Let’s face it. Ministry is tough. Especially when it comes to serving as ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor 5:20) to a world that is destined to hate us because it first hated our Lord whose kingdom we are proclaiming (Matt. 10:22). As a result, the people to whom we minister make our calling all the more difficult because they can be annoying, ungrateful, and downright nasty. They get in our way and ruin our day. But there’s a greater problem with people. A problem that can be revealed by looking at the ministry of our Lord.
In Matthew 9:35-38, there are 4 features of Christ’s ministry to be emulated by all believers that highlight the problem with people.
The first of these is Christ’s Model seen in verse 35: “Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.”
Jesus’ 3-fold ministry that comprised this model involved teaching the Old Testament prophets in the center of Jewish life, the synagogue, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom which involved announcing His rule and reign in the new covenant, and, healing the sick to authenticate His authority and message while exhibiting His love for people. Though every detail of Christ’s ministry is not to be exactly emulated by believers, His proclamation to and love for people is. Which leads us to the second feature of Christ’s ministry that will help us see the problem with people.
Secondly, Christ’s Vision is evident in the phrase :”Seeing the people.” In a moment I will talk about Christ’s compassion, but I want to point out that His compassion would not manifest if He did not first take notice, real notice, of the people around Him. If you want to model Christ’s ministry, you have to pay attention. As an ambassador of Christ, your primary occupation is people. Being an engineer, a teacher, a businessman or stock broker is merely a job you have to pay the bills to support your real occupation which is people and ministry. The people God has put in our lives are not mere scenery that make our day better or worse, they are not mere annoyances that get in your way, impede your commute or help you get to 5 o’clock without going ballistic. They are the reason we are here!
It is a healthy habit to learn to listen; the next time you are sitting at your local Starbucks, just stop and listen to people’s conversations and what consumes their lives, and you will be quickly given firsthand proof that the world around us is dying. Dying! And if you want to do something about it, if you want to be salt and light, then you have to notice that which we are to cast our light upon: people. That leads us to our 3rd feature…
Christ’s Motivation. The entirety of verse 36 reads, “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” The word translated “felt compassion” is a strong emotional Greek verb that doesn’t have a fitting equivalent in the English language. Suffice it to say that the Greek word literally refers to the intestines or bowels, so one can say that Christ cared so much that it hurt. Among all of the human experiences He took upon Himself for our sake, this physical pain in compassion is easily one of the most significant.
And what was it that triggered this compassion? The state of the people wandering around without a shepherd. Though they had political and spiritual leaders, those leaders ultimately cared only for their personal gain and profit. In realizing this, Christ does not get annoyed or impatient, He does not curse people under His breath as ungrateful sinners. Rather, He has compassion upon them.
Like Christ, we are to have compassion on the world around us. When you are so frustrated you want to call others “Idiots!” rest assured they are idiots. Just like you. Sinners saved by grace among sinners in need of grace. Live this truth out and you are well on your way to having Christ-like compassion.
Finally, Christ culminates this scene by telling the disciples, in verse 37, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore, beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” In this verse, we see our final feature of Christ’s ministry to be emulated by all believers that highlight the problem with people: Christ’s Method.
The only solution to the world’s problems is Christ, and until we, like Christ, see that and respond, we are not living out the truth of the gospel in our lives. And first things first: before you start another seminary, strategize an outreach concert or plan an evangelism seminar, you need to pray. This is Christ’s method and nothing we come up with will be better than the way of the Master. Keep in mind that the one praying is often the answer to the prayer.
So, having seen these 4 features of our Lord’s ministry that we are to emulate, what is the problem with people?
First let’s recap:
1) Christ’s Model – teaching, preaching, healing
2) Christ’s Vision – He saw people
3) Christ’s Motivation – compassion
4) Christ’s Method – praying for more workers.
We have been given the gospel and the privilege of delivering it to a world in desperate need of answers. They are sick, and we have been given the cure. When they treat us poorly or reject us and our God, we should not be surprised because they don’t know any better. They are just like we used to be and would still be were it not for grace. Yet, so often we give in to our sin and look just like them: bitter, ungrateful, angry and thinking we deserve more. So, when we recognize that we are called to be like Christ in these 4 ways, then we must also recognize that the problem with people is us.
We are called to serve others but we serve ourselves.
We are commanded to notice but we ignore.
We are asked to exhibit compassion but we exhibit anger.
We are told to offer up prayers but we offer up judgments.
The problem with people is us.