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The Fields Ready to Harvest

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
November 12, 2023 12:01 am

The Fields Ready to Harvest

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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November 12, 2023 12:01 am

Christians can serve the kingdom of God confidently, trusting that the Lord has power to bring in the harvest. Preaching from Matthew 9, today R.C. Sproul explains how the sovereignty of God encourages the whole church to fulfill the Great Commission.

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But as much as the preacher preaches, as much as the teacher teaches, as much as the evangelist evangelizes, and as much as the missionary is involved with mission, all of that work is utterly in vain unless God brings the harvest.

Jesus told His disciples that the harvest is plentiful, and He charged them to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers. Welcome to the Sunday edition of Renewing Your Mind, and today you'll be hearing a sermon that R.C. Sproul preached from the end of Matthew chapter 9. You'll also have the opportunity to study Matthew's Gospel in depth as we're offering the hardcover edition of Dr. Sproul's commentary on Matthew today only for a donation of any amount at renewingyourmind.org. So what gives us confidence to plant churches, for preachers to continue preaching, and teachers to continue teaching?

Ultimately, we know that God is sovereign and that He is Lord of the harvest. Here's Dr. Sproul preaching from Matthew 9. Alright, we're going to continue this morning with our study of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. We're still in chapter 9.

We're at the end of chapter 9. I will be reading verses 35 through 38, and I'll ask the congregation please to stand for the reading of the Word of God. Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. And then He said to His disciples, The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Here our Lord instructed His disciples to pray a specific prayer, which prayer still needs to be prayed in our day. So let us receive this as the Word of God with all of its truth and all of its authority.

Please be seated. Let's pray. Again, our Father and our God, we look to You as the source of all truth, the source of all spiritual power. We recognize that in ourselves we have no spiritual power. We are spiritually impoverished. And so we look to You and the power of Your Spirit to awaken our souls and inflame our hearts as we listen to Your Word. We ask it in Jesus' name.

Amen. This section at the end of the ninth chapter of Matthew wraps up this series of episodes of the remarkable healing ministry of Jesus. And it sort of calls our attention back to focus upon the primary function of Jesus' earthly ministry. Though indeed He was deeply involved with healing the diseases of the people, His priority was to preach and to teach, to proclaim the breakthrough of the kingdom of God. So we read in verse 35 that Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. And when He saw the multitudes, these crowds that would follow after them, Matthew tells us He was moved with compassion for them. And the reason He was moved for compassion is that He noticed that the multitudes were weary and they were scattered about like sheep without a shepherd.

One of the sharp contrasts that we notice in Matthew's presentation of the ministry of Jesus is that contrast between Jesus' attitude towards the people and the attitude of the Pharisees. The Pharisees held the masses in contempt. They wanted nothing to do with them. They wanted to keep themselves distanced from them, segregated from them, lest they become defiled by contact with the people. They had no compassion.

They could care less about the people being as sheep without a shepherd. But Jesus looked at these people, and He looked at them with compassion, but not only with compassion, but He saw the people as those whom the Father had declared to be included in this kingdom that Jesus was proclaiming throughout the land. And out of His compassion, He looked at them and He said, the fields are ripe unto harvest.

And then He gives these instructions to His disciples. The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. In the Old Testament, whenever the metaphor of reaping a harvest was used, almost always it was a negative metaphor. It referred to God's being the grim reaper, God's coming to judge the wicked at the final harvest of evildoers. But there's a totally different accent here in the teaching of Jesus. When He uses the metaphor of the harvest, He's talking about the gathering in of God's people who are to be included in the kingdom of God. For the Pharisees, again, they considered the people to be nothing more than chaff, which should be burned in the fire.

But Jesus saw them as people whom the Father had appointed for His kingdom. And He says they're ready. It's ripe.

This is the fullness of time. God has prepared a harvest. God has prepared a people to be brought in to His storehouse. And the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. And following that metaphor, if you would go to the reaping of the fields of grain, one person could not go out into a huge field with multiple acreage of grain and single-handedly bring in the harvest. He needed laborers. He needed workers, people who would go out and help bring in the harvest, lest the wheat would rot in the fields.

And basically what Jesus is saying is, look, I can't do this by myself. I'm going to every town, to every village, to every synagogue, and I'm healing the diseases everywhere I go, but we need to pray that there will be workers who will join me in this enterprise. And it's not by accident that this is right before in the text of His calling of the Twelve and giving to them the commission to participate in the harvest. And so as manifest as that point is to the first century and in every generation, the kingdom of God needs men and women who will be involved in bringing in the harvest.

Preachers, teachers, missionaries, choir members. That all of us are called to participate in one way or another in this harvest. We cannot simply appoint ministers to do this job because we can't do it without a galvanized and equipped laity that is involved in the bringing in of the harvest. But let me focus your attention this morning not so much on our responsibility in bringing in the harvest and in the role that we play as preachers and teachers and evangelists and missionaries, but rather what piques my interest in this text is to whom the prayer for the harvest is to be directed. Jesus said, because the harvest is plenteous and the labors are few, pray therefore to the Lord of the harvest. Now who's the Lord of the harvest? It's not the preacher.

It's not the teacher. It's not the evangelist, and it's not the missionary. The preacher can preach until he's blue in the face.

The teacher can teach with perfect orthodoxy. The missionary can give his or her life to be burned for the sake of the kingdom of God. The evangelist could have a heart filled with fire and zeal for lost souls. But as much as the preacher preaches, as much as the teacher teaches, as much as the evangelist evangelizes, and as much as the missionary is involved with mission, all of that work is utterly in vain unless God brings the harvest. I'm acutely conscious every time I come to this pulpit that no matter what I say to you on Sunday morning or Sunday night or at any other time during the year, that my words are utterly without power and without force unless God the Holy Spirit takes that word and penetrates your soul with it. There are no programs.

There are no techniques. There are no types of skill or eloquence that can do the job unless God Himself brings the harvest. You recall of the dispute that took place in the Corinthian community and the division of the Corinthian church between followers of Paul and followers of Apollos and followers of Peter there in the Corinthian community, and Paul had to rebuke the members of the Corinthian church for their factionalism, and he raises the question in chapter 3 of 1 Corinthians, and let me just give a little bit of background on this where Paul says to the Corinthians, Brethren, I couldn't speak to you as spiritual people but as carnal, as to babes in Christ.

I fed you with milk and not with solid food, for until now you weren't able to receive it, and even now you're not able. You're still carnal, for where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like men? For one says, I am of Paul, and another one says, I am of Apollos. So then he goes on and asks this question, Who is Paul? Who is Apollos but ministers through whom you believed? They are ministers through whom? They are merely agents that have been used to communicate the gospel to you.

They are ministers through whom you believed as the Lord gave to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything nor he who waters, but it is God who gives the increase. Will the Apostle be any more plain here, where the credit goes for the harvesting of souls into the kingdom of God? God and God alone can add to His church. All of the knowledge and the skill of the Apostle Paul, all of the eloquence of Apollos who was perhaps the most eloquent speaker in the original Christian church, all of that put together couldn't produce a single convert.

They did what they could. One planted, another one watered the seed, but no fruit would come through all the planting and all the watering, unless or until God brought the increase, just a couple of weeks ago. In the pastoral prayer, Burke focused for the structure of that prayer on Psalm 127. Let me revisit part of that Psalm for you this morning. The Psalm begins with these words, unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. I mentioned a few moments ago that yesterday I was over at the new facility, and these words were heavy in my mind. Ninety-eight men are working every day on that project. It's almost like an Amish barn building, and people are swarming all over the place in this enterprise, and I see the labor, I see the commitment of the architect, of the contractor, of the workers that are over there every day, and these workers are taking tremendous pride in this project.

For most of them, it's the most significant building they've ever been involved in and ever will be involved in, and they talk about it. But I say, if God doesn't build that, all of this labor, all of the sacrifice, all of the giving, all of the praying, all of that is an exercise in futility, because unless God builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. The psalmist goes on to say what? Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. Now, maybe we could take from that statement that if God's not guarding the city, then the watchman's keeping his eyes open and alert and guarding the doors and guarding the streets, that his whole task is an exercise in futility if God's not in it. Maybe the watchman should say, well, I'm just going to sleep through the night and let God do it. But that's not the point, is it? God calls people to be involved in building.

God calls people to be involved in being watchmen and calls them to the most vigorous vigilance that they can muster, yet at the same time realizing that ultimately the safety of the city is not in the hands of the watchman, it is in the hands of God. Before church this morning, one of our visitors asked me about the theological bent and commitment of St. Andrews. And this person said to me, is it true that you are extremely Reformed?

And I thought about that since then. I think usually people, I'm usually called extremely Reformed by people who aren't Reformed but who call themselves Reformed. I am as committed with every bone in my body to the classic faith of historic Reformed Christianity.

There's no secret about that whatsoever. And I even wrote a book on what is Reformed theology because many people think that Reformed theology can be reduced to the so-called five points of Calvinism. Well, Reformed theology is far more than the five points. And just as there's a whole system of doctrine that defines Lutheran theology and Episcopalian theology and Roman Catholic theology, so there's a distinct theology that defines Reformed theology. But if there is one point, one tenet of Reformed theology that distinguishes it from every other theology on the face of the earth, it's this point, the point of the relationship in the order of salvation between faith and rebirth. It's the great divide. This is where people will say, I love Reformed teaching until you get to this point, and this is where I get off the bus. And here's what the difference is. Virtually every theology out there teaches that in order to be born of the Spirit of God, to be reborn, you have to make a choice, make a decision, or have faith. In simple terms it's this.

The order follows as this way. First you have faith, and as a consequence of your believing in Christ, then God the Holy Spirit causes a new birth in your soul, and you have a whole new spiritual life as a direct result of believing in Christ. Now Reformed theology, in contrast, teaches that yes, you're supposed to have faith, and yes, you must make a choice, and yes, you have to decide for Christ, but you will never believe, you will never choose Him truly, and you will never give an honest decision for Christ until or unless God the Holy Spirit first changes the disposition of your heart. The cardinal point of theology in Reformed thought is this, that rebirth or regeneration comes before faith.

If you believe that, then you're already well within the framework of Reformed theology and in fact may already be extreme. You see, what lies behind this is the principle that it is God who gives the increase. I may make a choice, I may exercise some confidence, I may choose, but I can't do that truly unless God has first quickened my heart. And at the same time, all whom God quickens, all whom the Holy Spirit awakens, come to faith and are included in the kingdom of God. Jesus explained this point to the Pharisee whose name was Nicodemus. When Nicodemus came to him at night and complimented him, saying, Oh, we know that thou art a teacher sent from God, or you would not be able to do the things that you do. And in the midst of all this flattery, Jesus stopped him in his tracks and said, Nicodemus, unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. And Nicodemus was dumbfounded by that.

What do you mean? He crawled back into his mother's womb to be born a second time, and Jesus had to spell it out for him. Nicodemus, that which is born of the flesh is flesh.

Now let me just stop right there. Do you know what you were born with spiritually? Flesh. Not 75-25, not 95-5, not even 99 percent flesh and 1 percent spirit, 100 percent flesh. And Jesus had to explain to his contemporaries that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and the flesh can do nothing.

Luther seized that verse in his debate with Erasmus, and he said that nothing is not a little something. But we have millions of Christians who believe that God does 99 percent, but the decisive vote is cast by the sinner who is still in the flesh. He still can do something. He still can say yes to the invitation of the gospel. He can still say yes to the offer of God's grace. You know what Jesus is saying? You can't do that unless God the Holy Spirit quickens your soul. And anybody who is a Christian in this room this morning has that experience. You know very well that you were dead in your sins and trespasses, and while you were dead in your sins and trespasses, while you were walking according to the prince of the air and according to the course of this world, while you were still dead, God quickened you. It was God who gave you spiritual life.

And the moment He gave you that spiritual life, you said, Yes, I believe. I come. I choose.

I decide. You didn't understand how it was all working out. You maybe even thought that it was your action that caused it.

No, no. Maybe somebody planted a seed in your life. Maybe somebody watered that seed. But you were still hanging on the stalk in the field until God came and brought the increase. And that's the fundamental point of Reformed theology, the point of accent as to who is sovereign and who isn't. It's the sovereignty of God that defines our theology. Now I realize that every Christian who is a Christian, if you ask them, Do you believe in the sovereignty of God? They say yes.

But if you begin to drill down, it usually takes less than five minutes until the yes turns to no. You can say, Is God sovereign over nature? Yes. Does God sovereignly have the right to give commandments? Yes. Does God sovereignly bestow His grace upon some but not on others?

No. People love the sovereignty of God until they get to the ninth chapter of Romans, and then they want to cut that out of the Bible. But we need to understand today and always who is the Lord of the harvest. Now I hope you're not discouraged by that.

In fact, I am encouraged by it. If I just look at my own weakness and my own impotency to change people's lives, I could sleep in tomorrow morning and give up the Christian ministry. But I know that God has promised that His Word will not return to Him void. And that God has promised to assign God the Holy Spirit to accompany the faithful and accurate preaching of His Word so that it does not come to nothing. My only hope in the efficacy of preaching is in God.

But that's not like holding on with one's fingernails. My only hope, my only hope is in God. What better place could my hope be? What greater power could we lean upon than the power of God? Jesus says, pray that that Lord will send out laborers. Pray that there will be more pastors, more teachers, more evangelists, more missionaries, that they may go out not knowing that the efficacy of their labor depends on themselves, but knowing that the harvest is in the hands of God.

Stonewall Jackson would pray with his troops, and he would say, Gentlemen, the battle is ours. The outcome is God's. And so on, his lips was always the non nobis, not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name, He the glory. We need to understand we are not the Lord of the harvest. We are the workers. He's the Lord.

Let's pray. Father, we thank you that you are committed to the harvest, that you are the one who's building the house, and that you are the one who's watching the city, and that it is a kingdom that belongs to you and to your Son. We thank you that you have given us the unspeakable privilege of working for that harvest, and for giving us the confidence that our labor is not in vain because you are the Lord of the harvest.

Amen. How freeing it is knowing that God is the Lord of the harvest. It should give us confidence as each of us plays our part in fulfilling the Great Commission. Today's sermon from R.C. Sproul was preached at St. Andrew's Chapel as Dr. Sproul walked his way through Matthew's Gospel. And today only, you can request the hardcover edition of the expositional commentary that's based on these sermons and Dr. Sproul's decades of study. So request your copy when you give a donation of any amount at renewingyourmind.org. This resource offer will not be repeated next weekend, so request this hardcover Bible study tool and the eBook edition for easy access on the go at renewingyourmind.org. Next time, R.C. Sproul will be in the book of Acts, and he'll be preaching on Stephen, the first Christian martyr. So join us next Sunday here on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-12 02:42:35 / 2023-11-12 02:51:54 / 9

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