One of the unavoidable conclusions drawn by anyone who reads the word of God and then looks at the world is that there is a vast gap between what we read and what we see. The ideals with which God imbued creation are everyday trampled on and ignored, inside the church doors and outside of them.
The question facing the church is not whether or not we can recognize the lostness of the world in relation to the clear teaching of Scripture, but rather, what response does that lostness draw from us? What do we feel when we see created norms overthrown, the name of God disparaged, and sin creating heartbreak in every direction?
Many Christians respond with condemnation. “I can’t believe they said that, I can’t believe they’d do that, I can’t believe they think that way.” Whole books, conferences, and churches are organized around throwing stones at a culture that has “turned its back on God.”
But what this movement misses is that it’s not culture that has turned its back on God. Culture has no back to turn, it’s not animate. When it’s over 100 degrees and I’m miserable, I don’t write op-eds decrying my thermometer. Culture’s not the problem, humanity is. Culture is, at most, the thermometer for humanity, showing what the state of our rebellion against God is at any given point. Every single one of us, every single breathing human is born in rebellion against God and continues in that rebellion apart from the grace of God.
Christianity is not at all about condemning culture. It’s not about approving culture. It’s about transforming individuals, communities, the world with the selfless message of hope in the gospel.
We need to look at Jesus. Time and time again Jesus calls us to something more than cultural approbation or condemnation.
Jesus calls us to personal engagement.
See when Jesus sees lostness, he doesn’t condemn it. He doesn’t wish for a return to some Jewish heyday. He is moved to compassion. Lostness compels compassion in Jesus. It ought to compel the same in us.
Lostness Compels Compassion
 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.
Why did Jesus have compassion? Because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
The other day I was driving with my family and saw a herd of sheep going down a side road. There were dogs, and herders, and a couple of trucks following who may have simply got caught behind the herd. But the sheep had direction.
What would those sheep have been doing without the guidance? Whatever they wanted.
What do humans do when no one is telling us what to do? Whatever we want to do.
Jesus compassion for the lost is motivated by his recognition that left to their own devices, they would do whatever they wanted. And Jesus knew that the end of that self-centered lifestyle would be death.
When we see the lost, do we see delinquents who we have to guard ourselves against so they don’t mess up our lawn or do we see those who without the life-giving direction of the gospel will mess up their lives?
If you are one who sees a fire burning in your neighbor’s house and your first response is to go hose down your roof, you don’t understand what it means to be a neighbor.
If your primary response to the sin of a lost person is to condemn and write them off, may I humbly suggest that you may not understand the gospel?
When Jesus’ eyes see the lost, he is moved to compassion. When our eyes see the lost, that’s where we should go as well. To a heart moved by compassion.
But compassion by itself is simply hypocrisy.
Lostness Demands Intercession
 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.”
Jesus points his disciples to the lostness and he says, “you need to be concerned about this. And once you’re concerned about it, start praying about it.”
A professor once asked a class I was in a convicting question: “If God answered every prayer for missions, evangelism, and discipleship you had ever prayed, how many get saved, how many are going, and how many are growing?”
It is interesting to me that Jesus goes from awareness to prayer. I think in the American church we would be more inclined to go from awareness to a committee meeting to a business meeting to begging for volunteers for a couple months and by then we’d have forgotten what we were supposed to be doing so we’d do something that looked like what we were supposed to do.
Jesus says no.
Awareness of lostness needs to be followed by prayer. Why? Because only God can do anything about lostness! We can go dig wells when we see people without clean water, and we ought to. We can go set up agricultural cooperatives when we see people without adequate food, and we ought to. We can go and share the gospel, in word and in deed, and we ought to, but we can’t save a single person. We can do so many things, good things, Christ-like things, things we ought to do, but we cannot bring a sinner to repentance, we cannot move a man from being lost to being found. Only the Holy Spirit can.
So prayer is the obvious next step because Jesus makes us aware of a problem we cannot ultimately fix. He opens our eyes, he sends workers, and he saves souls. Prayer is essential.
But prayer is not enough.
There is something that cracks me up about where Matthew goes next with this. Jesus says beseech the Lord of the Harvest to send workers. We often stop there, because the chapter stops there. But the very next thing is, “And Jesus sent the twelve out.”
Who is the Lord of the Harvest? Jesus.
Who are the laborers he sends? The ones he just told to pray for laborers to be sent.
Lostness Compels the Intercessors to be the Sent
 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.  The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;  Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;  Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.  These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans,  but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.  Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts,  no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.  And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.  As you enter the house, greet it.  And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.  Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
“These Jesus sent…”
Too often our prayers for missions, our giving for missions, indeed our whole conception of missions is that someone else is going to do the going. Baloney! Jesus says to pray and then he answers the prayer: you go! You go tell your neighbor, your coworker, the homeless man in downtown SLC, the Hindu in India, the atheist in Australia, the Muslim in Dubai. You go!
You are the answer to the prayer.
Do you think the disciples got it? I bet they did. That chapter division throws us off. But it wasn’t there for them – they heard Jesus say “Pray” and then they heard him say “Go.” It’s like the shortest prayer meeting ever. It’s like Jesus sitting down at the dinner table and saying, “someone bless the food.” Peter, you know it’d be Peter, launches into this soliloquy: “Most exalted, gracious, ever-beneficent, Mysterious, sovereign, almighty, L…” and Jesus is like, “Alright already, pass the grapes would you!”
Just because our compassion for the lost turns us immediately to prayer, that doesn’t mean we have to stay there for long. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “don’t pray like the heathens, who assume that they will be heard because of their many words.” I’m afraid some of us may have missed that. We spend so many words praying for the lost that we apparently don’t have any left to share the gospel with them.
Prayer is never the destination for our compassion: taking the gospel is the destination. Prayer is the kick in the pants we need to get going.
But I get it. One of the reasons I struggle to take the gospel is because it’s not easy. I know that’s why many of us fail. It’s hard to put yourself on the line for something that you have no control over the success of. But God doesn’t ask us to succeed in making converts: he’ll do that. He just asks us to be faithful to go, faithful to tell, and faithful to disciple those that he reaches.
Even then, it’s still hard. In fact, it’s probably the hardest thing anyone could ever ask you to do.
You’d think Jesus would make it easy. That he’d try to alleviate the fears of the disciples, our fears, before sending us out. He doesn’t. In fact, it seems like he is doing the exact opposite.
Jesus Doesn’t Try to Sugarcoat the Difficulty of the Task
- We are severely handicapped in the tactics we can use.
 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
- We will be treated just like Jesus was treated.
 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues,  and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.  When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.  For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death,  and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.  “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
- We will be tempted to deny the faith.
 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.  What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.  And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,  but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
- We have to be willing to lose peace, family, position, and our very lives
 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
- We go for the sake of others, not ourselves.
 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.  The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.  And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
Jesus isn’t telling his disciples that they will be rewarded; he’s saying that those who receive them will be rewarded. He isn’t telling them to do this so they are blessed, he says “do it so that those you go to are blessed.”
With the difficulty inherent in the mission we’ve been given, why in the world would we ever agree to go? Because if we are truly transformed by the gospel, we realize that it isn’t about us. The gospel is not about me being saved; it’s about me glorifying God. It’s about loving God, loving others, and making disciples. It’s not thinking less of myself, it’s not thinking about myself at all. The fact that I get eternal life is essentially just a bonus to the fact that I get to tell others about eternal life.
Look at what Paul says in Romans. He’s talking about the gospel going to his countrymen, his fellow Jews. He says, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race.”
Do you hear that? That’s someone who gets the gospel. That’s what Christian maturity looks like. Christian maturity isn’t knowing a bunch of Bible verses, it’s not knowing the difference between supralapsarianism and sublapsarianism; Christian maturity is looking at the lostness all around us and saying, “I wish God would damn me to hell if only they would be saved.”
Until we look at lostness and want with every fiber of our being to see it redeemed, so long as we look at lostness and condemn rather than love, we are not following the example of Jesus. In other words, we’re not truly his disciples, whatever else we claim.