Matthew 9:36-10:8


If I were to ask you to paint a picture depicting the state of the people of the world, what would you do? Of course, some of you might laugh, and say, ‘Me! Paint a picture?’ But leaving aside any inability to paint for the moment, what would you come up with?

Would you paint a picture of people fighting one another? Or people going hungry? Would you paint a picture of people abandoning their homes? Or people trying to escape to somewhere they might feel safe, wherever that may be? Would you paint a picture of people harassed and dejected, with no hope, with no real leader they can trust, and very little to look forward to? Or would you paint something completely different?

And if I were to ask you to paint a picture depicting the spiritual state of the people of the world, would you come up with a picture that was any different? Of course, you might include a plethora of religions: from Christianity, to Islam, to Buddhism, to Hinduism, or to any one of the many New Age religions. But would your picture also include people who were lost, needing hope, and searching for the right answers—only to find that most were wandering aimlessly, seeking the answers to the questions of life, and just unable to find them?

It’s all doom and gloom today, isn’t it? And I probably sound like a Jehovah’s Witnesses who’s just knocked on your front door. But, despite that, it’s very difficult to disguise the fact that the world we live in, is in a mess. And even if something can be done, it can seem that the problem is just too big to do anything meaningful about it.

So, today we are faced with a challenge. Because even if the problem seems too big, is that an excuse not to try? And I ask that, because if we were to think our situation is unique in history, and that the problems we face in the world today are quite new—and quite unique—we would be very much mistaken. And I say that confidently because the same images that I’ve just painted this morning, are exactly the same as the ones that Jesus alluded to two thousand years ago.

B. THE PROBLEM (Matthew 9:36, Mark 6:34)

Because Jesus too was an observer of mankind. And as he went about the villages and cities of his homeland, he observed a harassed and dejected people—people with little or no hope.

And he knew the depths of their despair. Because caught up in his sentiment and his words is a pretty powerful Old Testament image—an image that would have been easily understood by Matthew’s early readers:

Image 1: The Wilderness (Numbers 27:17)
‘Like sheep without a shepherd’. It’s an image from the time of Moses. An image of the people of God wandering in the wilderness. Only this time, not wandering with a leader like Moses. But people aimlessly wandering, going around in circles, with no home, and not knowing where they were going or what would happen to them next. Wandering in the wilderness, but this time without any lights to follow or a God in whom to have faith. Spiritually dead with no one to guide them.

Image 2: Exile and Dispersion (Ezekiel 34:5)
‘Like sheep without a shepherd’. It’s also an image also from the time of Ezekiel. Of a people scattered, as if being attacked and scattered by wild beasts. And, as the result of war, evicted from their homes, and scattered across the globe. Living lives as foreigners in a strange country, with no hope of ever going home, and having lost all faith in the God they had left behind.

C. THE SOLUTION (Matthew 9:37, Luke 10:2)

Does it sound familiar? Well, the basic problem hasn’t changed. It’s still the same; the pictures and images are identical. And the problem is still too big now; the same as it’s ever been.

However, whereas it may seem to us to be a problem too big to do anything meaningful about it, Jesus was not fazed with the size of the problem. He knew the answer to the problem was that people needed hope. He knew that people needed leadership, and they needed something to believe in. However, he also knew that he wasn’t physically capable of doing the job all by himself. And that he would need much help.

And the hope that he suggested that people needed? Well again it was couched in another powerful Old Testament image—this time of the harvest. And an image that, again, would have been easily understood by Matthew’s early readers.

Image 3: The Final Gathering (Isaiah 27:12; Joel 3:13)
Because the image is of the end days: the final gathering of God’s people. A time when the faithful would be gathered up by God to receive their just reward. A time when all wrongs would be righted. A time when all wounds would be healed; when the world would be made right; and a time when eternal life would begin for those who were true to God.

It was a picture, Jesus knew, that would give people hope and meaning. A picture that would give purpose to those who were lost and alone. And a picture that would give people direction, something to live for, and a God to believe in.

Image 4: Judgement Day
However, side by side with the image of the harvest was the other side of the coin: Judgement Day. The end of the line for those who reject God; the end of the line for those who have no time for him or have replaced him with other beliefs.

Because, as far as Jesus was concerned, the people he had witnessed to were not necessarily ‘bad’ people. Rather, they were the objects of Jesus’s compassion. But what they needed was hope. The people needed faith in the one true God. But they also needed to be told the consequences of rejecting God too.


So having worked out the problem and having devised the solution—the need for hope—he then took the next step of putting that solution into practice.

Jesus was not intimidated by a problem that appeared too big. And neither should we. And far from taking a complicated way to carry out his plan, Jesus devised a plan that came in five simple stages:

Stage 1: Prayer (9:38)
Stage 1, was prayer. Jesus knew how important it was to ask God to provide suitable helpers. Jesus prayed, and he asked the disciples to pray too. Now he didn’t just ask the twelve apostles to pray, he asked all of his followers. The problem was pressing—something needed to be done urgently. But still, the right people needed to be selected, and God’s guidance needed to be urgently sought.

Stages 2 & 3: Selection/Commissioning (10:1-4) (Mk 3:14-19, Luke 6:14-16)
Stage 2, was the selection of twelve helpers—and presumably after receiving the response from God. Jesus called twelve suitable disciples to his side. He then grouped them in pairs, reflecting the manner in which they were to be sent out.

Stage 3, was the commissioning of the apostles. And they were given specific tasks and powers: to preach, to heal, and to exorcise evil spirits.

Stage 4 & 5: Teaching/Sending Out the Labourers (10:5-8)
Stage 4, they were given specific instructions. They were told where to go, what to do, and even what not to do. Instructions that initially, at least, sent them to their own people—the Jewish population in the area of Galilee. But instructions which held them in great stead for future missions elsewhere.

And, by application, stage 5: He sent them on their way.


The practical application of Jesus’s solution was almost too simple. But it was very effective in combating the malaise that he had witnessed.

In terms of images, Jesus had identified the problem in terms of: people wandering aimlessly like sheep without a shepherd and like people scattered by wild beasts. And he had identified the solution in terms of giving people an image of hope—of the gathering up by God of his faithful people, but with a warning about Judgement Day for unbelievers. And he had provided a practical, working solution in order for his plan to be realised.

Image 5: The Restoration of God’s People
And, of course, the significance of sending out ‘twelve’ disciples, to a nation that was set up by God based on ‘twelve’ tribes, would not have been lost on the people either. The imagery of God restoring God’s people to their original design would also have been part of the plan to give people hope.

As a consequence, there are some very powerful images alluded to in this gospel passage. And ones that should give us much hope in the task that lays before us too.


So, when we consider the world in which we live—the dreadful pictures that we could paint with the aimless wandering of the people and feelings of helplessness and lack of hope, yes, we can get lost in despair—particularly when the problem seems just too big. Alternatively, we can learn the message of hope.

Jesus has given us a solution. And he has also given us the perfect model to follow. As a consequence, it is our turn to put it into practice.

1. Prayer
So, firstly, we need to pray. We need to pray to God that more people will be provided to work in the harvest. And just as Jesus told all the disciples—not just the twelve apostles—to pray, so it is something that all believers should be involved in. The matter is urgent, and the task is far from finished.

2 & 3. Selection and commissioning
Secondly, we need to involve ourselves in the selection of workers: people appropriate to the task.

Thirdly, we need to commission those workers for the work ahead.

Now Jesus commissioned the twelve apostles in the ministries of preaching, healing and exorcism, because they fitted the requirements of the day. However, they are not the only areas of ministry that are relevant today. Indeed, the areas of ministry we require may include other aspects of ministry as well. However, we do need to be involved.

4 & 5. Teaching and being sent
Fourthly, we need to teach and equip the workers. We need to give clear directions on what is required.

And then, and only then, fifthly, we need to send them out into the harvest.

Having said that, we need to remember something particular about this story from Jesus’s ministry. Because when we think about missionaries and sending out workers, we often think in terms of missionary organizations sending people far away and overseas. As a consequence, we need to remind ourselves that the apostles were not in this instance being sent overseas, they were required to be missionaries in their own land and to exercise their commission among their own people. So, likewise, our area of mission should begin in our own local area too.


So today, we are faced with a world which has gone crazy. People are lost, confused, and the rest of it. And sometimes we might think, ‘Where do we go from here?’

But it’s not a new problem as we’ve just discovered. And there is a temptation, because of the size of the problem, to do nothing—to leave it in the too hard basket and leave it alone.

However, the example of Jesus demonstrates that there is a solution. People need hope. They need something to believe in. And what better hope is there, than the hope in the truth of the one true God and the picture of the final gathering of God’s people?

Today, then, we’ve been faced with some very powerful images. But let’s make sure that that’s not all they are—just images. Let’s do something about it.

Let’s pray for more workers. Let’s prepare ourselves for both the selection and commissioning of workers. And let’s get ready for the preparation, so we too can send workers out into the harvest.

Posted: 11th June 2022
© 2022, Brian A Curtis