THE ASTOUNDING HARVEST
We who love the Lord long for a great spiritual harvest, that is, people by the thousands brought to the feet of Jesus. Jesus himself often talked about the abundant harvest and the fields’ being ripe, ready for harvest. So if we desire to see this great event, we join with Jesus.
He describes what is necessary with words that are fully adequate for our understanding, saying, “The seed in good soil represents those who bring a good and honest heart to the hearing of the word, hold it fast, and by their perseverance yield a harvest.” (Luke 8:15, NEB)
So, quickly let’s see what is here—what is required. The good seed then is representative of good-hearted people who are people of faithful integrity and who see their role in the harvest. They are people who listen to and honestly apply the Word to their own lives. And it is through them that the Good News, the Word from God, is consistently and steadily spread to others, and the result is that it yields an abundant harvest. So, notice as we think about those important and incomparable words of Jesus, the focus is on people who are involved in the harvest, “… by their perseverance yield a harvest.”
Read, if you will, the entire parable and see other factors—the sower, the seed, the soil. It can tell the unfolding story of the Christian faith, Jesus sows the seed into the soil of human hearts; that’s the work of God in human history. But let’s focus on this, Jesus said the abundant harvest is the “hundredfold” or, in modern English, produced a crop one-hundred times as large as he had planted (verse 8). That is the subject that we center on—the astounding harvest.
Ruth returned from the field of Boaz with an armload at day’s end. And we see the vivid picture in Psalm 126 of reaping with joy and the return with singing “carrying the sheaves.” Even today we see evidence of such harvests and are often reminded that statistics gathered throughout the world indicate an incredible harvest that is happening now. We are living in exciting times when up-to-date report of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s blessing comes to us from all over the world. No sooner are the facts gathered than they become outdated with startling new updates as the powerful moves of God’s Spirit come in—and here is the reality, the totals of people who have turned to Christ can only be counted in the millions in the last two decades.
All this was first reported by J. Edwin Orr when he wrote of “the worldwide awakening of the early twentieth century,” but that has only continued. For example, as many as 15,000 per day were part of the harvest in Africa for the last twenty years of the twentieth century. It is happening mostly among non-white people. But as you read; you might question it with all the terrible reports of terrorism and violence, with revolts and outbreaks of mass murders, pandemic deaths, and pornography on a scale unknown in previous times. — All this fills the headlines, add to it racial tensions and cultural upheavals. The people of Europe and the West, including North America, have gone morally wild, it seems. So the reaction is, “How could these wonderful reports of spiritual harvest be accurate?”
But believe it—the kingdom of God is on the advance. Jesus was not speaking with an exaggerated phrase when He spoke of “the gates of hell not prevailing.” He will continue to “draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32) There is, in the worst of times, a certainty that shines out like the sun on a clear noonday. There is a ringing confidence that dispels the gloom and shadows—all based on Biblical promises. After all, what of this phrase, “a number beyond what can be calculated” gathered at His feet? (read Revelation 7:9) Let your confidence be built on these glorious eternal promises. Let your faith be bold and audacious! Let your belief totally defy defeat.
There are times when all of us find ourselves being swept toward despair and we experience very dreadful disappointment as we face God-denying ways of life filling the headlines. There is no crisis with God. Never doubt it, God has a hammer that can shatter the hardest stone ever conceived by human hostility toward heaven!
Our God has never yet unleashed His legions of mighty, flaming angels on the proud and the sinful! The armory of heaven is still totally unused, so never lose heart as you look on this demon-possessed world. We can be confident what Jesus said was not some empty dream. It has, after all, happened before when Jesus sent demons running for cover and the early church shook the Roman Empire and God sent a Luther, a Whitefield, a Wesley, and a Moody and a Graham, plus many others, to rattle dry bones and see them spring to life with the breath of God! Yes, time and time again the spiritual dead stood up to praise Him, people made new and alive, a great hundred-, thousand- or millionfold harvest alive in Christ! So, never fear, the harvest will inevitably come so great that it is beyond human calculation; even modern computers cannot even collect the grand total.
But now, back to the words of Jesus—how will that happen? And the answer He gave was, He will do it by His Spirit moving in the lives of people with good, honest hearts, who bring it forth. People who have heard the good news and spread it far and wide and will reap the abundant harvest. Here are His words, “thirty, sixty and a hundred” increase, and I would venture to say, even much, much more!
And think of it with me; a son of a pub owner in the west of England being an evangelist calling millions to Christ—George Whitefield. Or there is a country lad of New England without a full school education becoming D. L. Moody, even with his laughable pronunciation of difficult words. Or the son of a dairy farmer in North Carolina becoming the harvester of souls by the millions, Billy Graham. Plain, ordinary people used by Him. It is people like them that defy logic.
But possibly the best example is that of Saul of Tarsus, who killed women and children and was at the stoning of Stephen. He hated Christians! Saul, transformed into Paul who became the vanguard for the church’s advance and the harvesting evangelist. How many did this one man win to Jesus—ten upon ten upon ten thousand? No, you say, the count is still going on! And not you and not me nor anyone would have predicted that this one man would give us one-half of the New Testament, and be indirectly responsible for bringing the gospel to our door two-thousand years later. God can do it again!
So, now we see it—the triumphant and the magnificent possibilities of God taking anyone and using them in a way that is supernatural. So stand back and look—these are the words Jesus spoke, “The seed in good soil represents those …” Who are “those”? It is those who, hearing the Word, declare it; good-hearted people who have a role in the harvest. Which includes you and me if we will allow it! It is from us who, having heard the Word, “bring forth fruit.”
Yes, God will bring a harvest and He will bring it with us, you and me and others like us, some yet unborn. Do not say, “not me”—for He can empower those with a halting tongue and baptize them with power, and as a result “more and more believers were added to the Lord” (Acts 5:14, RSV). It is important for us all to grasp this convincingly. God can again produce a blaze of evangelism and raise up evangelists through whom the gospel will be proclaimed with extraordinary results. It will happen again. “the word of God was increased and the disciples were multiplying greatly” (Acts 6:7). Notice the words “multiplying greatly”—thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and a hundredfold. No, a thousand times a thousand! Taking the ordinary and making them extraordinary!
Rereading Luke’s writing, especially in Acts, he is constantly reminding us of large crowds gathered to hear the gospel preached. Then, he reports these evangelistic harvests with extraordinary numbers responding. Dr. Roy Fish, once the professor of evangelism at the world’s largest seminary, repeatedly said, “We must be interested in numbers, because God is! And remember this, somebody counted, even on Pentecost.” And so Pentecost set the stage for a tradition of mass evangelism in the church—in fact, we do not know the total size of those who heard Peter preach; the number 3,000 refers to only men and only to those that sincerely responded.
Later, Peter, as an evangelist, preached again to a huge crowd, and Acts 4:4 seems to indicate another great numerical response, 5,000 more! Luke states, “… more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both men and women.” (Acts 5:14) Luke was impressed to often use the word “multitudes” when an actual accurate count was not possible. It’s all staggering!
But another indication is the word “filled.” The protest was “you filled Jerusalem with your teaching” (Acts 5:28), added to it the phrase “the number … increased rapidly” (Acts 6:7, 16:5), and one gets the impression of a massive spiritual harvest. The word in Greek literally means “to grow over and above.” We know there is no element of crowd size or responses exaggerated. It had to be a phenomenal ingathering. For example, these words from Scripture were not recklessly inflated language, “all those who lived in Lydda and Sharon turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:35). This is an areawide sweep of God’s power with the majority being converted to Christ.
Throughout church history huge crowds have gathered to hear the gospel from time to time. In great awakenings millions of people have come to the Lord as a result of mass evangelism. The aggregate number actually boggles the mind. For example, George Whitefield and John Wesley; if the total of sermons preached and those who heard the gospel from just these two men were totaled, the grand sum would amount to virtually the whole population of Great Britain!
And this ingathering was not the result of organized human effort or strategic planning—it was attributed to the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit alone. These were very extraordinary moments when God stirred people, compelling and calling them to repentance and faith.
I am fully aware that all this sounds impossible and can be dismissed as unthinkable, especially in today’s world. The idea of a whole city or a move of God through an entire country seems far too good to be true. In one area of China it was reported an awakening broke out and about ninety percent of the population turned to Christ. And numbers like that are found in West New Guinea. It is, to be honest, inexplicable unless one takes into account the supernatural power of God at work. There is no rational explanation. A. W. Tozer pleaded with us, “Oh, if we would only remember who God is!”
We must believe, in an instant, God’s Spirit can create an extraordinary magnetism that draws huge crowds and large numbers who are brought to faith in Christ. History proves it—it is a lesson to be relearned. Most tragically, it seems, there is a skepticism, even among God’s people, that it can happen again. Jonathan Edwards explained it: “Persons are very ready to be suspicious of what they have not felt themselves. It is to be feared many good men have been guilty of this error.” Let none of us doubt what God can do even in our day.
At the risk of oversimplification it could be said that in every case the praise and credit was exclusively given to God, not to a denomination or to a particular person, although names were mentioned. In every place they repeated Paul’s words, “… God gave the increase.” (I Corinthians 3:7) But, in the end, and in so many examples in history it could be described as, “… The harvest truly is great …” (Luke 10:2) Glory to God for the astounding harvest!