ripe harvest. Notice the name given to these needed people: "workers," a simple, even somewhat unappealing name. Is that all Jesus wants?

In fact, yes! Jesus does not say that the need is for experts, or even for particularly fiery types. He simply needs workers. Their work is not even described as sowing (an image used elsewhere for mission), but as working on an already present harvest. The picture painted here is of a work practically finished, completed mainly by the Lord Himself, in which we have the relatively simple, uncomplicated task of entering into and gathering work already done. Even in cases where an area is unreached, it is important to recognize this!

INTERACT: Describe some of the faithful "workers" (according to this definition) you have known.

Notice also the words "send out." What is the significance of this phrase? Workers often need four things:

First, they need to know they are sent by God and not by the choosing or plan of man. In fact, the most effective workers are those convinced they are sent by God. They can make it through the hard times. Often a fire must initially be lit under them, to thrust them from their comfort into the world of need. Those who would be the most effective are sometimes comfortable and settled, and God has to bring conviction and/or circumstances to bear so they hear and feel His calling. You may be in that place, needing assurance of your calling and a little fire of conviction or circumstances to get you going. God will do that for you.

The second thing people need is to feel prepared, because most people feel ill-equipped for service. Don't you think, though, that if God calls you, He will prepare you? If He sends you out, will He not give you the necessary tools or equipment to do your task? Of course He will! Look what He did for the disciples.

We don't have time to explore this in-depth, but Matthew 10:1 illustrates how Jesus equipped them with spiritual gifts for ministry. "He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness." When the disciples were sent, they had all the equipment/gifts they needed for their task. When you are sent, God will do the same for you (Rom. 12, 1 Cor.12-14; Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Peter 4).


One summer I worked in the harvest. I had to drive a truck on the side of steep hills next to the combines in order to pick up the grain. The truck could have flipped over; I was told what to do if it did. No sweat! I had driven go-carts over 50 mph three inches off the ground with only a kill switch and no brakes. I was prepared for any old rollover.

If God calls you, He will prepare you. He has always given me what I needed through 29 years of ministry.

INTERACT: What types of equipping/preparation has the Lord already done in your life?

Third, this passage also demonstrates the need to belong to the fellowship and diversity of a local church/ministry team. Matthew 10:2-4 lists the 12 disciples Jesus called as a team. God will not call you alone, but will place you in a team and in a church if you walk with Him.

Finally, this passage shows us the need to be sent by Jesus to serve whenever and wherever He might lead. v. 5a—"These twelve Jesus sent out..."



In these two introductory paragraphs of the Sermon on Mission, we have learned the sources from which the church may draw in order to be perpetually missionary, continually impacting the world for good.

Seeing—seeing the crowds

Feeling—feeling compassion

Praying/asking—asking for workers

Sending—knowing we are sent by God

Equipping/discovery—being equipped for ministry and discovering our gifts

Joining—being a part of a ministry team with its fellowship and diversity

Serving—serving the Lord whenever and wherever He might lead.


Application (Church Gathered)

I want you to think of two arenas for application of this teaching.

You and I need to be compassionately compelled toward family and friends. They are not judged on a goodness scale. If they do not know the Lord, you must pray for the Lord's eyes to see them as harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. I have heard too many Christians give excuses based on their family and friends' goodness or success, belying that we are not seeing them as we should. We need to pray for the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into your family.

Your church is also an arena that should be seen as a place of ministry. We emphasize the church scattered a lot, but I want you to remember the ministry opportunity each time you walk through the door of your church. We have a wonderful opportunity each Sunday, a plentiful harvest, but we lack enough workers. What do you see when you see the crowds? Some of us are so focused on friends that we don't even see the ones around us. What can you do? Pray the Lord will send you as a worker into this harvest field.


  • Do you understand the harvest here?


  • Will you open your eyes?


  • Will you pray for each week?


  • Will you pray for next week?


During the week, and then when you walk into the building, pray to have the Lord's eyes.


Application (Church Scattered):

It's too easy to focus on our own surroundings and only periodically glance at what is happening in others' lives. Oh, some look up occasionally, but usually follow that glance with a negative comment about the event or person, and some action to assure their own safety, happiness, or lifestyle. I don't think we feel compassion, or pray like we should, because our vision of the world and its needs is incomplete. We are not seeing.

It is possible to see by eyes of faith, but there is nothing like getting among the needy—seeing their hurts, seeing their condition. Some of us never see because our lives are insulated and isolated from others. Many of us need to break out of our isolated worlds and rub shoulders with hurts. Did you catch that? Rub shoulders with hurts!

We do that intentionally, praying for our Lord's eyes and doing some of the following:


  1. Develop friendships, or at least communication opportunities, with those outside your circle of friends. Talk with people; listen for their needs; and, with sensitivity, ask questions.


  2. Take walking tours of your neighborhood, your city, places where people are: hospitals, rest homes, campuses, the mall: listen and observe.


  3. Read your newspaper; listen to news broadcasts, and look for common problems/needs.


  4. Study countries that are going through political and/or social upheaval.


  5. Talk, and listen, to those dealing with the spiritual and physical needs of people.


  6. Adopt one of our missionaries and find out all you can about them and their mission.


  7. Read biographies of missionaries, doctors, etc.


  8. Take a short term missions trip; invite an international student to your home and help him/her with English.


  9. Take a prayerful look at your friends, as Hillcrest's future will look like them. People brought to the Lord often come through invitation of a friend.



Concentric Circles

Inner Circle: Best friends, mate, family members who know the Lord
e.g. Disciples in the inner circle (Peter, James and John), and the Lord's family after the resurrection.

Cell: Small group, ministry team, people mentored, disciples
e.g. Jesus and His disciples.

Core: The committed workers and attenders in a local church, the 20% who do 80% of the giving and ministry
e.g., the Lord sent out the 72—Luke 10:1,17.

Church Congregation: Members and regular attenders of a local church
e.g. Rom. 1:7; Ephesians 1:1, etc.

Cloud of Witnesses: Those believers/saints who have gone before us and have given us examples of faith and love
e.g. Heb. 12:1.


The Crowds:

Crowds Who Need Compassion: Crowd of extended family/family circle. Those who don't know the Lord—mates, parents, siblings, relatives
e.g. Jesus' family before the Resurrection.

Crowds of the religious: Those who think that good works and personal goodness are the criteria for pleasing God. They may be open or hostile to the Good News that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ and not by our works.
e.g. Eph. 2:9.

Crowds of sympathizers: Those with some sympathy toward the Christian faith, but who have not yet embraced it
e.g., Nicodemus—John 3:1-21.

Crowds of the curious: Those who want to see what is happening and are impressed with miracles, healings, and changed lives, but have not yet decided if they are open to the faith. These people may attend services or ask questions to find out more
e.g. Acts 2:5-12

Crowds who are watching, observing, but have not shown any outward interest: They may not even recognize behavior as Christian, but are trying to figure out what motivates a believer, and whether his/her life is genuine or phony.

Crowds who are antagonistic: Those who have decided that Christianity or churches are evil or hurtful, and do or say things to heed the progress of Christianity or a church's life.

Crowds who have no contact with the church or believers and don't know anything about the Lord or Christianity.