“Say not ye there are yet four months, and then cometh the harvest? Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes and look on the fields that they are white already unto harvest” (Jn. 4:35). Jesus spoke these words to His disciples as He watched the crowd of Samaritans coming to Him from the village of Sychar. It was their response to the Samaritan woman’s invitation: “Come, see a man who told me all things that ever I did. Can this be the Messiah?”
Most Jews of that day would scarcely have regarded the Samaritans as “prospects”. The enmity existing for centuries between these two peoples was always present. The Samaritan woman was astonished that Jesus would even speak to her (Jn. 4:9), and the disciples were just as astonished to find Jesus speaking to her (Jn. 4:27)!
Jesus encountered skepticism, mockery, and outright blasphemy from the rulers of the Jews. They had a powerful impact on their nation. Ultimately Jesus died alone on the cross, nailed there by the Romans with the express approval (actually a request) of the Jews. John wrote, “He came unto his own and they that were his own received him not …” (Jn. 1:11). Isaiah prophesied of this rejection seven centuries earlier: “He was despised and rejected of man …” (Isa. 53:3). Even today, only a tiny fraction of His race count themselves to be His disciples. Our families and relatives are often as disinterested in Jesus and His gospel as were Jesus’ people of His day.
Still, among those whom often we wouldn’t consider prospects are some who would be very receptive to the Word. Notice the reaction of these Samaritans: “And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in him” (Jn. 4:39). After Jesus had spent a couple more days teaching among them the number multiplied (Jn. 4:41). The Jews didn’t believe Zacchaeus was good enough for them to even eat a meal with him — they murmured when Jesus said to the man in the tree, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for today I must abide at thy house” (Lk. 19:5). Yet Zacchaeus was receptive to Jesus’ command, and proved to all those who were around what Jesus had already seen in his heart: he was a soul who could be touched by the gospel — an honest and good heart (Lk. 8:15).
Who is a prospect to the gospel? Initially, anyone who has an immortal soul. We must look beyond what color his skin is or whether his native land or tongue is different that ours. We must see a prospect as anyone for whom Christ died. Outer appearance tells us nothing about the kind of heart an individual may have. We must let his reaction to the gospel tell us that.
The rich young ruler who came to Jesus seemed to be a ripe prospect. He was respectful, he had kept all the commandments. He wanted to know what more he needed to do to “inherit eternal life”. But the one thing he lacked showed that his outward appearance was deceptive. On the other hand, a woman named Lydia was an equally prosperous, well-to-do lady. She was a merchant woman, a seller of purple (nobles and royalty were her customers). She had a commodious house which would provide food and shelter for a company of four men for an extended period of time (Acts 16:15). She was a ready response to the gospel. It is true that Paul wrote, “Behold your calling brethren, not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called …” (1 Cor. 1:26). However, pay special attention, for Paul did not say, “Not ANY wise, mighty or noble are called,” he said “Not MANY …” This means that some are. And how do we know the difference between those who are wise, mighty, and noble who will not hear and those who are wise, mighty, and noble that will hear? We don’t know by sight. The only way to determine who among the wise, mighty, and noble are those who will hear is by preaching the gospel to them and seeing their response to it.
When Paul said to the leaders of the Jews in Rome, after they had rejected the gospel in large measure, that he would go to the Gentiles because “they will hear,” he didn’t mean that all Gentiles would accept the Word of Christ. He had no greater, more bitter enemy that Demetrius, a silversmith and Gentile who made images of the Ephesian goddess Diana (Acts 19:24). When Jewish leaders persecuted Paul and Barnabas in Antioch of Pisidia, they enlisted (and got) the aid of the Gentiles to help them in that persecution (Acts 13:50). The same combination of Jews and Gentiles persecuted the two in Iconium (Acts 14:5). Paul preached the gospel to Felix (a Gentile governor in Caesarea), and while Felix did no physical harm to him and was terrified by the message Paul spoke, he rejected Paul’s message. On the other hand, Sergius Paulus, another ruler among the Gentiles (a proconsul on the isle of Cyprus) believed, “being astonished at the teaching of the Lord” (Acts 13:12). How can you tell the difference between the Gentiles who will hear and those who will not? Preach the gospel to them.
The truth is, the fields are white unto harvest because Jesus said to preach the gospel to every creature (Mk. 16:15). That is the only way to know who has an honest and good heart among men.
The need today is not for prospects: the world is full of them. The need is for laborers; those who are not ashamed of Christ nor his word (Mk. 8:38). The Lord said, “The harvest indeed is plenteous but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of harvest that he send forth laborers into his vineyard” (Mt. 9:37-38). Nearly 3,000 years ago God needed a messenger to warn stubborn Israel of punishment if they would not repent. He said, “Whom shall we send and who will go for us?” Isaiah’s response was immediate: “Here am I, Lord. Send me” (Isa. 6:8). Let us say the same. The harvest is there. We just need laborers.