The Joy of the Harvest
Tuesday is harvest day. That’s when we pull the most mature lettuce plants out of the aquaponics system, rinse off the roots, and bag the leafy greens to fulfill the weekly orders. Our 6 and 5-year-olds love harvest day—especially the prospect of getting to help, to be “volunteers” as they call it.
What has struck me recently is the joy with which they approach their harvesting work. They’re not just willing helpers but excited, eager, happy helpers.
In the Bible, joy and harvest also naturally go together. Harvest meant abundance, provision, a micro-victory each year (or each week, in our case) over the curse on the ground because of man’s sin. Israel kept the Feast of Weeks, which was a harvest festival—and it was a joyful celebration. When Moses re-explained this feast to the Israelites right before they entered the promised land, he said:
“And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there” (Deut. 16:11).
We can understand why a good harvest is cause for joy. But there’s more here than just agricultural provision, isn’t there? During this feast the Israelites were to remember that they used to be slaves in Egypt (Deut. 16:12). On top of this they were to rejoice before their Lord who was near, who would make his name dwell among them. These were deeper realities that were causes for rejoicing among God’s people, and yet for some reason it was eminently appropriate to rejoice in these things at harvest time.
Do you know what time it is in the agricultural calendar of redemptive history? It’s harvest time! The book of Acts picks up the story of Jesus at his ascension into heaven following his death and resurrection, which Paul later described as the “firstfruits” of a resurrection harvest (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). And then just over a week after Jesus’ ascension came Pentecost—the Feast of Weeks! On this harvest festival day, the risen and exalted King poured out the Holy Spirit whom he had received from the Father (Acts 2:33).
God’s great harvest had begun. God’s people, those who put their faith in his Son, are redeemed not from slavery in Egypt but from slavery to sin. They worship not in the courtyard of a building where God has chosen to make his name dwell but with the Spirit of the living God dwelling within them.
And there was great joy! Have you noticed how Luke ends his Gospel? Following Jesus’ ascension, the disciples worship Jesus and return to Jerusalem “with great joy” (Luke 24:52). The early church is marked by gathering daily in the temple and breaking bread in their homes with glad hearts (Acts 2:46). And even when their speaking about Jesus isn’t appreciated by the authorities and results in a beating, the apostles “rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).
There’s something else mind-blowing about this harvest. Though Jesus began the harvest both as the firstfruits and as the farmer (see Luke 3:17), Pentecost brings us into the harvest not only as the gathered but also as gatherers—equipped by the Spirit to be witnesses telling the mighty works of God (Acts 2:11).
And similarly the rejoicing that is so integral to this time of harvest is not only the joy of being included in the harvest but also the joy of being laborers in the harvest—just like the joy felt by my kids on harvest days. We also are to be filled with joy at the privilege of being “volunteers.”
So what about your joy? We’re living in the midst of a big harvest festival. Are you rejoicing in being harvested and harvesting? Or do the words of Paul apply to you, “What has happened to all your joy?” (Gal. 4:15, NIV). Why is it so often hard to rejoice in our calling to make disciples even in light of the incredible abundance, provision, and victory of God’s great harvest?
The answer, I think, is that farming work in a broken creation is always difficult—whether we’re talking about a physical or spiritual harvest. So when Jesus sent out the 72 disciples saying, “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few,” he immediately followed that up with the warning, “I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:2-3). Or as Paul acknowledges, not only is the creation groaning, but we—even we “who have the firstfruits of the Spirit”—“groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23).
Our “farming” on this side of heaven still has “the sweat of our brow” attached to it. It’s marked by persecution, rejection, grief over unbelief, suffering, and discouragement over our own sin, failure, and weakness. And yet joy is not optional. In Deuteronomy 16 even those who experienced the world’s brokenness most acutely—the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow—were called to rejoice at the harvest. For joy to be absent at such a moment would be incompatible with the glory of the Harvest, the goodness of the Harvester, and the privilege of his invitation to join in the work of the Harvest.
Today is harvest day. Rejoice and be glad in it.
Lord of the Harvest, we know that even our joy is part of your farming work as your Spirit living within us grows his fruit—like love, joy, and peace—in us. Help us to increasingly understand and rightly live out your mission for us. Help us with child-like eyes to see the immense privilege of being brought into your harvesting work. And we do pray that your kingdom would spread from a mustard seed into a tree that fills the garden, and that you would equip us for the joyful task of being a part of that. Amen.