Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
The moving of the Samaritans toward Jesus is now used by Him to illustrate the urgency and fruitfulness of the work to which He is calling the disciples.
John 4:35 ASay not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.@
Jesus quoted a common agricultural proverb, using it as a contrast and comparison between physical and spiritual matters. In these verses, Jesus pointed out similarities and dissimilarities between physical and spiritual harvests.
ALook on the fields@ may have been prompted by the sight of the Samaritans thronging to Jesus. This Gentile ingathering gave Jesus a vision of a world to be harvested. Samaritans were firstfruits of a large world-wide harvest yet to come.
This revival in Samaria gave Jesus a partial taste of what His work would later accomplish on a grander scale. To Jesus it was exciting, but spiritual delight in the conversion of Samaritans was new to the disciples. This was beyond them.
G. Campbell Morgan wrote, AIf those disciples had been appointed a commission of enquiry as to the possibilities of Christian enterprise in Samaria, I know exactly the resolution they would have passed. The resolution would have been Samaria unquestionably needs our Master=s message, but it is not ready for it. There must first be ploughing, then sowing, and then waiting. It is needy, but it is not ready.@
The same attitude often prevails today. We look on the masses and see their need, but claim by our actions their unreadiness. The need itself bespeaks readiness. God wants to win the people of our city. It is time to bestir ourselves away from relaxation with regard to the unregenerate. We must acquire a sense of urgency for the lost. They are wandering aimlessly, away from God. We alone have the solution.
Under normal circumstances, the one who sows is usually the same person who after a while reaps his own crop. In this detail, the spiritual harvest often differs from the norm. The next three verses provide three different possibilities for spiritual sowing and harvesting.
John 4:36 AAnd he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal, that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.@
Sometimes spiritual sowing and reaping occur simultaneously. It is rare and incredible when sowers and harvesters are able to rejoice at the same time. In a physical harvest, sowing is separated from reaping by an interval of several months. Spiritual sowing and reaping may be simultaneous. The Gospel seed often falls into hearts where it remains long hidden, but sometimes it immediately springs up and bears fruit.
To the Jews, sowing time was sad and laborious. Harvesting brought joy. They dreamed of an age to come when there would be such fertility that sowing and reaping would overlap. ABehold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed@ (Amos 9:13). AYour threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time@ (Leviticus 26:5).
Seeing the Samaritans coming to Him, Jesus could say this longed-for golden age had dawned. But the crop was not grain. It was people. Those who win souls for Christ are at work on something with everlasting consequences. His work, which we are called to do, is for us to lead others to enjoy with us Heaven forever.
A harvest of lost souls spawns huge celebration in the reaper, not only over our reward at the Last Day and in heaven, but also a joy here, the joy of harvest. Paul said, AYe are our glory and joy@ (I Thessalonians 2:20). Lest we think this celebration will always be the norm, Jesus clarifies in verse 37.
John 4:37 AAnd here is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth.@
This is a more difficult aspect of Jesus= sowing illustration. Sometimes a person must laboriously sow without ever doing much reaping.
Jesus Himself provided our best example of this. In His death, He sowed seed that would make world-wide reaping possible, but the harvesting was done by the disciples, not by Jesus Himself.
The disciples also would later do much sowing on which they never did any reaping. They scattered much seed they never saw blossom. We are again reminded, our joy must be in the work itself.
John 4:38 AI sent you to reap that on which ye bestowed no labor; other men labored, and ye are entered into their labors.@
Sometimes the reaper wasn=t the one who sowed. The disciples reaped in places where they did not sow. AOther men labored@ probably alludes to lawgivers, priests, prophets, and other believers who preceded Christ=s coming.
The reaper is not everything. There has to be a sower. None can brag the harvest is dependent on them solely. Credit must always be shared with others.
Whether in the labor of sowing or joy of reaping, our calling is to be faithful. Whatever our lot, keep laboring and always appreciate the efforts of others.
There is no place for despair in the Christian life. Sowers must carry on, though others will rejoice from their labors. Sowing is not wasted. Others will see the result of our efforts.
Harvest time is busy time, with effort expended almost exclusively on bringing in the harvest. Energies are devoted to other matters only in emergencies.
In 130 AD Rabbi Tarfon, speaking to a different subject, said something appropriate for us in light of these verses, AThe day is short, the task is great, the laborers are idle, the wage is abundant, the master of the house is urgent.@ Let=s awaken and live as if we are in harvest time, for we are.