St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

How To Reach Out To The Unchurched

Sermon on Matthew 9:35-10:8

Text: Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

The staple of any bookstore are how-to books. You can find them on any subject, from cooking to building to computers to whatever. You can also find these same type of books when it comes to church things. They will tell you how to have a more vibrant church. They will tell you have you can have a more organized church. There are even books on how to grow your church. Some of what these church growth books say is interesting and can be of value. Unfortunately, most of these books focus on programs and methods, without putting the focus where it really belongs. This morning, as we study God’s Word, we will learn HOW TO REACH OUT TO THE UNCHURCHED. We are to 1. Reach Out With Compassion, 2. Reach Out With Prayer, and 3. Reach Out With Preaching.

The first verse of our text summarizes Jesus’ ministry here on the earth: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” (Verse 35) The everyday ministry of Jesus did not let up. He had a short time for his ministry. So, he constantly went throughout the land preaching, teaching, and healing. As he did so, he looked to the crowds and he had compassion on them. Literally, he felt sadness for these people down in his guts. The reason for this compassion was not just that they were suffering because of their diseases and illnesses. Rather, “They were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Verse 36)

When it says that they were “harassed,” it has the picture of a sheep going through a heavy patch of thorns. They were cut up and bleeding from the various places where the thorns had scratched them. They were “helpless,” that is, they were thrown to the ground, lying there helpless. What caused this condition of the people that Jesus was working with? It was the fact that they were torn apart by their sins and guilt. They had not yet come to know the one who could give them peace and rest. They may have tried various things to try to get rid of their guilty feeling, but the more they tried, the more torn apart they were. Jesus had compassion on them.

This statement gives us reason to ask ourselves this question when it comes to the unchurched? Do we have compassion for them? We know how easy it is to look down on the various people with whom we come into contact. They are different from us because they dress differently or speak differently than we do. They do not have the same views that we do. Their lives are a mess. They do not act the way that they should. It is far easier to have compassion for the ones who are trying to do it right, but what about those who are not?

Yet, we are to have compassion on them because Jesus did. When Jesus came to the earth, he came for all people. Our greatest motivation to reach out in compassion to the unchurched is to take a good long look in the mirror, the mirror of God’s law. When we compare our lives to what God demands, we see how far short we have fallen. God tells me to love my neighbor, yet we know that we have said things that hurt others. We have talked badly about others. We have been selfish and greedy. The list goes on and on. For all of these things, we see from God’s Word, that we rightly deserve to be punished by him for all eternity in hell.

However, Jesus had compassion on us. He left his throne in heaven and became a human being. While he was on the earth, he showed love to those around him, even when they were not being so very loving to him. He lived this way as our Substitute. He was perfect because we are not. Because our sins needed to be taken care of, Jesus went to the cross where he paid for every one of them. As assurance that his payment was sufficient, Jesus rose on Easter morning. Jesus not only had compassion on the world; he had compassion on each of us individually. He reached out to us through the Means of Grace and made us part of his flock. Through the washing of Baptism, we become part of his own. Now, as we look at the compassion that Jesus showed to us and are reminded that Jesus has the same compassion for all, we see that the first way we are to reach out to the unchurched in our lives is with compassion. They, too, are in desperate need of a Savior. They, too, are harassed and helpless because of their sins. They need to know about their Savior. As the saying goes, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”

After seeing these sheep, Jesus called his disciples together and said to them, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Verses 37&38) Jesus reminds us that the harvest is plentiful, that is, there are many who will come to believe in Jesus as their Savior. Just as the harvest does not gather itself in, so also these people cannot come into God’s kingdom by themselves. They need someone to tell them about Jesus. Jesus recognized the problem. How could Jesus and the twelve even begin to penetrate the world with the gospel?

That is why Jesus told the disciples to pray that God would call more workers from among the believers and then send them out into the world the purpose of gathering more souls into the harvest. This prayer is rightly placed for, as Jesus said, it is “his harvest field.” Those who labor in the field do not bring about the harvest because of their own efforts. It is God who will bring about the harvest. Yet, he allows us the privilege to work for him, as this field is being harvested. So, we continue to pray that more and more workers be gathered to go out into the field. We pray that God would move more young men and young women to go into the full-time preaching and teaching ministry. There will always be a need for them. Even if all our pulpits and classrooms are full, there are still places where we can go to share the gospel message of Jesus Christ. There are still people in our country and around the world who do not know about their Savior. Make it a part of your prayers that the Lord of the harvest would continue to send out workers into his harvest field. We reach out to the unchurched as we pray that workers be sent to tell them what Jesus has done for them.

We also reach out to the unchurched in prayer as we pray for them, as well. We pray that they will be brought into this great harvest at the end of time. Dear friends, why not make this prayer very specific? Whom do you know that does not believe in Jesus as their Savior? We all know someone, whether it is a family member or friend. It might be a co-worker or classmate. It might be our neighbor. Reach out to them by praying for them. Mention them specifically in your prayers to God that they might be brought to faith. This really is the next step after having compassion for them. You remember them before God in your prayers.

Note, also, that Jesus did not just pray for these workers to come. He did something about it. He called twelve men to be his apostles, that is to say, those who were sent out to tell others. What was the fancy outreach program that Jesus gave to them as they went out? First, he said, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Verses 5&6) They still needed some training, so Jesus told them to start among their own countrymen. Eventually, they would be told to go into all the world. Then, Jesus said, “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” (Verse 7) In other words, it was the exact same message that Jesus had been proclaiming. Indeed, this is the only way that people are brought to faith. It is through the proclamation of law and gospel, sin and grace. The Holy Spirit works through the Word to create faith in a person’s heart. It doesn’t really matter what the program is if God’s Word is not at the center of it. The apostle Paul would later write of his work among the Corinthians, “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

This is the same message that you and I can proclaim, as well. We do not have to worry about having all the right words and theological terms. We simply share the truths of God’s Word with those around us. We share the fact that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We point out the fact that the wages of sin is death. We share the wondrous news that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. This is what people need to know. Yes, there are many other things that we learn from God’s Word, and those can all come at a later time. What those unchurched people in our lives need to know is that Jesus is their Savior from sin. Again, this is just the natural progression. We have compassion for these people, so we pray for them. We pray for them so that they might be brought to believe in Jesus as their Savior. We pray that we might be part of the answer to our prayers.

We also take note of the final bit of encouragement that Jesus gave his apostles and that he gives us, today. He said, “Freely you have received; freely give.” (Verse 8) It is a reminder of God’s amazing grace. He did not charge us anything for this wondrous gift of salvation that we have received. It was not free because it was cheap. It was free, because there is no way in the world we could have ever paid for it. It was given to us free of charge. Now, our Savior tells us that we are not to keep this precious gift to ourselves. We have received it, so that we might share it with others. This, again, is our motivation for reaching out to the unchurched.

Jesus could have used other methods for getting the message out to people. He could have used angels. He did not, though. He chose to allow us to work with him in this most important task. May he help us always to remember the great honor and privilege it is to share the gospel message. We know that God will put these people in our paths. May he strengthen us so that we take advantage of every opportunity to reach out to the unchurched. Amen.