Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Food that Jesus Has (John 4:27-42)

When I am discouraged and in need of an uplifting and encouraging word, I often turn to the accounts of King David in the historical books of the Old Testament. One of my favorite stories about David is found in 2 Samuel 23. Seemingly homesick for the town of Bethlehem, David had said, “Oh that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem which is by the gate.” This cry was overheard by three of his closest companions, those men that the Bible calls David’s “mighty men,” who took it upon themselves to fulfill his longing. Bethlehem was at that time occupied by the Philistines, and these three men risked their lives to break through the Philistine camp and draw water from that well and bring it back to David. When they returned to him and presented him with the water, David refused to drink it and poured it out on the ground as an offering to the Lord. Now, had you or I been one of those mighty men, we might have punched David right in the teeth and said in angry disgust, “Do you know what I just went through to get you that water! And now you are going to dump it out on the ground?” But David said, “Be it far from me, O Lord, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives?” In other words, David recognized that he was unworthy of such faithful devotion on the part of his mighty men. David considered only the Lord worthy of that kind of devoted sacrifice, so he poured out the water as an offering to the Lord. 

Now, David had a son, and he had a son, and he had a son. So on and so on we go for 1,000 years until we come to his ultimate descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ. When we find Him here in our text, He’s been walking for two solid days with His disciples, and they’ve come into the town of Sychar in Samaria. Since they had no food, the disciples left Jesus by the famed well of the patriarch Jacob and went into a nearby town to buy some food. Though they had not risked their lives like David’s mighty men had, they had risked public scrutiny buying food from Samaritans that Jews would ordinarily consider unfit to eat. While they were gone, Jesus struck up a conversation with an unnamed Samaritan woman. That act would have been considered extremely scandalous for people of that day, as it was considered inappropriate for a man to speak publicly with a woman, much less a Samaritan woman. The Jews despised the Samaritans, and considered all Samaritan women to be in a state of perpetual uncleanness from birth. But this didn’t stop Jesus from initiating conversation with her. He didn’t seem to give much heed to the manmade customs of His day. During His conversation with the Samaritan woman, they’ve talked about what it means to truly worship God; they’ve talked about her sinful past; and Jesus has offered her living water that would forever satisfy her spiritual thirst and spring up into eternal life.

It is the midst of this conversation that the disciples returned with the food. John tells us that they were amazed to find Jesus speaking with this woman, yet they did not question her by asking, “What do you seek?” Had they done so, they would have likewise been guilty of breaking custom by initiating conversation with a despised Samaritan woman. Nor did they question Jesus by asking, “Why do you speak with her?” There were gradually coming to understand that, though Jesus didn’t always do what people expected Him to do, He always did rightly, and always had a divine purpose in all the things that He did. When the woman went away, the disciples unpacked the lunch that they had gone to purchase for Jesus and urged Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But notice, Jesus did not say, “Oh, thanks My friends! Bagels and Lox, My favorite!” Like His ancestor David with his mighty men, Jesus refused to eat the food that these men had gone and acquired for Him. It wasn’t that Jesus, like David, considered Himself unworthy of such a sacrifice. As the fully divine God-man, Jesus is supremely worthy of all sacrifice and service that we can offer Him. Rather, Jesus says, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”

Imagine you are one of those disciples. Though you yourself are tired and hungry, you’ve gone a great distance into a sketchy town on the wrong side of the tracks, constantly looking around to make sure no one notices you breaking cultural customs, risking public humiliation, spending your own money, to buy Jesus a meal. You bring it back to Him and He says essentially, “Thanks but no thanks, I’m not really hungry. I’ve got some other food that you don’t know about.” Would you even know how to respond to that? They didn’t! They didn’t say a word to Him, but instead started murmuring to each other, “Who brought Him a sandwich? Where’d He get food? Did He have His own private stash that He didn’t tell us about?” They want to know, what is this food that Jesus has? Don’t you want to know? Well, let’s find out here in the text.

I. The food of Jesus is to do the will of His Father

Are there any foodies here? I remember some years ago when the cable company said they were adding a new channel to the lineup that was going to be entirely dedicated to food programs. I remember thinking, “Who wants to watch food shows all day?” Well, in short, foodies want to watch it, and the Food Network has become one of the most watched of all cable television channels. There’s a lot of foodies out there. Foodies love food. They love cooking, they love eating, they love restaurants, they love grocery stores, they love kitchens. They aren’t gluttons necessarily, they just love food. One foodie told me once, “I live to eat.” That’s interesting – he lives to eat. Only a few people would say that the live to eat, but all of us eat to live. We eat because our bodies need nutrients. God has designed our bodies to need food, and to amazingly transform the food we eat into energy that enables our bodies to do what they have to do for our survival. So we may not all live to eat, but we all eat to live. We eat so that we will have the sustenance to do what we have to do. Jesus, being not only fully God but also fully human, was not exempt from this. He experienced hunger just like we do. He ate food just like we do. But Jesus knew that, though man lives by bread, man does not live by bread alone. When He was tempted to turn a stone into bread in the wilderness, He responded to Satan by saying, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” He was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. There Moses was telling the people that God had humbled them as He led them through the wilderness, and He let them become hungry, and provided them with manna, in order to make them understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. The Word of God is more essential to your life than the food you eat.

Jesus says here that the food which sustains Him to do what He has to do is not bread or meat. Rather, doing what He has come to do sustains Him to do what He has come to do. His food, that which He needs, that which sustains Him, is “to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” He doesn’t need a sandwich. He sustained by obeying and fulfilling the mission which His Father had sent Him to accomplish. And what He had come to do was to announce to broken and sinful people that they could have eternal life in Him. He was doing that just now, with the Samaritan woman, and in so doing Jesus was enjoying a feast of sustenance that surpassed any buffet meal you could imagine. He didn’t need what the disciples had brought Him to eat; He was sustained by the doing of His Father’s will.

It’s a funny thing about food – sometimes we are eager to share our food with others and sometimes we are not. For example, if we go to an Indian restaurant and order different items, I will probably want to try yours and I will want you to try mine. And then there are those bizarre times that we eat something so bad that we say, “Oh, this is horrible! Here, taste it!” Why would anyone ever accept that offer? But, let’s say we are in Philadelphia at my favorite cheese-steak place, there’s no way you are getting a bite of my sandwich, and I don’t want any of yours. I know what I want there, and that’s what I ordered, and I’m going to eat every bite of it, and you can’t have any, so don’t even ask. But Jesus is not like that with the food that He has. His food is to do the will of His Father, and He delights to share this food with others. He finds joy in others being sustained by the doing of His Father’s will as well.

Remember that the woman has come to draw water. This was likely a daily routine for her. The water that she would draw every day would be used for drinking, for cooking, for cleaning, and for washing. It was essential. But once she meets Jesus and understands who He is and hears His offer of living water that can satisfy her in a way that no other water can, she leaves her waterpot behind (v28) and sets herself about the task of doing the Father’s will. She has not only been a hearer of the gospel of Jesus, she has become a proclaimer of this good news. She leaves the waterpot behind and goes into the city and says to everyone, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ is it?” Though she has not yet become totally aware of the full significance of who He is and what He has come to do, she has come to realize that the most important task she could set herself about is to introduce as many others as possible to this stranger. He knew all that could be known about her, including her sinful history, and offered her the gift of eternal life anyway. Surely others need to meet Him and hear this good news as well.

You may be like this woman. You may have a sinful past that brings you pain and shame, and wonder if God would ever accept you. But this woman is a beautiful illustration of grace, for in spite of her sins, the Lord Jesus offers her the living water that springs up into eternal life. Jesus came to rescue sinners! He did it for her, and He can do it for you. And though you may think that He could never use you to serve Him because of the things you have done, notice here how quickly and how effectively this woman finds herself in His service. She is involved in the mission of Jesus to take the saving promises of God to other sinners. She’s forgotten all about the reason she came to the well in the first place, and found her thirst quenched by the living water of Christ and her hunger satisfied by doing the Father’s will. And, let me tell you, if the Lord can use her, He can use me. And if He can use me, I know He can use you! It is often the case that “the most unlikely soul may prove the most effective witness” for Jesus.[1] So, the opportunity to be a part of God’s work in the world by sharing the good news of Jesus should not lay heavy on you like a burden. Rather, it should be welcomed as an offer of Jesus to share with you the marvelous food that sustains Him. This Samaritan woman was willing to walk away from her waterpot to tell everyone she could find about Jesus, and she found herself sustained by the food that Jesus has. Are we willing to put aside the things that preoccupy our minds, the things we think we cannot live without, the things we think sustain us, and share in the food that Jesus has?

II. The food that Jesus has is ready for harvest.

We met a family in Vermont that has recently moved from Boston to begin homesteading. They bought a farm and are trying to raise all their own food and become self-sufficient. I told them that if I were to try to do that, I would die of starvation. Some people have a green thumb; I guess I kind of have a brown thumb. Everything I’ve ever tried to grow has died. The produce section of the grocery store is about the closest I ever come to farming or gardening, so sometimes it is easy to forget when I sit down for a meal that the things I am eating had their beginnings on a farm somewhere. Your vegetables and fruit began as seeds in the ground. Your bread began as a seed that grew into a grain. There was sowing, and there was reaping, and there were other processes that brought those things to your table. And in a sense, the food that Jesus has is like that. It involves a process of sowing and reaping, and He says here that His food is ready for harvest.

Now, everyone who has ever grown anything knows that there is a time that passes between the time the seed is put in the ground and the time for harvesting. In verse 35, Jesus reminds the disciples of a commonly used saying in that day. He says, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months and then comes the harvest.’” That was the generally accepted time frame that would elapse between the last of the sowing and the first of the reaping. So, this became a saying that encouraged patience, much like we say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” They would say, “There are four months between the sowing and the harvest.” But Jesus is telling his disciples here that, though that may be true when it comes to growing normal food, the sustaining food of His Father’s will is not always like this. The seed of the Gospel that He has sown into the life of the Samaritan woman is bearing fruit already, and the seed that she has sown in the city is also growing ripe for harvest before their very eyes. Jesus is saying, “You don’t have to wait for this harvest! Lift up your eyes and look on the fields! They are white for harvest!” If the disciples would but just lift their eyes and look, they would see a multitude from the Samaritan city coming out to meet Jesus in response to the seed that had only just been planted by the woman. And this harvest was abundant. Verse 39 says that “from that city, MANY of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman.” The time for harvest was not four months away, it was now! Jesus said, “Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal.” The reaper of this harvest is not sitting idly by and waiting for something to happen. The time has come for the spiritual reaping of a harvest of souls who have received the good seed of the Gospel and eternal life is springing up before their very eyes.

No longer is the sower to be discouraged that he will not see the result of his back-breaking labor. No longer is the reaper to lose sight of the fact that others have labored before him to plow the ground and plant the seed. Jesus says that now the sower and the reaper rejoice together. The Lord had declared through the prophet Amos centuries before, “Behold, days are coming when the plowman will overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows seed.” And with the advent of the Messiah Jesus, that day has come. The seed of the Gospel can be sown in expectancy, knowing that in this seed is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16), and where it lands in good soil, a harvest is imminent. We don’t have to sit and wait, or be discouraged and wonder if the harvest will ever come. There is joy to be found in sowing, because we will see and share in the joy of reaping. One may sow and another may reap, but we rejoice together knowing that as we share the good news of Jesus with a world perishing in sin, we are engaged in doing the will of our Father and joining Jesus in His mission.

Jesus tells the disciples, “I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” While they were out getting sandwiches in town, Jesus was sowing Gospel seed. While they’ve been trying to figure out why Jesus was talking to that woman, and what kind of mystery meat He’s been hiding from them, the Samaritan woman has been sowing Gospel seed. Though they missed out on the sowing this time, Jesus says, “There is a harvest walking right toward us even now – many Samaritans – and you can be involved in the harvest.” Every time we have the opportunity to lead a soul to Jesus, we are joining in a work that God has been doing for a long time in that person’s life. Others have sown seed, the Holy Spirit has been moving in his or her heart, and we get to take part in the harvest. In the same way, even when we don’t get to see the harvest, we know that as we plant the seed of the Gospel into someone’s life, we are joining Jesus in His mission to redeem the world from sin and destruction. Nothing is more satisfying and sustaining that this! This is the food that sustains Jesus and He shares it with us by inviting us to join Him in this work.

I told you as we began today that one of my favorite stories about David was about how his mighty men risked their lives to bring him water from Bethlehem’s well. Another one of my favorite episodes from the life of David comes from 2 Samuel 9 and has to do with David’s kindness to the house of Saul. Though David had been despised by Saul as a threat and a rival, he had enjoyed a tremendous friendship with Saul’s son Jonathan. Saul and Jonathan had both died, and David was now the king, and one day he asked if there were any surviving members of the household of Saul that he might show kindness to on Jonathan’s behalf. He was told about Jonathan’s son who had been lame since childhood. His name was Mephibosheth, and when he was brought to David, the King welcomed him and promised to provide for him, and extended an open invitation to dine at the royal table regularly as if he was a son of the king. He had done nothing to deserve it. He was incapable of earning a place at that table, for the Bible tells us repeatedly that he was lame in both feet. But because of the kind mercy of the king, this lame and undeserving son of David’s enemy was welcome to partake of his food.

It would have been deemed highly inappropriate for Mephibosheth to ask for a place at the king’s table, and if he had, he could not have expected for his wish to be granted. In a similar way, the Samaritan people who had come out to Jesus did something that many would have considered inappropriate. Remember that Jews and Samaritans didn’t like each other. It was a mutual hatred. But these Samaritans urged this Jewish Messiah to stay with them! If that weren’t surprising enough, the Lord Jesus stayed with them two days. And during that time, He continued sowing and reaping, harvesting the food of His Father’s will and seeing eternal life sprouting all around the city. Though many had believed because of the testimony of the woman, verse 41 says that many more believed because of His word. Her words influenced them to believe in Him, but it was their personal encounter with Him that convinced them that He was the Savior, not of Jews or Samaritans alone, but the Savior of the entire world. It is a wonderful privilege to bring the good news of the Savior to a lost and dying world, but our testimony is only a starting point. The people with whom we sow the seed of the gospel must come to a place of personal encounter with the Lord Jesus and meet Him personally if they would truly know that Him as Savior.

Jesus has food that others know nothing about. His food is to do the will of His Father, to carry out the mission of bringing salvation to the world. He completed His work of redemption on the cross as He died for the sins of the world and conquered sin and death through His resurrection. Once we have met Him and trusted Him as Savior, He invites us to partake of His food, to join Him in this mission of redemption by sowing the seed of the gospel and reaping the harvest of eternal life as others place their trust in Him. Yet, so few of His people seem to be enjoying the satisfaction of this spiritual food. Why is that? There are some clues here in this text.

First, many of us are like the disciples, in that we just don’t get it. When Jesus talks about the food that He has, the disciples can’t think in any other categories besides the earthly and physical realm. They wonder who brought Him food. That’s the problem that some of us have. We are too fixated on the things of this world. Even now, some of us are looking at our watches and thinking, “Speaking of food, I wonder what’s for lunch today?” Little do we know that before we exit this building, there may be an opportunity to sow the seed of the Gospel, or to reap in the Gospel harvest and so to partake of a far more satisfying food than anything that we can put in our mouths at the lunch table. You are thinking you may starve to death if you have to wait ten more minutes for lunch. That’s simply not true. Studies show that you can go a lot longer without food than you think you can, and Jesus says that you can partake of the food of doing His Father’s will and find yourself sustained in unimaginable and seldom experienced ways. We must be ware of the subtle idolatries that surround us in the world – our preferences, our comforts, our personal desires. The Apostle Paul warns us against setting our minds on earthly things in Philippians 3:19, saying that those who do so serve their appetites as gods. We are thinking about the momentary satisfaction of a ham sandwich, when the eternally satisfying food of Christ is available to us if we will deny ourselves and join Him in His mission.  

Second, we are missing out on the food of Christ because we are not lifting our eyes and looking to the fields. We are discouraged, disappointed and dissatisfied with the things in our very small personal universes. Jesus says, “Lift up your eyes,” look beyond the immediate things and look upon the eternal things. Fix your eyes on the fields and see that God is bringing about a harvest in the world. Why don’t we see it? We are looking at ourselves, we are looking at each other, we are inspecting the other farmers and the barn while the harvest is ripe and rotting in the field. Wherever there is a church that is being torn apart by internal strife, I guarantee you that church has lost sight of the mission of Christ! If we were busy with the sowing of the Gospel seed and the reaping of the Gospel harvest, we would have no time, no energy, and no interest in bickering with each other about petty matters. Are you unsatisfied with your spiritual life, or with the spiritual atmosphere of the church? Then hear the Lord Jesus as He beckons you to lift up your eyes and look on the fields, and see that they are white for harvest! There is a satisfying and sustaining meal set before you – the food that Christ has – if you will join in His mission of salvation in the world, in this city, and in your own community! But you have to set your eyes on the harvest if you are going to participate in it. Where are you looking? What are you seeing?

In Luke 10:2, Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” And it is very interesting that in the very next verse, He says, “Go; behold, I send you out.” Do you want to see that harvest? Do you want to see souls coming to Jesus? He says that the harvest is ripe, but the laborers are few. Are you praying for God to send laborers into the harvest field? As you do, remember that you may very well be the answer to the prayer you are praying. He desires to send you out to join in this joyful task of sowing and reaping. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Are we not getting weary of living in this world among so many who are going to hell? Is it not terrible to think that after all the church is doing, thousands are being lost every day? We ought to bestir ourselves for men’s souls.”[2] Yes, we must bestir ourselves for souls, and join Christ in the harvest by sowing and reaping and find ourselves strengthened, sustained, and satisfied by His food that the world knows nothing about.

[1] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel and Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970, 1983), 1:115.
[2] Charles Spurgeon, The Power of Prayer in a Believer’s Life, quoted but not cited in unpublished lecture notes from my own Evangelism class, taught at Winston-Salem Bible College and SBC Seminary Extension. 

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