John 14:8-17 “Greater Works Than Jesus”
Words and phrases leap out at you, at times, when you are reading the Bible. This was certainly true for me in this gospel lesson for Pentecost Sunday, the birth of the Church. I was struck by Jesus statement that his followers will do greater works than he did. His assurance that he will do whatever we ask in his name, caught me by surprise. Finally, I was overwhelmed with Jesus promise to send us the Spirit who will be our counselor and never leave us. These are powerful, life transforming words.
Who can do greater things than Jesus? I’ve never known anyone who could walk on water, still a storm, or feed 5,000 people. How can we do anything greater than what Jesus could do and did do?
Jesus wants to assure his followers that they will receive the same Holy Spirit that Jesus has had in his ministry. Theologians agree that it was not Jesus’ innate power that enabled him to do what he did. He gave up that power when he emptied himself and became human. Instead, it was the power of the Holy Spirit that flowed through Jesus and accomplished the tasks. Jesus received this Holy Spirit at the beginning of his ministry.
It doesn’t make sense to believe, as some do, that the greater things Jesus talks about are our personal accomplishments. The Christians in our success obsessed society have often fallen into the temptation of believing that the Holy Spirit will empower them to be great successes—they’ll get their millions at an early age, enable their company to reach the Fortune 500, purchase bigger houses, and more toys. In our narcissistic culture it is all too tempting to believe that we have the Spirit for affluence and comfort.
Clearly, this is not what Jesus had in mind. The greater works that Jesus was referring to were greater in the area of the ministry that his disciples were taking up. As they proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ, cast out demons, healed the sick, and called people to repentance and faith, they would to greater things than Jesus. The greatness would not come from more power, but from the fact that the disciples would be more than one person. They would be a community of believers.
Christians have often misunderstood the guarantee that Jesus gave his followers. They feel that Jesus’ words assure them that their prayers to win the lottery, to pass the test for which they haven’t studied, to wipe away the results of their sinful behavior will all be answered. This isn’t what Jesus meant.
Jesus said that whatever we prayed in his name would be answered. This calls for us to do more than end our prayers with the magic phrase, “in Jesus’ name.” This phrase means in Jesus’ will. We are challenged in our prayer life not to pray for our will, but to pray that God’s will be done in our lives and in our world.
Prayer changes the focus of our lives off ourselves and on to God. Prayer does not perceive God to be our personal errand boy who has nothing better to do than to make sure our every whim is met. Prayer joins together with God to accomplish God’s will and to bring God’s kingdom into our lives and our world.
As we go through life, Jesus assures us that we will never be alone. Jesus will be with us in the person of the Holy Spirit.
Certainly God will be with us in the trials and tribulations of our lives. God will never forsake us.
This promise goes further than that, however. It is a promise that God will always be with us as we act faithfully, obediently and boldly in service to God and our fellow human beings.
The Holy Spirit is our Counselor. The Spirit will guide us, empower us (help us), and change us into God’s image.
This life in the Spirit that Jesus is talking about in this passage is much bigger than the American vision of success. In fact it is the opposite of that vision. Jesus is talking about dying to live for ourselves and living to live for God. When we do this, the Spirit will move in our lives in a manner that is beyond our comprehension or imagination.