After reading through the beautiful story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) this week, the Holy Spirit highlighted to me Jesus’ discourse about harvest.
“Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor” (John 4:35-38).
Jesus often used metaphors from agriculture to teach his disciples, because they lived in an agrarian society. His parables are rich with the vocabulary of farming—seeds, roots, weeds, watering, cultivating, sowing, reaping, and harvest. Paul, James and John followed suit in their writings. There is no biblical metaphor that better or as frequently captures the essence of the kingdom of God than planting, watering, and producing a harvest. Jesus refers to the world waiting to hear the gospel as God’s “harvest field” (Matt. 9:38).
Farming happens according to seasons and cycles. We understand that it works, but there is an element of mystery in how it works, as Jesus alludes to in this passage:
“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29).
It appears that like many of his teachings, this one exhorts us to trust and act by faith, even when we do not fully comprehend all aspects of his instruction. This is part of discipleship. But we know enough about what Jesus has called us to do, and what is our rightful part in bringing in a harvest of souls.
First, if we follow Jesus’ example, we will be reckless sowers of the seeds of gospel truth. According to the parable of the sower and the seed, the sower throws out so much seed in every direction that some of it lands in places where it has no chance of taking root and growing to maturity. We do not spare the seed by prejudging who is “good ground” and who is not. We scatter it far and wide. This seed sowing is the work of evangelism.
When the seed has been sown, the soil must be watered. When the seed sprouts and the new stalk is still tender and fragile, it must be protected from intense heat and wind. If weeds start to surround the young plant, the farmer sees to it that the plants growth is not thwarted.* This paints a vivid metaphoric picture of the work of discipling (Matt. 13:24-29).
Some in the kingdom are primarily evangelists, some primarily disciplers, and most of us do some of each, and serve in other ways as well. But the fulfillment glory of the harvest belongs entirely to the Lord. The Apostle Paul, who was a sower and cultivator of much gospel seed, declared, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6-7). He made it clear that God’s people are workers in the harvest, while God is Lord of the harvest and receives all the credit for its abundance.
Let’s go boldly about sowing, and watering, and weeding, and reaping fruit for the glory of the Master, the Lord of the harvest!