John4v27to42: JESUS: THE LORD OF THE HARVEST

(A) Introduction. (Read the reference.)

The passage is interesting because it affords us a rare glimpse of Christ's elation as he anticipates the success of his saving work. The response of the Samaritan woman to his wonderful words of life suggested that there were many 'out there' who had been prepared for the gospel message. Jesus looked down the centuries and saw the innumerable fields that would become ripe for harvest.

(B) The disciples all at sea.

We need to start with the reaction of the disciples to the unfolding events at Jacob's well. There are four things to note:

(1) Their surprise.
John records: Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. v27. They appear more taken aback that Jesus was talking to a woman than to a Samaritan. It was not the done thing. The rabbis taught: 'Let no-one talk with a woman in the street, no, not with his own wife.' Jesus was not bound by convention. Nor should we be. We shouldn't be surprised by those whom the gospel reaches and brings to newness of life. On BBC's Songs of Praise recently a chaplain to the bikers of Britain talked about his work. Even Hell's Angels can be reached for Christ!

(2) Their reticence.
Although rather shocked that Jesus was fraternising with a Samaritan woman the disciples did not ask the obvious questions: "What do you want? Why are you talking to her?" Perhaps the twelve were adjusting to the unorthodox methods of Jesus. They had seen how he dealt with the scholarly aristocrat, Nicodemus. Their respect for Jesus was growing. They were beginning to be in awe of him.

Christians should never lose their respect for Jesus. I have just finished reading an article about modern Samaritans. For 2000 years the Samaritan religion has been preserved in Palestine in spite of intense persecution from Christians, Moslems and Jews. They still practice animal sacrifice and keep the strict rules about diet and cleanliness. Only 500 remain. Only 500 compared to the billions who follow Jesus. At the end of time every knee will bow to him.

(3) Their disappointment.
The disciples no doubt looked forward to a jolly meal with their master when they returned from Sychar laden with provisions. They got everything ready and sat down to eat but Jesus did not join them. John expresses their disappointment: Meanwhile his disciples urged him: "Rabbi, eat something." We can all empathise with the disciples! Yesterday I took my 95-year-old friend Miss K. out for lunch. I got her to a pub - with some difficulty - and then she didn't feel like eating anything. It was a bitterly cold day and Miss K. had been suffering from a urinary infection - she shouldn't have been out at all! This didn't detract from the disappointment I felt that after all my effort Miss K wasn't hungry.

There are times when we are disappointed that Jesus does not seem to appreciate the effort we make on his behalf. What we do in his name is unblessed and apparently unappreciated. We may be like Martha who was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made to entertain Jesus and his followers. She came to the Master and said, "Lord don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work myself?" Lk10v40. But Mary had chosen what is better. She sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. I sometimes feel discouraged by the lack of reaction to my website. Perhaps I need to be reminded to spend more time with the Lord in prayer.

(4) Their confusion.
The disciples did not know what to make of Jesus' cryptic remark: "I have food to eat that you know nothing about." v32. They wondered if this meant someone else had brought him food!

I am puzzled by the lack of conversions in Britain during the last 40 years. I cannot understand why so many churches where the gospel has been faithfully preached have been allowed to decline and die. I am troubled because my own church is in this predicament. Why aren't people flocking to church to express thanks to God for their many blessings? What does Jesus say to me in my confusion? I think he says, "Look to those other parts of the world which after many years of preparation are experiencing spectacular church growth and be glad."

(C) Jesus is satisfied.

Jesus informed his disciples: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work." v34. Jesus found satisfaction in doing:

(1) Valuable work.
I recently watched a program about coastal rescue on BBC TV. The coast guard helicopter had a very busy day rescuing a diver in distress and air lifting to safety firemen from the flooded village of Boscastle. The program ended with a shot of the smiling pilot leaving his helicopter and saying, "All very worthwhile." He got enormous satisfaction from his valuable work of saving lives.

I had a letter at Christmas from one of my loveliest old pupils. She is a nurse in the intensive care ward of St Thomas' Hospital in London. Her boyfriend is an executive with Microsoft. Last year Victoria accompanied her boyfriend to a conference in Portugal. No expense was spared. The executives were accommodated in the same luxury hotel as the England footballer's wives during the European Cup Competition. Victoria could not help comparing the treatment she received as a nurse with the pampered lifestyle of the well-heeled businessmen. She was in danger of forgetting her valuable work of saving lives.

Jesus knew that he was doing saving work - seeking and saving the lost. He, the Great Physician, had ministered with outstanding success to a lost soul and was awaiting the arrival of many more.

There is nothing more satisfying for the Christian than to lead a sinner to Jesus. It is the greatest privilege of all. It is wonderful, in the words of the old Sankey hymn, to have some stars in our crown.

          In the strength of the Lord let me labour and pray,
          Let me watch as a winner of souls,
          That bright stars may be mine in the glorious day
          When his praise like the sea billows rolls.

          Will there be any stars, any stars in my crown,
          When at evening the sun goeth down?
          When I wake with the blest in the mansions of rest,
          Will there be any stars in my crown?

(2) Good work.
There is satisfaction in doing our work well. My friend Phyllis had her kitchen decorated by son-in-law Gary last week. She told me that he was very particular. He had to give the walls two coats of paint whereas her son, Keith, who dislikes decorating, only ever bothers with one. I am like Keith! I never do the job sufficiently thoroughly to be proud of it - but Gary does.

There are many tasks that I do without doing them well - like cleaning the house, sewing and gardening. I keep my garden tidy but what a contrast there is between my delphiniums and Peter Webb's. Peter does good work in his garden. Everything grows splendidly. His dahlias and chrysanthemums are gorgeous. Peter gets immense satisfaction from gardening.

Jesus did a good job with the Samaritan woman. He showed incomparable skill in wooing and winning her. Jesus gave a master class on how to witness to the profoundly lost.

Our Christians service - whatever it is - should be done well - as unto the Lord. I may rush the decorating and skimp the cleaning but I have never preached an ill-prepared sermon.

(c) Finished work.
Jesus completed the work God gave him to do on the cross. He was eventually able to say in triumph, "It is finished." John19v29. Knowing that his work was done Jesus took one last celebratory drink of wine vinegar and dismissed his spirit.

There is joy in finishing any important work whether it be gathering in the harvest, painting a picture, writing a novel, erecting a bridge or composing an oratorio. Samuel Johnson must have experienced enormous satisfaction when the monumental task of completing his dictionary was achieved.

Consider all that was involved to produce the Authorised Version of the Bible in the 17th century: The most learned men in the land were chosen for this work and the complete list shows a high proportion of men with a profound knowledge of the languages in which the Bible was written. Of the fifty-four who were chosen a few died or withdrew before the translation was started and the final list numbered forty-seven men. They were divided into six companies and a portion was assigned to each group. Everyone in each company translated the whole portion before they met to compare their results and agree upon the final form. They then transmitted their draft to each of the other companies for their comment and consent. A select committee then went carefully through the whole work again, and at last two of their number were responsible for the final checking. What a work that was and great the joy when it was complete.

We all have God's work to do. Let us aim to say at last with Paul: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2Tim3v7.

(4) Approved work.
It is reassuring when our work is approved. As a teacher I never quite knew for whom I worked - my pupils, their parents, the school governors, the Local Education Authority, the State or the general public. I suppose that in so far as my wages were paid out of taxation and most of the parents were taxpayers and it was their children in my care, I worked for them. So it was good when they approved of my work. Near the end of my career a boy joined my form who had been expelled from his previous school for trying to set it on fire. Three years later his mother, pleased that I had managed to keep her likeable but wayward son on the straight and narrow, presented me with a hand-embroidered cushion. On another occasion a boy, who must have enjoyed my lessons, left because his parents were moving to another area. His mother waylaid me after school as I walked to my car to give me a thank-you kiss. It was the one and only time I received a kiss from a parent! Such gestures were like manna in the wilderness!

It is very satisfying when our work is praised by someone well qualified to judge it. On Saturday, March 5th I read an article in the Daily Telegraph about a cheese sandwich. American food writer Ruth Reichl who came to England to review restaurants for the million selling Gourmet Magazine said that the highlight of her trip was a 3 toasted cheese and onion sandwich from a market stall in Borough Market, London. She was knocked out by it. It was so delicious that she had to have another one. Mr Oglethorpe who made the sandwich said, "I am so proud that she liked my sandwich. To be up there with the likes of Heston Blumenthal (chef at the Fat Duck) and all those people is such an honour. It is very nice to be appreciated... ."

Jesus worked on behalf of his Father in Heaven. No-one could be more highly qualified to judge the merit of work done in his name than God, himself. Paul wrote this of Jesus: Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord. Phil2v9and10. God was pleased with Jesus at every stage of his life. Jesus knew it and this knowledge was the food that sustained him.

What Peter writes of the elders of the church is applicable to all who serve Jesus: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers - not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be .... . And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. 1Pet5v2to4. If Jesus finally approves my work that will be glory for me!

(D) Jesus is excited.

Jesus is so excited by unfolding events at Jacob's well that his spirits revive and he is no longer hungry. He is too elated to eat. I wonder when we were last like that?

Jesus was excited about:

(1) The present harvest.
Perhaps as Jesus and the disciples walked together someone looked at the green shoots of barley appearing in the fields and commented, "Another four months to harvest." Jesus now tells the twelve: "Do you not say, '4 months more and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe to harvest." He looks over the fields and already sees Samaritans from Sychar coming towards him. Jesus was delighted to announce, "Even now the reaper draws his wages." He was going to receive his reward for witnessing so effectively to the Samaritan woman.

It is wonderful when men and women are ready for the gospel. When they are just waiting to respond to the good news that Jesus saves and to be gathered into the Kingdom where they qualify for eternal life. I have witnessed this on a limited scale at the Christian camp where I served for 20 years. Young people came to us who were ripe for plucking. All that was needed was a little gentle shake and they fell like sweet apples into the Kingdom basket. It was a great experience to watch folk coming forward at the Billy Graham crusades. Those who attended all those years ago were like a field of golden corn ready for the reaping. Since then there have been tremendous harvests in African, South American and Asian fields. Praise God.

(2) The future harvest.
Jesus went on to say to his disciples: "Thus the saying 'one sows and another reaps' is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour." v37and38.

It seems strange that Jesus should speak like this before the disciples had done any reaping. He hadn't as yet sent them to do any reaping. The heart-warming response of the Samaritan women and the inhabitants of Sychar was hardly anything to do with the disciples. Jesus on this occasion gathered in the sheaves.

I think that Jesus looked ahead. He was so elated that he anticipated future events. The apostles, equipped by the Holy Spirit, preached the gospel to Jews and Gentiles alike. They entered fields white unto harvest. There was spectacular church growth in the first century after Christ. Many others had prepared those fields: Greeks whose language was used throughout the Mediterranean world, Romans who built roads and maintained law and order, philosophers who brought some enlightenment to the educated, Jews who established synagogues in so many cities throughout the Roman Empire and who preserved the Scriptures, enlightened Jews who introduced many Gentiles to the one true God and Gentile proselytes who sympathised with many aspects of Judaism.

This has happened again and again throughout history. After long periods of preparation fields become ripe for harvest. It happened recently in Africa. From the 19th century onwards much missionary work was done in that continent. Church growth was slow for nearly 100 years but in the last 30 it has been spectacular. The same could be said of China and parts of South America.

What is true for countries is also true for individuals. Conversion is often the culmination of a long process. The seed is sown, watered and weeded before the reaper gains the benefit.

Jesus was elated at Jacob's well because he saw the truth of another Sankey hymn:

            Coming, coming, yes, they are,
            Coming, coming, from afar;
            From the wild and scorching desert,
            Africs sons of colour deep;
            Jesus' love has drawn and won them,
            At the cross they bow and weep.

(3) The final harvest.
Jesus said: "Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together." v36. Jesus was looking even further forward here, to the final harvest home where sower and reaper are happy together.

I am indebted to Rev B. Thomas for his outline on the REWARD OF THE HARVEST:

(a) The reward is partly present - especially for the reapers - gathering in the souls ripe for salvation.

(b) The reward is chiefly in the future because the crop is destined for eternal life. There will be a final, great harvest home when all is safely gathered in.

            Coming, coming, yes they are
            Coming, coming from afar;
            All to meet in plains of glory,
            All to sing his praises sweet;
            What a chorus, what a meeting,
            With the family complete.

What a day that will be - when the family is complete.

(c)The reward of the future is gladness. We shall all experience a high and perfect happiness. It will be the unalloyed happiness of:

    (I) A perfect life. The soul comes to perfect ripeness in the presence of the glorified Son. There is no sin there. We are all unblemished fruit. Eternal life is what God intends for us. It cannot be improved upon.

    (II) Abundance. There will be a great number there.

            Oh that bright and golden morning
            When the Son of Man shall come,
            And the radiance of His glory we shall see;
            When from every clime and nation
            He shall call his people home -
            What a gathering of the ransomed that will be.

    (III) Safety. This is why we praise God for the natural harvest:

            Come ye thankful people, come,
            Raise the song of harvest-home:
            All is safely gathered in .....

    At our final harvest home the storms of life are over. The blight of disease is past. Nothing can harm us any more. We enter into our secure inheritance.

    (IV) Gratitude. After that ultimate harvest home there will be a triumphant thanksgiving service. We shall sing a new song in praise of our glorious Saviour.

          With harps and with vials there stand a great throng
          In the presence of Jesus, and sing this new song:
          Unto Him who hath loved us and washed us from sin,
          Unto Him be the glory for ever. Amen.

(d) All will be rewarded. The sower and the reaper will be glad together. Everyone who played any part in bringing about the great harvest will be recognised and honoured. The most insignificant labourer will be remembered - even the small boy who scared away the crows. There will be both personal joy and mutual joy - rejoicing together at the countless number that have benefitted from the saving work of the Lamb.

(e) The reward is eternal. It is the ultimate reward. The crop is gathered in for eternal life. Our happiness will be as eternal as our life. It will be as lasting as the fruit. It will never pall, diminish or end. In the words of the children's hymn, 'There is a happy land,' I sang in Sunday school:

            Bright in that happy land
            Beams every eye;
            Kept by a Father's hand,
            Love cannot die.
            Oh then to glory run,
            Be a crown and kingdom won,
            And bright above the sun
            Reign, reign for aye.

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net

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