The Workers Are Few


‘Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’ Matthew 9:35-37

This records Jesus’ own reaction to the extensive tour of Galilee, in which the opposition of the Pharisees had been so evident, with the consequent confusion and distress of the people. Christ viewed the situation with profound pity for the multitudes and proposed, at once, to correct it by sending out His disciples as missionaries to bear widespread testimony to the truth.

The word ‘compassion’ here gives an insight into the benevolent and gracious heart of Christ. It indicated a combination of love, pity, concern, and deep emotional feeling for the ‘lost sheep’ of the house of Israel. It was always the work of Jesus to go about teaching and preaching. He didn’t stay in one village but went to everyone He could physically go to during His ministry.

Every kind of sickness

The emphasis here is on healing every kind of sickness and disease, there was no physical sickness which was too difficult for Him to heal. Unlike what many people claim today, we obviously can’t miraculously heal people today, but we can certainly pray for them and help them where we can.

Moved with compassion

Jesus as always was sympathetic to the physical needs of the people. As a church, it’s always good to be on the lookout for people in need and try to meet those needs. If you personally can’t help someone, find someone who will.

‘When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.’ Matthew 14:14

‘A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Mark 1:40-41

Sheep having no shepherd

The multitudes had no spiritual leader who would guide them unto the truth of God. How sad this is and still true today among many churches. No leadership or a weak leadership often leads to a watered-down version of the truth.

‘When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So, he began teaching them many things.’ Mark 6:34

Those religious leaders who were in their presence were only leading the people away from God through their traditions. Numbers 27:16-17 / 1 Kings 22:17 / Ezekiel 34:5. Traditions can become a real problem for some congregations and in some places the tradition becomes law.

‘The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles. So, the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?’ He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’ And he continued, ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!’ Mark 7:1-9

The harvest

The people were being blindly led by legalistic teachers whose ambition was to maintain their own positions and power over the people. There were few among the people who were spiritually leading the people according to the grace and love of God.

It’s so important not only to recognise a harvest but to be able to lead them to the truth of God’s Word and not bind them with things which God never asked to be bound. ‘Do not go beyond what is written.’ 1 Corinthians 4:6.

It’s always the case that there are too few labourers for the need of harvesting Luke 10:2 / John 4:35. Christians live in a world where much preaching of the Gospel must be done to reach the whole of the world. The problem is usually that the harvesters are diverted from the harvest to use their talents on things other than preaching the Gospel to the lost.

People are busy working and involved in their past times and hobbies, but they forget they can still share Jesus with others whilst they are involved in those things. We must also keep in mind that no one really has a right to hear the Gospel a second time when there are countless millions who have never heard it once.


Christ here asked His disciples to pray for that which He himself was about to initiate, namely, the sending out of more witnesses to the truth of the kingdom. The sending out of the twelve was Jesus’ own response to the marvellous opportunity for reaping a great harvest of souls. Significantly, Christ asked the disciples to pray about it and He, Himself continued all night in prayer before naming the twelve.

‘One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.’ Luke 6:12-13

In view of this, should Christians today undertake any project without prayer for guidance and blessing?

I believe that some Christians get this the wrong way around sometimes. They want the harvest, but they don’t pray first. They hit the streets with Bibles in hand, proclaim the Gospel to others and ‘after’ they’ve finished, they get together to pray! Colossians 4:2-6.

We should pray first, pray that the message is presented clearly and present it carefully with love.

If Jesus leaned so heavily upon prayer, how much more should His disciples ask, and seek, and knock to obtain that providential support?

One of the commands Jesus gave concerning prayer was that we express in our prayers a plea for more evangelists to take the good news to the people. It’s the duty of every Christian, therefore, to pray for more messengers to proclaim the Gospel to the lost.

‘As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured, just as it was with you.’ 2 Thessalonians 3:1