Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

February 4, 2007

Scripture Readings: Psalm 93; Romans 7:6-25

Hymns: 330; 379; 755; 502


Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The word of God taken for our meditation this morning comes from John 4:27-42:

27 And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why are You talking with her?” 28 The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, 29 “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” 30 Then they went out of the city and came to Him. 31 In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” 33 Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. 35 “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! 36 “And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37 “For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 “I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.” 39 And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of His own word. 42 Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.”

The Fields are White for Harvest!

In Christ Jesus, who now works through us to spread the light of His Word, dear fellow redeemed.

The illustration of growing crops was used regularly by Jesus during His ministry. Yet Jesus used this familiar picture in various ways in order to emphasize different aspects of the work of God’s kingdom. One of those differences can be found in Jesus’ use of the words, “field” and “fields.” At first it wouldn’t seem to make much of a difference, whether singular or plural, but there is a noticeable difference in Jesus’ intent. Consider:

In the parable of the wheat and the tares, Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God as a “field” (singular): “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in His field” (Matthew 13:24). Later Jesus explained to His disciples, “the field is the world” (Matthew 13:38). In the hymn we opened with, which was based on these verses from Matthew, we sang, “All the world is God's own field, Fruit unto His praise to yield.” Is that what we think? Do we ponder the work which the Lord of the harvest has placed before us? Have we considered the meaning of Christ’s words, which tell us “the field is the world”? When it is put like that, it seems simple! Jesus points out that within the field of the world there are two distinct groups - believers and unbelievers. In the parable above, the harvest represents the final harvest of souls on the Last Day as He explains, “the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels” (Matthew 13:39).

Jesus also speaks of a harvesting which precedes the Great Harvest on the Judgment Day - a harvesting which has been going on since the beginning of time and will continue until the end of time. This harvesting takes place here in time, in preparation for the harvest which will take place at the end of time. This is the harvesting of lost souls through the proclamation of the work and Word of Christ Jesus. It is the work of this harvest which Jesus directs His disciples to in John saying, “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest” (John 4:35).

Notice that Jesus uses the word “fields” in that verse. Having already established the fact that the world is God’s field, we might become curious about Jesus’ use of the plural “fields” in this verse. We might compare it to a farmer who plants several different kinds of crops on his farm - corn, beans, alfalfa, and so on. While all the world is God’s own field, Jesus reminds us that He has many different fields with different kinds of crops within His vast property of the world. The context of John chapter four demonstrates the importance of Jesus’ use of the plural “fields” by pointing to the separate field of the Samaritan people.

Jesus had just met with and had a very meaningful conversation with a woman who was a Samaritan. Samaritans were looked down upon by the Jews because of their mixed race. Yet Jesus, a Jew, takes the time to reach out to this woman with the assurance of forgiveness for all her sins through faith in Him as her Savior. For several days following, Jesus spends time in the Samaritan village preaching and teaching. We are told that the result was that many believed in Him during His stay there (John 4:41).

So what does that mean for us? We must remember that God has established many different “fields” within the “field” of the whole world. Some of those fields will be hard fields which will produce smaller amounts while other fields will be fertile fields which will produce greater amounts in the harvest. God called Isaiah to work in the hard fields of his own people. God told Isaiah, “Go, and tell this people: ‘ Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed’” (Isaiah 6:9-10). The prophet Isaiah and many other Old Testament prophets were sent by God to work in fields that would produce little in the harvest. Though the work was difficult and had few visible results, God had promised to preserve a remnant.

On the other hand, God often sent workers to serve in fields that were very fertile. Not long before the prophet Isaiah was called by God to work in the harvest of Israel, the prophet Jonah was called by God to work in the foreign field of Assyria. Jonah was unwilling, but through his reluctant preaching, God brought about a great harvest among the souls of Nineveh who “turned from their evil way” so that “God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them” (Jonah 3:10). The field of Nineveh was not a field that man would have chosen, but God had established it as a field to be harvested, and it brought about a great harvest.

As we consider the fields which are white for harvest, we must realize that God has established the fields, not man. When the disciples returned to find that Jesus had been talking to a woman - a Samaritan woman - John tells us that they “marveled” (John 4:27). They wouldn’t have been caught speaking to such a person! The fields are the Lord’s not ours, and they include people we often would not expect. Like Jonah and the disciples, we at times allow our own human prejudices to limit or hold us back from working in fields which God has clearly established. May the Lord of the harvest preserve us from such neglect of our calling, and by His Holy Spirit make us faithful workers in the harvest work of His kingdom!

Jesus told His disciples, “lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest” (John 4:35). Later on in His ministry, the Lord Jesus sent His closest disciples out as workers in that harvest saying, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38). Near the end of His ministry He appointed 70 of His followers and sent them out before Him with the message of the Gospel and again repeated those same words (Luke 10:2). The Lord uses His followers to carry out the work of harvesting here in time.

The holy writers of Scripture make it clear that this commission which was given repeatedly by Jesus was not meant for the eleven disciples alone. Peter, one of those who had been commissioned by the Lord to preach the Gospel, wrote to the believers spread across Asia Minor saying, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). This call to proclaim is a result of our being brought to faith through the Gospel. Through faith it is our privilege to serve as workers in the fields which God has established for us as individuals.

In the account of John chapter four we find an unlikely candidate, with a checkered past at that, as a witness of Jesus - the woman of Samaria. After Jesus reveals to her that He is the Messiah they have been waiting for, she runs back into the city pointing the people to Jesus. John records: “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did’” (John 4:39). She was used by the Lord as a worker in the fields He had established. The Lord can use anyone to preach the Gospel!

At times, we take it upon ourselves to establish which fields are (or are not) white for harvest. But it was God who established the fields for His disciples, it was God who established the fields for the Samaritan woman and Philip the evangelist, and it is God who continues to establish the fields for each of us as individuals as well. The fields are white for harvest! Each and every day we have great opportunities to serve in the harvest of the Lord through the preaching of the Word to those around us as Peter reminds us, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).

God establishes fields all around us as congregations. He establishes fields within our congregations as we gather together around the Word, in the discipline of those who wander from the fold, in communities around our churches, and to the many nations of the world around. As congregations working in His harvest may we continue to support the strengthening of the brethren here and abroad and may we also look for more fields which God continues to establish for us to enter with the pure milk of the Word.

Just before He sent the twelve out to preach about the kingdom of heaven, we are told of Jesus, “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Every soul is of great value. It was Christ’s compassion for the people that motivated Him to preach and teach, “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). May that same compassion for lost souls also motivate us to work in the harvest while it is day, knowing that the night is coming when no one can work (John 9:4).

Jesus said, “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (John 4:35b). The fields are indeed white for harvest! God continues to establish old and new fields for the harvesting of souls here in time throughout the world. The Lord’s harvest work is set before us as a synod as we send our workers to work the fields here in our country and abroad; the Lord’s harvest work is set before us as a congregation both within our membership and beyond, and the Lord’s harvest work is set before us as individual believers in Christ. As we consider the various fields God places before us, we can be thankful that it is He who establishes those fields, without prejudice, without concern for “how” or “why.”

We are all called to work in the fields of that harvest, as we prepare for the great and final harvest on the Last Day. May God grant that each of us may see that He has established the fields for harvest, and be willing workers in that harvest. Paul wrote to the believers of Colossae: “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:5-6). May He also grant us wisdom for our work in His fields, as individuals and as a congregation - as we gather fruit for eternal life, to the glory of His name! Amen.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 Amen.

Pastor Nathanael Mayhew