Feasting with God #38
Who Are the Laborers for the Harvest?
Text: Luke 10:1-3
1After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”
Trees are changing this year, as they did last year and every year before, into fiery and warm colors, while the air around them is growing cooler, and already frost has touched the ground in some places. It’s this time of year that we can expect to see pumpkins, gourds, corn and other crops freshly plucked appearing on the market, and even decorating our houses. The seeds that were planted last season have sprouted and grown and produced fruit, and now it’s time to harvest.
This is a picture that Jesus used to demonstrate what the work of the Kingdom of God is. Seeds have been planted, according to this picture, but the harvest is coming, and the work requires workers. This is the very work for which Jesus sent out these seventy-two. They were the harvesters being sent out.
How do we interpret this picture? Elsewhere in Jesus’ parables the harvest seems to be the picture of the Last Day, when the faithful are harvested to be gathered into barns (eternal life in heaven) while the wicked who have rejected the faith are bundled up as weeds and thrown into the fire (eternal death in hell) (Matt. 13:24-30). But that’s not the picture here. The laborers of the harvest Jesus speaks of now are not the angels, for there is a fixed number of angels, and yet Jesus encourages the disciples to pray for more laborers. These laborers, instead, are the seventy-two themselves, and others who perform the same work of harvesting. This is the harvesting of souls for salvation within this life. This is the work of evangelism, of sharing the good news.
Think of what a comfort this picture means: the seed is already planted. Nothing new needs to be spread out. The work of evangelism is merely to reap what God has already sown. This takes a great deal of weight off of the one who is a laborer in this harvest: our task is simple, for we only put into action what has been prepared before. We only share the Word already written, as Jesus said to his people when he ascended: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). The message that is proclaimed by the harvesters is not one that we invent. It is one already spoken by our Lord, by Christ, and we merely teach that same Word.
And this is a necessary work. Souls cannot be saved if the laborers of the harvest will not do their work. And these laborers, Jesus says, are few. So we do pray to the Lord that he will send out laborers into his harvest—but be careful what you wish for! Those who have received the Word (that is, all Christians), are the ones who will be sent as laborers into the harvest. If you believe in this Word, you must be prepared to be placed into a position by your God in which you may do the work of the harvest. You will be placed into a position in which you will share this Word you believe.
And here is where Jesus gives his warning: the laborers of the harvest are also lambs, defenseless, innocent creatures, and the crop they are sent to harvest is also a pack of ravenous wolves who may fall onto these lambs at any moment to tear them apart. Our harvest is not an easy task of plucking inanimate objects. We bring the enlivening Word of God to souls which are hardened against it. There are, in fact, only two types of people in the world: believers and unbelievers. The believers are the lambs and the laborers of the harvest. The unbelievers are the field of crop and the pack of wolves. The work of the harvesters, the believers, is to go into dangerous territory and to seek to make lambs out of these wolves. This is not only a dangerous task; it is humanly speaking an impossible one.
Praise the Lord that he doesn’t leave us alone to it: even as he sends us out he promises, “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20). Paul understood the situation when he wrote, using a different image, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth…. For we are God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:6, 9). You see, the responsibility is not laid on our shoulders to actually cause a transformation in the heart. That is only possible by the work of the Holy Spirit. Our work is to go into the field God prepares for us bearing the Word; that Word is our harvesting tool, our scythe with which we cut the stalks of the crop, so that souls may be brought into eternal life before God. This is a blessed task, allowing us to share our joy at our salvation, so that God may bring others the same salvation.
Lord, send laborers into your harvest. Equip each and every one of us to be such laborers. Encourage us to know that this work, although dangerous, will never defeat us, for we are guided by you, and the work is actually accomplished by you through us. Let us be your tools through which you win more souls for eternal life, that the harvest may indeed be plentiful. In your Son’s name we ask it. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.