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Sermon Message

"It's Harvest Time!"

John 4:31-38
Theme: The Lord Jesus encourages us to enter into His joyous work of harvesting souls for His kingdom by teaching what the work of the harvest is like.

(Delivered Sunday, December 7, 2003 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)


Did you ever hear about the letter that a little boy wrote to God? It said, "Dear God, we had a great time in church today. Lot's of people came. The pastor's sermon was real good; and the music was great. It's too bad You weren't there; 'cause You would have liked it."

As we begin the Christmas season, I thought of that story. It's so easy to get caught up in the activity of all our Christmas celebrations that we forget to invite the One whose birth it is that we're supposed to be celebrating!

What do you suppose would happen if we invited Jesus to guide and direct our celebration of Christmas? What would be important to Him in it all? I don't believe He would object to many of the things we traditionally do in our celebration of His birth. But whatever else happened on Christmas, I believe He would want us to prioritize the whole reason that He came in the first place. After all, He didn't leave His heavenly glory and come to this earth simply to give us another holiday to put on our calendars.

The fact is that, in the Scriptures, He told us very plainly why it is that He came; "The Son of man has come to seek and to to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). I'm certain that He would want us to join with Him this Christmas in that great work that He expressedly came to this earth on that first Christmas to accomplish: to seek out lost people - people who are alienated from God and separated from Him because of sin - and to lead them to the salvation that Jesus has brought about through His death on the cross. That's His great heart's longing. That's why He came. And to ignore this great concern of His this Christmas would almost be like celebrating His birthday without inviting Him!

For that reason, I was particularly drawn to this morning's passage. It's a part of a story that many of us are already familiar with; but it is a part of that story that doesn't always get the attention it deserves. It's the part of the story in which Jesus teaches His disciples what His great heart's longing was; and tells them why He did what He did. As we begin our Christmas celebrations, its something that we need to give our attention to.

* * * * * * * * * *

This passage is found in the much-loved story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. It's a story of how Jesus sought out and saved someone who was lost - introducing them to salvation in Himself. The apostle John tells us:

Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give Me a drink." For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?" For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water." The woman said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?" Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life." The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw." Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here." The woman answered and said, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You have well said, 'I have no husband,' for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly." The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship." Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When He comes, He will tell us all things." Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."

And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, "What do You seek?" or, "Why are You talking with her?" The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, "Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" Then they went out of the city and came to Him (John 4:1-30).

Jesus introduced Himself to her, and she believed on Him. And then, she herself went out to tell others who were lost and told them about Him. And look ahead in the story and see what happened as a result:

And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all that I ever did." So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world" (vv. 39-42).

Now the passage I want to draw your attention to this morning is the one that's found in the middle of this great story. In it, Jesus explains to His disciples His thoughts on what was happening. Many scholars believe He spoke these words to them as they could look and see the crowds of people making their way down the road to come and see Him. What a picture it must have been! John tells us, in verses 31-38;

In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat." But He said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know." Therefore the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?" Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest'? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors" (vv. 31-38).

What an appropriate passage for us to consider as we begin celebrating Christmas! All around us, there are people thinking - albeit imperfectly - about the One whose birth we're supposed to be celebrating. In spite of all the efforts that so many put forth to 'secularize' Christmas and keep the attention off of Him, the Holy Spirit still draws the attention to Jesus in a remarkable way this time of year. We can be confident that many around us are being 'ripened' as it were in His great harvest! And as His followers, it's our privilege to enter into the work of His harvest with Him! This makes Christmas a marvelous opportunity for us to join Him in the greatest work we could ever enter into - the work that Jesus Himself longs to see completed! What a great gift gift to give Jesus on the celebration of His coming to this earth - that is, our own faithfulness to do our part in the work He came to see accomplished in the first place! What a privilege to enter into the work of His harvest with Him!

* * * * * * * * * *

What do we learn about the harvest from this passage? Much more, I suggest, than we could learn anywhere else; because Jesus here opens His own heart to us regarding the harvest.

First, we learn from Him that ...


This whole passage, when you think about it, has much do with eating and drinking! Jesus had talked to the woman about water, because He asked her for a drink; and meanwhile, His disciples went into town to buy something to eat. Perhaps when the disciples returned, He appeared to them to be too preoccupied with His conversation with the woman to eat. Perhaps He was preoccupied with the thought of the crowd that was about to come. In any case, they felt the need to urge Him to eat.

But He told them that He had "food" to eat that they didn't know about. Indeed they didn't know about it; because they then turned to each other and asked who had brought Him something to eat. He then explained, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work."

Notice the details. He speaks first of "Him who sent Me". And this, of course, was a reference to the Father. Later on, speaking to the Jews about the witness that John the Baptist bore of Him, Jesus will say, "... I have a greater witness than John's; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish - the very works that I do - bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me" (John 5:36). The Son of God came to this earth to be born on that first Christmas day, because the Father had sent Him to accomplish the work that He gave Him to accomplish.

Then, notice that Jesus speaks of "the will of Him who sent me," and of the "work" He came to "finish" or "accomplish". And that work was the accomplishment of our salvation through His death on the cross. Later again, He would say,

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:37-40).

And finally, notice that the doing of His Father's will, and the completion of the work the Father gave Him, is what He calls His "food." Stop and think for a moment of what literal "food" does - especially in the context of this whole story of Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well. Food satisfies hunger and meets a need. It brings refreshment to a weary body and soul, and provides what is needed in order to keep on going. And Jesus is here speaking of a satisfaction and fulfillment and provision that is far deeper than anything literal food can provide. He is speaking of the sort of satisfaction that the Lord described when He spoke through the prophet Isaiah;

"Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, by wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for that which is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live ..." (Isaiah 55:1-3).

It's the sort of satisfaction Jesus described when He was tempted by the devil in the wilderness to turn stones to bread; and He replied,

"It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God'" (Matthew 4:4).

Here, then, Jesus is testifying to His disciples that the work that the Father gave Him to do - the work of seeking out and saving that which was lost - is "food" more satisfying and more refreshing to His soul than any literal food could ever be.

You and I will be dealing with many "material" things this Christmas. There'll be lots of good food and lots of presents and lots of celebration. I think that it's all wonderful; and I hope we all enjoy it as much as we can. But let's keep in mind that, ultimately, none of it will really satisfy the soul. If we are ignoring Jesus and His concerns in the process, we will miss the whole point completely. In fact, Christmas will prove to be an empty and dismal thing if we ignore Him.

By contrast, nothing will satisfy the soul this Christmas like joining into Jesus' great harvest work, and telling others about Him. Nothing will thrill the heart, or satisfy the heart-longing of a true follower of Jesusm like pointing lost people to Him and seeing them enter into eternal life through faith in His cross. May this be our "food" this Christmas!

* * * * * * * * * *

Not only did Jesus say that it was His "food" to enter into the work of the harvest, but He also taught that ...


In this passage, Jesus quotes two popular sayings. Scholars don't know what the sources of these sayings are, but it's certainly not hard to understand and appreciate their meaning. The first of these sayings is found in verse 35. There, Jesus says, "Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest?'" This saying simply points to the fact that there is an interval of time between the sowing of a seed and the reaping of the fruit in harvest. You can't just bend down and harvest what was just planted; but you must wait until harvest time has come. Some scholars believe that this became something of a proverbial saying in those days to justify procrastination and delay taking action in something - much like when we say, "All good things come to he who waits."

Jesus, however, says, "Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!" To say, "white for harvest" was a figure of speech to describe fields that were filled with ripened grain - grain that almost lightened up the landscape to the eye. And to say, "Behold" - and "lift up your eyes and look" - was a call to see the situation as it truly was. Perhaps even right then, as Jesus spoke those very words, the disciples could look down the road and see the crowds of people coming from the town to see the One that the woman at the well had told them about.

Jesus was teaching His disciples, then, not to postpone the work of the harvest by saying, "The harvest is many weeks away yet. We have lots of time." No! He was urging His disciples to look at what was going on around them! He was urging them to know that the fields are already ripened and white unto harvest - that the harvest time isn't sometime in the future, but that it's here now! In fact, He says, "And he who reaps receives wages ..."; and the word He uses is in the present tense. The one who reaps is receiving wages even now! Payday for the reapers is already here! How can we then say that harvest time is sometime off in the future?

And I'd suggest to you that, if ever there was a time to take to heart the words of Jesus about His harvest, it's at Christmas time! Elsewhere, He said, "... When the grain ripens, immediately he [that is the one sowing seeds] puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come" (Mark 4:29). Jesus taught us that the problem isn't that the harvest has not yet come. "The harvest truly is plentiful," He said, "but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest" (Matthew 9:37-38).

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; the harvest time is even now upon us! When you go to the stores and shopping malls in the next few weeks, and see all the crowds of people and the parking lots filled to overflowing, don't grumble and grouch about how inconvenient it may seem to you. See those people as Jesus sees them. Remember that it's all about the birthday of Jesus and think, "Harvest time!!" May God help us now to join in the work that is even now upon us!

* * * * * * * * * *

Next, Jesus tells us that ...


I see this in the Savior's words; "... He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life." Here, Jesus teaches us that the work of the harvest is very purposeful and significant. He shows us this in two ways.

First, He shows us this in that He tells us that it's a work that is rewarding. Certainly, there is the reward of joy that comes from doing the work that the Father gives us to do, and seeing souls saved as a result. Psalm 126:6 says, "He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." And as the Lord Himself taught us, "... There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just person who need no repentance" (Luke 15:7). But there will also be the personal rewards that come from faithful service to the Lord in the harvest work. Proverbs 11:30 tells us that "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise." The apostle Paul - who was a great and faithful worker in the Lord's harvest - reached the end of his life with this testimony:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

And Jesus also shows us that this is a purposeful work in that He tells us that it's a work that endures! We're not merely gathering "fruit" that will eventually rot and waste away. And even the best material presents we give or receive this Christmas will be eventually returned - returned to the dust! But the whole work of winning souls is the work of gathering up that which will last forever! Jesus said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, He who hears My words and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life" (John 5:24).

Can you think of anything better to pass on to someone than an invitation to get to know Him who can give them eternal life? Can you think of anything better to invest your time and efforts in than a work that results in that which is eternal? There is no more purposeful work than the work of the harvest of souls for the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Whatever else you do this holiday season, do your part in the work of the harvest!

* * * * * * * * * *

Did you know you had a vital part in that work? This leads us to another point Jesus teaches us, that ...


Jesus teaches us this when He speaks of the reaper who receives wages and gathers up fruit for eternal life - "... that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together." And once again, He points to another popular saying; "For in this the saying is true: 'One sows and another reaps.'"

Some scholars suggest that the 'sower' that Jesus has in mind is John the Baptist. And it's certainly true that John 'sowed' the seed of proclaiming Jesus and announcing Him to those who came to hear him preach. And certainly, the disciples themselves were going to be 'reaping' that which was sown. But I tend to believe that Jesus words were meant to speak of a general principle rather than a specific set of circumstances. After all, look at what was right then happening - Jesus presents Himself to the woman at the well, thus sowing the seed; then she believes, tells others, and brings the whole town to Him; and then they come and the disciples join in the harvest! They didn't sow the seed themselves; someone else did. But they reaped what was sown; and thus the sower and the reaper rejoiced together.

In another context, the apostle Paul spoke similarly of the "team-work effort" that the harvest of souls truly is. He told the believers in Corinth,

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers ... (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).

God alone is the one who gives the increase; and one person plays one part, and another plays another part. No one can take credit for all the work but God alone; and yet, each one of us is allowed by Him to play our part in His team of fellow-workers.

This means that you may share Jesus Christ with someone in some way this Christmas, and see no apparent results. But you faithfully sowed a seed, and it may be God's plan that someone else reaps what you sowed. They could never reap what you had not first faithfully sown. Or you may pray with someone and lead them to Christ this Christmas. But if that happens, all you did was reap what God used someone else to sow. You're only the part of a marvelous team - but you are a vital part. Don't ever minimize your part! You may play some seemingly small part - but a part that, in the plan of God, is vital to someone else reaping in the harvest!

* * * * * * * * * *

And this leads us to a final point; that ...


Jesus tells us; "I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored ...". And here, Jesus uses a word that refers to labor that is strenuous, and that makes one weary and tired. It's the same word that was used in verse 6 to describe how weary and tired Jesus was from His journey as He sat by the well. Jesus tells us, "Others have labored, and you have entered into their labors."

Certainly this would include Jesus' own labors. He was the one who paid the great price on the cross for us; and when we tell others about His sacrifice and lead them to place their faith in Him, we're "entering" into His labors. But I suspect that it also has reference to the fact that God has sovereignly placed others in the work before us - some who have sown the seed in one way, others who have watered it in another way. And then - at last - it may be that God permits us to enter into the labors of others and reap what whey have sown. And then, as Jesus has said, "he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together."

You can trust that, as you interact with people in your sphere of influence this Christmas, you are interacting with people in whom God has already sovereignly worked. A seed you plant will be allowed to take root by the sovereign God; and another root that He has sovereignly allowed to sprout and grow will perhaps be the very thing He has sovereignly allowed you to harvest. You and I can confidently go about the work of the harvest, knowing that it is a work that God has a great interest in, and that He has sovereignly worked to prepare long before you and I have even entered into it!

* * * * * * * * * *

Dear brothers and sisters, the One whose birthday we are celebrating has a great heart-longing. His longing is that of completing the work that the Father gave Him - the work He Himself came to do. He came to seek and save that which is lost. Don't you agree that, if we would celebrate Christmas in a way that would please Him, we should make sure that our celebration involves our entering into His great work with Him?

As we begin our Christmas celebration, let's begin by renewing our dedication to the work of His harvest. Let's make it our priority to share Him with others in all our celebration this Christmas; and may He get the glory!

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