When the five disciples of Christ (John 1:35-51) returned from the city after buying meat (John 4:8), they found their master sitting with a woman of Samaria (John 4:27). They wondered, Why is he talking with her? The Jews despised the Samaritan people. They were the product of a regrettable event earlier in Israel’s history.
During the reign of King Rehoboam, son of Solomon, Israel divided into two kingdoms–Israel to the north and Judah to the south (1 Kings 11:29-35). The northern kingdom flourished for a century and a half before the wickedness of the people brought God’s judgment against them (2 Kings 17:1-23). Like an eagle swooping down on its prey, Israel was quickly swallowed up by their enemy, the Assyrians (Hosea 8).
Many of the people of Israel were killed or carried away. The surviving remnant was enslaved by the Assyrian pioneers who settled their land. Over time, the region became a melting pot of races, religions, and cultures.
During the time of Christ, Samaria was much worse than an inconvenient, 40-mile stretch of land through the middle of what had once been the sovereign nation of Israel. The Samaritan people were predominately descendants of their enemy–a perversion of Israel. To the Jews, they were a lower class of people.
This prejudice against the Samaritans came natural for most of the Jews living in both the southern region of Judea (formerly Judah) and the northern region of Galilee. It was perplexing to the Lord’s disciples to witness him, a Jew, engaged in a friendly conversation with a Samaritan woman (John 4:5-26). He not only spoke with her, he had essentially invited her into their elite group of Christian disciples.
As they approached and the Samaritan woman left, these men avoided that potentially awkward subject. Instead, they kept their questions to themselves. However, Christ knew what was on their minds.
He said to them, “Say 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” (John 4:35).
Here they stood in the detested region of Samaria, surrounded by the hated Assyrian/Israelite hybrids, and their Lord and master has used those people in that place as an example of the labors we are to employ among the unconverted. Perhaps this message is no less shocking for us today.
Jesus would later say, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Luke 15:10). If there is such joy in heaven over a single person who repents and gives his life to service in God’s kingdom, shouldn’t the church rejoice as well and make ministerial efforts to that end? After all, Paul said, “As we have opportunity, do good unto all men, especially the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Our care and concern should be centered around our brethren in the church, but it should not end with them.
Most of us understand this lesson yet still think like the disciples. We cherish every person that repents and is baptized into the church. We look forward to the next ones to be baptized. But that’s just it–we have a tendency to complacently wait for it. We commonly think of “the harvest” as being a future event. We always believe it to be coming soon–we pray anyway–but it’s always four months away (John 4:35).
Two thousand years ago, Jesus said, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:35). What are we waiting for? The harvest time is now!
The evidence of the harvest was all around them. First, there was a single conversion–the Samaritan woman. Second, that one convert sought to lead others to Christ (John 4:28-30). Third, that one convert became many (John 4:39-42). If the crops are the unconverted and their conversion is a harvest, the harvest time was not four months away–they were standing in the middle of it!
Have we not seen the same signs? In our churches, are there not believers worshiping together as a testimony of the harvest? Those repentant sinners we call brethren in Christ are proof that the harvest time is at hand. Many of them arrived in that place only after a previously converted disciple gently led them.
While the “great commission” was primarily directed toward ministers of the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20), we each have a role to play in the labors of the harvest. Keep in mind, the first convert in John 4 who went on to lead others was not a preacher. She was not even a man. She was a woman and a Samaritan woman at that.
Unfortunately, there are things that hold us back and keep us from these efforts we are to make in the harvest.
First, grace makes us lazy. If we have an understanding of the role of God’s grace in our salvation, we are tempted to be complacent, knowing each person’s salvation is ultimately in the Lord’s hand (John 10:29). But grace should be understood as a motivation, not a reason to continue in sin or apathy (Romans 6:1-2).
Second, we face fears that we are not able. Much like Moses when he was called to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt (Exodus 3-4), we make excuses for ourselves. But as you’ve heard many times before, God does not call the equipped, he equips the called (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).
Third, we fear breaking the rules. We think if the Bible doesn’t explicitly command it, then it must be forbidden. This line of thinking stifles our good works. Paul wrote, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). While Paul would never violate the commandments of God to lead people to the truth and the Lord’s church, he did understand that the Bible can not give us an exhaustive list of what to do in all cases. For instance, I’ve hosted Bible studies/discussions in local coffee shops where all were welcome to join. The Bible never commanded such a thing, but it fits snugly within godly behavior.
Recently, the fire marshal paid a visit to my church and forced us to hang a plaque which boldly proclaims our building’s maximum occupancy according to the law. It now hangs over the main entryway into our sanctuary. When I first saw it, I thought, 189…what an arbitrary number. Later, as I stared up at those bright red numbers, I thought to myself, Okay, Mr. Fire Marshal, challenge accepted!
Of course, numbers are not the end game. The size of membership is not an accurate measurement of the health of the church. However, each one of those numbers represents a person of the family of God as well as a reason heaven itself has rejoiced. I say the more the merrier. The harvest time is now.
I will gladly labor to bring more of God’s people to the church if the Lord will bless my efforts. I hope to one day hug the neck of the 190th person to step forward and ask to be baptized at Angier Primitive Baptist Church. It may be an act of civil disobedience to exceed 189 people, but I will love the day when I can face the consequences of breaking the law like Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Daniel, or a number of the apostles. I’ll call the fire marshal myself and joyfully pay the fine.
As a bonus, here are some points I shared on Twitter earlier this week…
51% of those born before 1946 regularly attend church. Only 29% of those born ’77-’94 attend. How should the church respond?
Unchurched Myth #1: Most of the unchurched are white, middle class people. (Get a sample of the community by going to Walmart.)
Unchurched Myth #2: We must dumb down the truth of the gospel for the unchurched. (Those seeking after truth want nothing less than truth.)
Unchurched Myth #3: The unchurched cannot be reached through personal relationships. (Mass marketing cannot compete with a friendship.)
Unchurched Myth #4: The unchurched are turned off by denominational names. (Over 80% say the name is not a factor.)
Unchurched Myth #5: The unchurched never attend church. (They may not attend regularly, but sometimes they do show up.)
Unchurched Myth #6: The unchurched won’t be interested without secular entertainment. (True worshippers aren’t looking for entertainment.)
Keys to the Harvest #1: Seed (Mark 4:31-32)
Keys to the Harvest #2: Season (John 4:35)
Keys to the Harvest #3: Laborers (Matthew 9:37-38)
Keys to the Harvest #4: Soil (Mark 4:3-8)
Keys to the Harvest #5: Sacrifice (Psalm 126:5-6)
Keys to the Harvest #6: Glad anticipation (Galatians 6:9)