“When he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on
them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep
having no shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest
truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the
Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest”
Jesus declared, “The fields are ripe, and the harvest plentiful. It’s
time to begin reaping.” At that moment, the great, final spiritual
harvest began. It started as a harvest among the Jews and
Gentiles of Jesus’ generation. And this same harvest is going to
last until Christ returns. As I read this passage, I wonder: what did
Jesus see in his time that caused him to say, “The harvest is
ready, so now is the time to reap”? Did he see a spiritual
awakening in Israel? Was there revival in the synagogues? Were
priests turning back to God? Were scribes and Pharisees being
convicted? What evidence was there that the harvest was ripe?
The Gospels don’t reveal much evidence of any spiritual move
toward God. If anything, they show the opposite. Jesus was
mocked in the synagogues. The nation’s spiritual leaders rejected
him, questioning his integrity and divinity. One religious crowd
tried to throw him over a cliff. And Christ himself upbraided Israel’s
cities for not repenting at his message: “Woe, Chorazin! Woe,
Bethsaida! Woe, Tyre and Sidon! Woe, Capernaum!” As for the
multitudes, they were embroiled in chaotic despair. Scripture tells
us, “When he saw them, they were distressed and downcast, like
sheep without a shepherd.” Here was a society that was fearful,
stressed out, depressed. The people ran about wildly, like
scattered sheep, looking for help anywhere they could find it. Yet
it was at this very point of great distress that Christ declared, “The
fields are ripe, and the harvest is plentiful.”
Do you think Jesus’ words about a ripe harvest apply today?
Where do we see evidence that fields are white and ready to be
reaped? Are nations repenting? Is there a great stirring in our
society? And is the organized church waking up? Are religious
leaders hungering for revival, seeking Christ anew? Is there a cry
for holiness in this generation? With few exceptions, I don’t see
any such things happening. Yet, none of these is what moved
Jesus in his time. Rather, he was moved by the sad conditions he
saw on every side. Everywhere he looked, people were
overwhelmed with distress.
In fact, as Christ gazed out over Jerusalem, he wept. His tears
were over the hardness and spiritual blindness he saw. Here were
a people headed for judgment, with no peace, only fear and
depression. And he prophesied over this scene, “Your house will
become desolate.” Jesus actually gives us a picture of what the
last days would look like. Now, this period began at his ascension,
and it will end only when he comes again. We’re getting very close
to that point now. And Jesus described it to his disciples when
they asked him what signs to look for. They wanted to know the
condition of things as the very last days were approaching. Christ
answered by speaking of famines, earthquakes, tribulations,
nations divided. False prophets and false christs would deceive
many and lead multitudes astray. Believers would be hated for even
mentioning Christ’s name. And the love of many would grow cold,
with some falling away because of the bold increase of sin and
lawlessness. “Upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity;
the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear,
and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth:
for the powers of heaven shall be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26). In short,
Jesus is describing here the most anxious, depressed,
stressed-out generation of all time.
So, are his prophecies happening even now, before our eyes?
Think about it: this generation is full of anxiety and worry.
Multitudes are fearful as they watch incredible disasters unfold:
hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, mudslides, tornados. Entire
nations tremble with fear over the threat of terrorism. And heart
failure is the number-one killer in the world today. False religions,
false prophets, false christs are leading many astray. Millions are
turning to Islam, with nation after nation infiltrated by Islamists.
You would have to be in total denial if you didn’t see that everything
that can be shaken right now is being shaken. In the midst of all
this upheaval and turmoil, I hear Jesus’ words: “The fields are
white. The harvest is plentiful.” I’m convinced he’s telling his
church, “People are ready to hear. This is the time to believe for
a harvest. Now is the time for you to start reaping.”
Christ is the Lord of the harvest. And if he declares the harvest is
ready, we must believe it. It doesn’t matter how wicked this
generation becomes. It doesn’t matter how powerful Satan seems
to have grown. Our Lord is saying to us, “Stop focusing on the
difficulties around you. Instead, raise up your eyes. It’s time for
you to see that the harvest is ready.”
Jesus understood man’s heart, knowing we forget God in times of
prosperity. Christ knew that in times of distress and calamity,
people are forced to face eternity. Suffering, fear and hard times
ripen people for hearing and receiving the gospel. Consider the
context of his words: “When he saw the multitudes.because they
fainted.then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is
plenteous” (Matthew 9:36-37). This truth has been demonstrated
throughout the history of God’s people. Moses reprimanded his
generation, saying, “God led you. He increased your numbers.
And he greatly blessed you, giving you green fields, honey, butter,
milk, sheep, oil, fruit. But you grew rich and rebelled. You lightly
esteemed the Rock of your salvation, and forsook him.” “But
Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxed fat.thou art
covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and
lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation” (Deuteronomy 32:15).
Scripture tells us Israel was brought low after this. Yet, in their
distress, they called upon the Lord, and he delivered them: “Then
they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them out
of their distresses” (Psalm 107:6). Consider also David’s testimony:
“The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly
men made me afraid. The sorrows of hell compassed me about:
the snares of death prevented me. In my distress I called upon the
Lord, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple,
and my cry came before him, even into his ears” (Psalm 18:4-6).
Trouble, distress and perplexity have always birthed a cry for help.
This has been the pattern throughout the centuries. You remember
what happened after the twin towers in New York fell: churches
were packed. Prayer meetings were held in Yankee Stadium.
Congressional leaders gathered on the steps of the Capitol in
Washington, praying and singing, “God Bless America.”
For a season, God was the talk of the nation. Fear and distress
had made people think about finding truth. And that sums up the
law of the harvest: THE DARKER THE DAYS, THE WHITER THE
HARVEST. In Indonesia and Sri Lanka, radical Islamists had
refused to allow any outsiders into their territory. But after the
tsunami disaster, many opened their doors to Christian relief
workers. Why? God saw fields that were white and ready to be
harvested. The fact is, no country is closed to Christ. And no
people are unreachable. No religious power on earth can stop the
harvest. That’s why Jesus tells us not to fear, even though
mountains may fall into the sea.
Think about the cataclysmic events of recent world history. The
Communists in Russia thought they had rid their country of God.
But Jesus had said to them, “All you did was help the harvest.”
Christ is alive and well in Russia today. China also tried to outlaw
God, only to ripen a harvest of millions of believers. Recently, the
Ukraine fell out of corrupt hands, and is being led by a man who
speaks of Christ. The New York Times now calls Belarus the most
Communist-dominated nation on earth, yet Christians there are
praying their country is next. God has seen all these fields as
ready for reaping!
This same principle was true throughout Israel’s history. When
Moses told Pharaoh, “Let my people go,” it was because God had
announced harvest time. The moment had come for Israel’s
deliverance from captivity. But Pharaoh responded, “Who is the
Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the
Lord, neither will I let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2). Pharaoh represents
Satan’s demonic system, including false religions and oppression
that hold people under bondage. Before Israel could be delivered,
the powers of darkness had to be shaken. So God struck Egypt
with nine natural calamities. Yet those nine disasters only
hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Finally, there came a calamity so
devastating, everyone in Egypt – from the rulers down to ordinary
citizens – knew this wasn’t just nature out of control. It was God
speaking. The Lord had sent an angel of death. And in one night,
the eldest son in every Egyptian family died. Pharaoh’s son was
included among them. The very next day, Israel paraded out of
Egypt. Here was the harvest that came just before judgment.
Centuries later, when Jesus announced the ripe harvest in
Jerusalem, he knew judgment was about to come. Years hence,
Titus and his army would invade the city, and 1.2 million people
would be killed. Many would be hung on crosses, and the city
itself would be burned to the ground. This is why Jesus warned his
generation, “You say there are four months before harvest. But I’m
telling you, the harvest has to begin now. You have to be about the
will of God, because the greatest calamity is at your door. I’m
commissioning you now to finish my work. The time to start reaping is today.”
How did Jesus describe the calamity that was to come? “Then
shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning
of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21).
Yet, before that calamity came, it would be time for the harvest.
The concept of “harvest” was central to the church-growth
movement of the 1980’s. More than two decades ago,
church-growth experts began focusing on new methods to bring in
the harvest. They declared, “The church is no longer relevant to
modern society. It’s too traditional, too out of touch, and needs to
be updated. We have to become more contemporary. We can no
longer afford to think in small terms.” So the 1980s were
proclaimed to be “The Decade of Harvest.” And out of this
mentality was born the “seeker sensitive,” mega-church movement.
Almost overnight, huge churches began to spring up all over the
country. Many such churches suddenly had congregations
numbering in the thousands or ten thousands. Some built huge
campuses resembling shopping malls, including restaurants and
What was called “narrow thinking” was now replaced by corporate
thinking. The people’s morals were no longer to be challenged.
Instead, the church was to become “need-centered,” ministering
to people’s needs as they stated them on surveys. Worship
services incorporated the latest technologies, “contemporizing”
the music and offering theatrical productions. Pastors illustrated
their sermons with film clips from the most recent movies, some
of them R-rated. It looked as if the great harvest was underway.
But the “Decade of Harvest” proved to be building on the wrong
foundation. A pastor named William Chadwick had led a church
that thrived on these principles. But over time, he grew convicted
about being so numbers-focused. He authored a book titled
Stealing Sheep, in which he cites some alarming statistics.
The most remarkable figure was that, in ten years‘ time, there was
no appreciable growth among evangelical churches. Instead,
mega-churches were made up mostly of transfers from smaller
churches. People came for the exciting new contemporary worship
and the programs catering to baby boomers. Many of these
“switchers” were Pentecostals. Worse, the mega-church
movement had an awful effect on smaller churches. These didn’t
have the resources to compete with huge churches, which offered
all kinds of bells and whistles with their need-centered programs.
Slowly, smaller churches’ numbers dwindled, and many ended up
shutting their doors. A recent study by the respected Barna
Research Group shows that the church isn’t just stagnating, it’s
growing worse. One alarming fact is that fewer baby boomers are
attending church than before. Simply put, the church-growth
movement has ended up going backward instead of forward.
Finally, there is one statistic that startles me more than any other.
That is, only a minute number of Christians has ever won a soul
to Christ. This brings Jesus’ words up to date that “the laborers are few.”
In every city where I travel nowadays, pastors ask me how to build
a strong, growing church. As I look around their city, I see poor
neighborhoods, teeming with downtrodden people bound by sin. I
know that God has promised to empower us as ministers, if we
would only go into these nearby harvest fields to reap the souls.
You can build a great church with those poor and weak who are
being set free from Satan’s bondage. Years ago, I found the
harvest to be ripe in the ghetto. It happened when I went to the
neighborhoods where gang leaders, drug addicts, poor widows,
alcoholics and prostitutes lived. Now, many of the most powerful
soul-winners I know are former gang members like Nicky Cruz. All
over the world, they’re winning multitudes to Christ.
Imagine a scenario on the last day Jesus spent on the earth.
Suppose that just before Jesus ascended – as he envisions the
church and the harvest prior to his return – he foresees a falling
away. His soul is grieved, because he sees rampant backsliding.
Instead of reaping a white harvest, his people spend their time and
energy seeking worldly success and material things. So Jesus
says to the Father, “They won’t get the harvest in. All the white
fields lay dormant. I’m going to send a host of angels to do the
reaping.” The Father agrees, and suddenly thousands of celestial
beings appear on the earth, glowing with supernatural radiance.
What a sight this would be: otherworldly beings, clothed in glory,
speaking in churches and in public. You see them interviewed by
newspaper reporters, on the radio and on TV. They talk of the
Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension, Christ’s love, and a final
judgment to come. And they speak with such eloquence and
conviction that everyone is enthralled. They’re like so many
Jonahs, wooing and warning the world.
Now suppose that after a short time, these same radiant angels
become enthralled with the world around them. They’re taken in by
fine foods, material goods, wealth and security. And soon they
start striving for success, fame and fortune. Before long, they
become jealous of each other, showing anger, pride, envy and
covetousness. In other words, they become just like the church
today! I ask you, how much influence would they have on the
world? How could they expect to bring in a harvest, being so
caught up in worldliness? Their testimony would be discounted.
And they would be drained of all spiritual power, going about
discouraged, fearful and doubting. Tell me, why would anyone
want my gospel, if they saw me in this kind of state, stressed
out and joyless? Why would they believe my message, “Jesus is
sufficient, my everything, my constant supply,” if I’m always fearful
and worried, with no peace?
No one would listen to a word I said. Instead, they’d wonder,
“What difference is your Christ? He doesn’t seem to be much of
a physician, if you’re always in this kind of condition.” Beloved,
our countenance counts. Listen to what Christ says of his bride,
in the Song of Solomon: “O my dove.let me see thy countenance,
let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance
is comely” (Song of Solomon 2:14). Christ is saying to us, in
essence, “I want to see your smile.” Does that describe your
countenance? There is no supposing why we don’t experience a
great harvest of souls. Jesus made it plain: “The harvest is ripe,
but the laborers are few.” Yet, why are there so few laborers?
Churches today are packed with believers who claim Christ is
their very life. Millions of dollars are spent on building worship
The truth is, if we’re not capable of reaping souls – if our lives don’t
reflect the transforming power of the gospel we preach – then we
have discounted ourselves as laborers. Our walk with Christ
should offer proof to the world that God’s promises are true. As
laborers, we are the harvest instruments in the Lord’s hand. In the
days of Christ, such an instrument was a scythe, a long, curved,
single-edged blade with a long handle. It was forged by a
blacksmith, who put it into a fire, then placed it on an anvil, where
he pounded and bent it into shape. Then the whole process was
repeated again and again, until the cutting edge was filed with a
The parallel is clear: God is forging laborers. He isn’t just pounding
away at sin. And this forging process explains why the laborers
are few. The majority of churchgoers are like the thousands who
volunteered to go with Gideon in the Old Testament. God saw fear
in many of them, knowing they wouldn’t endure the fire, the
pounding, the hard times. And out of the thousands who followed
Gideon, only three hundred were chosen. The same thing happens
today. Those who are truly called to harvest are called to endure
the refining, shaping fires and the continual hammering. Yet not many do.
The disciples were empowered by God in their mission. Where did
the disciples start their ministry? According to this passage,
Jesus sent them to the distressed, the poor, those who were
bowed down with sin, bondages and life-controlling habits. I think
of the Teen Challenge drug and alcohol rehabilitation ministry, with
its 500 centers worldwide. And I think of scores of other reapers
who have gone to other countries and seen miracles of salvation
as they’ve ministered to the neediest, poorest, most devil-bound
people. They’re starting to reap exactly where Jesus started his
harvest: among the lost sheep, the captives, the brokenhearted,
the prisoners, the lepers, the blind, the poor, those who mourn,
those with a spirit of heaviness, those who are distressed and disconcerted.
Consider Paul’s words: “Ye see your calling, brethren, how that
not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many
noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the
world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things
of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base
things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God
chosen, yea, and things which are not.that no flesh should glory
in his presence” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
Dear saint, Jesus knew what we were going to face in these last
days: a generation steeped in sin far more than any other.stress
and loneliness such as has never been experienced by man.
financial disasters, rampant divorce, militant homosexuality,
immorality that would bring a blush to even the worst sinners just
thirty years ago. This is why Christ seeks laborers who have
submitted to the fires and forgings. He wants a people who’ll stand
before the world and proclaim: “God is with me! Satan can’t stop
me. Just look at my life. I’ve been through fire after fire, pounded
again and again. But I’ve come through it all more than a conqueror
through Christ, who lives in me. What I have preached has
worked for me. I am living proof Jesus is all-sufficient!”