Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” John 4:34
I find this story in John chapter 4 fascinating. It’s all of 42 verses. What’s it about? The Lord’s conversation with a Samaritan, a woman, an outcast. Who else in John’s Gospel gets 42 verses? I’m struck by that. Jesus cared about this woman. It was to her that he gave his clearest self-disclosure. She says, in verse 25, “I know that Messiah is coming.” Then Jesus says, in verse 26, “I who speak to you am he.” But later, in chapter 18, when Pilate asked Jesus, “So you are a king?”, the Lord answered cryptically, “You say that I am a king.” Mr. Big-Deal Pontius Pilate gets the brush-off. But this unnamed Samaritan woman – to her Jesus gives himself. The Lord has a tender place in his heart for the little people, especially the ones who’ve been stepped on. I’m also struck by how gentle Jesus is with both this woman and now with his disciples. Neither the woman nor his disciples understand what he’s talking about. He speaks to her about “living water” from beyond her experience. He speaks to them about “food” they do not know about. In both cases he’s talking about the same reality. The water Jesus gives and the food he enjoys – he’s talking about the heart savoring God. He’s talking about the satisfying food and drink that God is. Jesus did not come into this world to improve what we already have. Jesus came to give us something from above. We don’t even have the categories to understand what he’s offering us. If you’ve been frustrated as I’ve preached these sermons from John chapter 4, good. Pay attention to that frustration. It’s telling you that God has more for you. And isn’t that wonderful? Would we want to say, “Well, I’ve experienced all of God I’m ever going to know”? I love the way Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it in his book on John chapter 4:
You may feel and say, as many do, “I was converted and became a Christian. I’ve grown. I’ve grown in knowledge, I’ve been reading books, I’ve been listening to sermons. But I’ve arrived now at a sort of peak, and all I do is maintain that. For the rest of my life I will just go on like this.” My friend, you must get rid of that attitude; you must get rid of it once and forever. That is religion. It is not Christianity. This is Christianity: the Lord appears! Suddenly, in the midst of the drudgery and the routine and the sameness and the dullness and the drabness, unexpectedly, surprisingly, he meets with you, and he says something to you that changes the whole of your life and your outlook and lifts you to a level that you had never conceived was possible for you. There is always this glorious possibility of meeting with him in a new and a dynamic way.
Our experience of God has only begun. But the Lord is patient and gentle with us, as he was with this woman and with his own disciples. She is an unbeliever, discovering who Jesus is. They are believers, discovering he’s better than they think. And he treats us all with such understanding. But he is expecting us to grow.
In our passage for today, he is calling us to live on mission for him. He talks about how satisfying it is. The disciples don’t know what he’s talking about. They don’t see this Samaritan woman the way he sees her. They’re interested in lunch, and this woman is in the way. Their whole outlook is far from the mind of Christ. But he doesn’t scold them. He reasons with them. And he got through. Step by step the disciples changed. They weren’t good at mission right away. But they kept saying yes to Jesus, and they got good at it, and in fact they loved it. They found living for Christ and serving his purposes to be their food and drink. The disciples were complete idiots who would have wasted their lives, except for one thing. They kept following Jesus and putting him first. Are we saying a constant yes to him? Is that our settled stance toward him?
To his way of thinking, our weakness is okay. But guardedness and a wait-and-see aloofness are not okay. The Bible says, “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and give me life in your ways” (Psalm 119:37). Oh, how relevant that is to us today, with so many attractive but worthless distractions screaming for our attention! Our gentle Master wants to rescue us from wasting our lives. He wants to redirect us into lives that will still matter a bazillion years from today. Who else can offer us that? The Lord wants to talk to us today about how significant we can be forever. So let’s be asking ourselves, If this is what Jesus is saying, what’s next for me? Now what Jesus is calling us to advance his cause in our generation. That can take many forms – for example, investing in our dear children by teaching them the Bible, or inviting friends to church, or volunteering in a clinic downtown, and so forth. There are many ways to make a difference for him. But real Christianity is Jesus Community Mission. It isn’t Jesus Community [period]. That pattern is common in America today, but it is not biblical. Here at Immanuel, we embrace the total call of Christ, including mission. We’ve served in Haiti and India. We’ve helped plant the Axis Church and South City Church here in town. We helped launch Redeeming Grace Church in Franklin. We’re helping to plant a new Acts 29 church in Sheffield, England. We’re investing in the Acts 29 church planting network. Many of us are serving in significant ways in our city. All of that is wonderful. The Lord is using us. But he wants to accomplish more through us. And at the end of this sermon I’m going to show you what’s on the horizon for us at Immanuel, and I’m going to ask for your commitment. God has been so good to us. But here’s the Immanuel we can become. I can see a new Immanuel with so many Christians re-energized and so many unbelievers discovering Jesus and so many stories and so many baptisms that we have to schedule a Jesus Now Project Sunday every month. I can see a new Immanuel supporting many career missionaries to the nations far beyond Nashville. I can see a new Immanuel where we give ten percent of our church’s income not only to church planting here in our city, as we do, but another ten percent to global outreach. I can see a new Immanuel raising up children who know the Bible from cover to cover so that for their entire lives, late into the twenty-first century, they have in their hearts a spiritual resource for whatever they’re going to face. I can see a new Immanuel where here and there throughout the congregation are people, men and women, who have been rescued from human trafficking. I can see a new Immanuel where living water and heavenly food are coming down in such power that all of us are aware every Sunday, “The Lord is here!” And we here today are the core group for that new Immanuel Church God wants to plant, for the greater glory of Jesus, for richer community together, and for the mission of Jesus in our city and far beyond. Let’s get after it! In John 4:32-38, Jesus gives us four incentives for saying yes to him, four reasons to adjust our lives and our priorities and our budgets, so that we have the time and margin and dollars to advance his mission. 1. Following Jesus into mission is not life-depleting; it is life-enriching.
But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” . . . “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” John 4:32, 34
We tend to think, “Serving others is too costly, too demanding. I’m barely hanging on as it is. And I’m supposed to reach out to others and serve them?” That’s how we think. But the truth is, it’s costly not to serve. Self-centered looking out for number one – who has ever lived that way and come out of it a fulfilled and rich and wise person? Name one. The truth is, Jesus has food for us we don’t know about. He brings it out when we’re doing the will of him who sent us. He has joys for us we can experience only that way. Have you heard anyone on our India team say, “That was boring”?
Jesus did not acquiesce to doing the will of God. He loved it. He found it to be life-enriching food to his heart. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the British preacher, said this:
He who will glorify God, whatever it may cost him, is a happy man. He who serves God to the utmost of his power finds new power given to him hour by hour, for God opens up to him fresh springs. If you have ever experienced what it is to lay your whole soul on the altar and feel that for Christ you live and for Christ you would die, then you will know that I speak the truth. Our chief sorrows spring from the roots of our selfishness. But give that up, and your soul will no longer be consumed with discontent. As God’s glory becomes the one object of life, we find in him our all in all.
Jesus does not say here, “My food is to think about the will of him who sent me and then quit half-way through.” No, he accomplished the mission of the one who sent him. And he saying to us here, “That feels good. It’s food for the heart. I love living for the one who sent me!” And we all know it’s true. Doing a hard thing that is good and worthy, and not quitting but seeing it through by God’s strength – it satisfies like nothing else. David Livingstone, the pioneer missionary to Africa in the nineteenth century, told us what he found out there:
People talk of the sacrifice I have made. Away with the word! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, danger now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences of this life, may make us pause, but only for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice. We should not speak of it when we remember the great sacrifice He made, who left His Father’s throne on high to give Himself for us.
I’ll tell you what sacrifice is. It’s never caring for others, never reaching out, never speaking to anyone about the love of Jesus, but going with the flow of the selfish American lifestyle, making money and comfort and security our goal, and spending our evenings and weekends watching rerun movies on our wide screen TVs until we’re helpless and useless and dead. That is a life sacrificed – but to what? Jesus has food we don’t know about yet, and he wants to surprise us with it as we give ourselves away for his sake.
2. Following Jesus into mission finds that people are more ready right now than we think.
“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.” John 4:35 We tend to think, “We’re living in hard times. People don’t want to hear the gospel. They’re tired of it. We won’t make any impact, so let’s just huddle together in our little world of private control.” Is there anything in the Bible that teaches us to think that way?
What is the Lord saying here? Verse 30 tells us that the people from that village were coming out to him. As he talked about fields white for harvest, he could have gestured toward those people coming his way with their white clothing on. What did he see in those people? He was not idealistic. He saw all the human needs that are always there. The world is populated by sinners and sufferers. Guilt and pain are constants. And no strategy of our own making has ever given relief. And to Jesus, all our failure and incomprehension is energizing. He knows he can help everyone. We don’t have to improve ourselves first. We can bring to Jesus our frustration and regret, like this Samaritan woman and now all her friends from town. Jesus is not looking for the winners, the cool kids, the heavy-hitters. He’s looking for people like this woman, like us, people who are desperate for God. Back in the Old Testament, there was a group of people who rallied around King David. It wasn’t the privileged and the powerful up in Jerusalem. David was still a fugitive out in the wilderness. Who were the people willing to go out there and gather around David, who was a preview of the coming Messiah? The Bible says, “Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them” (1 Samuel 22:2). That’s the way it always is. Jesus is always attractive to disillusioned people. And we live in a time of tremendous disillusionment right now. Our city is ready for reality with God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones observed something fascinating about how God works: “No revival in the long history of the Church has ever been an official movement in the Church.” In other words, the power of God never comes down because somebody makes a motion, and somebody seconds it, and then they vote on it, and then they organize it. That sort of activity has its place. But the living water of Jesus flows in power when we’re desperate with thirst and we take our need directly to him. And the more people that come to this church with their real needs, the better. The whole of John’s Gospel tells this story: “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). Jesus is full of grace for everyone on the face of the earth today. We will never exhaust him. The old Puritan pastor Richard Sibbes said it well: “There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us.” Jesus is so full of mercy, the whole human race could turn to him right now and pour out all the sin, all the despair, and his mercy wouldn’t be lessened one drop. He loves to show grace. This is the real Jesus, the unlimited Jesus. He is moving in people’s hearts all over the world today, preparing them. He wants to use us to reach them. The only question is, Are we ready? And willingness is all the readiness we need.
3. Following Jesus into mission takes many forms, but every task contributes to a joyous team win.
“Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’” John 4:36-37
We tend to think, “I’m no evangelist. I’m no Tim Keller. He always knows the right thing to say, and he says it so well. But I’m tongue-tied. What can I do?” Exactly. What can you do? Whatever it is, do it. Whatever the Lord has equipped you to do is a vital contribution, because this is a team effort. We need many different skills and passions. No one has to be or do everything. But everyone can do something to advance the cause of Christ into the world today. You are needed. You will make a difference. What is the Lord calling you to do?
4. Following Jesus into mission cashes in on the work of others before us. And now it’s our turn.
“I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” John 4:38
We tend to think, “Where do I even start? I can’t get this huge boulder rolling by the strength of my weak shoulder. Why even try?” But we’re not starting from scratch. We have a church here. We have English Bibles we didn’t translate. We have books written by others and videos created by others and websites built by others. It’s embarrassing all the resources we have for advancing the gospel today. All we have to do is use the hard work others have done to supply us with resources for impact.
Later in John’s Gospel Jesus will say, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). The Father sent the Son into this world, to show grace to undeserving people. Now he is sending us on the same mission, spreading grace. Think about it. Did the Lord send us into this wonderful, big auditorium for half the seats to go unused? He sent us here, to gather more people into Jesus Community Mission. Let’s say Yes to his purpose. What awaits us is more living water than we’ve ever tasted before. In closing, I want you to know of three huge missional opportunities coming to Immanuel soon. On November 14-15, Paul David Tripp is coming to teach on gospel marriage. On January 23, Rosaria Butterfield is coming to speak on gospel sexuality. On April 18 Russell Moore is coming to speak on gospel citizenship. Which puts Immanuel Church right at the center of the burning issues of our day. And what we are going to do at these remarkable events is press the grace of Christ into these sensitive areas of concern. Paul Tripp understands how grace enriches our manhood and womanhood. Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian, understands how grace dignifies our sexuality – all of us. Russell Moore, who is not partisan, who hangs out with President Obama and with Republicans, understands how grace mobilizes us for the shalom of our city. There is a flow to these three events coming to Immanuel. And here is what I’m saying to you today. When, in due course, we roll these events out more formally, I will not be saying to you, “Oh, pretty please come to my event.” If you’re a member of this church, I don’t have to recruit you to come. If you’re a member of this church, you’re a stakeholder. You’re already committed. We’re in this together. So I’ll be saying to you, “We are the team God has called together for this huge year of bold gospel advance. I’m not asking you just to come. I’m asking you to bring others with you. And let’s see what God will do for us all. So my question right now is simple. Who’s in? The Lord is throwing us a soft pitch. With his help, we will hit it out of the park. And a year from now, we will be amazed at what he has done. Jesus Community Mission. And my question about that right now is simply this: Who’s in? That is not a rhetorical question. It’s a real question. I’d like to know. Who’s in? If you’d like to stand with me, for all of us to say together as one, “Our food is to do the will of him who sent us, by his grace, for his glory alone,” then will you stand with me?