As I prepared to preach Matthew 9:35-38 I quickly realised these four verses were inextricably linked to the surrounding context. I had often heard this passage preached without any mention of the surrounding context and yet as I studied it I saw that this was a very important ‘hinge’ text.
One of the unique features of Matthew’s Gospel is the five extended sections of Jesus’ teaching which Matthew records. Matthew 9:35-38 forms a hinge between the first section of teaching and the second.
Matthew 9:35 reads,
‘And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction’.
This is almost identical to Matthew 4:23,
‘And he [Jesus] went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people’.
These two verses bracket the first section of teaching.
However, verse 35 also gives a summary of the previous five chapters.
Jesus was teaching and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.
There is probably no better example of this than the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7). This was duly noted by those who were listening to Jesus, ‘And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes’ (Mt. 7:28-29).
Jesus was also healing every disease and every affliction.
Chapters 8-9 recount effectively Jesus healing ministry – he cleansed a leper, healed a Centurion’s servant, cast out demons from two men, healed a paralytic, brought a girl back to life, stopped a woman’s bleeding, made two blind men to see and made a mute man to speak. Again, the people speak ‘Never was anything like this seen in Israel’ (Mt. 9:33).
Both Jesus’ teaching and his healing were evidence of the compassion he felt for the crowd of people following after him, like a shepherd toward helpless sheep (v.36).
The need of more labourers for the ripe harvest, noted in verse 37, leads to Jesus’ call for the disciples to pray (Mt. 9:38). They are, however, unaware of the fact that they will become the answer to their own prayers.
Immediately after praying Jesus gives his disciples authority (Mt. 10:1). What authority does he give them? among other things, the authority to heal every disease and every affliction. For the first nine chapters of Matthew the disciples had simply been spectators to Jesus and his ministry. But now they are co-workers with Jesus in his ministry. This leads to Jesus second section of teaching regarding his disciples’ involvement in the work (Mt. 10:5-42).
This was quite a remarkable step for a Rabbi/Teacher to take. Rabbi’s/Teacher’s would often have disciples following them, but rarely would a disciple ever be included in the work of a Rabbi/Teacher. Rather, disciples were simply commissioned to commit the Rabbi’s/Teacher’s teaching to memory.
What’s the necessity of knowing all this? Surely, when all is said and done the application is the same: Jesus wants his disciples today to pray for more labourers.
Well, yes and no. Yes, Jesus does want his disciples to pray for more labourers. However, that is not where it ends. These verses (Mt. 9:35-38) display Jesus mission, and the power exercised in that mission, by pointing back to the preceding five chapters in Matthew. But, they also point forward to the great truth that Jesus graciously includes his disciples in that mission.
As we pray for more labourers we soon come to the realisation that we are the answer to our prayer. Jesus calls us to join him in his mission and we go in his authority!