As we read through the Gospels and observe Jesus’ life, we find that He took every opportunity to teach His disciples about the kingdom of God. And whatever He taught, He lived before them. Everything He said was clearly reflected in His life. He was a living, breathing example to His disciples. These 12 men had an opportunity to watch His life and learn from His every action.
One of the occasions that challenged and changed them is recorded in John 4. It is as relevant for us today as it was for Jesus’ disciples. You are probably familiar with the story of the woman at the well to whom Jesus spoke about living water. The disciples had gone into the city to buy food, and when they returned they offered it to Him.
But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” John 4:32–35
Can’t you identify with the disciples’ confusion? Jesus had to be hungry from His journey, so they had walked to the nearby village to buy Him something to eat. They had not eaten yet, either, and were probably just as hungry and thirsty as Jesus was. Then Jesus acted as if He had already eaten: “I have food to eat that you aren’t aware of.” This confused them even more: “We go to all this trouble and now He won’t eat! Has someone brought Him something?”
What was Jesus saying? He was seizing on an everyday event—eating—to illustrate to His disciples a principle of a different kingdom. Jesus was saying something like this:
“You’re horizontally oriented, thinking about the here-and-now—your tired and dusty feet, your growling stomachs, your parched throats. But pull your attention away for a minute. Lift up your eyes! Look into eternity and see what I see. You say there are still four months before harvest arrives. But I tell you, look right now to the souls of men and women around you. The fields are already ripe and ready to be harvested. If you wait a little longer, the crop will be gone—destroyed.
“Yes, I’m hungry, I’m thirsty. But the crisis out there is so real that it consumes all My being. Compared to what is happening, I no longer have an appetite. I am desperate to finish what My Father has given Me to do.”
Jesus could have used any number of examples to explain kingdom principles. Why did He use food?
Perhaps because it makes more sense to us. For us the barest of necessities do not consist of only a glass of water and a piece of bread. Yet to Jesus, even the most basic of essentials—bread and water—were unimportant when He knew people were dying without His Father’s love.
Jesus speaks to us today just as strongly as He did to His disciples. He gives us the same command He gave them: “Follow Me.” If we are His followers, we will hear this command and do the same things He did. But as human beings, made of the same flesh and blood as Jesus’ disciples, we are horizontally oriented, too. We focus on the here-and-now—clothes, houses, educations, careers, bank accounts, finances, cars.
But Jesus calls us to lift our eyes and look away from it all. He is calling us to see what He sees, to feel the urgency He feels, to share His heart for the harvest that will soon be gone—destroyed forever—if it is not reaped soon.
Throughout the Gospel accounts, Jesus’ life was marked by urgency: “I must go”; “I must work”; “Night is coming”; “You go and make disciples.” Phrases like these tell us how Jesus felt and what He lived for. He was so desperate that food and drink took a back seat.