These pulpit notes are provided unedited and will thus contain some grammatical or typographical errors.[SERMON INTRO]
Good morning everyone, you can open your Bibles to the fourth chapter of the gospel of John.
I suspect this morning that if I were to ask each of how it is that you came to believe in Jesus Christ, that the vast majority of you would have a story about how someone else was impactful in leading you to Jesus. That is, somewhere in your story there is someone, or there are some people who did or said something which ultimately contributed to your realization that you need to be saved.
Now, I’m not only talking about those of you who can point to someone who sat with you and shared the entire gospel with you from beginning to end, but also those of you who recognize that God used people, even in small ways, over time, to bring you to himself. That is, he used the accumulation of a word here, and a word there.
A word here. A word there. A witness here and a witness there. These worked together to soften your heart and to eventually prepare you to receive Jesus as your saviour and Lord.
The point is, in God’s work of seeking and saving the lost, he uses instruments, doesn’t he? He uses men and women, Christians, to reach the world through their sharing and living the gospel. He would use you and I to share the gospel with others and perhaps play, even a small part, in God’s work of drawing them to himself.
In our passage this morning we will read how Jesus responded to the Father’s work of seeking and saving the lost and how we should respond.
Specifically, we are going to see that Jesus is the saviour of the world, whose passion it is to carry out the Father’s work of seeking and saving the lost. And as his disciples, we are to participate in this work, with the very same attitudes which he exemplified.[SCRIPTURE INTRO]
Remember the context. Last week we saw Jesus sit and talk with a Samaritan woman at a well. In the process of that conversation Jesus helped this woman see her need for forgiveness and eternal life. He helped her see that she had been attempting to find satisfaction and meaning via illegitimate means. Her five past marriages and her current live-in boyfriend were evidence of this.
She was captive to her sin and devoid of real spiritual life. Jesus offered her this spiritual life. Eternal life which would well up in her like a spring of water.
First, she had to recognize her own sinful condition. Next, she had to see that genuine worship was to be offered through the Messiah alone. Lastly, she had to embrace Jesus and Jesus alone as the one who creates true worshippers of God.
The woman at the well was saved that day. She ran into town and told everyone who would listen that she had found the Christ. Many in the Samaritan town listened to her and decided to come see for themselves. So, in verse 30:
John 4:30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.
Now, something else was happening in the interim. While this woman was telling everyone she could about Jesus in the Samaritan town, Jesus disciple’s returned from getting food and an interesting conversation ensues between they and Jesus. Look at verses 31-34:
John 4:31-34 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.
Have you ever been so engrossed in your work, that you had forgotten to eat? Or, have you ever been so engaged in what you were doing that you seemed to have no appetite at all? It happens to us sometimes, doesn’t it? Why is that? We become so focused, that we develop tunnel vision. The goal we have in front of us becomes more important than stopping to eat. Accomplish the work we have to do becomes a higher priority than even serving our body.
In our passage, we see Jesus experiencing this exact thing.
The whole time Jesus was talking with this Samaritan woman, his disciples were off in a Samaritan town buying food to eat. They knew that Jesus was probably famished after much travel and little food. So, they urge him, in verse 31, “Rabbi, eat.”
And look at this response, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”
The disciples, like Nicodemus and like the woman at the well, don’t initially catch the metaphor, so they say to one another “Has anyone brought him something to eat?”
Jesus of course, was not talking about physical food. What he was saying was that he had something which brought even greater satisfaction than food. While they were out buying food to eat, he was busy doing something which left him fully satiated. And what was it? Look at verse 34:
34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.
Jesus is saying that what really satisfied him is to do exactly what the Father sent him to do. It was his passion to carry out the Father’s work and will. So, in this context, what was the work which Jesus was engaging in? What was the will of the Father that he was performing?
This conversation between Jesus and his disciples is taking place at the time that the Samaritan woman at the well was in town testifying that she had found the Christ, leading many in the town to come and see him. Through his evangelistic conversation with the woman at the well, Jesus had set off a chain of events which would see many Samaritans believe in him and be saved.
While all this is transpiring, Jesus says to his disciples, 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.
The will of the Father was to see many who were lost come to Christ to be saved. The work of the Father was to go about sharing the good news of that salvation. That’s the work that Jesus was busy about doing. That’s the work that left Jesus satisfied. That’s the work that satisfied him, even more than his necessary food.
Saving the lost was the very purpose for which the Father had sent Jesus:
John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
And so, it was Jesus’ joy to fulfill that purpose.
In Luke 19, we read the account of the time when Jesus met a man named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a rich tax collector who would have been despised by his fellow Jews. Jesus, to the dismay of the onlookers, accepted Zacchaeus’ invitation to dinner. We read this:
Luke 19:7-10 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Jesus, dining with a sinner? Gasp! How could he?! What a breach of cultural etiquette! Jesus, upon hearing the repentance of Zacchaeus, and knowing it has come from a heart which believes in him, states explicitly that Zacchaeus had been saved. As if to answer those who might protest, citing the unworthiness of Zacchaeus, Jesus says “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
This is the very purpose for which I have come. I’ve come to seek the lost, and to save the lost. If he’s come to seek the lost, he will go where the lost are. If he’s come to save the lost, then he will associate with the lost. Whether a rich tax collector despised by others; or a sinful Samaritan woman at a well. Jesus came to seek and save the lost no matter who, or where. As a result, he upset a lot of religious hypocrites and pretentious snobs:
Mark 2:16-17 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
And why is he doing this? Because this is the will and work of God the Father.
John 6:38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
So, Jesus’ earthly ministry, when he came the first time, was marked by him doing the Father’s will by being busy about the Father’s work. And what was this work? Seeking and saving all whom the Father gave him. This, for Jesus, was fully satisfying. Even more satisfying than his necessary food.
Now, our passage takes a turn.
After having established what was his own attitude toward the lost and his own satisfaction in sharing the good news of salvation with them, Jesus then turns to his disciples and gives them instructions in these same areas.
Throughout the remainder of our passage, Jesus will show his disciples how they ought to follow his example. He shows them what attitudes they ought to have towards evangelism and seeking the lost.
What he is going to show them (and us) is that he is the saviour of the world, whose passion it is to carry out the Father’s work of seeking and saving the lost. And that they (and we), as his disciples, are to participate in this work, with the very same attitudes which he exemplified.
For the remainder of our time together, we are going to look at verses 35-42 and consider the Christ-like attitudes which ought to guide our evangelism.
1. First of all, like Jesus, we should have a sense of urgency in sharing the gospel with others.
John 4:35-36 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.
Jesus often used the language of farming and agriculture to teach the crowds, and his disciples. It was, after all, an agrarian society. In our text he quotes a commonly-used phrase among the people of the day, “There are yet four months, then comes the harvest.” He does this to make a point about evangelism.
He is saying, although you may say there are four months until the harvest, I’m telling you that there is another harvest that is already ripe for the picking. In fact, there is another harvest which others are already engaged in collecting. Not a harvest of wheat, or corn, but of people.
As Jesus says this, no doubt, he is looking towards the Samaritan town into which the woman he met at the well has gone. Men and women are beginning to leave the town to come to him. He looks at this crowd of people and says to his disciples “look, the fields are white for harvest!”
Many of those who would come to him from this town would believe and be saved. The work of seeking and saving is already well underway!
His point to his disciples is this, you may have four months to wait for the wheat to whiten and be ready for harvesting, but the work of sharing the good news of the gospel should be undertaken immediately! In other words, the disciples of Jesus ought to have a sense of urgency when it comes to sharing the gospel with others.
The world is filled with men and women who are lost. The world is filled with men and women whom the Father wishes to draw to himself. Look around, the fields are ripe, so get busy and start harvesting!
This is important for us to hear, isn’t it? What are we waiting for? God is currently at work drawing men and women to himself. He is already at work granting eternal life to all who would believe in his son. God is busy, and so we should be busy. Why? Because he would use us as his instruments in this on-going work.
And talk about urgency, look at verse 36:
John 4:36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.
In Jesus’ analogy, the reaper (the one responsible for harvesting) is already working and already getting paid for his work. In other words, some are already out there sharing the gospel and seeing fruit. They are already busy about God’s work of evangelism and seeing men and women being saved.
So, Jesus says, get busy! Engage! God is working, so you should work! There are men and women all around you who are ripe for the picking. Share the gospel. Share the good news about Jesus. You may plant the seed, or you may reap the harvest, but either way you can rejoice that you’ve been busy about the work.
So, the simple question is: What are we waiting for? What are you waiting for? Where is your sense of urgency? God is at work, so we should be at work sharing the gospel with others.
Next, what we see is that not only should Jesus’ disciples share his sense of urgency where evangelism is concerned, but that we should also share his compassion.
2. Second, like Jesus, we should have Compassion upon the lost
John 4:35 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.
As already mentioned, when Jesus told his disciples to “lift up [their] eyes”, what he was telling them was to look at the crowds that were making their way from the town to him. Look at these men and women. Look at these Samaritans. Men and women ripe to hear the gospel. Lost men and women who need to hear the gospel, who need to be saved.
So, where do I see compassion in this? Well, I think we can safely assume what Jesus is thinking when he looks upon these crowds because of a similar instance which Matthew records in his gospel.
Matthew 9:35-38 ¶ 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. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
We see the same harvest imagery, don’t we? When Jesus sees the crowds he sees lost men and women. He sees their lost state and compares them to wandering sheep who are harassed and helpless. They are suffering and don’t have the ability to escape that suffering on their own. They need someone to gather them into a flock and then lovingly care for them as a faithful shepherd would. This of course would be Jesus. As God through the prophet Ezekiel foretold:
Ezekiel 34:23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.
Jesus has shepherd-like compassion upon lost sinners.
When Jesus sees the crowds, he doesn’t first see them as sinners to be condemned, but as suffers who need compassion. Are they sinners, yes! Does that sin deserve judgment? Yes. However, he came into the world, not to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17).
So, he has compassion upon them. Compassion – literally, to suffer along with. Jesus is sympathetic towards the suffering of sinners. He empathizes with the heartache, emptiness, and captivity which sinful men and women experience.
When Jesus tells his disciples “…lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” he is asking his disciples to see the souls of the Samaritan men and women who making their way to him.
Later on, the disciples would forget this lesson and after being offended by a Samaritan town, they would ask Jesus if they should “call down fire from heaven” to destroy them. They would fall back into the prejudices of their day. Instead of seeing these men and women as a potential harvest of souls, they saw them as chaff fit only to be cast into the fire.
We can make the same mistake while looking out into the world, can’t we?
When Jesus’ disciples looked at the Samaritans, instead of seeing them as souls, they saw them as only their sin. We do the same thing. That adulterer; that pornographer; that abortionist; that sexual deviant.
When we see people and define people according to their sin, we are then likely to channel all of our disagreement, our disgust, and our hatred of that sin, toward that person. Instead of seeing them as a lost soul, harassed and helpless, and ripe for harvest; we see them as an evil sinner ripe for hell.
This is essential for us to understand because, as Christians, we often succumb to a “culture war” mentality. With this way of thinking, everyone pushing immoral, godless, philosophies and values is seen more as an enemy combatant than a prisoner of war.
Our war is not against the lost. Our war is against Satan. And Satan has his prisoners of war. The gospel frees these POWs, doesn’t it?
Listen carefully to these words from Paul to Pastor Timothy:
2 Timothy 2:24-26 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
Paul says to Timothy, even those who would set themselves in opposition against us, are to be responded to with gentleness. Not quarreling, but kind. Patiently enduring evil.
How can we do this? That seems hard! We can do it because of what we know – these who oppose the gospel are ensnared by the devil. They have been captured by him to do his will. The way to respond to them is to extend to them the very means of escape from that captivity. The way to respond is to correct gently, and offer the gospel freely.
Next time you find yourself getting angry or upset at people, especially those in positions of influence, who are perpetuating evil, or godlessness, take a moment to remind yourself that this person has a soul and that their soul is captive to sin. They have been ensnared by the devil. Then, pray for their soul, that some how they might hear the gospel and be saved.
The next time you are out at the store, at work, or just driving around, as you see crowds of people, remind yourself that each one has a soul. Remind yourself that the world is not the enemy, but the mission field. A field which is ripe to harvest.
So, according to Jesus, like him we should have a sense of urgency because the work is already underway; and an attitude of compassion since the world is lost. Next, we see that as we share the gospel with others, we should have an attitude of cooperation with others.
3. We Should have an Attitude of Cooperation with Others
John 4:36-38 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.”
Jesus extends his harvest analogy by referring to those who are sharing the gospel with others as either a ”sower” or a “reaper.” That is, there are those who might plant the seeds, and there are those who might harvest the grain. Both are at work and both are essential. Not only this, but both rejoice together at the harvest.
Practically speaking, what does this look like? There are those who might share the gospel in some basic way – a few words or a short conversation, and may not see any immediate result. On the other hand, there are those who may be entirely instrumental in leading someone to Jesus. One plants, another harvests. Jesus’ point is that both workers are essential, and both should find joy in their work.
How are you at planting seeds? You may not have time or opportunity to share a full-fledged gospel presentation with someone, but perhaps you have opportunity to pray for someone; to show Christ-like love to someone; to share a bit of your own testimony. Perhaps you could hand someone a gospel tract or give them a short book. Maybe you simply try to consistently love and live like Christ before others. You may not see any immediate results from this, but that’s OK. You aren’t harvesting, you are simply planting.
I say that we are to have an attitude of co-operation in our evangelism because we should be happy when we hear that someone we’ve been praying for, our witnessing to, finally comes to Jesus – even if it is the final result of someone else sharing the gospel with them. You planted, they harvested, but the sower and reaper should rejoice together.
Paul expressed this spirit of co-operation to the Corinthians. This church had the tendency to elevate one preacher over another. Paul had to set them straight. He said to them:
1 Corinthians 3:5-9 ¶ What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
One plants, one waters, and one harvests. All are essential and all are dependent upon God to bring forth fruit.
One last thing about this idea of sowing and reaping. The more seeds planted, the more potential fruit, right? The greatest potential harvest, right? So, we should look for opportunity to plant as many seeds as we can. Sure, some will fall on then wayside and produce nothing, but the more we plant, the more likely that some take root and grow and produce fruit. So, plant as much as you can.
Share your testimony, show the love of Christ, look for opportunity to share the gospel, hand out gospel tracts, pass out books, invite to church, etc.
So, Jesu says to his disciples:
38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
In other words, although you might think you are entering this work cold-turkey, the fact is that God has been working in the lives of these people already. Others have been used by God to plant seeds, to soften soil, and to water. When you reap a harvest, it’s because others have first come along and laboured in this same field.
We are all labouring together at the same work, and so we should not only have an attitude of urgency, and compassion but of cooperation.
Next, in addition to urgency, and compassion and cooperation, we should share the gospel with others, with an attitude of expectation.
4. We Should Have an Attitude which Expects Fruit
Look in verse 36 one more time:
John 4:36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together
What’s interesting here is that Jesus has couched the whole evangelistic endeavour in the terminology of plants and growth and fruit. He didn’t compare evangelism to a manmade building. This is purposeful.
As much as men might labour to cultivate a field, and plant seeds, and fertilize, and weed, ultimately the growth of the plant is out of his hands, isn’t it? The growth ultimately comes from the capacity of the seed. If the seed were bad, no human effort could bring forth fruit. Germination, growth and fruit production is all bound up in the very design of the seed. All of this is ultimately beyond our ability to fabricate.
The fact of the matter is, despite all of our efforts in evangelism, the production of fruit is ultimately out of our hands. Our job is to plant, but we can’t make it grow. Jesus made this point in describing the nation of the Kingdom of God in Mark 4:
Mark 4:26-30 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” 30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?
The man can scatter the seeds on the ground but in reality, the germination and growth happens while he’s sleeping! The plant grows and becomes ripe and when the growth is complete, the man can harvest. Yes, he had to labour; he had to put forth effort; but the actual growth was in the providential care of God.
So it is with the gospel. We share the gospel with others and then leave it up to God to bring forth fruit.
For some people this might be frustrating. Men have come up with all sorts of plans and tactics to try to produce spiritual fruit. What this is saying however is that planting and harvesting may be in our hands, but the growth and fruitfulness is in God’s.
For some people it might be frustrating that the fruitfulness of our evangelistic efforts is in God’s hands but in reality, this shouldn’t be frustrating but encouraging. Since, it is God who blesses his word, and is responsible for growth, we should evangelize with an attitude of expectation. Why? Because in speaking of the day when God would bring salvation to his people, he gave this promise:
Isaiah 55:10-11 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
God’s word will accomplish whatever God purposes. If God has determined to save souls through the preaching of the gospel, then he will make it happen. His word is powerful – living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart and faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
That’s why I say that a fourth attitude we ought to have while sharing the gospel with others is an attitude of expectation. God will bless his word. We might not see immediate results, but we can be confident that God is accomplishing his purposes. Perhaps the seed has been planted in good soil; perhaps our efforts have caused some germination; maybe our witness has caused some roots to sprout. We might not see the plant produce fruit, or even break ground, but we can be confident that God blesses our efforts when we share the unadulterated gospel.
This is important to know because in our post-Christian, post-modern, post-truth, culture it can be easy to become cynical, discouraged, even hopeless where evangelism is concerned. Hasn’t the culture entirely turned it’s back on God? Would anyone believe? Does it make any sense to share the gospel with my neighbour, my co-worker, my friend, my family members, my classmates?
Yes! It does. Why? Because God is still saving men and women and he does it through the sharing of his word. He tears down walls of unbelief, and skepticism and even hostility through the gospel. By faith, we share the gospel with an attitude of expectation, knowing that God will bless his word and accomplish his will.
Jesus is the saviour of the world, whose passion it is to carry out the Father’s work of seeking and saving the lost. And as his disciples, we are to participate in this work, with the very same attitudes which he exemplified.
Attitudes of urgency, compassion, cooperation, expectation, and as we mentioned in the introduction – satisfaction.
Now remember that as Jesus gave his disciples these instructions regarding the proper attitudes in sharing the gospel, men and women were coming to him from the Samaritan town after hearing the testimony of the woman he met at the well. Let’s read the remainder of our passage to see what it looked like when the harvest came in:
John 4:39-42 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.”
Many in verse 39 believed, and many more in verse 41. This is a great harvest. But here’s a question, did all believe who would ever believe? I mean, would there be others in this Samaritan city who might reject Jesus now, but receive him later? I think so.
After Jesus earthly ministry, and his death, and resurrection and ascension, the Bible says that the early Christians were scattered due to persecution. At that time, Philip traveled to a Samaritan city. Was it the same city as in our passage? Perhaps. Regardless, Luke records for us in Acts 8:
Acts 8:4-8 ¶ Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was much joy in that city.
Acts 8:12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Philip preached Christ to the Samaritans once again, and many more believed. Many were baptized in the name of Jesus, both me and women.
Could it be that many of these who responded to the gospel at Philip’s preaching first had the word planted in them through the ministry of Jesus? It is very likely. The point is, one planted and another harvested but it was God who produced the growth.
With that, we should be able to leave here this afternoon with an attitude of urgency, compassion, cooperation, and expectation as we share the gospel with others.