4th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 9:35-10:8 Sermon
June 12, 2005
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
169 "All People That On Earth Do Dwell"
304 "Lord Of The Living Harvest"
446 "Ye Servants Of God, Your Master Proclaim"
323 "Spread, O Spread Thou Mighty Word"
IN SEARCH OF A SHEPHERD
TEXT: (9, 35-36) “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
November 18, 1978--I don’t know if this date rings a bell with you or not, but it might when I connect a name with it. The name is James Warren Jones, better known as the Reverend Jim Jones. And the date which is connected with him is the date that a mass suicide occurred at his behest. 914 people died in the dense jungle of Guyana—638 adults and 276 children by drinking grape Kool-Aid laced with cyanide and drugs, or by being forcibly poisoned, or shot. California congressman Leo Ryan, who was investigating Jones’s “People’s Temple,” along with others traveling with him were shot by People’s Temple guards. What was it that prompted this massive loss of life?
Jim Jones has an interesting history. He was born in 1931, his father being a member of the Ku Klux Klan. His educational background is a bit sketchy, but he evidently had degrees from both Indiana University and Butler University. He was ordained into the ministry by an Indianapolis congregation which was a member of the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ. He did not have the endorsement of the main church body, however they did allow individual congregations to ordain their own pastors; so Jones entered into the ministry through the back door, so-to-speak.
Jones then began the People’s Temple in Indianapolis in the 1950’s, which was an inter-racial group (almost unheard of in those days), which was a mission for the sick, homeless, and jobless. He preached a “social gospel” of human freedom, equality, and love; and his ministry was intended to reach the least and lowliest members of society.
His Indianapolis church was doing well; however when an investigation began by the government into his so-called “cures” for cancer, heart disease, and arthritis, he felt forced to move his ministry to Ukiah, California.
His ministry was enjoying success, and so he had groups also in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and he had several thousand followers. In San Francisco, he received numerous humanitarian awards, and even became chairman of the city’s Housing Authority.
In 1977, the activities of his group got progressively weirder and weirder. After an expose’ by a magazine, he felt forced to move his group again, this time to Guyana in South America. The church had leased 4,000 acres of jungle land from the Guyana government, and he began what was called “The People’s Temple Agricultural Project.” This was an agricultural cooperative where they raised animals for food, and assorted fruits and vegetables for consumption and sale.
Jim Jones’s mental illness and drug abuse had much to do with how things went. He developed a belief called “Translation” in which he and all of his followers would die together, and would be moved to another planet for a life of bliss. People practiced mass suicides, in which they pretended to drink poison and would fall to the ground.
Jim Jones ran his Jonestown commune more like a concentration camp. People were forbidden to leave. He would rally the people at a moment’s notice over the camp P.A. system, and would have sermons of nothing but ramblings and meaningless phrases that would sometimes last 4 hours.
Then when California Congressman Leo Ryan began to investigate this group even more, Jones felt that the time had come to actually carry the mass suicide idea to fruition.
And so, his faithful workers mixed up the lethal grape Kool-Aid/cyanide/drug combination. Mothers and fathers fed it to their children, some even babies in arms. Others who tried to escape were shot. A few did manage to escape; however the death toll was still massive--914 people died in the dense jungle of Guyana—638 adults and 276 children. Certainly this was a sad, sad situation.
As I studied our text for today from Matthew’s gospel, I thought about this situation. Verse 36 of our gospel says, “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
People were looking and searching. They were wandering about without aim or purpose. They were in need of some leadership and guidance in their lives, some purpose, and some meaning.
This is basically the situation that the Rev. Jim Jones saw, and he took advantage of it in a big way. But instead of ministering to them with the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he pushed his own agenda instead. And when he did this, it led his faithful followers straight to their demise.
Jesus however had a holy purpose in mind when he saw the people following him. Jesus had been preaching, teaching, and healing from town to town, and his group of followers grew. And so when he surveyed this group, he had compassion on them. He saw them as shepherdless sheep, who were headed to hell, and he was determined to rescue as many as possible from this terrible fate.
This would be a huge task, and he wanted others to help with the work at hand. The first thing he asks for is very simple, and that is prayer. Verses 37 and 38 of our text says, “…The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Now I would imagine that Jesus’ disciples took this message to heart, and did indeed pray that the Lord would send workers into his harvest. The Lord’s first way of answering their prayer was to send them out into the spiritual harvest fields. And they would have been happy to be part of the answer to their own prayers.
It’s here where we meet the 12 apostles as a group. And it’s here that I’d like to share the lyrics of a simple song with you that I learned as a little kid in Sunday School.
“Peter, Andrew, James, and John, fisherman of Capernaum. Thomas and St. Matthew too, Philip and Bartholomew. James the Less, and Jude the brave, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the knave. Twelve disciples here in all, answering the Master’s call.”
I’ve asked other people, even other pastors if they can name the 12 apostles. Usually they will think a bit, count on their fingers, and try to name them all and not miss any. So I generally take the opportunity to teach them the words to that simple Sunday School song. This of course is the original 12, not counting the Apostle Paul, or Matthias who replaced Judas Iscariot after he committed suicide.
Now you might be asking what the difference is between an apostle and a disciple. We often use the words interchangeably meaning the same thing, for example the 12 apostles and the 12 disciples.
The word “disciple” simply refers to someone who is a follower, or student, or pupil. A disciple of Christ can refer to anyone who fits this category, including you and me here today.
The word “apostle” is Greek, and it means “one who is sent.” This word is directly applied to these 12 men in our text for today. In fact, our text shows us a type of transition, where these men went from being just disciples, to disciples who are now apostles. So there are many disciples, but only 12 apostles (notwithstanding Paul and Matthias).
In verses 5-7 of our text, we read: “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: The kingdom of heaven is near.’”
Now we know that Jesus came to redeem the whole world, Gentiles and Samaritans too. So why did he instruct them to concentrate on the Jews, or the children of Israel?
We need to realize that this was a huge task, and they needed a game plan, or a place to start. It was logical for them to begin with the Jews, who were their own people. They could more easily relate to them. Besides, all of their lives these men had been taught to avoid any unnecessary association with the Samaritans and the Gentiles. It would take time to reshape their thinking in this area.
No, their time would be well consumed with reaching the lost children of Israel. They were like lost sheep. The Jewish leaders of that day, such as the Pharisees and Sadducees had perverted the faith. They replaced the truth of God’s Word with their own philosophies and traditions. They were leading people down the wrong path. And when God’s true prophets did emerge on the scene, they were regularly despised, persecuted, and rejected by their own people. The sheep definitely needed a true shepherd sent from God who was faithful to God, and not to their own peculiar ideas and traditions.
The apostles were sent with a message: “The Kingdom of heaven is near.” You might recall that prior to this time, this was the message John the Baptist was preaching, and the message Jesus preached when he began his ministry.
The call was for repentance, to warn people of the consequences of continuing in their sins, and to assure them that God was carrying out the promises he made in the Old Testament Scriptures for the redemption of the world. The Messiah that had been foretold from almost the beginning of time was now here. Jesus Christ was that promised Saviour, and there would be no salvation for sinners except through faith in him. The events surrounding his passion, resurrection, and ascension would be taking place right in their midst in the very near future. Most certainly the kingdom of heaven was at hand. People needed to repent and believe the Gospel.
In verse 8 of our text we read, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.”
The message the apostles were preaching needed a divine stamp of authority. The apostles were, for the most part uneducated men who at times showed weakness of faith, and were slow to learn. Their mission could only be successful through the power and by the authority of the Lord. The Gospel message was a powerful and living message, through which the Holy Spirit could use to produce a saving and living faith in the hearts of the people who heard it.
The healing miracles and casting out demons were the same miracles Jesus had been performing. This then demonstrated to the people that these apostles were, without a doubt authorized spokesmen for Jesus.
What’s more, the people needed to realize that the apostles did these things freely, and not because they wanted to become rich in the process. They had not earned or deserved the ability to perform miracles; Jesus gave it to them freely. So they were to freely use this gift among the people they were sent to minister to—certainly a far cry from the religious hucksters of today who claim to have healing powers, and who practice at the expense of their followers so they can enjoy an extravagant and lavish lifestyle.
As we look at ourselves in relationship to our Gospel for today, I don’t think we have to look too hard to see ourselves as sheep who need their shepherd. Christ has come to us with the message that the kingdom of heaven is near. This is a serious message for our lives, each and every day.
As we look at sin in our lives, we know it is something that is not pleasing to God. But Christ came to remove that sin from us. The Saviour who had been sent to the lost sheep of Israel has been sent to us. God has created faith in our hearts so we can believe the message and accept Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour from sin.
Of course there is always the temptation to follow other shepherds of this world. But we must always remember that there is only one shepherd that will lead us in the way we should go, and that is Jesus. There is only one shepherd that gives us the message of forgiveness and restoration in the Gospel, and only one Shepherd that loves us and cares for us enough to bring us into eternal paradise. Jesus is indeed that Good Shepherd. Anyone else who comes who does not faithfully carry the message of the Gospel is not a disciple of Christ.
Back in the 1970’s, Jim Jones gathered a huge number of followers under the disguise of Christianity, and led them into a cult which eventually led to their death. Thankfully some survived or left before things got too far out of hand; but sadly these sheep looking for a shepherd followed the wrong one. And to think that Jim Jones could have blessed these people with the message of the real Gospel, but he did not.
Sad to say, horrors in the name of religion go on all the time. Just yesterday in the Journal Star, an article appeared about a church in Louisiana. From the outside, the church looked like any normal church. It was called Hosanna Church, located in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, a town of 5,000 people. The people in the town had no idea of what was going on. The article says, “…Nine people, including the pastor, his wife, and a sheriff’s deputy, were accused of engaging in cult-like sexual activity with children and animals inside the hall of worship.” It continues on, “Authorities said witnesses have described the use of pentagrams on the church floor, sex with a dog, and the sacrificing of cats.”
Yes we will cringe when we hear of such things. People who are like sheep look for a shepherd to follow, and many will heed the wrong voice.
Our Gospel lesson a couple Sundays ago was from Matthew 7, a couple chapters before our Gospel for today. Verses 15 and 16 have some very pointed words of warning: “Jesus taught them saying, ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?’”
As we consider our place as a congregation in this community, we should always be aware that people are out there like sheep looking for a shepherd. Some will be tempted to be led by false prophets who only seek their destruction.
But we have God’s holy Word, and the pure message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what has saved us from our sins, and given us new life and hope. This is the message we need to share with the world.
There is nothing secret or underhanded about what we do. We’re not out for any personal gain or glory. The lost sheep need Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, and there’s no strings attached to that.
So may we always be faithful witnesses of our Lord, and may it always be our prayer that the Lord will continue to send forth laborers into his harvest. There’s work to be done, and may the Lord always use us in his service as he sees fit.