Summary: God does great works through his praying people to show his power and glorify himself.
On the night Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he also told them some tough things. As a result, they are discouraged and anxious. Then (as we heard in last week’s sermon), the great physician applied his healing balm: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Your circumstances are (admittedly) difficult, but they should not drive you to despair because I go to prepare a place for you in my Father’s house. And I will come back and take you there to be with me forever. I am the way to God; I am the truth about religion; I am the source of life eternal. You know God because I reveal the Father to you. Think deeply – Christianity is a thinking religion – think and believe; but if not, believe the works I have done, for they testify to my divinity.”
Then, having mentioned his own astounding works, Jesus adds comfort by pointing to the works that his followers will do. This is the topic the Lord addresses in John 14.12-14. So that you see the connection to the previous point, we will start reading in verse 11.
[Read John 14.11-14. Pray.]
These verses cause me to turn my head and say, “Did I read that right? Greater works than Messiah? Whatever we ask in his name he will do?” Is this sensationalism or a stunning promise?
Dr. James Boice (longtime pastor at Tenth Presbyterian church of Philadelphia) opened his sermon on this passage by saying, “It is unlikely that any of us has ever been offered a million dollars. But if we can imagine how breathlessly overwhelmed we would be by such an offer, we can begin to appreciate what our reaction should be to the promise…. But when we think of it the promise seems unrealistic, if not totally incredible.”
I believe Jesus promises us incredible ministry, when we serve in his name, through believing prayer, for the glory of God. To see that, first note:
1. The Scope of the Works We Get To Do (John 14.11-12b)
In verse 11, Jesus asks the disciples to believe in him “on account of the works” that he has been doing. Then he adds: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believe in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do….”
A quick moment of reflection will tell you how important and encouraging this promise must have been. Over the past 3 years, Jesus has demonstrated the presence of the kingdom with marvelous signs. He healed the sick, fed the multitudes, preached good news to the poor, calmed the storms, and even raised the dead. But now he has told his men, “I am going away and where I am going you cannot now follow.”
Surely the disciples thought something like: “Our Master, the Lord, the very Hand and Grace of God, when he leaves, his proofs will end, and we will be left with only dim memories. Like a gorgeous sunset whose flames die into night, we will are losing the glory of God. All is over.” But Jesus will have none of that despair: “You will carry on my ministry by doing my works and greater!”
I’m sure you can imagine that there has been dispute and disagreement over what these words mean. Some claim this promise as proof that godly Christians can still heal the sick, raise the dead, and perform a varieties of miracles, if only they believe sufficiently. While I do not deny the possibility of occasional miracles in the life of the church, I do not think that “greater” works necessarily mean more fantastic miracles or more frequent signs. Jesus himself said to his disciples after they had returned from an awesome display of power over demons: “Do not rejoice…that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10.20). If their own salvation is to thrill them more than commanding demons to flee, the greater works must not be more flagrant displays of the miraculous.
Nor do I agree with those who limit Jesus’ promise to the eleven men in the room, saying they did greater works which do not apply to us. Certainly is true that while Christ healed with the hem of his garment, Peter did so with only his shadow (Acts 5.15) and Paul by a handkerchief that had touched him (Acts 19.12). These may be called “greater” in their display of power. Those who hold this view also point out that while Jesus performed miracles for two or three years in one country, his apostles did so for many ages in various places. So we might also think these miracles “greater” in their spread. But the text says “whoever,” and I can find no reason to limit that word to the 11 men in the room. Additionally, were the Apostle miracles really greater? After all, Acts records no apostle walking on water or raising one who had been dead 4 days.