When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." Matthew 9:36-38
This passage gives us such a glimpse into the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ, into His compassionate heart. In this passage, His compassion is stirred by looking on the crowds. This was not the kind of look that you and I would do, but rather a supernatural look right into the hearts of huge numbers of people. Jesus had the ability to see into people’s souls…what was their basic nature, what were their fears and griefs, what guilt weighed down their consciences, what was their outlook for the future. The information coming into His divine eyes was enough to pierce His compassionate heart for the lostness He saw there. The Bible makes it clear that the natural state of people is of “lostness,” as Paul put it in Ephesians 2:12, “without hope and without God in the world.” As Christ Himself put it, they were naturally slaves of sin: “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). What a horrendous taskmaster is sin, daily enticing then crushing, enticing then crushing. And this enslavement makes people “without hope and without God in the world.” They have no possibility of changing their own situation, and “in all their thoughts there is no room for God” (Psalm 10:4).
As a result, people are naturally “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The word “harassed” makes me think of experiences I have had with deer flies. These persistent creatures buzz around your head, into your eyes, in your hair…and their bite is fierce! I have been walking through the most peaceful and beautiful woods and had my reverie totally shattered by one single deer fly. But the demonic forces of evil in the heavenly realms, which constantly harass the unsaved person with temptations to sin followed by accusations of sin…these are worse than ten thousand deer flies assigned to harass one hiker in the woods. The lost have no protection, no Good Shepherd to rescue them from the thief or the wolf. They are helpless and hopeless.
So in America today, we are surrounded daily by friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow citizen, total strangers who meet this same description. The woman standing ahead of you at the grocery store may be unsaved. If so, her life contains more grief than you can know by reason of being “harassed and helpless.” Most of this grief is hidden from your natural sight, but Christ sees it all, and His heart is moved with compassion for people like her. The neighbor who lives at the end of your block may wave cheerfully at you while you drive by while he mows his lawn. But if he is unsaved, he is “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus is moved by compassion for people like him.
"Jesus had the ability to see into people’s souls…what was their basic nature, what were their fears and griefs, what guilt weighed down their consciences, what was their outlook for the future."
The question is, are you? Do you have any sense whatsoever of the present tyranny of sin that oppresses your neighbors and co-workers daily? Do you understand what faces them in eternity? If so, when was the last time you risked opening your mouth to speak to someone’s soul about Jesus? Or even obeyed Jesus’ command in this passage by praying for laborers for the harvest field? If you can rightly say that you have not spoken a word of spiritual truth to a lost neighbor, co-worker or family member in the last six months, ask God to renew in you what you do not have sufficiently: compassion for the lost. Simply say, “Lord Jesus, give me the same heart you have for lost people. Work in me to pray for laborers, then work in me to become a laborer with you for the lost.” Let Him give you His heart, then be willing to act boldly out of your renewed compassion for the lost.