John 4:31-42 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.”
You might remember that John 4 begins by explaining that Jesus and His disciples were heading from Judea (Jewish land in the south) to Galilee (Jewish land in the north), by way of Samaria (the land of enemies of Jews). Along the way, in Samaria, they came to Jacob’s well (4:6). Tired from the journey, but more importantly in order to keep a divine appointment, Jesus sat down and rested while the disciples went into “the city to buy food” (4:8). While he was resting, a woman from Samaria “came [to that well] to draw water” (4:7). This was Jesus’ divine appointment. He offered her “living water” (salvation), described the superiority of New Covenant worship, and in the process revealed Himself as the Christ implicitly (4:18) and explicitly (4:26). “Just then” (a phrase clearly indicating that it was an act of divine providence) the disciples came back with the food they’d purchased as the woman was leaving to tell her townspeople about her amazing encounter with Jesus (4:27-29). In between when the woman left and when the townspeople returned to Jesus to check Him out for themselves (4:30), Jesus and His disciples had a brief opportunity to talk. That is where we pick up in v.31.
In our text for this morning, John recounts a bit more of the story in Samaria. It has two scenes. The first involves Jesus and His disciples interacting about different kinds of food. The setting is Jacob’s well. And the main point is that there is supernatural nourishment in Christian obedience. The second involves Jesus and several Samaritans who had heard about Him from the woman at the well. The scene takes place both near Jacob’s well and then back in Sychar. And the main point is that Jesus is the Savior of the whole world, not just the Jews. Combined, we see the big idea of the passage: Followers of Jesus must share the gospel to the very ends of the earth, to people of every tribe, tongue, and nation, in the power God provides.
Let’s pray that God would be pleased to use this text to fill us with conviction, confidence, and power to proclaim Christ to all the earth.
SCENE ONE: SUPERNATURAL FOOD FOR EVANGELISM (31-38)
We aren’t told precisely how long it was between the woman’s leaving and the townspeople’s returning, but since the town was (probably) only around a half mile away, it likely wasn’t very long. In the brief moments when they were alone, Jesus and His disciples had an interesting conversation.
Remember, part of the reason Jesus stopped at the well in the first place was because He was “wearied…from His journey” (4:6). And the reason the disciples weren’t there all along was because they had gone into town to buy food. In other words, Jesus was hungry and thirsty when He first stopped. Understandably, therefore, when the disciples returned with food sometime later they encouraged—even urged—Jesus to eat (31). Never one to miss a teaching opportunity, however, Jesus replied in a way that simultaneously highlighted His mission and confused His disciples. “But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.'”
I don’t want to read too much into this and I don’t want to distract with a joke when Jesus clearly wasn’t making one, but it’s hard not to laugh when we imagine ourselves in the place of the disciples. Certainly, if Jesus was tired and thirsty from the journey, so too were the disciples. While He “rested” at the well, they were the ones to travel an additional mile to get provisions. Just picture the scene. After all of that, they finally get back to Jesus and offer Him food and He tells them that He already has some.
Looking around at each other they asked, “Did you already give Him some?” “No. Did you?” “Who did it?” “Did someone beat us to it?” “Jesus, are you playing with us? Did you have something in your pocket all along? Did you turn lint into bread like you turned water into wine? What in the world?”
We haven’t come all that far since then, have we? We too are dense and slow to understand. Even though we have the whole Bible (not just the OT as they did) and the Holy Spirit in us (not just with us as they did), we’re still prone to boneheaded readings of the Bible and missing things that are right in front of us. Let us consider the disciples and go the way of humility. Let us be people who read God’s Word on our knees. Let us be people who are slow to speak and quick to listen. Let us be a people who are not wise in our own eyes. And let us be a people eager to carve out wide swaths of grace for one another as we wrestle through God’s will for our lives.
Graciously, Jesus did not leave them in the dark for long. Essentially, He told them, “No. Not that kind of food. I have a better, more satisfying food. The kind that I never have to go without and always satisfies. A special kind from my Father.” Literally, he said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me to accomplish His work” (34).
Grace, there is a principle here with so much power and glory that is almost impossible to overstate. I’ll state it simply, unpack it a bit, and then give a brief example.
The principle is this: God graciously gives supernatural nourishment through obedience to His commands. Let’s briefly consider each clause within that principle.
God Graciously Gives
First, and most importantly, as Jesus makes plain, the nourishment of obedience is a gift from God. It is not deserved or earned and it is not the result of some law of nature. It is entirely an act of divine grace.
Second, the nourishment of obedience is supernatural. This is the one that stands out to me the most. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt at the end of myself, as though I had nothing more to give, and so I’ve shut down for the day. I’ve imagined that there was no way I could talk to one more person or pray one more prayer. I felt in my bones that my power was spent, so I’d veg out or go to sleep.
The key to understanding this clause is in recognizing that I was right in a certain sense. I truly might not have had anything more to give. My strength probably had been spent. My only rational choice was to do what I did: stop. Anything else just wouldn’t have made earthly sense. But, again, Jesus wasn’t talking about earthly sense. He wasn’t talking about rational choices. He wasn’t talking about human strength. Jesus spoke of supernatural nourishment.
Of course, God made us finite. This isn’t to suggest that we don’t have limits. But it is to suggest that God has promised power in obedience that goes beyond our limits.
Third, by supernatural “nourishment,” I mean (as Jesus meant), spiritual food, divine strength, heavenly sustenance. The nourishment of obedience gives true power and energy that satisfies beyond what any earthly food or drink can do.
Have you ever been on a several day or week long back country backpacking trip? If so, you know the unique hunger that produces. There’s not much quite like the joy and there’s little that reenergizes quite like a big meal right after that. You feel as if you are at the end of yourself and to sit down to a spread of food fills you like nothing else. The supernatural nourishment that God gives through obedience is like that, but much more. It goes beyond the belly and fills the soul.
The fourth clause contains an important key. Jesus said that His food was through obedience, not for obedience (another example of the power of prepositions). This means that (contrary to what we might like), we don’t get the supernatural nourishment first, so that we can obey. It means, rather, that we obey and from/through the obedience comes supernatural nourishment.
It feels like we’re at the end of ourselves, and often we are. It seems like we can’t obey, and on our own we often can’t. But things aren’t always how they feel or seem. The point here is that God works differently. When an opportunity to obey God presents itself—when an unbeliever is open to hearing the gospel, for instance—but it seems like you’re all out of gas, obey anyway and you will be given strength that could not come from anywhere but God.
Like the Israelites who wanted to store up manna rather than trust in God to provide it each day, so too do we often want to store up divine strength. In both cases, the idea is to trust in the stores rather than the God who gives them. This type of supernatural nourishment, like the manna in the wilderness cannot be stored however. It comes as a result of trusting in God, not in order that we might. God certainly does offer other kinds of grace that comes first, but this is not that.
Again, it is through obedience (on the other side of it), rather than for it.
To His Commands
Finally, fifth, God graciously gives supernatural nourishment through obedience to His commands. He doesn’t give it through whatever we might feel like doing and slapping His name on it. He doesn’t give it through obedience to man-made rules. He gives it through actual obedience to His actual commands.
In this, Jesus’ words find their proper place as an echo of Moses words in Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” It is obedience to the actual Words, the commands, of God that provide supernatural nourishment.
In our text for this morning, in this first scene, the specific obedience to the specific command is to preach the good news of the kingdom to the whole world. The specific command was to evangelize. And along those lines, I mentioned that I’d give a specific example.
I felt this long before I had the words to describe it. It came from doing evangelism when I was not out to do evangelism. I’d be in Menards or the grocery store or getting a haircut or on a plane or something like that. I’d be focused on a task and was often spent from a long day of ministry. Somehow an opportunity would present itself to share the gospel with someone and all I could think of was that I was too tired and didn’t have it in me.
Evangelistic conversations are often hard and can be draining in the moment. Most people just aren’t interested in the gospel, much less considering their entire lives in light of it. Consequently, I’ve often (usually sinfully), let the opportunities pass believing I just didn’t have enough left to carry that weight.
Occasionally, however, I’ll say a quick prayer and do my best. And here’s where all of this comes to a head. I’m here to tell you that 100% of the time, when I actually share the gospel, I leave it feeling like I just ate a full meal and had a great nap. I’m filled with a sense of rightness and joy and thankfulness that just doesn’t make sense. What I thought I was unable to do, or at best, what would drain every last drop I had left, actually (truly) left me feeling a deep, deep refreshment that just moments ago seemed impossible. That is God’s gift of supernatural nourishment.
Frustratingly, I often forget the supernatural nourishment in between obediences, but when it comes to evangelism in particular, it always comes on the other side such that I’ve learned to pray, “God help me to remember how I feel after evangelism, before I evangelize.”
Grace, God graciously gives supernatural nourishment through obedience to His commands.
With that principle in mind, Jesus went on to explain a bit more about how His followers were to use the supernatural nourishment that would come from their evangelistic obedience; namely, to engage in more evangelism.
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.
Grace, your home, your neighborhood, and the entire world contain people who do not know the saving grace of God, who have not yet been reconciled to God through faith in Jesus. But you must fight to believe, in light of what Jesus says here and the rest of the Bible confirms, that among those unbelieving people are many who will receive the gospel immediately when we share it with them. In fact, to be as clear as possible on this point, Jesus explained that although there’s usually a significant gap between when a seed is planted and when it is harvested, they were about to reap a harvest immediately.
Again, the main points for us to see here is that we must share the gospel because God has people throughout the entire world who are ready to receive it in faith, and that as we do, God will give us supernatural nourishment so that we might do it over and over again.
As the Samaritans approached and the first scene was coming to a close, Jesus gave one more principle; namely, that God means us to do this together as a fellowship of saints and that when we do, there’s even more supernatural nourishment available still. God does not mean us to evangelize the world on our own. All of God’s people have different gifts and experiences and knowledge and skills needed to bring the gospel to the world, that all might hear and believe. And when we share in that work, we receive the added nourishment of shared joy. That’s the heart of vs. 36-38.
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.”
All of this was already happening, Jesus told His disciples…in them! They were already serving in the supernatural nourishment of God as they worked together to proclaim the message of the kingdom. And they were already sharing in the supernatural nourishment of the joy of doing so together. And not only that small band, but also with Abraham, Moses, and John the Baptist who had all planted seeds of faith among the Samaritans. Awesome.
And at that, the first scene comes to a close as the townspeople arrive.
SCENE TWO: THE SAVIOR OF THE WHOLE WORLD (39-42)
As I’ve mentioned a number of times already, John’s chief concern in his Gospel was not chronology. His chief concern was to convince people that Jesus was the Christ and that in Him is eternal life. For that reason, his Gospel emphasizes stories that show the Christness of Jesus, while being fairly unclear on the actual timing of things. Again, then, we’re not sure exactly how long it was between the Samaritan woman leaving and the crowd returning. (The plainest reading of John suggests that it was mere hours, but we can’t be certain). Regardless, their arrival is important to John because it’s another opportunity to help his readers see and appreciate the love and power and wisdom and glory of Jesus.
As impressed and awed as she was with Jesus, the Samaritan woman at the well couldn’t keep the news to herself. She had to share it and wonder aloud with her people, “Can this be the Christ?” (4:29). And as a result, as v.39 says, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.'” That’s what drove them out to Jacob’s well to see Jesus for themselves.
Once again, we’re not told how long Jesus and the crowd from Sychar talked at the well, but apparently, it was long enough to convince them enough to entreat Jesus to come back to their homes to teach them more.
I hope the first sermon I gave on this passage is ringing in your ears. This is shocking on many levels. Jesus shouldn’t have been there since Jews don’t associate with Samaritans, since they were bitter enemies. Jesus shouldn’t have spoken to the woman. He shouldn’t have revealed Himself to her as the Christ. The townspeople shouldn’t have listened to her since she was such an immoral woman. And Jesus shouldn’t have gone back to Sychar with them. But God is not contained by “shouldn’ts”.
And so Jesus loved His enemies, even the most sinful and vulnerable among them. He went to them instead of waiting on them to come to Him. He spoke words of life and they received it in faith. And He even allowed them to host him for two days.
40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days.
In this passage, and in this scene in particular, for the first explicit time, it becomes clear that Jesus’ was not only the Christ and the Christ of the Jews, but He was/is the Chrost of the whole world. Jesus’ saving work would truly be for everyone who would receive Him. Not only would the Samaritans believe in Jesus, but He would receive them as well. His coming was good news for the Jew first, but also for the gentile.
The end result, then, is that this group believed when so many others hardened their hearts. And more remarkable still is that their belief was accepted by God, making them spiritual descendents of Abraham even though they were not physical descendent.
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.”
The most likely (Jews) rejected Jesus. The least likely (the Samaritans) received Him. Marvel at the grace of God, flowing out of the love of God for the world, and expressed primarily in sending His Son such that whoever believes in Him will never perish, but have eternal life!
Followers of Jesus must share the gospel—the good news of salvation in Jesus—to the very ends of the earth, to people of every tribe, tongue, and nation, in the gracious, supernatural power God provides. Salvation came from the Jews, but it is for the whole world. Jesus is truly that Savior of the world!
Trust in Him today, Grace. Believe in His name. And then tell the whole world about Him. Do it alongside the people of God and be filled with supernatural nourishment of obedience and shared joy!