31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” 43 After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.
I have two older brothers: David, the oldest, and Condy, the middle brother. David is a couple years older than Condy and a few years older than me. When Condy was born, David would have been somewhere between two and three-years-old.
My mother tells the story of waking up one morning shortly after having brought my brother Condy home from the hospital. She noticed that he was not crying. No sound at all was coming from his crib. So she went into his room and looked into the crib, only to find a most unusual sight.
Baby Condy was lying there, still on his back. On his face, balanced perfectly, was a large biscuit! She said she could see Condy’s eyes peering out over the rim of the biscuit!
My mother called my brother David into the room and inquired as to the meaning of this very strange scenario. He told her that he had awoken in the night worried that Baby Condy might be hungry. So, David, just a couple of years older, went into the kitchen in the night, found a plate of leftover biscuits that my mother had made for dinner that night, grabbed one, and positioned it perfectly on Condy’s face so that he could have something to eat should he wake up hungry in the night!
That story has become legendary in our family. It is a cute story, and more than a little bit sweet. My brother David had good motives. He wanted to feed his baby brother. The problem was he was not able to comprehend the nature of the food that this new little baby needed. I’m sure it provided a good teaching moment (and a lot of laughs) for my parents!
I can’t help but think of that little story when I read John 4:31-45. In this story the disciples try to give Jesus food, but He reveals to them that they have misunderstood the nature of the food that He, and they, and we need!
We are not done with Samaria. The curtain has yet to drop on this strange and wonderful scene. Last week ended with a series of fascinating motions. Jesus reveals Himself to the woman at the well. “The Messiah is coming,” she says. “I am he,” Jesus replies. Then there is immediate movement: the woman leaves to return to the town. The disciples, who missed the entire episode because they were grocery shopping, return. (As an aside, there may have been a connection between the arrival of the twelve Jewish men and the sudden departure of this lone Samaritan woman. Perhaps she thought they had not food but stones in their grocery bags!) So the dust has barely settled from her departure and is barely settling from the disciples’ arrival. As if to round off the amazing anti-climactic nature of their arrival, they begin to talk about food.
She leaves and the disciples say, “Rabbi, eat.”
But not so fast! We’ve already seen Jesus handle people who want to change the topic of conversation. The woman at the well did it when Jesus got too close to the real issues in her life. Now the disciples do it when they encounter Jesus talking with this Samaritan woman.
Jesus appears to take the bait. He too begins to talk about food. But it is immediately obvious that Jesus has not taken the bait at all. He will not be so easily distracted from the amazing drama of grace that has just taken place.
He talks about food, but, in doing so, he steers it toward the Kingdom of God.
Do not miss the irony here: Jesus has just talked about water with the woman. Now He talks about food with the disciples.
There are differences in the focus because there are differences in the immediate needs of the woman and the disciples. The disciples, after all, are already following Jesus. So when Jesus talks about water with the woman, He talks about her need for grace, her need for salvation. With the woman, Jesus talks about the waters that save. With the disciples, however, he talks about the food of their “followship,” the sustenance of their responsibilities and privileges as disciples.
With the woman, Jesus talks about the living water that brings one into the Kingdom. With the disciples, He talks about the sustaining food of those who are already in the Kingdom. The water speaks of entry into the Christian life, the food speaks of the life of a Christian.
Our intake becomes more solid as we grow. In 1 Corinthians 3:1-3a, Paul chastises the Corinthian church for their refusal to grow towards more solid spiritual food:
1But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3for you are still of the flesh.
So it is with us. We always need the life-giving spiritual water of Christ. We never do and never can abandon the waters of life. But we also need the solid food of spiritual growth, the bread of discipleship.
This is what Jesus is speaking of here. In doing so, He is calling the disciples to a more substantive feast. It is a feast of growth and fellowship with God through Christ. It is also a feast of motion. Just as the episode at the well ends in movement and motion, so Jesus’ conversation with His disciples is likewise full of energy and power.
In particular, Jesus speaks to the disciples of an upward call, an outward privilege, and an inward gathering.
Let us rejoin the story as it unfolds.
The Upward Call: The Will of the Father (vv.31-34)
The disciples arrive with their groceries and marvel at the scene that has just ended. You might remember that they marvel but they do not ask Jesus about it. Perhaps you will remember verse 27 from last week:
27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?”
They do not ask because they likely do not want to know. They likely do not want to know, because they are probably beginning to understand that following Jesus just might well mean they’re going to have to rethink everything they’ve ever been taught about God, His grace, who the objects of His grace are, and what it means to have the mind of Christ.
So they do what we do when things get too uncomfortable. They turn their attention to the menu:
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.”
I might point out to you that this is likely one of the first recorded instances of stress eating found anywhere in antiquity! The disciples are stressed, so they start talking about food!
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?”
Well, this is all becoming rather predictable, isn’t it? We saw this with Nicodemus (i.e., “You must be born again!” “What?! I’m an old man!”). We saw this with the woman at the well, (i.e., “I will give you living water.” “The well is deep and you don’t have a bucket!”) And now we see it with the disciples (i.e., “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” “Has anyone brought him something to eat?”)
Once again, we’re witnessing an adventure in missing the point. For Jesus, of course, this is a teaching moment. He isn’t talking about physical food at all:
34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
I think I can imagine the disciples hearing this, slowly taking their eyes off of the food in their hands and lifting them to Heaven.
Jesus is revealing to the disciples the upward call of the Christian life. The world may stand around looking only at that which they hold in their hands, but not the believer. We have an upward call, a Heavenward focus, a higher mandate.
It is almost as if He is whispering to them, “Guys, it’s really not all about what you can see. What’s really important is what your God has called you to do.” As He says this, it is almost as if Jesus is taking His hand, gently taking the chins of the disciples, and lifting them to the Heavens.
“Guys, if you’re going to follow Me, if you’re going to get Me and what I’m about, you’ve got to stop constantly thinking on this level down here. I expect that woman to do so. She has only just heard the gospel. But you are my followers. It is time to begin aligning your thoughts, your goals, your aspirations, your dreams, your hopes, and your plans to the thoughts, goals, aspirations, hopes, and plans of God Himself. You are now of a new Kingdom. You are now sitting at a new table. This food that you hold in your hands will keep you for a moment. The food that I want to introduce you too, however, will sustain you forever. Yes, we need to have dinner in a bit, but there’s something you need even more: to eat the bread of the will of the living God.”
“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
What a moment! What a revelation! In calling the accomplishment of God’s will and work his “food,” Jesus was claiming that there is nothing more important than this. Furthermore, in calling it “food,” Jesus was claiming that there is no real life outside of the will and work of God.
Jesus was sustained and nurtured and filled and blessed by obeying and accomplishing God’s plan in God’s way. This union of purpose was so radical that Jesus will say in our next chapter:
“So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.” (John 5:19-20)
Doing the will of His Father drove, sustained, and overwhelmed the life and ministry of Jesus, to the extent that when it was the Father’s will for the Son to die a cruel death on the cross, Jesus resigned Himself to that will.
Christian, listen to me: you have nothing else to do, nothing else to consume and eat, and nothing else to live on but the will of your Father!
Yes, we must eat and work and live in the physical realm. This is not unimportant. Christianity has never taught (when it has been faithful to scripture) that the physical is irrelevant. God made us to eat physical bread. The point, however, is that there is a reality greater and more real than the mere reality of our physical survival. There is a bread that is greater than bread, and that is the bread of doing the will of the father.
Christianity is not an escape from physical reality, but it is a breaking-in of the deeper realities of the Kingdom of God into mere physical reality. Christianity does not say you should not eat bread, but it does say that you are more than the bread you eat. “Man does not live by bread alone” (Matthew 4:4). Christianity does not say you should abandon your earthly jobs and callings, but it does say that you have the high privilege of living out your Heavenly job and calling here in the context of your earthly job and calling.
Oh, Jesus will eat again. He may have eaten shortly after this conversation. But the point stands: His food is to do the will of the Father, and ours should be as well.
How often do we miss out on the greatest feast because of our obsession with the lesser meals? How often do we miss out on the greatest plans because of our preoccupation with our own paltry plans?
Church, are we, as a church, feasting on the will of God? What is it that sustains us as a church family, that nurtures us in Christian growth, that compels and propels us forward? Do we seek a feast here, a kingdom here? Or do we delight in doing the will of God!
Some of us are perhaps trying to have both, but may I remind us all that we cannot serve two masters? Either your life is going to be consumed with achieving more here and now, or it will be consumed with doing the will of your Father.
The Outward Privilege: Right Now! (vv.35-38)
Jesus next fleshes out what the will and work of the Father is. He begins to speak to them of planting and harvesting that which was planted:
35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’?
Here is language the disciples understand. They live, after all, in an agrarian society. They know what it is to plant and await the time of harvest. But wait you must do! In the fields of the earth, you plant in the ground and wait. You may wait four months. You may wait longer. But the Kingdom of God is different. In the Kingdom of God, the wait is over. The harvest has come. The time to gather up is here:
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.
What is this harvest Jesus speaks of? The harvest is nothing less than the gathering in of the world to Christ. It is this harvest that we are called to and it is the privilege of our discipleship as followers of Christ.
But before the harvest can be gathered it must be seen. We must look out. We must understand and be convicted over and burdened by the great outward privilege of our calling. For out there is the woman at the well! Out there is the world! Out there is lost humanity! Out there are hurting men and women who need precisely that which we can give them!
“Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see…”
You cannot look out and see when you are only looking at the food or the job or the money or the relationship or the car or the house or the promotion or the ambition or the plans in your own hands. What we miss because we will not look! What we miss because our eyes are fixed on the horizons of our own ambitions instead of on the great fields under our very noses that are white unto haves.
Looking out to the harvest means looking away from what has previously held your attention. It is an upward focus on God resulting in an outward burden for lost humanity. Here are the motions and movements of discipleship.
Look up, church! Look out, church! “Lift your eyes and see that the fields are white for harvest.”
I agree with David Platt when he says, “Every saved person this side of heaven owes the gospel to every lost person this side of hell.”
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.”
Unlike a farmer planting a crop, we cannot look at a saved man and say that his salvation is the fruit of our labors. “I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor.” In fact, salvation is a miracle of God, wrought by the Holy Spirit of God. God gets the glory, but we get the privilege of being instruments through which He works to win the world.
Dear church, are we broken-hearted over the lost? Do we see the fields that are white unto harvest? Will we go and work in the fields for the Kingdom? I do hope we will, for then we will have the honor of witnessing the final movement of discipleship, namely, the inward gathering of the nations to Christ.
The Inward Gathering: The Nations Come (vv.39-45)
Oddly enough, the great missionary in this text is not the disciples. They were off shopping for groceries. They were conveniently busy elsewhere. They missed this amazing scene! No, the great missionary in this text is a woman who was only just beginning to understand the nature of the gospel:
39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.”
It may not have been the most polished testimony. It may have been more a statement of amazement than anything. But it did testify to the greatness of Christ, and, in doing so, it bore fruit. It bore fruit in the belief of many of the woman’s townspeople. It also bore fruit in the growth of the Samaritans in their understanding and walk with Jesus:
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.
There may have been a powerful moment here when the Samaritans asked Jesus to stay with them. I cannot help but wonder if He turned and looked in the eyes of His disciples before answering. Did He look at His disciples as if to say, “Do you see now? Do you understand? Do you get that these people are what I’m about and what I want you to be about? Will you now look at the fields white unto harvest? Will you now enter the fields to work?” And I imagine the sheepish disciples pausing, looking into the plaintive eyes of the Samaritans, then looking back at Jesus, smiling, and nodding, “Yes. Yes. Let us stay. We are with you Jesus.”
The Samaritans come on the basis of the woman’s witness, but then they come to see and know Christ themselves:
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.” 43 After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.
It is an amazing scene, is it not? One woman at a well was touched by the power of Jesus Christ. Through her witness, many came to know Christ and be saved. She had the privilege of speaking the word of ingathering to the harvest. She had the honor of saying, “There’s something about this Jesus! There’s something about this man! You must come and see Him!”
How about you? Will you look at the field? Will you enter the field? Will you join in reaping the harvest of souls for Jesus Christ? Will you take your place in the great adventure of witness and proclamation? Will you join in the celebration of the harvest?
I pray we will. I pray we will!
 David Platt, Radical (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Press, 2010), p.74.