Ministers – Good for the Soul
If anything was clear to Jesus as he looked upon the people of Israel; it was that the shepherds of Israel had failed. The Pharisees and the elders had not cared for God’s sheep. Instead, the shepherds had taken advantage of the people, using them for their own power trips. The Pharisees laid down heavy burdens on the Israelites. For example, their list of things you could not do on the Sabbath was hundreds of pages long.
The shepherds of Israel felt no compassion for the people. If an Israelite was suffering, the Pharisees assumed it was because he was cursed of God. The shepherds did not speak words of forgiveness and comfort; they had no interest in strengthening the weak or giving of themselves for the sheep.
As a result, the people of Israel were in a sad condition. Matthew describes them as harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Sheep without a shepherd wander aimlessly into danger and nobody cares.
In v. 36, Matthew records for us Christ’s response to all this. When Jesus saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion, unlike the Pharisees. We sometimes form the impression that Jesus went about his ministry only because that was his assignment. But the disciples knew differently. The disciples witnessed the Savior’s agitated state as he looked upon the shepherd-less people. They saw his deep emotion as he beheld human suffering and spiritual infirmity.
In our passage, it was not physical suffering that so moved Jesus, it was spiritual suffering. The people were not being cared for spiritually; they were harassed by selfish leaders; wandering aimlessly. Jesus was deeply moved over their spiritual condition.
You must understand this about your Savior. When you are sad, Christ is sad for you. Even as he sits at the right hand of the Father, he is moved by compassion. That same heart of compassion resides in all three members of the Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
But Christ is also divinely powerful. He mixes his compassion with resolution. Not only does he grieve over the problem; he sovereignly solves the problem with the gospel. In Ezek. 34, when God saw that the evil shepherds were taking advantage of his people Israel, he declared that he himself would come down one day and shepherd his people rightly.
In Christ, God himself came down to shepherd you: to teach you and bear your infirmities. It was Christ’s compassion for your spiritual condition that caused him to endure the separation from the Father on the cross, that separation that constituted the divine punishment for sinners. Christ saw that you were sheep without a shepherd; his compassion drove him to become your good shepherd, laying down his life for his sheep.
But note Christ’s solution to his problem in vv. 37&38. Christ resolves the problem of his people wandering aimlessly by speaking of the need for laborers, for ministers of the gospel.
The question arises; why does Jesus speak of the need for ministers when he himself is our shepherd? Why doesn’t he just speak of himself as the good shepherd?
Well, Jesus is aware that he is leaving soon. He knows he will soon be delivered over to the authorities unto death, and that he will rise again to heaven. Hie people will still be on the earth while he is in heaven.
What will God do to resolve the problem of sheep being harassed and helpless? Christ will send his people laborers, ministers of the gospel, to shepherd his people in his name. Jesus instructs his disciples to beseech the Lord to send such ministers, for there are many sheep, but few pastors.
Of course Christ sends other gifts to shepherd you while he is gone. He assured that chosen men, the Apostles, would commit his word to writing; that you would have his word to read and hear. He sends you his Spirit to live inside you; to keep you walking with him; to convict you of sin and give you strength to serve him. He gives you the fellowship of the saints, that you would benefit from each other’s counsel and encouragement.
But we see from our passage that as vital as the Bible, the Spirit and other Christians are, they are not enough. You also need faithful shepherds to teach you the Bible and watch over your souls. You need men that God has gifted and called for that specific task.
Jesus implores the disciples to pray that the Lord would send ministers around the world, because the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.
In Eph 4, Paul lists the blessings that Christ would pour out on his church when he rose from the dead. What are these blessings? He gave pastors and teachers to build up the church and keep them from being tossed about by every bad doctrine. Ministers are God’s gift to you to teach you and protect you from false doctrine, as well as implore you to faithful living.
Now the idea that we all need ministers does not sit too well with many Christians in our day, and there are basically two reasons why. The first reason is clergy abuse. I am not just speaking about sexual abuse, though that may be included.
As in Jesus day, there are ministers out to make a name for themselves, who use the sheep to puff up their own egos. There are pastors that use their authority to lay burdens on people that Christ himself does not command. Some pastors refuse to tell their people the truth for fear of offending them, and thus allow them to live in spiritual danger.
Such pastors may have hurt some of you. As a result, is it difficult to accept this idea that pastors are God’s gift to keep you spiritually safe. Your experience may have been just the opposite.
My only answer to you is that God has promised in his word to supply genuine pastors who will preach the true gospel to you and care for your souls. Do not allow a bad experience to cause you to miss out on the blessings of being under God’s care through a true minister.
All true ministers are abundantly aware of how short they fall from exemplifying Christ, in both word and action. Nevertheless, ministers are Christ’s servants to care for you while he is away. Do not let the abuse of an office cause you to disdain the office of minister which Christ established.
The second reason the idea that we need ministers is so hard to accept is the tendency of American Christians to be swayed by individualism. This is the idea that I do not need anyone to teach me; I have my Bible, and the Spirit, I don’t need counsel from anyone, I can figure this all out on my own. How foolish we are to turn down God’s gifts because we think we do not need them!
Oddly enough, we have no problem expressing our need for help in physical matters. If I am sick, I go to a doctor. If I need justice, I go to a lawyer. If I need my car fixed, I go to a mechanic. If these problems are minor we might handle them ourselves, but we are thankful that God has provided these helps for our physical lives; where would we be without them?
Yet oddly, some are under the impression that God provides more help in these physical areas than he does in spiritual matters, as if in spiritual matters we are on our own. But as God has provided the doctor for medical matters, the mechanic for auto matters, and the lawyer for legal matters, he has provided the minister for spiritual matters.
When looking for a church, one of the most important questions to ask is; do I trust this minister to bring me the Word of God and care for my soul?
Now some of you may think it awkward for me as your pastor to be preaching this, but I know what tremendous blessing ministers have been in my own life. When I had only been a Christian a few years, a pastor at the large Bible church I was attending took me aside and led me through a six week study on how to teach Bible studies. Without him I might not have ever considered the ministry.
When I had been a youth pastor for three years in central California, I had a very strong desire to attend seminary. I knew that such a scary move needed my pastor’s blessings. He encouraged me to follow my heart on this and pursue the pastorate. His counsel was just what I needed. Even though I have come to different theological convictions from my former pastors, God still used them to guide me in life.
So to summarize, Jesus Christ saw you wandering aimlessly, and with a heart full of compassion, became your Shepherd. Through his death and resurrection he has provided eternal life to you. Through his word and by his Spirit he is shepherding you from heaven.
Because he is not physically present, he raised up ministers to stand in his name and shepherd you. According to Heb 13:17, to the degree that you are receptive to the pastor’s ministry is the degree in which you bring joy to Christ.
Also, since the church needs ministers, you are to pray regularly for God to raise up pastors to preach the gospel and watch over God’s people; here and all around the world.
Beloved, you are God’s harvest; his kingdom, and in the church you have great protection and counsel. Accept and use God’s gifts to you, not only the minister, but every Christian. They are all God’s gifts to you from his compassionate heart. Be thankful for God’s provision. We truly have a great Shepherd who in every way has provided for his sheep. Amen