One of the best tips on preaching I have received came from one of my professors who told his students repeatedly, “You have to know your audience.” If we do not know the crowd, how can we minister to them?
Jesus knew his audience. Listen to these words from our text: “When he saw the crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ÔThe harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the harvest field.'”
As our Lord went through their towns and villages, he attracted great crowds of people. They loved to hear him preach and teach. These masses of people were all created in the image of God, but they were like sheep without a shepherd. They were helpless and worried. The crowd was made up of all kinds of people Ð rich and poor, young and old, pious and outcast, healthy and sick.
Don’t you love a crowd? I do. If I can keep my cool, to be a part of the crowd is a study in human nature. Be a part of thousands of fans at a football game and you will see all kinds of behavior. Truly, many act like a sheep without a shepherd. Fans can be very selfish. Their only concern is that their needs are met. On the other hand, some can be extremely kind and concerned for others, especially for the disabled.
Another interesting crowd is the worshiping congregation on Sunday morning. All kinds of people have come. They are the young and the old, the wealthy and the poor, the healthy and the sick, the believers and the unbelievers. Their needs may vary. However, they all have one basic need, though many have not identified it in their own life. That need is a personal relationship with God, which comes only through Jesus Christ. We are all sinners, and that sin separates us from God until it is taken away.
The Bible says that when Jesus saw these people, “He had compassion on them.” He loved them. He hurt with them. He reached out to them. He healed every disease and sickness. He healed the paralytic, the blind, the mute, the leper. He also healed those who had no physical ailments Ð those who were well clothed and fed Ð but were burdened with worries driving them to despair.
If they would receive him as their Savior and Lord, Jesus would assure them that their sins were forgiven and they were restored into fellowship with God. If they were burdened, Jesus could say, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” When the trials of the day are just too heavy to bear, he responds with words like these: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Jesus knew the frustrations of my soul about a month ago as I was driving behind the ambulance that was taking my wife to the hospital with the possibility of another stroke. For thirteen years, since she had her first stroke, I shuttered to think of her having another one. I prayed and committed my loved one into his care with the request that he would spare her from suffering. “Please either place your healing hand upon her, or let her come to you, Father.” Then I placed that worry into the Lord’s hand, for he has spoken through his Word: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” I felt a peace in my soul knowing I did not face this emotional experience alone.
Jesus did not often tell people what to pray for, but he does so in our text when he tells them to pray for workers. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send workers into his harvest field.” The work that Jesus did while on this earth, he has now turned over to his Church. I believe this is one reason for being challenged when we see the crowds. God wants these people to be in a personal relationship with him. We are his ambassadors, and he makes his appeal to them through us. He calls us to share this Gospel with the crowds. What a challenge Ð to bring the Gospel to all people!
What are the world’s needs? While it has many, its basic need is to know Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Does the Church know its audience? We know its physical and social needs, and we reach out to minister to the unfortunate. Yet do we know the spiritual needs of millions who are away from the Savior?
Read your denominational periodicals. We are told about the physical needs of people, but hear little about spiritual awakenings and conversions. Are people being saved in large numbers? If the answer is no, then we must ask if it is because the Church has not addressed the problem. Is this because we do not know the spiritual needs in our audience each Sunday?