Thursday, November 20, 2008

John 4:27-42

The Disciples Rejoin Jesus

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, "What do you want?" or "Why are you talking with her?"

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?" 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, "Rabbi, eat something."

32 But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about."

33 Then his disciples said to each other, "Could someone have brought him food?"

34 "My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don't you have a saying, 'It's still four months until harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now those who reap draw their wages, even now they harvest the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying 'One sows and another reaps' is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor."

Many Samaritans Believe

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I ever did." 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."

Dig Deeper

For the longest time I used to laugh at people who bought merchandise because they had seen an infomercial late night on television. Most of those infomercials were so funny and cheesy that I couldn't imagine why anyone would buy anything from them. Then, one night I couldn't sleep and there was nothing else on TV so I started watching one. I still thought it was cheesy, but it was strangely fascinating to watch too. From that point on, for a while, I watched all of the infomercials whenever I couldn't sleep. One night, though, I found one that wasn't cheesy. It seemed like a good product, and then it happened. I did the unthinkable. I ordered this powdered cleaning product that seemed like it was wonderful. When it arrived in the mail, I was perhaps surprised to discover that it was that good. It really worked as well as they claimed it would. After that, I took great joy in not only telling people about the produce, but whenever someone came over to our house, I would pour some Kool-Aid on our carpet so that they could see this product take the stain out easily. When you've really found something that works, telling people about it is one thing, and it might gain their interest for a moment, but they really need to see it and experience it for themselves in order to believe in it.

Oftentimes, when people are first confronted with the truth of Jesus, as the Samaritan woman was, they are confrontational or want to resist it, just as she did. Yet, for many people there is a point when they suddenly break into the realm of belief and they understand, at lest to some level, that which they previously could not or would not. Once people have truly broken through their unbelief and moved into belief, a drastic change takes place. Suddenly, rather than not wanting to talk about spiritual things, they actually want to tell everyone about them. That witness is a wonderful and irreplaceable thing, yet they must still have their own encounter with Jesus in order to truly come into a belief of their own. This was as true for the other Samaritans in the village as it is for us today.

One thing we learn from the Gospels is that Jesus was never a careless person. He never haphazardly did things without thinking them through carefully. About a year ago, I read an article from a pastor on the West coast that claimed that Jesus was reckless and so should his followers be. He, quite frankly, couldn't have been more wrong. So when Jesus did things that went so strongly against social convention, we can only assume that he was doing them on purpose. His disciples, though, seem no less shocked to find Jesus having a conversation with a woman in public, a Samaritan woman at that. Yet, whether it was out of fear, respect, or the fact that they knew Jesus had a penchant for challenging certain customs that they just didn't always understand, they didn't question him on the unseemly conversation. We get the feeling that they sure wanted to though.

Just as we are beginning to wonder about why the disciples may not have questioned Jesus, though, John turns our attention to the turning point of this whole account. He left us hanging a bit with the interlude of verse 27, following Jesus' revelation that he was the Messiah. Perhaps it was to give us a moment to catch our breath and take in that truth, so that we can identify with this woman, who must have been taken aback. She came to get water and, in the process, avoid people if she could, yet now this encounter with Jesus has caused her to leave her water jar, and to run back to town to tell the people about Jesus. She's still in doubt a bit as she asks, could this be the Messiah? But it seems that, even in her sate of not being totally sure, the faith that has taken root has overcome her doubt. Her reaction demonstrates an absolute truth about a true encounter with Jesus Christ. When we really have an encounter with him and come to a realization of who he is, it turns our doubt to faith and it changes our priorities. This woman came for water, but all she could think about was telling others about Jesus. For those of us who have been Christians for awhile, we need to remember that truth just as much as a new Christian. Sometimes there are things that we get focused on apart from Jesus and we just need to have an encounter with him, leave our water jar and go tell people about him and what he has done for us.

Just as Nicodemus and the woman at the well, were focused on earthly things and couldn't immediately grasp the deeper, heavenly things that Jesus was talking of, so it goes with his disciples as they return. They want him to eat as it was customary for disciples to attend to the physical needs of their teacher. Jesus, though, as he so often does, takes the opportunity to teach them something about his relationship with God. People need food to provide sustenance, but Jesus' food, the thing that gave him sustenance and kept him going was doing the will of God who sent him and to finish his work. The primary spiritual battle can be boiled down to a pull between doing our own will and doing God's will. Adam and Eve brought sin into the world by doing their own will and rejecting God's. In fact, humans were made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) to do God's will but have all sinned and failed to be fully human by failing to do God's will. Sin is the exaltation of our own will and the failure to do God's. Jesus came to be the perfect human being, though. He came to be the one that would do the will of the Father. This is why he often declared that he came to do the work that the Father had for him to do (cf. 5:30; 6:38; 7:18; 8:50; 0:4; 10:37-38; 12:49, 50; 14:31; 15:10; 17:4).

What is the specific aspect of God's will to which Jesus is referring? The fact that he came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), sacrificing for the benefit of others rather than meeting his own needs. Jesus is not implying that it's somehow wrong to eat, but that doing God's will should take primary importance in someone's life. To make his point, Jesus appeals to what was probably a local saying. It's still four months until the harvest, which probably was a local idiom that got across the point that you can't rush things. Growth is slow sometimes and it cannot be forced. Yet, this was not going to be true for them. There was no time to worry about themselves because all they had to do was open their eyes and look at the fields that were ripe for harvest. Perhaps, when Jesus said that, he looked up and saw the harvest, the Samaritans that had heard from the woman at the well, coming towards them. It's hard to tell exactly what Jesus had in mind as he referred to the sower and the reaper, but his point is probably that all of the prophets, including John the Immerser, have done the hard work of sowing, and now he and his disciples were going to reap the harvest. It wouldn't be a matter of earthly priorities where the sower might get angry that someone else is reaping because this crop is the life of the age to come. They sowed knowing that others would reap and that time has now come. The Messiah is here and they get to share in that work. He has sent his disciples to reap what they have not worked for. Others did the hard work and they will reap the benefits of their labor.

The Samaritan women that just a few minutes earlier, was likely ostracized and wanted as little as possible to do with the people in her own town, now has run towards them with the most exciting news that she has ever encountered in her entire life. She may have met the Messiah. In her excitement, she seems to have overstated things a bit by saying that Jesus told her everything she ever did. We shouldn't view this as being deceptive at all though. It's simply a case of excited hyperbole which gets her point across well. This man knows things that average human beings do not. At the behest of her testimony they are intrigued and want to here more so they run and keep asking Jesus to stay with them until he agrees. He spends not one day but two days. Once you think you may have finally found the light you don't want to let go. They need to spend time with him for themselves, after all. Hearing the testimony of someone else can be important and lead us towards Christ, but faith is not faith if it continues to rely on the testimony or beliefs of someone else. We must experience Christ for ourselves if it is to become our own faith and our own testimony.

While Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel, continued to blindly feel around in the dark, looking for the truth that he just couldn't seem to find, the hated Samaritans have had the truth revealed to them and they have embraced it. This man that spent two days with them, really is the Savior of the world.

Devotional Thought

When is the last time that you had a personal encounter with Jesus during your prayer, your worship, or your Bible reading time that you "left your water jar at the well"? When is the last time you went running off and didn't care about your old worries anymore, but wanted to tell whoever would listen about Jesus? Perhaps it's worth pondering the direct correlation of the first situation to the second one.

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