Lift Up Your Eyes You Starving People
Passage: John 4:27–42
Sermon on John 4:27-42 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on Sunday, May 5, 2013
Summary of Jesus' Encounter with the Samaritan Woman
Last week, we reached the climax in Jesus’ encounter with the woman of Samaria. Jesus, the Son of God, passes through Samaria. He sits down at Jacob’s well and a Samaritan woman comes to draw some water. So Jesus starts a conversation with her. And what becomes very plain as we find ourselves drawn into the exchange is that Jesus is after more than a good chat with a foreigner while his friends go buy lunch. We learn that Jesus is pursuing this woman’s heart—not to win her as a girlfriend, but to save her from her sins. The woman’s need to draw physical water from Jacob’s well simply becomes an object lesson for Jesus to explain that “Lady, your greatest need is for eternal life through me. Jacob’s well may quench your thirst, but it will never satisfy your soul like I can. I give living water to those who ask. I give eternal life to those wasting away in their muck. I give the Holy Spirit to dead people.”
But the woman misses his point, because she doesn’t know the gift of God or who this man speaking to her really is. She doesn’t see that she is desperately thirsty for God’s Son. Just like your soul, her soul was created to be satisfied fully in a relationship with God through Christ; but in her rebellion, she has turned to find satisfaction in broken relationships with five husbands and now sleeping with another man. Moreover, her chief concern is not with eternal life, but with personal convenience. She also uses the truth to hide her painful past. She even uses religious questions to escape having to deal with her problems. And yet Jesus patiently addresses her heart at every turn with what she truly needs and what he fully provides—until we reach verse 25 when the woman says, “I know that Messiah is coming…When he comes, he will tell us all things,” and Jesus responds to her saying, “I who speak to you am he.” “Get around that one, Ma’am, with your religious questions.”
“That gift of living water I was talking about? You access it through me. That bit about eternal life with God? You can have it for free through me. That painful past and sinful present life of yours? You will have it forgiven through me. That true worship of the Father comment? Yeah, my Father gives sinners like you access to true worship through me. Lady, I who speak to you am the Messiah.” That’s the climax of Jesus’ conversation with the woman—Jesus revealing himself to her as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, the one chosen and anointed Deliverer that God promised to send for our salvation and the restoration of all things.
God Is Gathering the Nations Through His Messiah
Now, what comes next in the story is not any less significant. In fact, the rest of the story simply fleshes out the implications of Jesus’ declaration that he’s the Messiah. As the Messiah, Jesus reveals all that God is up to in his mission to save the world. And what becomes clear in the rest of this story is that God is up to something way, way, way bigger than what this woman or Jesus’ disciples see with their physical eyes but of which they’ve both just become a part. Jesus has just made the Samaritan woman and his disciples unworthy participants in God gathering the nations to himself through his Messiah.
And I want you to get this, because Jesus says that God’s mission to gather the nations to himself through the Messiah is of such a priority to his person and work that it is his food. We structure our lives around breakfast, lunch, and dinner to satisfy our own appetite; Jesus structures his life around accomplishing God’s mission to satisfy the world. That’s not to say that Jesus doesn’t eat or that we shouldn’t eat; but simply to point out that Jesus’ priorities are constantly in tune with God’s mission for the world—and therein lies the reason why you are saved and made a participant in his mission. Let’s see this from the story.
Jesus Seeks What His Father Seeks, True Worshipers
The disciples come back from getting food in verse 27. They are surprised to find their Rabbi speaking with a woman against custom. The situation brings a couple questions to their minds, but John assures us that the disciples do not ask them. They do not ask “What do you seek?” or “Why are you talking with her?” Now, at first glance, it seems unimportant that John would tell us what the disciples were apparently thinking but did not ask. But, as the story unfolds we see that it is these two questions John wants us to answer. In fact, the first question—“What do you seek?”—was answered already back in verse 23: “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”
What does Jesus seek? His actions to pursue this woman at the well show that Jesus seeks the same thing his Father seeks—namely, true worshipers, who worship the Father in spirit and truth. The answer to the second question—“Why are you talking with her [that adulterous, Samaritan woman]?”—appears in the following verses. I’ll give you a clue: he’s talking with her because the fields are white for harvest. We’ll see more of that in a minute, but first look at what happens with the woman and the people from her town. Jesus declares, “I’m the Messiah;” his disciples get back with lunch; they’re surprised; the conversation with the woman ends; and then we get verse 28: “So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’”
This is an amazing response. This woman was so adamant about Jesus not having a bucket to draw his so-called living water, and then she leaves her own water jar behind. Its significance had paled in comparison to what she just found in Jesus. She is so eager to tell her townspeople of the man she just met, she drops the water jar. On top of that, she’s a Samaritan. Remember verse 9—“Jews have no dealings with Samaritans”? The woman is now telling her own people to come meet a Jewish man whom she had tried to avoid earlier. On top of that, she ain’t holding back anything. Whereas before the messiness of her past consumed her and closed her off to receiving the truth, now she was consumed with declaring the truth regardless of her past: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”
In other words, “He knows all my rebellion; he knows how many men I’ve slept with; he knows all the pain these six relationships have caused; he knows me like no other knows me. Can this be the Christ? Come and see him!” Verse 30 then tells us what happens with the townspeople as a result of her testimony. It says, “They went out of the town and were coming to Jesus.” We might not think too much of this initially, but skip with me to verse 39 to see their response to Jesus. “Many Samaritans from that town believed in [Jesus] because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It’s 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.’”
God Extends Salvation to the Nations through Jesus
Here’s the scene. Jesus reveals himself to be the Messiah. The woman is sold and spreads the news about him back home. And now you have Samaritans coming out across the fields to Jacob’s well in droves to meet Jesus; and they no longer simply take the woman’s word for it, but they themselves hear Jesus speaking and conclude “Savior of the world”—not just Jewish Messiah, but Savior of the world as Jewish Messiah. In other words, “We believe this one has come as the fulfillment of all God’s promises to Israel; and he will take away my sins and save me from the wrath of God on Judgment Day.” And Jesus will do the same for you. If you believe that about him, he will do the same for you—save you from the wrath to come. That’s what’s behind “Savior of the world.” It implies, “I’m guilty before God for breaking his Law; I need a savior from divine judgment; Jesus is that all-sufficient savior; and his sacrificial death is able to save me totally and forever.” These townspeople have come to know that in Jesus Christ, God extends salvation beyond his chosen people Israel to encompass countless multitudes from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation—including this Samaritan village in Sychar.
Now, we’re going to get to application soon, but we need to see first how Jesus explains what’s going on around him. This is where our eyes are opened to the “way-way-way-bigger” part of the story. Verse 31 says that while this is going on—while the Samaritans are coming across the fields to see Jesus—his disciples offer Jesus something to eat. And just like he did with the Samaritan woman and the water, Jesus seizes the opportunity to teach his disciples about something far greater than any physical food they could offer him. Jesus is always directing people to what is of utmost importance, is he not? His mother says at a wedding, “We have no wine;” Jesus responds, “My hour has not yet come.” The Pharisees say of the temple, “Give us a sign for your authority;” Jesus responds, “I’m going to raise my body from the dead.” Nicodemus compliments him saying, “Rabbi, we know you’re from God;” Jesus responds “You must be born again, dude.” The woman says, “Don’t you know Jews and Samaritans is a no-no?” and Jesus responds “You need living water, Ma’am.” Then she asks about worship on a mountain, and Jesus responds, “You need me to worship the Father.” Now the disciples say, “Rabbi, eat,” and Jesus responds “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” Jesus is always directing us to what is of utmost importance, namely, himself and God’s mission through him to bring in the kingdom.
Jesus' Food Is His Mission to Save the Nations
But, the disciples are oblivious. Their minds are focused on their lunch box instead; and so they say, “Has anyone [else] brought him something to eat?” So Jesus patiently explains what he meant. Verse 34, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” Since the beginning of this Gospel Jesus is known as “the only Son from the Father” (1:14). He comes from being with his Father for all eternity to fulfill a plan not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (3:17). Fulfilling this mission of his Father is more important—more satisfying—to Jesus than any food the disciples could offer him.
You see, little did the disciples know that God’s mission through his Son—which was planned before the foundation of the world and promised in the Scriptures—was now coming to fruition right before their eyes. The nations were coming to God’s Messiah. God’s promise to Abraham to bless all the nations through his offspring was now becoming a reality as the Samaritans are coming to Jesus (Gen 12:1-3). God’s promise to bring universal salvation through an anointed king like David, who would gather peoples from all over like a shepherd gathers sheep, was actually coming true (Zech 9-10). The coming time to gather all nations and tongues to see the Lord’s glory—as Isaiah said—had dawned as these Samaritans are seeing the Lord’s glory in the person of Christ (Isa 66:18). The Lord promised to send his Servant as a light for the nations, so that his salvation would reach to the end of the earth (Isa 49:6), and the disciples are watching it unfold while smacking on their turkey sandwich. The ancient prayer of Israel from Ps 86:9 that “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name”—it was being answered in their presence.
How do we know that? Because the long-awaited Messiah had arrived to accomplish his Father’s work—to bring finality to the plan for all the ages in Christ. In fact, accomplishing his Father’s mission was so much a part of Jesus that it was his food, his sustenance—not in the sense that he lacked anything as the Son of God, but in the sense that he always exists to achieve his Father’s work. Submission to his Father’s will is his eternal, constant satisfaction. When Jesus feeds on his Father’s mission, he doesn’t feed because he needs anything—in him was life. Rather, Jesus feeds on his Father’s mission because we need something only he can give—eternal life.
And here’s the good news for you: the Son of God is unswerving in his commitment to the Father’s will to give you and countless others eternal life. In dealing with the Samaritan woman and now with all her townspeople, Jesus was accomplishing the Father’s will to gather all nations to himself. What’s more is that God’s mission is so much Jesus’ food that he consumes it even when it means death on a cross to take away your sins and mine that we might come to him for eternal life. As these Samaritans come to Jesus, the cross is in his sights. He can welcome them to himself—they can believe in him for eternal life—because he will die in their place. They deserve to suffer God’s wrath for their sins—they deserve to be left in their unbelief—but Jesus will endure the punishment for them, that they might have life when they believe.
Jesus Winning the Nations Means We Have Work to Do: Missions
And, here’s where Jesus’ disciples come into the picture—people like you and me. If this is true—if the day of salvation has arrived in which God is gathering the nations to himself through his Messiah, Jesus—then what ought our participation look like? You’ve seen what it looks like if you don’t already belong to Jesus—turn from your sins and believe his words like this woman and these Samaritans and you will be saved! Whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (3:16).
But what if you’re already a Jesus follower? What if you drink daily from his living water, if he’s transformed you into a true worshiper—what does your participation look like in these days since his arrival? Jesus tells us in verses 35-38: “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.” He’s talking about the fields of Samaritan people right in front of them. The disciples can see them, but they’re not seeing with their spiritual eyes what Jesus sees. They need their spiritual eyes opened to what’s unfolding right in front of them. The nations are coming to God’s Messiah, just as it has been written of long ago. And with Jesus’ cross and resurrection on the horizon, a doorway for the Gentiles was about to fling wide open. Adulterous people like the Samaritan woman, religious pagans like the people in Sychar—these kinds of people are ripe for salvation.
The harvest of the nations has begun and that means the reapers have a job. They’re not sitting around passing time with YouTube videos; they’re employed for the Messiah’s crop. Verse 36: “Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.” That’s not supposed to happen folks. Sowing and reaping are separate events in the agricultural business. Ordinarily, they happen four months apart. But that’s just Jesus’ point: a new day has arrived with his coming—the day when sower and reaper rejoice together. A foretaste of the kingdom’s abundance and power and joy has arrived with the coming of Jesus such that sowing and reaping are even collapsed into one event. It is a plentiful harvest of souls for the Messiah’s new community.
Then verse 37, “For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 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, by bringing you into a relationship with Jesus Christ, God made you a participant in his mission and you are to share in the joy of reaping. “I sent you to reap…you have entered into their labor.” John the Baptist and Jesus already got the ball rolling for the new age of the kingdom; the nations are already coming to Jesus as seen in these Samaritans; and Jesus’ disciples have entered into their labor. And since the day of reaping souls for eternal life from all the nations does not end until Jesus returns, that can mean only one thing for us—we are his reapers too. We’ve been employed for the harvest. The kingdom of God is almost here and there remains many souls to be saved.
That means we are to prioritize our lives around God’s mission in Christ such that we make constant efforts to gather fruit for eternal life. If you’re a Christian, this is why God saved you and left you in the world. We were not made by God or saved by God to find ultimate satisfaction in anything less than God himself and what he accomplishes in his Son for the nations. And since God wants to satisfy our souls with what is truly satisfying, he not only gives us new eyes to see the harvest (“lift up your eyes,” 4:35), but he also sends us to participate in the harvest (“I sent you,” 4:38). Now, there are a few ways I see this applying to our body.
(1) True Theology Will Have Missional Impact
First, something that has always encouraged me as a member and now a pastor of Redeemer is that we are devoted to sound theology. When it comes to theology, the membership of Redeemer is strong. Our emphasis on theology over the years has been right. We have been right to emphasize that there will be no mission without true theological foundations. However, I think that along the way we’ve forgotten that true theology will have missional impact. If our theological foundations are truly biblical, then they will drive every part of our being into God’s mission—and I don’t simply mean frontier missions, with an s, but mission, period, regularly taking the gospel into the lives of others. Truth and mission go together like lyric and song. Lyrics are meant to be enjoyed through finding their expression in song; the truth of the gospel is meant to be enjoyed through finding its expression in mission. As a church, as those employed for the harvest by Jesus, our commitment to the truth must be wedded to bringing the gospel into the lives of others regularly. So the next time you pick up a theology book, or are piecing together your eschatology, or are talking about a cross-reference to this or that passage, consider how it compels you to snatch others from fire.
(2) Holy Living Means Embracing God's Mission to Save Others
Second, something else I love about this congregation is that many of you pursue holy living. You fight against sin. You pray for purity of heart. You love righteousness. And that is so very good. Continue in that pursuit of holiness. But let me also encourage you in light of God’s mission and the harvest not to reduce your Christian life to the pursuit of holiness devoid of mission. There is no authentic holiness without mission. Just look at God. “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa 11:9). “The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isa 52:10). God’s holiness and God’s mission go hand in hand. Our passion to be not “of the world” must remember that God left us “in the world” for mission and sacrificial love toward the lost as we preach the gospel to them. Christian living is not mere “sin management.” Christian living is treasuring Jesus Christ such that sin cannot compete with making Jesus famous among all peoples. Let your personal holiness embrace God’s mission to save human beings like this adulterous woman; and then make an effort to talk with them about your holy missionary God.
(3) Gospel-centered Motherhood Need Not Be Limited to the Home
Third, this one is for some of you moms who could potentially leave overwhelmed after a sermon like this one, especially when Jesus has just mentioned the role of his disciples in gathering fruit for eternal life—a.k.a. “personal evangelism.” Let me begin by saying that none of your evangelism efforts will look the same since all of you are at different stages with children, homeschooling, whatever. I will also add that your labors as a mom are super significant for the advance of the kingdom as you teach your children the faith, as you support your husband, and as you show hospitality to those who enter your home. All of these labors contribute to the task of making disciples. But let me also encourage you to speak with your husband about ways you might be able to make your life more accessible to lost people. Gospel-centered motherhood need not be limited to the home.
In fact, I have seen the Lord use the godly example of mothers in numerous occasions open a door through which to proclaim the excellencies of Christ. [For example: “Why do you discipline your children that way?” Answer: allegiance to Christ. Or, “How are you so patient with them?” Answer: my Father is patient with me in Christ. Or, “What keeps you going all day?” Answer: free living water.] Play dates with other moms and their children at the local park, inviting a lost girl over to hang out (even when things aren’t “all together”), helping your husband show hospitality to a family next door, taking some girlfriends to get coffee and meet lost people while the husband watches the kids, are all ideas you might consider. So talk to your husband about various avenues that are wise, considerate of the household, not overwhelming, and that will work best with the rhythms of your week.
(4) Erect No Barriers to Others, Since Jesus Saves Sinners
Fourth, I think we can all learn something from the woman’s response to Jesus. I wouldn’t say this woman preached the full gospel message to the rest of those in her village. She built an ‘on-ramp’ to Jesus, but her testimony is not the gospel (i.e., cross and resurrection). But I think we can say at least this much: could Jesus have chosen a better witness for his saving grace to the Samaritans than an adulterous woman who encountered him? That’s not to say that her adultery was commendable; it wasn’t. It was rebellious. But that makes her testimony to Jesus all the more accurate. Her testimony is helpful because it highlights two key things about Jesus: he knew she was a great sinner and yet he still pursued her. In fact, these are the only kinds of people Jesus pursues and saves—sinners. This helps us put aside all our self-righteous stereotypes and tear down any barriers we unnecessarily erect between other sinners when we meet them. We come to the world with a message that says, “I too am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Savior.
(5) Seek Further Equipping in Personal Evangelism
Fifth, there are some of you who see that the fields are white for harvest and you want to labor well, but you simply don’t know how. That’s okay and that’s why God has blessed you with the church. There are brothers and sisters in this congregation that I know would love to spend time training you to labor well in the harvest. Connect with each other. Make evangelism a part of your regular conversation with each other. Pray for each other’s efforts as well as the people you encounter. Follow up with your care group members that they too might join you in ministering to the lost people you meet. You might also consider a couple of good books like Mark Dever’s The Gospel and Personal Evangelism or Will Metzger’s Tell the Truth—both of which are available in the Book Nook. More recently for our congregation, Dusty has even put together a pamphlet that outlines the story of Scripture and that might be of some use to you as well. The church is God’s gift to you in making disciples. You are not alone in the task.
(6) Share a Mentality of Multiplication in Care Groups
Sixth, I think it would be helpful if our care groups shared a mentality of multiplication. That’s not to say that multiplication is the primary goal of care groups, but that multiplication is the result of living as Jesus has called us to live. When God’s mission sets the priorities for our lives, then mission and multiplication is inevitable. That doesn’t mean we should measure our faithfulness in terms of how fast we multiply. That is ultimately in God’s hands. Nevertheless, it does mean we’re at least viewing ourselves and our gatherings not as ends in themselves, but as part of God’s means for multiplication. So, seek out guests on Sunday morning, preach the gospel to the neighbors where you live, and schedule similar opportunities with your colleagues at work.
(7) Pray for God's Mission to Advance through Your Witness
Seventh, and finally, let’s not forget prayer. Pray for God’s mission to be accomplished not apart from your involvement in it, but through your involvement in it—through your own efforts made with family members, local neighborhoods, at the workplace, and in your leisure. Ask God to use you. Some of you just need to start there, this week, asking God to use you. Even Paul asked the churches to pray for him, “that God would open to him a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.” Moms, if you can’t get out of the house, then pray for God to bring lost people to your door. Pray for opportunities to share the gospel at the grocery store. For those of you who work in the secular workplace, see your job as a kingdom context, and pray that God would make you faithful in your labors and in your witness (e.g., Tit 2:9-10). The more we pray for God’s Spirit to open a door for the gospel to advance through us, the more likely we are to be in tune with the Spirit when he does.
The Lord has many people in this city, brothers and sisters, and I pray that he might not only lift your eyes to see the fields are white for harvest, but that he might also give you the incredible joy to gather fruit for eternal life. God uses forgiven sinners to sow and reap that all for whom Jesus died will come and believe.
More in The Gospel According to John
May 24, 2015Eyewitness Testimony to the Greatness of Jesus
May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus