Tell others about Jesus is a vital part of your life.
Today, we'll find out how a simple daily task can become an event of eternal significance. Alistair Begg is teaching from John chapter 4. A number of us are of the vintage to recall when the song Sounds of Silence catapulted Simon and Garfunkel from obscurity, and with names that frankly deserved obscurity, into the mainstream and into transatlantic success by recalling the description of a great crowd of people, 10,000 people, maybe more. People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening, people writing songs that voices never share because no one dared disturb the sounds of silence.
Familiar words and a wonderful word picture on the part of Paul Simon. The reason I mention it is because there's a very similar picture that is provided for us here in John chapter 4. And I thought that if I mentioned talking without speaking and hearing without listening, then it may set our minds along the right kind of line to think about the predicament which faced the disciples insofar as they were men who were looking without seeing.
They were looking without seeing. Despite the fact that the disciples of Jesus lived close to him, listened to him, were part of seeing his miraculous deeds, and were, if you like, as tuned in as any group might be, they were guilty of taking care of practical matters to the detriment of ultimate issues. Indeed, what Jesus says to them here is that they're living with their eyes closed. Now, that would be one thing, if it were merely an historical description, and we could look back on it and say, Boy, those guys really made a mess of it.
I'm glad we're not like that at all. Until we read the verses and it begins to scratch where we itch, begins to cut into our lives, and we realize that this is a telling picture not simply of the disciples on that day, but it is, to some degree, a picture of many local churches, and actually, to a certain measure, a description of the church as a whole, taking care of what it believes to be priorities while all the time failing to see that the issues, as good and as important as they may be, are subservient to the timeless and pressing issue of the souls of men and women. Indeed, if you like, living in the midst of time without acknowledging that eternity casts its shadow across it all. So Jesus, you will notice in John chapter 4, exhorts his disciples in relationship to this, and in the 35th verse he says to them, I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields, they are ripe for harvest. The disciples, obviously, were not noticing this.
They hadn't grasped it, nor had they been grasped by it. And again, it is vitally relevant, because I find myself—I don't know if you're prepared to acknowledge this—but I find myself, like them, inclined to be preoccupied with the immediate and the material, and that I constantly need to be refocused to the spiritual and to the eternal. Why is it that I can be so consumed with the assumption that because my neighbors and my friends are relatively okay, they are materially satisfied, they are intellectually stable, they are emotionally not total basket cases, that really, in point of fact, all is well, when in actuality, the real issue is, again, that when we see folks as Jesus saw them, as men with souls that will live on in all of eternity, it changes our perspective completely.
We look at indigent people, at a crime-laden society, criminal elements, poor people, and so on, and we're often sucked into thinking that if only we would do what people tell us to do, namely to increase the social benefits towards these folks, that actually all would be well for them, failing to recognize that no matter what we do in that regard, still we'll not address the ultimate issues of these people's lives. And in it all, the harvest is obscured. Now, the picture which Jesus employs here is a wonderful picture. I tell you, he says, open your eyes and look at the fields.
Now, what does Jesus mean? I mean, they obviously weren't standing around with their eyes closed. It's highly unlikely that we were.
We can't say that categorically. They may well have had their eyes closed. It seems unlikely, although many, when they're listening to lesser mortals speak, often have their eyes closed. People always ask me if I can see people's eyes. Yes, if their eyes are open.
But not always. So, somebody wrote the little doggerel the color of my pastor's eyes. In truth, I cannot well define, for when he prays, he closes his, and when he preaches, I close mine. So, there is a possibility that they did have their eyes closed.
They certainly had their ears closed, but metaphorically it was true. Now, the key to answering this question is backed up to verse 29. The lady with whom Jesus has the conversation, which we'll begin to consider this morning, had left Jesus behind, left the well, left the water pot, gone into the city, to the town, and said to the people in the town, come on and see a man who told me everything I ever did.
Do you think this could possibly be the Christ? And then in verse 30, if we're making a movie of this, the camera angle goes wide, it pans out, we go on a long lens, we shoot down the line, and we begin to see the picture of an emerging crowd from the town. Once we fastened on that, the editor cuts it, it goes in close and tight to the disciples and to Jesus, and the disciples and Jesus have this little interchange, which ends with Jesus saying, I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields, and at that point, we draw the camera angle back again, it opens out, and we bring into vista this amazing sight coming out of the town. For it was true that there were yet four months to harvest in relationship to the actual fields of grain through which the people were walking, but when Jesus wasn't talking about the field through which they were coming, he was talking about the fact that the people who were coming were themselves a field.
And he says, look, I tell you, open your eyes and you can see. And it may even be that the headdresses of the people in Eastern, Middle Eastern garb in the distance bobbing in the sunlight could actually take on from this vantage point the picture of the waving of grain ready and ripe for harvest. And Jesus says to these fellows, I want you to take a look at this and understand that the harvest is ready. You see, the disciples were focused on food that Jesus was actually not ultimately interested in, and they were thinking about the wrong stuff.
I don't feel that I could condemn them very quickly. I know for sure if I'd been with them, I would have been thinking the same way they were thinking, and I would have been in need of the same exhortation. And despite the fact that we are now some thousands of miles removed and geographically separated and historically removed from this, the word of Jesus is still a relevant word to an individual, to a church, to a nation of churches this morning. I tell you, he says, open your eyes and look at the fields.
They're ripe for harvest. Now, as we think of reaching people, John chapter 4 is as good a place in the New Testament as any to which we might turn to learn certain principles in relationship to it. Now, the temptation is to dive immediately into this conversation.
And so I want to resist that. We'll come to the conversation, albeit briefly, at the end of our time and come back to it in the following weeks. But I want to set the thing in context this morning, if I might. How and where and when did this conversation take place, and surely it is significant to address those issues?
Let me give you four elements contextually in terms of the context. First of all, understanding it historically. Historically.
The immediate history as it relates to the events described for us here is very clear. Verse 1, the Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John. An interesting way to begin the chapter.
Obviously significant. It is not padding on the part of John. He is writing everything under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, and every piece of Scripture is there for our edification. And so, when he writes this, it is in order to instruct us. Now, the fact of the matter is that the immediately preceding factor to this was the imprisonment of John the Baptist.
You can read about it in Mark chapter 6. Why would the imprisonment of John the Baptist be significant? Well, simply because John the Baptist was a pain in the neck—to the Pharisees, that is. He was a good servant of the Lord, but the Pharisees couldn't stand him.
They didn't like his clothes, they didn't like his style, they didn't like his way he spoke, they certainly didn't like his message, and perhaps more than anything else, they hated the fact that he was drawing big crowds and they just had their same little deal going on. And so they were pursuing him, and they eventually made it possible to have him arrested. So they got rid of a major problem. And then, we're told, their joy was short-lived, because Jesus of Nazareth now begins to exercise a far greater influence than John the Baptist had ever done before him. That's the immediate history. The ancient history which relates to this issue that is immediately addressed in verse 9 by the Samaritan woman where she points to this problem between the Jews and the Samaritans, this long-term historical factor goes way back about eight hundred years, seven hundred-plus.
Seven hundred and twenty B.C., the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Samaria. Was that significant? Very significant. What did they do? Well, they carried away the majority of the population into exile. All of them?
Not all of them. There were some left behind—largely, the people that they didn't want. And so, staying behind in the context, they were impoverished in relationship to their ability to provide for the natural common functions of everyday life. And in order to address that, the Assyrians needed to populate these ghost towns, because they'd come in, vanquished the place, took all the people away.
Now they've got relatively few people living there who's going to pick up the garbage, you know, who's going to deliver the milk, who's going to do the various things. So what they needed to do was bring people in from the outside. If you're wondering where we get all this from, you could turn to 2 Kings 17, or at least make note of it, because I'm going to quote from there right now. You can read of this in 2 Kings 17, where in verse 24 it says that the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon and then a whole host of places and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. And the result was that they took over Samaria and they lived in its towns.
There then's a very interesting thing, a wonderful historical record about what they were doing with lions. And then in verse 33, you have a virtual summary of the problem. This amalgamation of people who became known as Samaritans were no longer marked by the purity of worship of a monotheistic Judaism but were now marked by the syncretism and pluralism represented in the fact that all these other people had come in and intermarried with them. And so we read, they worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought. And verse 34, to this day they persist in their former practices.
They neither worship the LORD nor adhere to the decrees and ordinances. So you have this group of people that emerges the Samaritans. You then turn forward into the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and when you get to Nehemiah chapter 4—actually, in Ezra 3 and 4 it comes as well—but you discover there that the Jews, the returning Jews from exile, reject the fellows who'd stayed behind. So the Samaritans who wanted an interest in the rebuilding project are snubbed. And, of course, when you snub people, you usually live with the implications of that.
And that began to establish a pattern of activities. The Samaritans only dealt with, and only to this day the few that are left, deal with the Pentateuch—that is, the first five books of the Bible. That's all they pay attention to. There is no other Bible for the Samaritans. Therefore, the Jews who are speaking in terms of the prophetic literature and the psalms and so on, they are regarded as completely out of touch with reality. In 400 BC, as a result of all of this resistance, the Samaritans decided, forget it, we'll build our own operation. So they go to Gerizim, and they build a temple of their own. And they say, We will worship on Gerizim. 120 BC, the Jews come along, torch the temple, burn the thing to the ground—which, of course, is not good for public relations and certainly is not helping in terms of the kind of racial divide—and so we now fast-forward about a hundred and forty years, and the lady says to Jesus, You're a Jew, I'm a Samaritan, you want a drink of water? Get real! This has been going on for seven hundred years.
We don't talk. That is the long-term historical context. Secondly, then, let us set it in context geographically.
Geographically. Let me say a word about the site of the well. This well, as it is pinpointed for us here in John 4, is just outside a place called Sychar, which is the ancient equivalent of the modern-day city of Ascar.
If you take a good map of the region and look at it, you'll find Ascar. If you go to the north and the west, you'll find Gerizim, and on the foothills of Gerizim you'll find a modern city called Nablus. Now, geographically, we also know that there were several roads from Judea to Galilee. I mention this because in verse 4 it says that Jesus had to go through Samaria. Or if you have a King James Version, it might read, He needs must go through Samaria, or something like that, or He must go through Samaria.
Interesting statement. Why must he go through Samaria? This is the kind of thing that, incidentally, in home Bible studies you can get off on till about 930, and you never get back to what you're supposed to be studying, because you come up with about forty-seven explanations that are all totally bogus, because nobody… if we were really told, you know, it would be helpful, but as it is, it's mere conjecture. Well, this conjecture was organized or a guided conjecture.
I think we can make an approximation at answering the question. First of all, we should note that the Samaritans were detested by the Pharisees, and so when the Pharisees were making the journey from Judea to Galilee, there was no way in the world that they were going through Samaria. They didn't want to see the people, touch the people, hear from the people, buy from the people, do anything with the people, and so they took the long road which went through the area of the Jordan.
That was one road. Those who weren't so scrupulous about their dealings with them were quite happy to go right slap-bang through the middle of Samaria. And indeed, anyone who was in a hurry to get from Judea to Galilee would take the short route, and the short route would run right through Samaria. So John says, Jesus had to go through Samaria. Well, one possibility is that he had to go, because he had to go.
He was in a hurry, he wanted to get to where he was going quickly, and he wasn't going to fool around going on the long journey, and he had to go through there. I think that's highly unlikely, and I'll address that now as we come to the third aspect of context, which is to view the verses not simply in an historical context, in a geographical context, but then in a theological context. Now, don't let anybody be put off by that word. It's a kind of high-falutin-sounding word, but it simply means that which deals with God. If geography has to do with places and people, and history has to do with times and seasons, theology has to do with what we know of God, what we know of ourselves, and what the implications are of those two things coalescing. We need to set it in a theological context. Let's just stay, then, with this idea of the necessity of Jesus going through Samaria. He had to go through Samaria. I think the answer to that has probably little to do with time, and it has everything to do with the nature of the mission of Jesus. Jesus is seen leaving Judea at a time when, apparently, he was being very, very successful. The Pharisees were concerned that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John. The ministry was exploding.
More and more people were seeing his miracles, hearing his words, getting baptized, following him. And Jesus says to his disciples, that's it, we're out of here. We're going to Galilee. That doesn't seem right. You would assume that since everything was going so well, the urgency would be, now let's just capitalize on this.
Let's develop this. But no, Jesus says, we're going. Now do you understand that? Only in terms of the fact that Jesus was working within the framework of, if you like, a divine calendar. He did not want any kind of premature crisis in Judea to move forward the timing of what he knew would be his eventual demise. And he resists this all the way through the Gospels. Whenever people are prepared to come and make him king, for example, he's gone. When people come and they think they're going to shut him down, he's gone.
Why? Because he knew that he was moving towards a point in time. And so, what we see here in Jesus in this event in Samaria is Jesus recognizing the fact that he was there, according to verse 34, to do his will and to finish his work. Whose will? The Father's will.
Whose work? The Father's work. Jesus, why are we leaving Judea? Because I must do his will and finish his work. Jesus, why are we going to Galilee? To do his will and finish his work. Jesus, why are you talking to this person? To do his will and finish his work.
To get the focus, it's an all-consuming passion. There's no question with Jesus and his operation about whether he had a purpose statement. Could you give us your purpose statement, Jesus? Could you reduce it to a verse? Could you reduce it to a phrase? I'll give you it in a phrase. I'll give you it in two phrases. To do his will to finish his work. Now, can we expand on that? Yes, we can.
But it is the irreducible minimum. What are you doing, Jesus? This is what I'm doing. Now, when you understand this, loved ones, and realize that when he finishes up, he says, listen, as the Father sent me, so send I you. It's the same purpose statement.
It's the same commission. To do his will to finish his work. Not to play a church, not to scratch one another's backs, not to become the perfect husbands, the most wonderful wives. All of those things are means to an end. If I spend my last breath proclaiming Jesus, all will be well.
And the same for each of us. If our last conversation in leaving the office on a day that we will never know to be our last day sets forward the work of Christ, then we're within the line of his great preoccupation and his great passion. The all-consuming passion of Jesus was to do the Father's will and to finish his work. Is that your passion? You're listening to Truth for Life weekend with Alistair Begg.
We'll hear the rest of this message next weekend. We love sharing the gospel here at Truth for Life. In fact, that's our mission, to teach the Bible clearly every day in a way that shows just how relevant these ancient words still are to your daily life.
Our prayer is that God will use this program to convert unbelievers, to bring believers into a closer relationship with Jesus, and to build up local churches. Along with Alistair's teaching, we select books that align with our mission, books we think will help you grow in your faith. Today, we want to recommend to you a book titled Habits of Grace, Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines.
Many of us spend the first week of January reassessing our lives, re-establishing healthy habits, or improving on old routines. Well, the book Habits of Grace will help you take a closer look at your spiritual disciplines. You'll find tips to improve your time with God, with his word, and with his people. You can learn more about the book Habits of Grace when you visit our website at truthforlife.org. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for including us in your weekend. You find yourself intimidated even by the thought of talking to others about Jesus? Next weekend we'll learn why evangelism doesn't need to be a big production with prepared speeches or the handing out of tracts. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-08 04:35:27 / 2023-01-08 04:44:21 / 9