Many Christians seem to go through starts and fits with evangelism. We have seasons of both intense faithfulness and less unfaithfulness with our gospel witness. As I have observed my own practices and those in our church family it seems that there is at least one thing that is both present and lacking in our seasons of faithfulness and unfaithfulness (respectively). This important ingredient in the recipe for faithful evangelism is a brokenness for people. Many people who seem to thrive in their gospel witness have a deep down love for people and a bubbling compassion that expresses itself by opening our mouths to speak to them about Christ.
Where do we find this modeled well? We needn’t look any further than Christ himself.
When Jesus was in the midst of his earthly ministry he had countless demands, a full schedule, unfathomable temptations, and the looming shadow of the cross before him. However, at the same time he had this deep down love for the lost. One of my favorite passages in Scripture that demonstrates this is Matthew 9.
“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “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.”” (Matthew 9:35–38)
When I say “evangelistic unfaithfulness” I am referring to either unfaithfulness with the content (gospel content) or with the action (gospel witness). Here in this post I am talking specifically about a lack of faithfulness with the action of evangelism. We endure season of silence while the world around us is humming their own funeral dirge.
Jesus shows us a better way.
The text says that he saw the crowds. This is something that we take for granted. We see people but we don’t really see people. We live in a world with over 7 billion people but we don’t really take time to look around and see them. We are largely ignorant to their faces, burdens, joys, or struggles. People’s faces tell a story. The words and tone they use write their biography. Their body language gives their news update. We don’t see them though. We are busy and largely unfeeling. If we are going to see people as image bearers who need a Savior we must first take the time to look around and actually see people. Who are these people on my block, in my workplace, at the gym, at the park, on the bus, in my church?
Do unbelievers get your attention? Do you see them?
Feel for People
Jesus saw the people and then he had a response. We read that “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them…” This word for compassion essentially means that Jesus felt it in his gut. He had deep down reaction to them. Listen, let’s be honest, as Christians we often look at people with contempt, condescension, or ambivalence. We are very good at looking down our (elect) noses at those who are playing in the mud pies of the world. We are likewise good at being unmoved by their plight. Not so with Jesus, he felt compassion for them.
Do you feel a compassion for people? Are you moved by their Christ-lessness?
Far from being ambivalent or condescending Jesus was informed. He looked upon the people with compassion because “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The word picture that Jesus is drawing here is of sheep being ripped apart and thrown to the ground. They are so vulnerable that they are an easy target. There are connections here to the religious leaders’ neglect at the time of course, but the bigger picture is true for us also, Jesus understood the plight of the lost. His theology and experience met together and gave a commentary on their lostness and his brokenness. What a stinging rebuke to our ambivalence and condescending self-righteousness.
Does your theology inform your reaction to people? Do you see them as sitting ducks—slaves to sin and defenseless against the devil and the world?
Talk to People
Jesus is not just in the observation deck of a university class on anthropology. No, he is in the world. He is the incarnate Son of God. Here he tells his disciples to pray for laborers and then in chapter 10 we see him send them out to do work (10:5-8). Notice also that in the midst of Jesus own observations was his teaching about the gospel (9:35). All of this to say, Jesus’s loving compassion expresses itself in action. We can’t say we love people and then not talk to them about Christ. It just doesn’t work.
Do you love your neighbor? Do you talk to them?
I don’t write these things as someone who has it all down, believe me. Rather I share how the Lord has brought deep conviction upon me. He leads me back to the Savior for an evangelistic recalibration. When I read Matthew 9 I sit back in my chair and think, “What in the world am I doing? What is wrong with me?” What you do next makes all the difference in the world: either repentance that leads to action or rationalization that promotes more apathy and unfaithfulness.
May God send laborers, not vacationers into his vineyards. We have work to do.