READ : John 4:31-34
Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has any one brought him food?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.”
John 4:31-34 rsv
“ . . . The disciples besought him, saying, `Rabbi, eat.’ But he said to them, `I have food to eat of which you do not know. . . .’ `My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.’” To understand these words, we need to recall what happened just before them. John, in the fourth chapter of his Gospel, has been describing an experience of Jesus and His followers in Samaria. They had arrived on the outskirts of Sychar about noon. Jesus stayed there to rest while His disciples went into the city to buy food. Soon after they had left, a Samaritan woman came to draw water. Surprisingly, Jesus engaged her in conversation. In a gentle but probing way, He uncovered the woman’s spiritual need. He revealed to her something of His glory and promised her “living water.” The woman, first questioning, then defensive, sometimes hostile, gradually melted. As Jesus shared with her the good news of who He was and what He had come to do, faith sprang up in her heart. She left her water pot by the well and ran back to the city, telling everyone she met, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” Many took her seriously and began to make their way from the village to where Jesus was.
The disciples, having completed their errand, offer their Master some of the provisions they have brought. Somehow He doesn’t seem interested. “Rabbi, eat,” they say. Maybe they were thinking, “We’ve gone a long way to get this for You. Aren’t You even going to taste it?” Then came one of His puzzling replies that caught them off guard and set them thinking. “I have food that you don’t know about.” What could that mean? Had someone given Him refreshment while they were away? No, that wasn’t it. Now He spoke plainly. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.”
THE WILL OF GOD FOR JESUS
Three thoughts especially impress me about this word of Jesus: first, how He understood the will of God for His life; second, how He felt about doing it; and third, the sense of urgency that lay upon Him. Think with me about these things.
First, what does this tell us about how Jesus understood the Father’s purpose for Him? We can hardly read very far in any of the four Gospels without encountering the conviction that He had been sent by the Father. His sense of mission was so intense that sometimes it was almost frightening to His followers. It made Him set His face like a flint to go to Jerusalem. It kept Him moving from city to city along the way. He told His friends over and over again that His words were the words that the Father had given Him to say and His works were those that the Father had appointed for Him to do. He did nothing on His own, independently of His Father’s purpose and counsel. Even when it meant indescribable suffering, the prospect of which made sweat fall from His brow as great drops of blood, He prayed, “Father, not My will, but Thine be done.”
But what was that will? Sometimes Jesus would describe it in terms of testimony. “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). Sometimes it was ministry. The Son of man had come “not to be served but to serve.” Most profoundly, He had come “to seek and to save that which was lost.” For that He became one of us. For that He lived and labored. For that He bore rejection and agony – that we the lost ones might be found, that we the spiritually dead might know life abundant.
But all that sounds rather general. Think of what Jesus had been doing just before He said this. He had been dealing with a woman who was socially ostracized, perhaps the most despised person in her community. Contrary to custom and protocol, He had spoken to her in public. Beyond all expectation He had shown interest in her situation. He had labored long and lovingly to bring her to a knowledge of her need and of His salvation. He had invested Himself deeply in reclaiming this one, seemingly insignificant, human life. And that to Him was the Father’s will. He witnessed to her. He served her. He sought by all means to save her and give her the water that would satisfy her always. We can see His whole ministry gathered up in that unforgettable interchange. That’s what Jesus understood His mission to be. That’s what He knew the Father had sent Him to do.
HOW JESUS FELT ABOUT FULFILLING IT
Now notice how He felt about that life task. It was His food, He says, His meat and drink. It was the staple provision of His life. It was what sustained Him and kept Him going. It was for Him His nourishment, His staff of life.
The Lord was revealing in this incident something of His priorities. On the one hand, He was anything but a despiser of food and drink. All the evidence points the other way. Unlike John the Baptist, an ascetic type, Jesus loved meal-time festivities. Some of His critics called Him a “gluttonous man and a winebibber.” While there was doubtless hostile exaggeration in that, it certainly reveals Him as a man of healthy appetite. He and His disciples, apparently, did not even observe some of the traditional times of fasting.
Jesus, accordingly, would not have skipped a meal out of preference, surely not out of disdain for food and table fellowship. But there was never any doubt about what came first with Him. That was the kingdom of God. That was the need of people around Him. That was the salvation of people like us. To tell the good news, to search for the straying, to win the lost – that was supremely important to Jesus. He didn’t live to eat. He ate to live – and to live for that.
But Jesus is saying even more here. It was not simply that the salvation of His people was a supreme duty which He chose to put before everything else, including His daily bread. It was also His chief joy. You know what people mean when they say, “This is my meat.” They mean: “This is what I enjoy most.” If they’re talking about food, they’re saying, “This is what tastes best to me. This is what I’d rather eat than anything else.” That’s what Jesus was saying about His ministry to this Samaritan woman. That was the kind of thing that thrilled Him to the depths of His being. Telling the good news, opening someone’s eyes, giving a man or woman new life.
Isn’t that good to know? Jesus came to do the Father’s will, but it was what He wanted too. He did His duty, but that to Him was sheer delight. John Calvin sees in this what he calls “no small comfort.” “Christ,” he writes, was “so anxious for men’s salvation that the height of pleasure for Him was to attend to it.” Loving to do the Father’s will, He loved to welcome the Father’s wandering children.
Maybe you have been so engrossed at times in something you enjoyed that you kept at it right through mealtime – and never even noticed. With us that may be something like shopping or golf, a captivating play or a pet project. With Jesus it was reaching and redeeming one precious life.
And that one, He knew, would lead to others. The woman was so eager to share what she had found that she left her water jar by the well and ran back to the city. Through her witness, many of the townspeople were awakened, and as Jesus saw them coming out to see for themselves, it made His heart leap with joy. This is what He lived for. This is what He would die for. This was what excited Him more than anything else in the world. While this was going on, eating could wait.
HIS SENSE OF URGENCY
Think now about the sense of urgency that comes out in these words. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.” “I want to finish it,” He’s saying. “I want to get it done at all costs, and as soon as possible.”
As the robes of the advancing townspeople become visible on the horizon, Jesus decides to give His followers some instruction. “Do you not say, `There are four months, then comes the harvest’? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest.” Jesus is appealing to a homely saying here. Four months was about the period of time from the sowing to the harvest. Perhaps it was a kind of proverb among the people that this was a time of inevitable waiting. We needn’t be in a hurry, in other words, to get busy on anything now. The seed has been planted; there’s no way of getting around a long delay. Growth is slow. It can’t be hurried. There’s always a long interval between sowing and reaping. Anybody knows that.
But Jesus makes it clear that the saying doesn’t always apply. There doesn’t always have to be a period of inactivity while we wait for the seed to grow. Sometimes the good seed of the gospel brings fruit quickly. Let the disciples look now at all these people coming across the fields. He has just been talking to one woman and now look at the crowd that wants to hear the message, that wants to meet the Savior.
There is a dimension of trustful waiting in our service to the Lord. All the life, all the growth, all the fruit has to come from Him. But that doesn’t mean inactivity on our part. It surely can’t mean idleness or preoccupation with other things. Because others have been sowing the seed, because the gospel is at work in the world, there’s a harvest ready to be reaped all the time. “See,” says Jesus, “there’s one waiting right now.”
The apostle Paul picks up this emphasis in His words to young Timothy: “Preach the word,” he trumpets, “be urgent in season and out of season.” There is no time inappropriate, apparently, for bringing the gospel to others, for seeking to win them to Christ. Every season is open season. Every time is the right time.
And the harvest that’s ripe, remember, can’t wait. When that great moment of fruition comes, we can’t wait around for next month or even next week, thinking, “We’ll gather it then, when it’s more convenient.” At harvest time, for that particular crop, it’s now or never. It’s “Put in the sickle and reap” or see it spoil in the fields.
Is there any need greater today than the need for urgency about the gospel, eager haste about winning people to Christ? Are we really seeing that the fields are ripe for harvest? Are we really hearing what Jesus said, “I sent you to reap”? And are we busy praying and toiling to see it happen?
If you’ve listened to this program before, you’ve probably heard me tell about the World by 2000. That’s the shared vision of Christian broadcasters all around the world for something we want to do together before the end of this century. We aim to produce enough programs in enough different languages to be beamed from enough strategic sites so that every man, woman, boy and girl on the face of the earth will be able, in a language they can understand, at least by radio, to hear how God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son. We mean to invite everyone to the banquet, to let all people know that Christ is crucified and risen, so that they may know forgiveness and new life. We would love, oh, how we would love to reach them and win them all!
Sometimes I meet people mildly critical of such a goal. “It seems artificial,” they say, “to talk about doing it all by a certain date.” Maybe they’re right – on the surface. Maybe there’s something trendy about the slogan. But do you know what I like about it? It recognizes that the harvest is out there and it’s ready, it’s ripe. And we haven’t forever to gather it in. Maybe, of course, the Lord will come back before the year 2000. Maybe our task of evangelizing the whole world will take us longer than we think. But I still like having something big to shoot for and I like the urgency it helps to generate.
We who play golf know that when you have to attempt a putt of great distance, it’s very difficult to line it up with that far-away hole. But if you can fix your eyes on a point fairly near to you and try to roll the ball over that, you have a good chance of keeping it on course for the whole distance. We have a far-off goal, but we concentrate on what’s close at hand.
I pray God for a sense of urgency in my life. I pray that you may have it in yours. If you have never become a Christian, may God help you to see today that you haven’t forever to think about that. Now is the accepted time, now is the day of grace, now is the time to repent and welcome Christ as your Savior.
Then, if you are a believer, realize today that there’s a harvest out there and you are meant to be one of the reapers. What are you going to do about it in the next ten years? The next ten months? Ten weeks? Ten days? Could I even ask: ten minutes? If we get busy right now on the harvest around us, maybe we’ll have time enough to do the whole job.
Remember the equation, “Mass times velocity equals impact”? Let mass stand for the marvelous transforming gospel of Jesus. Let velocity represent the urgency with which we send it forth. When the Spirit of God multiplies those, the impact on our world will be tremendous. May it be so! May we so live in fellowship with Christ that leading people to Him may be our passion, our joy, our meat and drink. Amen.