Jesus said, “The harvest is large, but the workers are few.”
᛭ INI ᛭
Today, we’re celebrating Luke. We also celebrate his work. He wrote the Gospel that bears name. (Maybe rejoice in that gift over the next week—read the whole thing. It’s just about 3 or 4 chapters a day.) Luke also wrote the book of Acts. (That’d only be 4 chapters a day.) Luke also worked with Paul, travelled with him on some of his missionary journeys.
But we rejoice in Luke not because of him. We rejoice not just because he wrote two books of the New Testament, or that he was colleagues with Paul. We rejoice because Luke was one of the Lord’s Workers whom He sends out into His Harvest. And that’s exactly what our Gospel reading from Luke is all about: the Lord’s harvest, His workers, His sending, His reaping.
((3. Goal: The Lord reaps His harvest.))
The Lord has a harvest. The Lord wants a harvest. That’s what He’s after. It’s the goal He has in mind with everything that He does. And it is the His harvest—no one else’s. As Paul puts it, “I planted. Apollos watered. But God gave the growth.”
But the Lord wants to gather into His barn. He wants to gather in His harvest. He wants to gather up His people to Himself. The Lord Jesus wants to bring to Himself all those He ransomed for Himself. Jesus gathers up all those who by the Spirit believe in Him. He gathers up all those His Father gave to Him. (Jn 17)
The Lord reaps His harvest at the end of the age. When He comes again in glory, He will send out His angels to gather up His saints, those who are made holy by faith in Him. In the meantime the Lord reaps His harvest now, gathering up His people around His gifts. But the Lord also reaps at the end of our life, too.
That’s Paul today. He sees that the time of his departure, his being harvested, is near. “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
This in-gathering of the nations, of all believers from all times and places, will be large. But even so, right now, in our day, it’s just like it was in Jesus’ day: “The harvest is large.” Always more people who need to hear, to receive, to believe the Gospel.
((2. Malady: The workers are few.))
Christ is right, “the harvest is large,” and He really “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2) But it’s not that easy. There’s a problem, a malady, an evil that stands in the way and resists the Lord.
There’s, of course, the devil. He doesn’t want people to believe in Jesus. He steals the word from hearts and minds. And the world is always, always hostile to the preaching of the what Jesus has done. The devil and the world “do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come.” But sin also gets in the way. But sin’s problem when it comes to the Lord’s harvest is very particular and specific.
Sin of course gets in the way of hearers. Our flesh also “doesn’t want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come.” And God’s Kingdom comes when “by [the Holy Spirit’s] grace we believe His holy word and lead godly lives.” But the greater malady plays itself out in the rest of what Jesus says, “The harvest is large, but the workers are few.”
“The workers are few.” That’s what Jesus says. In the context of Luke 10, “workers” here are ministers of the Gospel. The 72 whom Jesus sends ahead of His coming. Just like pastors are sent out today by Jesus ahead of His second coming. The Lord sends out 6 sets of 6 pairs. 6 pairs make 12; 6 of those make 72. Add those 6 to the 12 Apostles, that’s 7 twelves. The perfect number of twelves.
Anyway, “the workers are few” because of sin. So many reasons why! Some desert being faithful preachers like Demas. (Paul mentions his desertion in our epistle.) What else gets in the way? “The laborer deserves his wage.” (The day worker his denarius.) What else gets in the way? Lack of prayer: “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers.”
((1. Means: The Lord always sends out more workers into His harvest.))
But the Lord has His harvest. He has His workers, too. Be they large, be they few—the Lord will accomplish His harvest through them. He always sends out more. He sent out the Apostles in Luke 9. Then 72 more in Luke 10. The Lord always sends His men.
He sends them out in our day, too. I’m proof of that. So also even you, young men. As Paul says in 1 Timothy, “If any aspires to the office of overseer,” of pastor, “he desires a noble task.” Being a pastor is noble. God pleasing. Why? Well, that’s easy.
We learn in the Scriptures that “faith comes by hearing.” But “how shall they hear without a preacher?” That’s Romans 10. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the Gospel.” Beautiful. Noble. That’s preachers. Not because of the man, but the office. As Paul teaches, “Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.”
As Lutherans we put it this way: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” Notice the harvest language: “calls, gathers.”
But we also confess, “so that we might obtain this faith the office of preaching the Gospel was instituted, for through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given, who works faith, where and when it pleases God, in those who hear the Gospel.” (AC V) The Gospel that Jesus has died and risen for them.
St. Luke’s day is all about rejoicing in the Lord’s harvest, His workers, His sending, His reaping. Luke was part of that, as was Paul, and the rest of the Apostles. So were the 72. Even today—pastors. In Jesus’ day, in our day, it’s the same:
THE LORD REAPS HIS HARVEST THROUGH HIS SENT WORKERS.
The Lord’s harvest is you. You’re what He wants. He wants to gather you to Himself, to live forever with Him in His Kingdom, “and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.”
Sin gets in the way of this. Big ways. Little ways. Stops the ears of hears. Stops the mouths of preachers. Tries to stop there being preachers! The devil doesn’t like them much either.
Yet, the Lord shed His blood for you. He rose for you. He sends you His Word. He gives you a pastor. He baptizes you. He forgives you. He gives you His body and blood. Always more work to be done before He comes back. “Whoever aspires to the office of pastor desires a noble task.” Pray for that! More Word. More Pastors. More preachers. “The harvest is great.”
THE LORD REAPS HIS HARVEST THROUGH HIS SENT WORKERS.
And the Lord will reap His harvest no matter what. He sends out His Word. Did through Luke. He sends out pastors to preach that word. When pastors preach it, people believe it. You believe it! He’s made it yours! Holy Baptism. Holy Absolution. Gospel-filled Sermons. The Supper of His body and blood.
The Lord’s not done harvesting, but one day He’ll gather you into His barn. That’s what He wants, after all. To harvest you. As Paul promises: “The crown of righteousness is laid up, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to all who have loved His appearing.”