In this series, we are exploring the biblical metaphor of the vineyard. It runs throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testament as a symbol of God’s people and God’s Kingdom. After looking at the conditions for fruitfulness and the process of growth, we are now moving on to the harvest.
After planting the vineyard and growing the vineyard, there will come a time of harvest. And the harvest in the teaching of Jesus represents the expansion of the Kingdom of God in terms of souls being saved, the sick being healed and lives being restored.
Jesus’ heart was set towards the harvest. He lived his life with a clear mission, to preach and to demonstrate the Kingdom of God. And I believe that He is calling us to do the same. To have our hearts set towards the harvest.
So often, we are so consumed with our own needs and our own growth, that we forget that there is a harvest to be brought in.
We are going to look at two parables and two teachings of Jesus about the harvest.
Compassion is the Motivation
Matthew 9: 35-38 (NKJV)
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 multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. 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.”
Jesus identified the crowds as the harvest. He saw their need for salvation and for guidance and restoration and was ‘moved with compassion’. He was constantly motivated by compassion for the lost and the hurting. Whatever he did was either about bringing in the harvest, or preparing others to bring in the harvest.
The way we see the world around us determines how we will engage with it.
The way see at the world around us determines how we will engage with it.
If you see the world as a dangerous and contagious place – you will stay away from it. If you see the world as sinful and rotten – you may get very critical and angry, maybe even hostile. But Jesus looked at the world with compassion, focusing on the need instead of the fault.
Can you point me to one passage where Jesus got angry at sinners? Did He ever walk up to a corrupt tax collector to give him a piece of His mind, or shaming a prostitute? The only people He got angry at the supposed religious leaders for their hypocrisy and lack of compassion.
His compassion is what moved Jesus to go around from village to village preaching, healing and delivering – because He saw the people’s needs. It’s His compassion for all of us that moved Him to pick up that cross and carry it to Calvary.
The Need for Laborers
But there was another need that concerned Him just as much, and that is the need for laborers. “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 is what is interesting about this passage. Jesus is not asking His disciples to become laborers for the harvest, but to pray. Why? Because only through prayer, their hearts would be moved with compassion as well. He didn’t want to send them out as laborers motivated only by a reward or going because He told them to – but to go out consumed with compassion!
Want to see what happens the next day?
Matthew 10:1 (NKJV)
And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.
Right after this he starts picking out his 12 disciples who would later become the 12 apostles who would become the pillars of the early church.
Jesus is asking us to sign up for the job, but only with the right motivation.
Attitude of the workers
So, we’ve talked about the motivation of the workers bringing in the harvest, now let’s take a look at the attitude and reward. Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard owner with a vineyard hiring dayworker. It’s very likely that he does this because it is harvest time, because the rest of the time, he wouldn’t need so many workers. Some he hires early in the morning, some a little later, some in the afternoon and some only one hour before the day is finished. Then it is time for payment.
Matthew 20:8-16 (NLT)
“That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’“He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’ “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”
Let’s explore what this means for us. God is inviting us to be workers in His vineyard as well. The different starting times could apply to us in different ways. It may have to do with the moment we became Christians, or the moment we started to adopt evangelism as a lifestyle. It can also apply to our gifts and talents. Some of us are 5-talent people having a great impact, some others have 1 or 2 talents and the impact is not as visible.
Jesus is using this parable to explain what our attitude should be when it comes to the work of bringing in the harvest. What should have been the response of the hired workers from the first hour, and the third hour?
They should have been thankful for the privilege to work in the vineyard and grateful for the for the great reward, which is exactly what was promised to them. Also, they should’ve been happy for those who got more than they ‘deserved’.
We are called to work in God's vineyard with the time and the talents that have been given to us.
And it may sometimes feel like we are giving more than we are receiving, but we count it a privilege that God is inviting us to work His vineyard, whatever the starting time and whatever the reward is compared to that of others.
The motivation to be a laborer should not be the reward, but the harvest itself. Because the harvest in the Kingdom of God is changed lives.
What I love about my church
This is one of the things I love about the church that I get to pastor. Being an international church in a city with a high student population, some of us are here for only a short while – maybe only 1 or 2 years. Some of us are here to stay.
I see those who are here to stay working in the vineyard, bringing in a harvest of changed lives, knowing that they may not be able to enjoy the fruit of their labor. I see them investing in the lives of people that will not stay.
I also see those who are here for a short while, working in the vineyard, motivated for the harvest, also knowing that they may not enjoy the fruit of their labor, because they will be on their way again.
I see a church that is motivated by the harvest itself, not by the reward.
The Value of the Harvest
In order to be motivated by the harvest itself instead of the reward, and to be consumed with compassion for the harvest, we need to understand the value of the harvest.
Matthew 13: 24-30 (NLT)
Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew. “The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’ “‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed. “‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.
“‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’”
Jesus is using this illustration to help us understand how valuable the harvest is.
In the field, which represents the world, Jesus sows the good seed of the Kingdom resulting in grain coming up until it is ready for harvest. The enemy though, representing the devil, also sows weeds into the same field. In the world now, live people who belong to the Kingdom of God and some who don’t.
What the servants suggest to the farmer, is of a radical intervention in life on earth to protect those who belong to God – basically to bring the eschaton, the end of the age. But the farmer, representing God, says ‘no’. We will sort out the wheat and the weed later, but I want to make sure first that the full harvest is ready.
The value of the full harvest is God's motivation to postpone the eschaton.
The harvest of saved souls is so valuable to our God, that He is postponing the eschaton until the full harvest has come in. Because God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). And He has not given up on your neighbors yet, and your friends and colleagues and family members!
Don’t you think that God is yearning for the end of the age as well? Don’t you think He is longing to come down and restore all things, bring His children up to be with him for all eternity, judge the wicked, restore His servants and get rid of all death and sickness? But He has decided to wait, because some may still be saved. That’s the value of the harvest!
Only when we understand the value of the harvest, we know that it is worthwhile waiting for and working for, praying for – yes, even sacrificing for.
Wake Up and Look Around
We are going to look at one last thing that Jesus said about the harvest. He and the disciples were walking through a region called ‘Samaria’ which was in between Judea and Galilea. Samaria was considered to be impure, because there lived a mix of the remnant of Israelites after the Assyrians had conquered Israel, and foreigners that the Assyrians brought in.
Jesus, not caring much for the exclusive thinking of the Jews traveled through Samaria instead of around, and while his disciples are getting something to eat, He strikes up a conversation with a woman at a well. And the Kingdom breaks into her life. She understands Jesus is the Messiah. She runs off to tell her friends and brings them to Jesus. Meanwhile the disciples show up, bringing Jesus some food.
John 4:31-35 (NLT)
Meanwhile, the disciples were urging Jesus, “Rabbi, eat something.” But Jesus replied, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about.” “Did someone bring him food while we were gone?” the disciples asked each other. Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest.
Jesus’ heart was set on the harvest. He wasn’t thinking about His next meal, but about the woman and the network around her that needed to hear the message of the Kingdom.
In an unexpected place, an area the disciples just wanted to travel through as quickly as possible because they felt uncomfortable – Jesus was working on the harvest. The woman was about to return with a whole group of people whose life would be turned around by the ministry of Jesus.
Wake up and look around! Jesus is working on a harvest, and He is calling you and me to bring it in.