I Sent You to Reap (John 4:27-42)
You may remember that last time we talked about Jesus Christ as cross-cultural bridge-builder.b Of course, when we think about the ministry of Jesus as a whole, it's easy to see that he was a bridge-builder with every lost soul, regardless of the social or cultural barriers that might be present. But our last study together provided us with an especially potent picture of Jesus as he ministered to a woman from Samaria. I do hope that story both comforted you as one to whom Jesus also built a bridge of grace, but also inspired you as someone surrounded by individuals who are just as needy today as that woman was then.
But what became of this woman? Jesus revealed that he knew about troubling details of her life. But in verse 26, he also confirmed for her that he was, in fact, the long-awaited Messiah. So what did she do in light of all this? Well, turn back to John 4, and let's find out. Look at v. 27.
II. The Passage: “...That for Which You Did Not Labor” (4:27-42)
So coming out of the account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, this is what we read...
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?”  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?”  They went out of the town and were coming to him.  Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.”  But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”  So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?”  Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.  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.  Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.  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.”  Many Samaritans from that town believed in him 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 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.”
This morning, I'd like us to reflect on this passage by grounding ourselves in just one verse; in fact, just one half of one verse: look again at the beginning of verse 38: “I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor.” That statement should inspire a number of questions. For example...
Who is Jesus speaking to in that verse? Well the passage makes it clear that Jesus is addressing his hungry disciples, who have just come back from the village of Sychar with some food for themselves and their hungry teacher. But please ask yourself this: “While Jesus is clearly speaking to these disciples in verse 38, is he, in some sense, also speaking to every disciple, both then and now?” That is, when we read these words this morning, is the Holy Spirit speaking today to every follower of Christ, proclaiming, “I sent you to reap...”?
I believe He is. I believe the work described in this passage is the same work each of us are called to participate in according to the New Testament (and that's in fulfillment of God's call to the Israelites in the Old Testament, to be a “kingdom of priests” among the nations). I'm not going to spend time this morning defending this belief that the work described here is, in fact, the work of every believer in every generation. I've done that many other times in many other places. Instead, let's simply start with that idea and dig down, in light of the context here.
We'll talk more about the specifics of this reaping, but for now, I believe it's helpful for us to ask, “What did Jesus mean when he said, I sent you to reap... that for which you did not labor.” I think there are two biblical answers to that question, one being situational, and the other being spiritual.
Situationally, the disciples were called to “reap that for which [they] did not labor” in the sense that both Jesus and the woman were the only messengers, the only truth-proclaimers in this situation. Jesus had shared the truth with this Samaritan woman, and in response she, wonderfully, went and shared the truth with her Samaritan neighbors. They had both sowed the seed of the word, and now, the presently confused disciples would be involved in the reaping.
But when we think about this idea spiritually, I think the New Testament reminds us that every bit of “reaping” we do as believers comes from a work for which we can claim no credit. Using the same agrarian imagery, Paul touched on both of these situational and spiritual realities, not among Samaritans, but among the Corinthians:
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (I Cor. 3:5–7)
Of course, the NT reveals that God does more than just give the growth. Paul described God's work, from beginning to end, in Romans 8:29–30...
For those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined [that's before the foundation of the world] to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
So spiritually, or we might say ultimately, disciples of Jesus are always reaping that for which they did not labor. And praise God for that! Though we are called to be faithful, we are not powerful... not even close to powerful enough or clever enough or determined enough to change another person's life in the way that matters most.
So keeping this in mind, look back with me at our main text and think about several ideas that help us understand more about this work of reaping. I think the first point helps us understand more about the nature of reaping. Starting at the end, I think we see in vs. 39-42 that...
1. Reaping Means Gathering for and to Christ (vs. 39-42)
Because of the woman's testimony, Jesus has gotten the attention of a large number of Samaritans. Now notice what he does. Unlike the scores of people in the Gospels who have a fleeting, but transformative encounter with Christ, Jesus actually stays in this town for two more days, according to verse 40. And look at the results: not only did “many more believe because of his word” (v. 41), but (v. 42), those who did believe grew in their faith: “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.”
Now, although John does not mention it explicitly, I'm guessing the disciples were also involved in this reaping among the Samaritans; just as they had been involved with baptizing for Jesus, according to verse 2 of this chapter. And if we fast forward in time, we read this in Acts 8 about what happened several years later, after Jesus' death, resurrection, and return to the Father...
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God [through Philip's ministry], they sent to them Peter and John,  who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit,  for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit... when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans. (8:14-17, 25)
So again, many years later, Peter and John found themselves reaping in light of Philip's work of sowing gospel seeds. I believe this was also a fulfillment of Jesus' words in John 4:38.
But what about you? Are you looking for those who are curious about or captivated by Jesus? Are you praying that God would bring them onto your path? Do you want to be prepared when He does, so that you can gather them in, to a fullness of faith, to a deeper knowledge of this Jesus who has gotten their attention? This is often how Jesus works; as he said, “I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor.” But we're also reminded here that...
2. Reaping Extends Beyond Our Boundaries (v. 27)
We see in verse 27 the same dynamic we talked about last time. The disciples are amazed that Jesus, a rabbi, was talking with a woman, especially a Samaritan woman. But instead of attempting to learn more and attempting to encourage her with their own testimonies, they remain silent. You see, they had certain social boundaries they would not cross... even when they saw Jesus modeling something very different.
If we were sent to reap souls for Christ, are we limiting the options and paring down the possibilities in light of our own boundaries? Boundaries informed by what's comfortable? By what's familiar? By a certain kind of upbringing? By personal or political affinities? By likability or level of difficulty? May God open our hearts to all people, at all times. That leads to a third idea:
3. Reaping Calls Us to Look with New Eyes (vs. 35-36)
In verse 35, Jesus called his followers to “Look... lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” Reapers need to know when it's time to reap, don't they?
The eyes to see that “fields are white for harvest” are eyes that only God can give (BTW, Jesus may have been referring to the approaching Samaritans in their white garments). Through his Holy Spirit, God can give us the spiritual sensitivity, the spiritual discernment to know where someone is on that path of faith, conversion, and maturity. If you are not already doing so, ask God to give you those eyes; that sensitivity; that discernment.
Verse 35 is a call to action, isn't it? “Look... lift up your eyes”. Shouldn't we respond to that call by prayerfully surveying the people God has placed in our circles, both inside and outside the church? But let me encourage you with one more observation about reaping...
4. Reaping Should Be Deeply Fulfilling (vs. 31-34)
To sow the seed of truth and then reap precious souls was not a burden to Jesus (let me say that again). Such work was deeply fulfilling; so much so that He described it as “food”. Why was it so 'ful-filling' or 'filling'? Verse 34... Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” To do the will of the Father should be a delight for his children. It can often be hard. But it shouldn't be heavy. John himself said this beautifully in one of this letters: For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (I John 5:3)
If the work of sowing or reaping in the lives of people around us is not fulfilling, but instead a burden, it's very important that we talk to God about why that is. What in us does God need to refine? How might we need to be comforted... or corrected? As those who have been reaped in the harvest of God's incomparable grace, it should be our joy to be used in that same work.
III. Sowing and Reaping
When we think about what we've learned from John chapter 4 thus far, I think 'sowing' and 'reaping' are great ways to sum it all up. Sowing is faithfully declaring the truth about Jesus. Reaping is gathering in the harvest that sowing so often produces. In some cases, I think it can simply means helping people move forward with what they already know about Jesus. But more often, I think it means welcoming and walking with those in whom God is working. I think it involves grounding and guiding and guarding new believers.
That might sound 'beyond your pay grade', but please know that it ultimately means just being an encourager. All of us can encourage others toward faith and in faith. For example, a coworker may have heard about Jesus through social media or from a family member, but maybe God will use you to give that person a Bible or share your own story about meeting Jesus or inviting them to church. And then, maybe that leads to doing a simply Bible study with that coworker. Who knows what God might have in store.
But remember, both sowing and reaping often involve bridge-building: moving out of the comfortable and familiar in order to connect with others for Christ, in order to connect others to Christ. Follower of Jesus, please remember the words of Jesus: “I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor.” What a joy to know we too can be involved in the most important work in the universe. And what a comfort to know that, ultimately, God is laboring as he fulfills his perfect plan. I pray that I've encouraged you this morning, maybe towards faith for some of you, and in faith for others. Let's pray and ask God to help us as those sent.