Missions: Seeing Reality the Way Jesus Sees It
One of the reasons missions is at the heart of Christianity is that Jesus teaches us to see the world utterly differently than we ordinarily see it. If you simply view the world the way it is seen in television and secular media and public education and theater, missions will make no sense and be no part of your life. In fact I would say that if you want to see how much the secular culture shapes and controls you, simply ask how great is your burden for missions. The only way to have a burden for missions is to be more influenced by Jesus than by the American culture. To see the world the way Jesus sees it.
Jesus and the Temple
Let me illustrate from John's gospel how Jesus was always trying to help us see the world differently from the way we ordinarily see it. In John 2:15 Jesus made a whip and drove all the money-changers out of the temple in Jerusalem. When the indignant money-makers asked him for a sign of his authority, he totally blew their minds with a view of the world that staggered them. He said in verse 19,
Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
What did he mean? He meant, Change the way you look at your world. This temple where you sell goats and pigeons, is coming to and end. It will be replaced by another temple, namely, me. I will be the place where you meet God. But they didn't get it. All they could think to say was, "It took 46 years to build this temple and you think you can build it in three days?" They did not see the world the way Jesus did. And that is why a lot of people today don't get missions. They just don't get it. The reality they live it is too narrow, too small.
Jesus and Nicodemus
Here's another example. In John 3 Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night to try and figure out who he is. Jesus blows his mind in verse 3 by saying, "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus doesn't get at all. He can only say, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" (v. 4). Jesus is trying to get him to see the world in a radically different way. There are spiritual realities that Nicodemus is not seeing at all. Until he does, entering the kingdom of heaven will make no sense. That's why missions makes no sense to so many people today. There are spiritual realities that Jesus lives and breathes—the main realities of the universe—that people don't get. The just shake their head and say, "What is the big deal?"
Jesus and the Woman at the Well
Here's another example. In chapter 4 Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well and drops a bombshell on her worldview. He says in verse 10 "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water." She doesn't get it, and says, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water?" He is trying to get her to see another world, and she is stuck in this one. He is moving her to see the world of water and thirst and desire and satisfaction in a totally new way. At first she doesn't get it. But she will. So some people today at first don't get missions, because they don't see the world the way Jesus does. They can see a temple made of bricks and a birth with blood and pain and water from a well. But they don't get a man who is a temple, and a birth by the Spirit, and water that satisfies forever. Missions assumes a whole new way of looking at the world.
Jesus and the Multitude
One more example before we look at our text. In chapter 6 Jesus miraculously feeds over 5,000 people from five barley loaves and two fish. The point was to help these people see the world in a radically different way—that there is power from heaven that can nourish you way beyond what bread can. So in verse 27 Jesus says, "Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you." But they didn't get it. Jesus said to them, "You seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled" (v. 26). They were stuck in their limited worldview.
The point of these four illustrations is this: Jesus wants us to see the world differently than the way we ordinarily see it. You will never have a heart for missions if you don't see the world the way Jesus sees it. Missions depends on seeing reality the way Jesus sees it. A different vision.
So let's go to our text, John 4:31–38, and let Jesus shape our vision for the harvest.
Local Evangelism and Missions
But before we do, let me make clear that what I have said applies to both concern for local evangelism and concern for culturally distant missions. Missions is when you cross a culture to win people to Christ and plant his church. Local evangelism is when you reach out to people in your own culture where the church has already been planted.
I read recently a great story about William Wilberforce, the British Christian politician who labored about 200 years ago to overthrow the slave trade in Britain. It illustrates what happens in your relationships with people when you see the world the way Jesus sees it. Wilberforce was surrounded by people who were hardened to personal faith in Christ by the formalities of their churches and their nominally Christian boarding schools. But his way of looking at the world was that they were in great need of personal faith in Christ as their Savior, and personal walk of allegiance to Jesus as Lord.
So he would keep a list of people that he was talking to about vital religion and personal faith, with ideas on how to approach them. He would often spend an hour following dinner—this is what really struck me in this story—thinking out how he might develop what he called "launchers"—openings in conversation with friends so as to "launch" into a talk of religion. Isn't that remarkable? Have you ever done that? You are not alone. It's been done for centuries by people who care for perishing sinners. One entry in his journal read:
[Mr.] S . . . and Mrs. What books [are they] reading? To give them good ones—Walker's Sermons. Call on Mrs. S. and talk a little. Lend her Venn's last Sermon. Education of their children, to inquire about. Prayer, etc. Their coming some Sunday to Battersea Rise to hear Venn. Call often, and be kind.
It seemed that he often communicated more than he thought. One story goes like this:
Once, after talking for some time to an ill friend, "Lord N . . . ," Wilberforce was aware that he had not broached the issue of religion. Another friend came in and asked the invalid how he was. Lord N . . . replied: "As well as I can be, with Wilberforce sitting here and telling me I am going to hell."
So here is a world-class statesman of the British Parliament, who labored for decades in the frustrating, secular business of politics to overcome the slave trade in Great Britain, taking time with a friend to warn him about a reality that he would never have seen except that he learned from Jesus to see the world in a totally different way.
Missions: Nourishing Your Soul on God
Now look at John 4:31ff. Jesus has finished talking to the Samaritan woman at the well and she has gone back to town with a totally different view of the world. The disciples have come back from the town and are encouraging Jesus to eat lunch. In his typical way, Jesus changes their whole way of seeing things.
31 In the meanwhile the disciples were requesting Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat." 32 But He said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." 33 The disciples therefore were saying to one another, "No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?" 34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work.
They say, "Jesus, it's past lunch time. Eat, something." And Jesus says, "I've been eating. My food is to do the will of my Father and to accomplish his work. So I just spent the last half hour talking to a Samaritan woman about her need for salvation. And I'll tell you, brothers, I am full."
So Jesus shakes up our world again here. We are concerned about the nourishment that comes from eating. He is concerned about the nourishment that comes from loving. Jesus gets strength and satisfaction from witnessing to the all-satisfying water of life. There is a reason for this. When we give ourselves to the work of personal evangelism and world missions, God pours more life into our souls. In giving life away to others, God pours life into us. The more you share God, the more you savor God.
Jesus said it was his food to do this work. How can energy-expending work be energy-giving food? I believe it's because, when you join your hand to God's favorite enterprise, there is a special provision from the Lord. The very doing of the work of evangelism puts you into such intimate communion with the heart of God that giving becomes getting. Feeding becomes eating. Missions is a way of nourishing your soul on God. That's the change in our way of seeing the world that God wants to make this morning.
Another way to say it is that reaffirming the vision of 2000 by 2000 is a way of corporate feeding on God. How shall we as a church say, "Our food is to do the will of him who sent us and to accomplish his work"? In 1990 we believe God called us to set a prayer goal of leading 2,000 people to faith and sending 2,000 of our people out from us. When the Master Planning Team sought the Lord about our vision at mid-decade, we had no sense at all that God was backing off on this call, nor that we should back off on this goal, but rather a strong sense that we should reaffirm the prayer goals of 2000 by 2000. Therefore page 7 of the Mission booklet says, "To spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples, we gladly embrace with fresh zeal the sending and harvesting goals of 2000 by 2000."
The detailed explanation and background of this vision are given on page 10 of the Mission booklet and in the blue folder in your bulletin.
Sowing and Harvesting in the Kingdom
This is Missions Week and the focus for most of this week is on sending and the crossing of cultures to win people to Christ and to plant churches. What Jesus says next in this text is a call to see the world of sending and harvesting, sowing and reaping a very different way than we usually do. Look at John 4:35–38.
Do you not say, "There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest"? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. 36 Already he who reaps is receiving wages, and is gathering fruit for life eternal; that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37 For in this case 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 labor.
In ordinary harvesting there is sowing time and there is reaping time and the interval between the two is fixed. There is no point in lifting up your eyes on July 4 in Minnesota to see if the corn is ready to be picked. Knee-high by the Fourth of July, and that's that. But not so in the spiritual realm. Jesus says, in verse 35, "You say, there are four months till harvest." You think of fixed and unchangeable times between sowing and reaping. But that is not the way I want you to look at the world of missions. Don't be mechanistic. Don't think that there is some fixed pattern or timing that always holds. Don't sow and then go back to your ordinary tasks with no expectancy. Instead, I say, lift up your eyes. Be on the lookout. There are fields white and ready to harvest.
He had just been sowing the seed of the Word during the last half hour. The Samaritan woman, full of wonderment, had gone to sow some more in the town. And the problem was now: would the disciples lift up their eyes to what God was doing, or would they just go about their business worrying about lunch? Jesus was saying, contrary to all your expectations, this town, where you just went to buy lunch, and saw nothing, is in fact a field white unto harvest.
The point is this: in the realm of missions and evangelism, don't be locked into fixed natural laws. Don't say, "Four months, then . . . " because that's the way it's always been. Instead lift up your eyes. Lift up your eyes. Look. See what God is doing. Get on the Missions Internet networks and look. Look on the world with the eyes of Jesus. There are people and peoples reaching harvest time all around us and all around the world. Don't be fatalistic or mechanistic. Lift up your eyes and see that God is readying harvest all the time. Not just after four months.
Some Are Sowers, Some Are Reapers
But here is another difference between the way Jesus looks at harvest and the way we usually do. Ordinarily in farming the same farmer who sows the seed also gathers the harvest. But in the work of the kingdom that is often, I would say usually, not the case. Look at verse 37:
For in this case 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 labor.
Others labored and didn't harvest. You didn't labor in sowing but harvested.
I think what Jesus has in mind here is that he has just sowed the seed of the Word, and the woman is now sowing it in Samaria, and John the Baptist has sowed seed here, and the prophets and Moses have sowed seed through their writings. But now Jesus is sending his disciples to enter into that harvest for which they have not sowed at all.
That is the way it is in the history of missions, and in the work of our missionaries today. Some fields are fields mainly of sowing and not reaping; other fields are ripe for harvest. In the first category I would put, for example, Japan and Guinea and Thailand. Here the sowing goes on and the fruit is picked one at a time without a great season of harvest—yet. In the other category I would put Kazakhstan and Siberia and China. The seed was sown for a hundred years in China and when the missionaries were removed in the late 1940s, there may have been a million Christians. Today, I just read a revised estimate last week, there may be 134 million Christians in China today. The sowers were not the reapers of the great harvest.
In Kazakhstan today, where Brian and Deanna Pratt are and where we will commission the Aaslands to tonight, there is an amazing season of harvest. The September letter said that there was another "harvest event" with 80 new believers coming into the kingdom. There are almost 500 believers attending the celebration on Sundays, most of whom have come to Christ in the last two years.
But the point for us is this: just as we must not be mechanistic in assuming that there have to be four months between sowing and harvesting, even so we must not assume that every sower will be a reaper. Verses 37 and 38 are a warning against that and an encouragement to our missionaries to press on: one sows and another reaps, and the reapers come and usually enter into the labor of another.
A Joyful Work, but Not an Easy Work
One last observation. God means for missions to be a joyful work. It is spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. Verse 36: "Already he who reaps is receiving wages [or: reward], and is gathering fruit for life eternal; that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together." God means for our missionaries to be glad in their work, whether they are sowing or whether they are reaping.
But what if the sowing is not followed immediately by reaping? Then how will the one who sows rejoice with the one who reaps? The answer is faith. Tremendous faith in future grace—" . . . abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58). Faith must lift up its eyes into the future and see the harvest and rejoice. We call it, "A vision for harvest."
God means this work to be a joyful work. But it is not an easy work. Or a safe work. With long seasons of sowing there is an immense battle with discouragement—to keep on believing that the investment of a life in sowing is worth the sacrifices. And with high seasons of harvesting there is an immense battle with opposition—family strife, sickness, demonic manifestations, political resistance, persecution, team disagreements—all of that to both sowers and reapers. Whether our missionaries are sowing or reaping, the battles are immense.
And I want to close this morning by calling us to pray over those of you who are on your way to missionary service or are in missionary service or sense that God might be calling you to cross-cultural kingdom service. Would you come and let me pray over you, and for those who have gone out from us?