For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him, as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
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?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him. 31 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.”
Before I pray for God’s help, let me show you from the text why prayer is so needed right now. For the fourth time in this Gospel, John shows us the spiritual blindness that Jesus deals with in us humans almost all the time—either because we are dead in our sin and unbelieving and need to be born again, or because as believers our spiritual eyes have grown dim and unresponsive to the glory of Christ because of worldliness.
Four Glimpses of Our Blindness
First, in John 2:19, Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” And the Jews said to him, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” They had no spiritual sight for what Jesus was talking about, namely, his own death and resurrection. They were blind to the glory of what he was revealing—that he himself is the presence of God more than the temple is, and that when he rises from the dead, from then on, he will be the place where people meet God.
Second, in John 3:3 Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Nicodemus had no spiritual sight of what Jesus was talking about, namely, there is a second birth that is spiritual. It brings into being something that did not exist before in you—a living spirit and the ability to see the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Third, in John 4:10, Jesus says to the woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” And the woman says to Jesus, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep.” She has no spiritual sight of what Jesus is talking about, namely, the supernatural spiritual life that that comes from receiving Christ himself—indeed, the supernatural life that he himself is.
And fourth, here in our text, John 4:31, his disciples say to Jesus, “Rabbi, eat.” And Jesus says to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” And the disciples said to each other, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” They had no spiritual sight of what he was talking about. Verse 34: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
- I will raise this temple in three days. It took 46 years to build this temple.
- You must be born again. How can a man enter into his mother’s womb?
- I will give you living water. You don’t have a bucket.
- I have food to eat you do not know about. Who brought him something to eat?
We Need Holy-Spirit Help
Why does John keep showing us this pathetic response to the glory that Jesus reveals? He does it, first, to remind us over and over that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, so that we might see his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth . . . and from that fullness, that we might receive grace upon grace” (John 1:14, 16).
And he does it, second, to remind us that without the mighty working of the Holy Spirit in our lives we are spiritually blind and dull and unresponsive—just like the Jews, and Nicodemus, and the woman at the well, and the disciples.
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). We need the mighty, sovereign, life-giving, eye-opening, heart-wakening work of the Holy Spirit. That’s why we need to pray.
Father, have mercy upon our worldly, deadened, numb, unseeing, unresponsive, hearts. Breathe spiritual life into our souls. Open the eyes of our hearts. Shed divine, spiritual light into our minds. Awaken our Spirit-given ability to see and taste and know and understand and treasure the glory of Christ in your word. In his merciful and strong name, we pray. Amen.
Three Parts—With Explanation in the Middle
The way John tells the rest of this story about the woman at the well is very interesting. He deals with what happens to the woman and the town of Sychar in two parts at the beginning and the end of this text. And in the middle, between those two parts he gives us the words of Jesus to his disciples that explains the deeper dimension of what is happening with the woman and the town. So let’s focus first on what happens with the woman and the town.
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.
So she leaves her water jar and goes to the town and tells “the people”—it appears to be indiscriminate telling of everyone, in spite of how hesitant she was to talk to Jesus about her sordid life. She says he knew everything about her and wonders out loud if he might be the Messiah, the Christ. Jesus had said he was in verse 26. Verse 30 says the people were coming to Jesus.
Jesus Talking to a Woman
Though it’s not the main point of the text, John thought it was important enough to mention that the disciples were amazed he was talking to a woman. Verse 27: “They marveled that he was talking with a woman.” Remember in verse 31 that they call Jesus “Rabbi.” In Jesus’ day, men in general, and rabbis in particular, did not publicly talk to women. And for many of them, it was not out of seemliness, but out of misogyny—the deep distrust, disrespect, and dislike of women.
In its worst form, we saw it last Tuesday when George Sodini killed three women and injured ten at the LA Fitness gym in the Pittsburg area. He wrote in his journal:
No girlfriend since 1984 . . . . Who knows why. I am not ugly or too weird. No sex since July 1990 either (I was 29). . . . Over eighteen years ago. . . I actually look good. I dress good, am clean-shaven, bathe, touch of cologne—yet 30 million women rejected me—over an 18 or 25-year period.
And in his disgust for all women, he opens fire indiscriminately and then kills himself. I am not saying that rabbis or men in general in the first century felt this way. Sodini was an extreme pathological case. But women were not taught the Torah. And they were not treated, by and large, with respect and tenderness and appreciation.
Jesus Treated Women Differently
Jesus treated women differently—his mother, Mary Magdalene, the woman bent over for 18 years, the Syrophoenician woman, Mary and Martha, the widow with the two coins, and others. The main point that I think flows from Jesus is that God created man male and female in his image, with equal value and dignity and differing, complementary, honorable roles, and Jesus put in motion a reversal of the effects of the Fall. The Fall of Adam and Eve inclined women to be helplessly coquettish or brashly domineering, and it inclined men to be timidly passive or harsh and demanding. Sin could distort God’s design in either direction.
Wherever Christianity has become deeply rooted in a culture, the treatment of women has improved. If you saw the horrific film The Stoning of Soraya M, you got a glimpse of the dismal plight of millions of women today hidden away in cultures around the world where Jesus is not known and trusted and followed.
Women Respected Where the Gospel Takes Root
But wherever his word and his gospel take root and hold sway, men treat women with respect, and they take humble, courageous initiatives to protect women and create stable, loving families where the covenant faithfulness of husband and wife display the mystery of Christ and to his church to the world.
That’s the way Jesus meant it to be. And that’s one of the reasons that, of all the people in Samaria he could have sought out, he chose this woman.
Here Come the Townspeople
Verse 30 says, “They went out of the town and were coming to him.” Then comes the interruption. “Meanwhile . . .” and the coming of the townspeople picks up again in verse 39–42:
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.”
The most important thing to see here, because of its relationship to what Jesus says in the part we passed over, is that first the woman’s word leads to faith and then Jesus’ word leads to more faith. These two witnesses are mentioned twice. First, the woman’s witness. Verse 39: “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” Then Jesus’ witness in verse 41: “And many more believed because of his word.”
Surprising Spiritual Awakening in Sychar
Then they are both mentioned again in verse 42. First, the woman’s testimony: “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe.” Then, Jesus’ testimony: “For we have heard for ourselves”—that is, heard Jesus. They believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world. He is the Messiah that is coming into the world and will rescue people from their sin and from the judgment of God (John 3:36).
That’s the amazing upshot of Jesus’ trip to Samaria—a surprising spiritual awakening in the town of Sychar. An unlikely woman becomes the means of an unlikely people turning to the Jewish Messiah, even though they were not even full-blooded Jews. This should encourage us in the pluralistic, religiously and ethnically diverse world that we live in. God has a people in Samaria, and he has chosen surprising instruments to reach them—maybe you.
The Deeper Dimension
Now between verses 27–30 at the beginning and 39–42 at the end, some tremendously important words of Jesus explain to us the deeper dimension of what is happening with the woman and the townspeople.
What’s happening is that Jesus is acting like God and revealing that the glorious messianic age—the kingdom of God—has begun.
The disciples tell him to eat in verse 31, “Rabbi, eat.” He says he has food they don’t know about (verse 32). They are puzzled. And he responds with almost incomprehensible words in verse 34: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” That’s very strange.
Who Can Talk Like This?
Food is what you need in order to work. Food is what gives you strength for work. So Jesus is saying, “I am strengthened to do what God has given me to do by doing what God has given me to do. My source of energy for doing God’s will is doing God’s will.”
Who can talk like this? God can talk like this. We mere humans need sources of power from outside ourselves. God gets his source of power from within himself. As man, Jesus got tired and thirsty and hungry. He needed food like the rest of us. But as God, his power to act was to act.
Human, Yes, and More Than Human
So Jesus is revealing himself to be no mere mortal. Human, to be sure—but more than human. The Word was God, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1, 14). He revealed his glory again and again. I am sustained to finish God’s work by finishing God’s work.
But there is something more specific implied here that is going to make the connection with verses 35 and 36 make sense. When Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me,” what is the will of him who sent him? God’s will for Jesus—the work he gave him to accomplish—is to give eternal life.
Listen to John 12:49–50, “The Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment . . . And I know that his commandment is eternal life.” Or John 6:39: “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”
“I Am Food, I Am Life”
So when Jesus says in John 4:34, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work,” he means, “My food is to give eternal life.” That is, my source of strength to give eternal life is to give eternal life. I give life because I am life. I am the way the truth and the life (John 14:6). My food is to be what I am. And I am life. Living water. Bread from heaven. I don’t just eat food. I am food. I don’t get life. I give life.
This helps explain the strange direction his words take in verses 35–36: “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 [there’s the link!], so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.” Jesus is reaping eternal life. That’s what he has been doing with this woman and, through her, is doing even now among the people of Sychar.
Collapsing Sowing and Reaping into One
And he is so free and sovereign he is not at all dependent on the usual four months it takes between sowing and reaping. Jesus is collapsing sowing and reaping into one event. God can do that sort of thing. Human can’t. And that is what the messianic age is to be like, according to the prophet Amos:
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when the plowman [the sower] shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.” (Amos 9:13)
Jesus is showing his disciples, and us, that these are the beginning of those days. I am the Messiah. I bring the messianic age. It has begun. And he says at the end of verse 36 that he is already reaping fruit for eternal life (with no natural gap of months) “that sower and reaper may rejoice together.” What he is doing here is collapsing sowing and reaping into one event so that the joy is a foretaste of what Amos saw.
Both Sower and Reaper
Jesus is both sower and reaper at the same time. He is orchestrating the entire event by working as sower and reaper—speaking the word and reaping its fruit.
Jesus concludes in verses 37–38 by drawing the disciples into his work: “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.” In other words, You are going to share in the reaping. But others have labored before you. Who are they? I think the answer is Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus has been sowing with his word and gathering fruit for eternal life as the great reaper. And the woman has been sowing with her word to the townspeople.
That’s why the story returns in verse 39–42 to the testimony of the woman and the testimony of Jesus. Remember, the townspeople believe because of her word, and then more believe because of Jesus’ word. This is the labor of “others” that the disciples enter into. “Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
The Upshot for Us
So here is the upshot for us:
- Jesus is the glorious Son of God and Savior of the World whose food is to accomplish God’s purpose, namely, to be food that gives eternal life. He doesn’t need life-giving food; he is life-giving food. He sows the world, and he reaps eternal life. May God give you eyes to see his glory and treasure him over all.
- His coming is the beginning of the messianic age. The old patterns of four months between sowing and reaping don’t hold. God is full of surprises. Jesus can collapse any interval he pleases. Pray for wonders in sowing and reaping in your life and around the world.
- All our labor is important. God uses men and women (sinful, forgiven men and women) to sow and reap. And we are always entering into the labor of another, especially Jesus’. His labor is always decisive. Especially the labor of the cross. This was his main food. My food is to accomplish the work God gave me to do. And with the cross in view, where he died for our sins, he said, “Father, I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4).