Seeing the Harvest
Topic: Gospels Passage: John 4:27–4:42
“SEEING THE HARVEST”
A recent study conducted by the Barna Group and reported on last May revealed that an increasing number of Christians do not consider sharing the Gospel to be a personal responsibility. In fact, nearly one-third of those asked believed that evangelism was the responsibility of the local church...but not a personal one. Such a finding reveals a sad misunderstanding of the meaning of the local church...one that erroneously separates it from the people who comprise it.
In an earlier study by Lifeway, although eighty percent of Baptists agreed with the statement, “I have a personal responsibility to share my religious beliefs about Jesus Christ with non-Christians,” more than sixty percent do not. What’s more, twenty percent rarely or never pray for unsaved people, and eight percent are hesitant to even let others know that they are Christian.
Those are shocking admissions for professing followers of Christ to make, especially when we consider that His parting word to His disciples before ascending back into heaven was “Go...and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). And yet most Christians are not shocked, at least not to the point of restructuring their lives in order to be more compliant with the command of the One they call “Lord.”
I am convinced that the reason most Christians are not more proactive in sharing their faith is not due to fear or lack of know-how, but because they do not have the same sense of urgency that our Lord has. In other words, they have not cultivated the mind of Christ when it comes to understanding the will of God. To put it bluntly, they do not have His heart for it. They see neither the goal He has set before them, nor the pressing need of reaching that goal.
There is never any greater example that Jesus can give to than that of Himself. No one better understood the will of the Father than did the Son nor sought to carry it out with greater earnestness than did He. By dispensing with cultural protocol, the 4th chapter of John’s Gospel reveals how our Lord patiently revealed Himself to a sinful Samaritan woman until faith sprang forth like “living water” (cf. John 4:10) from her dead and dry heart. Over the course of an amazing conversation, she progressed from seeing Him as an ordinary man to being the promised Deliverer, and that recognition gave birth to a rejoicing that was impossible for her to keep to herself.
We pick up the reading in this chapter at verse 27:
27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps’. 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
Last week we noted that verse 26 concluded with Jesus identifying Himself by the Divine name, “I AM,” the Old Testament name by which He made Himself known to Moses. The exact depth of this woman’s faith at that moment is impossible to detect. There is no question that the seed of faith had been planted and had begun to germinate, but we could never have expected to happen what was about to transpire in the verses we just read. So let’s take a more careful look.
Verses 27 through 42 fall into three interrelated movements that find their focal point in Jesus’ teaching His disciples to keep their eyes of the goal He has set before them. The story begins with verses 27 through 30, where we see...
The report of the woman (4:27-30).
Back in verse 8 we were told that Jesus’ “disciples had gone away into the city to buy food,” thus leaving Jesus alone when the woman arrived at the well to draw water. He engaged her in conversation and aroused her curiosity by mentioning “living water” (cf. John 4:10)...that which was able to forever quench her innermost thirst. After a series of questions on her part and answers on His, she is moved to the point of rushing off to the nearby town to tell anyone who would listen what had just taken place and of the man she had just met. Though they had never met before, He seemd to know everything—everything!—about her.
Just as she prepares to leave the well, Jesus’ disciples return and we are told that “They marveled that he was talking with a woman.” And while none of them voiced their astonishment to Him, they did whisper among themselves. It was extremely odd to see a Jewish rabbi speaking with a woman in public...and a Samaritan woman at that.
Almost as soon as the disciples arrive, she departs. We can picture her running or skipping down the road with a newfound sense of joy. In such a hurry to tell others of the One she had just met, we cannot help but notice that she has left her water pot behind. By now “physical water” was no longer the main subject. The “living water” of which Jesus had spoken and offered overshadowed it. He had begun the conversation by asking for a “drink” (cf. John 4:7), and although He likely received it, in the end it was her “thirst” that had been quenched.
Arriving in the city, her testimony is personal yet profound: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.” There is an invitation in her words...“Come,” she told them, “and see for yourselves and discover what I have found.” What was it that this woman, whose poor reputation was known by all, had found? “Can this be the Christ?” she asks. The phrasing of the question suggests a negative yet hopeful response: “This could not possibly be the Messiah, could it?”
Perhaps there was still some doubt in her mind, but the testimony she shared was so compelling and convincing that verse 30 tells us that the people of the town “were coming to him.” We get the picture of the entire city emptying in unison to hurriedly follow her down the road leading back to the well from where she had come...the well where “living water” could be found.
“Meanwhile,” as verse 31 begins, we notice that Jesus took the occasion of the woman’s absence to spend some instructive time with His small band of men. They were still “in training,” so to speak, and there were certain things about His mission and theirs of which they needed to be aware. In other words, the disciples needed “discipling,” and the tenor of His words in verses 31 through 38 portray them as...
The rebuke to the disciples (4:31-38).
The instruction of Jesus to His own is always compassionate, but it is sometimes hard. As His followers, we are constantly and continually being conformed His image...and that tends to be a slow and difficult transformation. After all, as a contemporary Christian song says, “He is making diamonds out of dust.” It takes time and infinite degrees of patience...on God’s part, as well as on ours. How often I find myself reflecting in the midst of my most discouraging days upon Paul’s words found in Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Amazing, isn’t it?
But “Meanwhile,” verse 31 says, “the disciples were urging him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’” It should give us hope that these first disciples of Jesus were so much like us...well-meaning, but slow to understand. They had gone off into the city to buy food, had brought it back to Jesus, and laid it out before Him, and had perhaps begun to sample it themselves. But they noticed that Jesus wasn’t joining them. He wasn’t eating anything. So, they say to Him, “Rabbi, eat.”
His reply was both surprising and mysterious: “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” Had they been intuitive enough to the circumstances, they would have realized that Jesus was not talking about physical food, any more than He had been talking about physical water with the woman. The subject of this “workshop” was “spiritual nourishment.” From Deuteronomy 8:3, in words that Jesus cited with Satan during His wilderness temptation (cf. Matthew 4:4), we know that “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
But instead these dull disciples ask one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” “Maybe that woman we saw Him with had given Him something. What is He talking about?”
The words of our Lord are often difficult to comprehend. Just ask Nicodemus, who was told that he “must be born again” (cf. John 3:7). Or ask the Samaritan woman, who struggled to understand the meaning of the “living water” (cf. John 4:10). Or ask these disciples about the kind of “food” of which Jesus spoke. Or, closer to home, ask yourself when you come across the hard sayings of Jesus in the Scriptures.
For example, did Jesus literally mean that we must “hate...father and mother...wife and children...brothers and sisters, and...(our) own life” before we can be saved (cf. Luke 14:26)? And what did He have in mind when He said that apart from feeding on His flesh and drinking His blood, we could not have life (cf. John 6:54)? You should be asking questions like that instead of culling or ignoring the hard parts, such as many did in Jesus’ day and continue to do in ours.
Make no mistake...Jesus meant every word that He spoke, but at times He used graphic word pictures to get us to think below the surface. Even now, as it was then, it is only those who have “ears to hear” who are be able to understand.
Sensing confusion on the part of the disciples, Jesus explains in verse 34, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” Note this carefully: God’s will includes and involves our work.
I have shared with you before that, more than any single verse, the one that has driven my ministry since my college days has been the one found at the end of Paul’s letter to the Colossians (4:17). Writing there to a fellow worker named Archippus, Paul exhorted him, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.” As a former coach I learned early on that what matters most is not who starts well, but who finishes well. Near the end of his life, Paul wrote that he had “fought the good fight... finished the race...(and) kept the faith” (cf. 2 Timothy 4:7). That should be the goal of every Christian. Jesus did not stop and lay down the cross halfway up Mount Calvary, and following Him requires more than a half-hearted response and commitment on our part as well.
In verse 35, our Lord quotes a familiar proverb from that day. Perhaps gazing out at the fields before Him, fields through which the path leading from the city would have weaved, He said, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’?” Then He added this challenge: “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”
For those of us who are not wheat and barley farmers, I am told that the crop is typically sown four months before any reaping could be expected. But when it comes to spiritual “sowing and reaping,” Jesus here indicates that there is a greater sense of urgency. In fact, waiting and delays may hinder the fruitfulness of the crop. “Already,” He adds, “the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper may rejoice together. For the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’”
This is the second time in this chapter and the fifth time is John’s Gospel so far that the subject of “eternal life” has surfaced. I wonder if you have ever given though to the full ramifications of that phrase. “Eternal life.” Considering how it is used throughout Scripture, it refers to life that is not only quantitative in nature, but qualitative as well. Life that is merely prolonged is not what our Lord has in mind. Rather, He consistently refers to life that is everything it was meant to be before sin entered into the world and wrecked it.
Jesus had come to restore life, and He would do so through offering His own sinless life in exchange for our sinful ones. In other words, He took our place, absorbing the wrath of God that we deserved in order that we might have the “eternal life” that He offers. That was His mission, and it was also the message and ministry that He would give His followers the command to carry on.
In order to effectively live out His mandate, the disciples needed to understand something that Jesus explains in verse 38: “I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” It is a lesson that every follower of Christ must remember. Evangelism is not a “solo” project. It is the task of the church collectively...as well as the responsibility—to one extent or another—of every single member. Jesus had sown in the woman’s life, and she had sown in the lives of the townspeople. Now the disciples were about to reap the benefits of what others had sown.
In 1 Corinthians 3(:6-9), while arguing against “personality cults” in the church, Paul wrote in words similar to those spoken by Jesus, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers.”
We are in this thing together, and every believer is responsible to carry his or her weight—with the help of the Spirit of God—to ensure that the charge left with us by our Lord is carried out obediently and for the sole purpose of bringing glory to His name. This is the mind of Christ, and that is His goal. We must see the harvest as He does. He has done the hard work in paving the path of salvation, but we must walk that road—wherever it may lead—in taking the Good News to others.
Lest we look within ourselves and lose heart, we need to consider further verses 39 through 42. A short time after issuing the rebuke to His disciples, Jesus looks up and sees the road leading from Sychar filled with people, all of them retracing the steps of the woman who had told them where to find “living water.” Here we see...
The response of the Samaritans (4:39-42)
...to the news that she had reported. We read that “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’” It is only by God’s grace that a woman with such a sordid past could immediately become a witness for the Savior. She made Christ known. And that is our assignment as well. All of us!
“So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days.” Talk about a spiritual awakening! What must it have been like to host Jesus and to sit at His feet listening and learning for a couple of days! And notice, “Many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
Truly, “the fields (had been made) white for harvest.” And we, as reapers, need to be ready to reap them.
Stories like the one in this chapter are hard to imagine, largely because we don’t find them regularly being played out in our experiences. I have to ask, “Why not?” Maybe it’s because we’re not as “thirsty” for Jesus as this woman was. The same “living water” is still available, but perhaps we have become distracted and too easily satisfied by lesser things. I think about that all the time.
Interestingly, the phrase “Savior of the world” in verse 42 was one that had been used by Roman emperors since before the time of Christ. But every world ruler over time has proven to be a “false savior.” Jesus Christ alone is “the Savior of the world.” Just ask these Samaritans. Or ask the woman who first introduced them to Him. Or, for that matter, ask anyone here this morning who has discovered Jesus to be not merely a generally-referred-to “Savior of the world,” but their personal Savior and Lord as well. I hope you are included among them.
But I can’t assume that. We need to be crystal-clear, “Savior of the world” does not mean that Jesus is “the Savior” of every person in “the world.” He is not that. He is “the Savior” of those who have come to know Him by faith. He is “the Savior” of the elect from every nation of “the world.” And as Jesus told the woman, “The Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23).
The phrase, “Savior of the world,” is found only once more the Bible. And again it is John who uses it. In 1 John 4, verses 14 and 15, we read, “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God.” John wrote that epistle to Christians in order that that they “might know that (they) have eternal life” (cf. 1 John 5:13). “Whoever has the Son,” he added, “has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
So, do you ”have the Son” this morning? Have you recognized that Jesus Christ is “the Son of God” and is He your “ Savior”? Have you admitted your need, confessed your sin and turned from it, and entrusted yourself to Him? Have you followed these Samaritans to “the well” and partaken of the “lining water”?
If you have not, then please do not receive the Bread and the Cup when it is passed this morning. That is because it is only for those who have committed themselves to the One who died for them and rose from the grave in order to save them. If you do not know Jesus—and He knows who is His—then let the elements pass by you and let them bear witness to your need to reopent of your sin and surrender to Him. Let Him fill your empty “water pot” with “living water.”
For my fellow believers, our Lord’s mandate to His Church is that we “Go (in His authority)...and make disciples of all nations” (cf. Matthew 28:18-19). In order to do that, we must be able to see the harvest through His eyes. He has gone before us and shown us the way. Our duty is to go and make Him known. We testify to His grace in our lives when we eat from the Bread and drink from the Cup. Let us do so thoughtfully and prayerfully. To do less is to dishonor Him.
Just prior to His ascension, Jesus assured His followers, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). What we have seen in John 4 this morning was but “a preview of coming attractions.” Salvation may have been “from the Jews,” just as Jesus had told the woman back in verse 22, but it was not reserved merely for the Jews. The message of the Gospel is meant to be global in its saturation and both personal and corporate in its application.
Have you tasted “the living water,” and are you sharing it with others? Don’t be among the majority of professing Christians who claim to love Jesus, but not speak of Him with others. Distinguish yourself by magnifying Jesus and “not (being) ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to everyone who believes” (cf. Romans 1:16).
Today Jesus invites all who have responded to Him as Savior and Lord to eat and to drink with your brothers and sisters at the Table.