What does it mean to work for God? What can we expect and how do we know what to do?

In this sermon from Matthew 9:27-38 I share about Jesus’ unexpected motivation, vision and instructions for those who are to work for him.


I had a very strange and aggravating experience on Friday night. 

My sister Tiffany was using the fire pit in my backyard to make smores with three of her friends from Children’s Hospital—all masked and physically distanced.

I was on the phone with my mom, pacing the backyard when I noticed a masked lady walk right up to my fence with her phone out, snapping pictures.

I approached her, assuming she may have found something interesting about my hawthorn tree only to be met with a false accusation:

“You’re not allowed to have a fire in Seattle–it’s illegal,” she said while furiously capturing more footage of the people in my backyard.

That was unexpected!

“Yes we are,” I firmly responded.

“I’m reporting you,” she retorted and backed away, phone still facing me and my guests.

I walked back to the firepit enraged. As an enneagram 1, the easiest way to set me off is to falsely accuse me when I’ve done nothing wrong. 

Everyone checked their phones to verify the rules about recreational fires in Seattle–it’s allowed.

And the creepy thing is that while we were venting about the ruination of a perfectly lovely Friday evening by the intruder, we spy the very same lady in a compact sedan, driver’s side window down, taking pictures and videos of us from the street. 

She drove away the moment she knew we’d spotted her.

Honestly, I felt violated. 

To have a random middle aged white lady cross my neighbor’s property, come up to my fence and take pictures of people in my backyard without our knowledge or consent in order to report us for something she considered illegal–which in actuality is legal–unnecessarily inciting fear and anger…

I felt like I could never again relax and enjoy the privacy of my own backyard. I felt angry, unsafe and vengeful. I wanted to be vindicated and for this person to suffer consequences for what she did, so she would never do it again.

I can’t know for sure if her actions were due to mental illness, racial prejudice, or something else, but I can’t help but wonder if the situation would be different had I been a tall white man rather than a short asian one.

But that’s also when I began to feel the power of community. 

I reached out to friends and family for moral support. And, it crossed my mind that if this became a serious legal issue, I would have not only the testimony of four residents from Children’s Hospital, but also the full power and backing of my Union Church family to bring to bear on such false charges.

How to respond

As I regained some presence of mind, I thought about how to respond instead of react.

First, I thought of building an 8-foot tall privacy fence to stop people from seeing my backyard from the street. Second, someone suggested setting a honeypot trap by continuing to do bonfires until the person re-appeared and could be identified, confronted and possibly prosecuted.

Personally, I regretted not taking out my phone to record the rest of the encounter. I wish I was more aggressive and confrontational about her violation of my rights and those of my guests. 

I decided to do drills to train myself to take out my phone and start recording the moment I realize a confrontation is taking place. I kept replaying the scenario in my head thinking of different ways to respond and how it could have changed things.

But eventually, as vengeful and unsafe as I felt, God’s Word came to mind:

In Romans 12 Paul writes:

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” … 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”

Romans 12:14, 20 NRSV

Let me tell you that while stoking the flames of the bonfire I wanted nothing more than to heap burning coals on someone’s head…and here God was giving me counterintuitive instructions for how to do it.

My mind jumped to the conclusion that I needed to train myself on the smartphone recording quickdraw. But what if I trained myself to offer a glass of water to a thirsty enemy instead?

This is theoretically Jesus’ way. Jesus said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

But does it work? Couldn’t it go badly wrong?

I wish I had a simulator to replay the situation and see what happens when I respond with a glass of water versus a smartphone recording versus brushing it off.  I wish I could try things out without having to face real enemies and real consequences.

But this is the way of faith, this is Jesus’ way. 

Jesus has tried it out and I can believe, we can trust his experience as testified to in Scripture. We can follow him, believing God’s work is thereby being done. This is the way of faith.


And this leads us to our text for today, Matthew 5:27-38 (NRSV).

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you.” And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, “See that no one knows of this.” But they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district.

After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.”

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 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 ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

This passage comes after a back-to-back series of miraculous events where Jesus gives his disciples a front row seat to all that he is doing. From exorcism to forgiving sins to healing the paralytic to feasting with sinners to healing an unclean woman to raising the dead–in every instance, Jesus manifests his authority and in every instance he faces criticism, slander, ridicule, questioning and opposition.

I wonder how Matthew felt as he witnessed this strange pattern. 

His Teacher does something jaw-dropping and amazing and wonderful and what does he get in return? Some awe and appreciation, but also a lot of hollow praise, ingratitude, misunderstanding, unwanted notoriety, hostility, disobedience. It’s strange.

And it’s not just opponents–it’s even people who believe in him who end up working against his purpose!

The two blind men cried out to Jesus, believing he could restore their sight and their eyes were opened. 

Ask, seek, knock and it shall be given to you–they asked Jesus and he gave them their sight! 

Why didn’t they obey him? Why did they rebel against his order to keep their healing secret by spreading the news instead? Why did they believe Jesus’ order to keep quiet was any less important than Jesus’ command that their eyes be opened?

I can imagine how impossible it could feel to contain their excitement, but is it really more impossible than the miracle of regaining their sight?

After they leave, people ask Jesus to exorcise a demon that prevented a man from speaking. Since the man can’t speak, there’s no interaction, no asking about faith, just pure authoritative command. The demon leaves and the man can speak! And although the crowds are amazed, the Pharisees, the religious leaders, slander Jesus by saying this awesome display of power must be of the Devil!

Remember, Jesus is preparing his disciples to follow him and carry out his work. Matthew includes these stories as examples of what Jesus’ followers can expect.

Following Jesus means that people you genuinely serve and substantively help may still refuse to follow him. It means that people who can’t deny powerful works you do in Jesus’ name may nonetheless stubbornly hold on to their confirmation bias and attribute your work to the Devil.

Convincing people isn’t the point. Converting people isn’t the point.

The point is that God’s will is being done. The point is that the Kingdom of God is literally at hand and people know it.

It’s so easy to be distracted by negative feedback loops that we end up overlooking the fact that God’s will is being done!

And so we come to Matthew’s summary of Jesus’ ministry to date:

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 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 ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

I’d like to make three observations from this text: the unexpected heart, the unexpected harvest, and the unexpected command.

The Unexpected Heart

In our day and age it’s easy to be suspicious of people’s motives–that they have some angle, some agenda, some secret profit, power or pleasure motive. 

Jesus taught, proclaimed the good news of the kingdom, cured diseases, cast out demons and he did it all for free!

Why? What was Jesus’ motive? Compassion!

He felt the sufferings of the crowds of harassed and helpless people and was moved to be their shepherd. His compassion flowed from his identity as the true shepherd. 

In using the phrase, “like sheep without a shepherd”, Matthew may be alluding to Ezekiel 34 where the prophet writes about Israel’s false shepherds:

Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4 You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 

10 Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.

11 For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

Ezekiel 34:2-5, 10-11, 16 NRSV

Friends, if any of you feel despair over the present state of our world and the brokenness of our systems and the failures of our leaders, take heart! 

God is your Shepherd.

You have a supremely compassionate leader, his name is Jesus. His compassion is stirred up and he is not passive. He is seeking you out to help you and to heal you, to strengthen you and to save you, to feed you and satisfy you with justice.

Look to Jesus.

The Unexpected Harvest

A second observation is that instead of viewing these needy sheep as a burden or a resource drain Jesus sees them as an overwhelmingly rich harvest! 

He isn’t patronizing or exploitative, but in modern tech startup parlance, Jesus is saying: “We have a hundred billion dollar opportunity and we just don’t have enough engineers working on it.”

What if instead of feeling frustrated, futile, distracted or lazy in our labors for God’s Kingdom we felt overwhelmingly joyful at the abundant opportunity?

Granted, this is a difficult attitude to have, but it seems to be the mind of Christ.

Just to ground it in an imperfect contemporary analogy:

If you joined Amazon right when it went IPO in 1997 and received 5 shares worth about $100, as of last Monday your shares would be worth $186,240.

How would you feel if your labor resulted in a 186,000% return on investment?

If we believe Jesus, this harvest is even better. But it also makes us pause and question what we think the harvest really is.

Is it people converting to Christianity? Is it churches growing or souls saved? When Jesus said this, Christianity as a religion didn’t exist and neither did the concept of local churches. 

So what harvest did Jesus see? 

I think it’s the sheep without a shepherd–there are so many of them! Alluding to Ezekiel, it’s justice for the sheep, or to quote the book of James, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

But what if the sheep aren’t who we expect?

In the incident I shared with you at the beginning…what if the harvest includes the random lady who falsely accused me of having an illegal bonfire? What if she is included among the harassed and helpless who Jesus has compassion on?

What if the harvest includes the mentally ill or demon-possessed that we’d rather give a wide berth to? What if the harvest includes our enemies, the stubborn headed, the ignorant, and the people that we really would prefer not to face–much less face with compassion?

What if the harvest even includes people who have been complicit in the system of empire–like Matthew the tax collector was before he followed Jesus? What if it includes the religious leaders who are amazed at what Jesus is doing, but can’t bring themselves to believe that he is God?

The harvest isn’t about bringing people into a lowercase-c church, but it is about giving full vent to Jesus’ compassion for the harassed and helpless by seeking, healing, protecting, and feeding them.

The Unexpected Command

And this brings us to a final observation.

After showing them all that he is up to, Jesus does not immediately tell the disciples to go and do likewise. He doesn’t command them to labor in the plentiful harvest. No, Jesus tells them to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers.

I think there’s something significant with this sent-ness. 

We don’t get to define our own service for God’s Kingdom. We don’t get to presume that the work we’re doing is laboring in God’s harvest. The two blind men that were healed by Jesus may have thought that they were doing the Lord’s work by bearing witness and telling everybody that Jesus healed them, but they were disobeying the Lord’s command for them.

The first task isn’t to roll up our sleeves and get to work in the way we think is best. 

The first task is to pray that the Lord would send more laborers. And in that asking, to receive from the Lord our specific assignments for our particular time.

Let me humbly ask, have you recently asked God to open your eyes to the harvest? Have you asked the Lord to send more laborers into the harvest? Have you asked the Spirit for how you are to labor?

What is the Church?

In closing I’d like to connect this to our identity as the capital-c Church.

Who are we in this text?

Are we like the blind men asking for and receiving our sight who think we know better than to follow Jesus’ instruction to keep it to ourselves?

Are we like a member of the crowds marveling at Jesus’ work without following him? Or perhaps like the Pharisees, we feel threatened by Jesus’ authority and prefer attributing his inexplicable power to evil?

Or maybe we feel harassed and helpless–like sheep without a shepherd–longing to be found, healed, fed, protected and led.

We may relate to many of these characters, but it would seem that as the Church, we aren’t merely the sheep or the harvest or even the storehouse! 

We’re the answer to the disciples’ prayer! 

We’re laborers sent into the harvest! 

The Church is the workforce!

Please permit me to press the contemporary analogy.

As covid lockdowns make quite obvious, the Church isn’t an office building or worship center or 501c3 legal entity. It’s not the people who visit a building or join a Zoom call. The Church is the workforce of prayerful laborers, gifted by the Spirit and specifically sent by the Lord of the harvest.

We are God’s workforce, employees and shareholders of a righteous global corporation called “the Kingdom of God” with Jesus Christ as our CEO. He founded this company with the mission of uniting heaven and earth into a New Creation ruled by a redeemed, new humanity free from corruption, sin and death. 

The only requirement to join this company is to trust the CEO. There are no other qualifications because those who join are gifted and equipped with all that they need to be productive.

The opportunities for growth are plentiful, the wages are eternal life and the benefits are priceless. The unemployed, employed and over-employed are all welcomed here because the Church as an organization is a platform for people to practice, to train, to learn, to experiment, to observe and hear from our brilliant and compassionate CEO, Jesus Christ, and carry out his will together.

Yes my friends, this is an invitation to work for Jesus by observing, trusting in and following him. And it all begins with a corporate prayer, “Lord send more laborers into your harvest!” and more personally, “Lord Jesus, how are you sending me?”