Laborers for the Harvest

Laborers for the Harvest

Calvin Lashway

May 2010

One of the names for Pentecost in the Old Testament is the “Feast of Harvest" (Exodus 23:15-16), with harvesting being an important theme of this festival (Exodus 34:22; Leviticus 23:15-17, 21-22). The Feast of the Harvest marks the end of the spring grain harvest in the land of Israel. The harvest beginnings during the days of unleavened bread with the barely harvest, and continues with the wheat harvest, with its completion around the Day of Pentecost/ Feast of Harvest.

New Testament is full of references to seeds, planting, sowing, harvesting, gathering and laborers. These references help broaden our understanding of God’s festivals, because their timing is based on the yearly agricultural the cycle of the Middle East. In this article we will focus on the Feast of Harvest and its laborers.

Matthew 9:35-38

Matthew summarizes Jesus’ ministry in Galilee by saying he “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.” Seeing the spiritual and physical needs of the people, Jesus, moved with “compassion for them.” “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 9:35-36 All scriptures quoted are from the English Standard Version).

The context of these verses is the proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom. With the preaching of the gospel metaphorically referred to as harvesting. Jesus tells his disciples, then, as well as today, there is a lot work to do, “but the laborers are few.” So Jesus instructs us to pray for God “to send out laborers into his harvest.”

At the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus commands the apostles to. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20). Acts chapter two describes the beginning of this work on the Day of Pentecost. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit the apostles began a work that has spread around the world. The Feast of Harvest is a time to remember our responsibility in helping to preach the gospel of the kingdom, and the constant need for more laborers.

John 4:31-38

In the Gospel of John, Jesus provides us with more information about our role as laborers for the harvest. In chapter four, we find the incident of Jesus and the women at the well near the Samaritan town of Sychar. While the disciples went to town to buy food, Jesus had a conversation with the women. She was so moved by what Jesus said she returned to town, telling the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:28-29). The disciples on their return from the town encouraged Jesus to eat, “but he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about. . . . My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work’” (vv:32, 34). Meaning he finds true nourishment from preaching the gospel and making new disciples. He then goes on to say that even though the grain harvest is four months away, “I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (v:35). Jesus is saying right now there are people who are ready to be harvested, to become his disciples.

This is probably a direct reference to the positive reaction of the Samaritan women, and her fellow townsmen. Who say to Jesus they believe in him, and know he “is the Savior of the world.” Clearly these Samaritans, even with their flawed understanding of scripture, understood about the prophesied coming messiah (vv:27-30, 39-43). The Old Testament scriptures had sown in their minds the seed of the coming messiah. That is why Jesus said, “already the one who reaps [Jesus] is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower [the Old Testament prophets] and reaper may rejoice together” (v:36).

Jesus’ statement “that the fields are white for harvest” (v:35). Is also a reference to the future work of spiritual harvesting the disciples will undertake starting on Pentecost. When they receive the Spirit, and begin speaking in languages they don’t know. The multitudes of Jews and proselytes gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast “hear them telling in [their] own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11).

Jesus continues, saying that when it comes to laboring in God’s fields, preaching and making disciples. ”‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor” (John 4:37-38). One of Jesus’ laborers may have the job of going out into the field of the world making and baptizing new disciples. While another laborer is responsible for teaching the new disciples to observe all that Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 3:4-9).

Pentecost, the Feast of Harvest, helps us to remember God’s need for laborers for the harvest. Also we don’t all have the same job. Some of us will help make new disciples, while others of us teach these new believers Jesus commands.

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