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Talk about being shocked and surprised by hearing the truth, since it was pastor appreciation month, a young couple in the church invited their pastor over for Sunday dinner. While the lovely couple was in the kitchen preparing the meal, the pastor sat in the living room making small talk with their 7-year-old son, and says to him, “Billy, what are we having for dinner?”
Billy answers, “Well pastor, I’m pretty sure we’re having goat.”
“Goat?” replied the pastor, wondering how the boy had come up with that one. “What makes you think we’re having goat?”
“Last week, I heard Dad say to Mom, ‘Might as well have that old goat for dinner next Sunday as any other day.’”
I imagine that Jesus’ disciples were almost as shocked when Jesus said to them, “The truth is, anyone who believes in Me will do the same works I have done, and even GREATER WORKS, because I am going to be with the Father” (John 14:12).
“I tell you the truth” (John 14:12).
Other translations bring out what the New Living Translation lacks: the solemn significance of this statement. The NASB renders this “Truly, truly, I say unto you.” The King James has “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” In the original Aramaic Jesus spoke, “Amen, amen, I say unto you.” One of my favorite commentators says this phrase can best be understood as, “I most solemnly assure you.” 1
Perhaps we’re not far off in thinking Jesus is saying here, “I am Lord of heaven and earth, and I approve this message.”
Leon Morris, in his commentary on the gospel of John, tells us that this holy formula “marks the words as being uttered not only before men and women, but more importantly before God, who is thus invited to bring them to pass.” 2
Bring what to pass? The GREATER WORKS, that’s what!
“The truth is, anyone who believes in Me will do the same works I have done, and even GREATER WORKS, because I am going to be with the Father” (John 14:12).
I can just hear Philip thinking to himself: Yea right! What’s He talking about, GREATER WORKS? GREATER WORKS than He has done? No way! Turning water to wine? No way! Feeding the multitudes? No way! Walking on water? No way! Raising the dead? No way!
It was startling enough for Jesus to tell His Apostles they were going to do the ‘same’ things He had been doing. But no, He goes on to promise that they will do even GREATER WORKS than He did! What can He possibly mean?
The Book of the Acts of the Apostles provides the answer.
In one of the most thrilling to read books ever written, we discover three ways that the works of the Apostles were greater works than the works of Jesus.
First, even a casual glance at the Book of Acts reveals that in the months following the death and resurrection of Jesus, many more people came into God’s Kingdom through the witness of His Apostles than ever did through His own personal ministry. This aspect of Acts becomes crystal clear as we read the six ‘summary statements’ that the author, Luke, includes along the way of his story:
Acts 6:7 So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.
9:31 The church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it became stronger as the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. And with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers.
12:24 Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers.
16:5 Then they went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.
19:20 So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect.
28:30-31 For the next two years, Paul lived in Rome at his own expense. He welcomed all who visited him, boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him.
And so we can see that the greater works had to do with the fact that His followers could reach more people than Jesus ever had the opportunity to reach.
Second, and closely related is the idea that they are also greater works because, whereas, before His death and resurrection, Jesus was physically limited to being in one place at a time, afterward He is present wherever they are present. In other words, after He ascends to heaven, He sends His promised Spirit to indwell and empower His disciples so that through them His power and presence can minister His grace wherever they are. This is why He says, “You will do greater works because I am going to Father.”
Thirdly, they are greater works because they are more spiritual in nature than physical. In other words, as wonderful as the physical miracles were the feeding of the 5000, the healing of the sick, the raising of the dead; the spiritual miracles are of far greater value because they last forever.
Yes, in the greatest miracle of all, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but guess what, Lazarus died again. Praise God that through his faith in Christ, Lazarus eventually entered into a spiritual life that continues still! The first disciples did greater works than Jesus because those works enabled people to enter eternity!
I was thinking about Philip to whom Jesus spoke these words and how he participated in accomplishing greater works in the Book of Acts, chapter 8:
As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”
Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him. The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. And as a lamb is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. He was humiliated and received no justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus. As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing.
Philip experienced first hand accomplishing greater works on behalf of the Kingdom of God. And so, the Book of Acts is a testament to the fulfillment of the words spoken to His Apostles by Jesus in that Upper Room that they indeed would carry on His greater works! The greater works that involve putting people in touch with God the Father through faith in Jesus the Son, and accomplished in the power of the Holy Spirit through the Church as the church prays in Jesus name!
Do you suppose this passage has anything to say to the disciples of Jesus living in the 21st century?
You better believe it does! These ‘verily, verily’ words are meant to convey to you and me a sense of value and meaning and encouragement in knowing that we too are participating in the greater works of Jesus! Have you ever stopped to realize that the work that we are accomplishing for the Christ through our ministry at CrossPointe qualifies as the ‘greater works’ Jesus spoke of?
When we became believers in Christ, Jesus sent the same Spirit He sent them, to empower us to carry on His ‘greater works.’ We too have the opportunity to manifest the presence of Jesus in the lives of people we meet on a daily basis. We too have been given the opportunity to have an eternal impact in the lives of other people.
For the greater works that we get to accomplish in Jesus name remind us that His Church exists primarily for the benefit of other people! As the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, pointed out in 1944: “The Church is the only institution that exists for those who are not yet its members.” 3
How does that old poem go?
“He has no hands but our hands to do His work today.
He has no feet but our feet to lead men in His way.
He has no lips but our lips to tell them how He died.
He has no help but our help to bring them to His side.” 4
This is our calling! This is our destiny as the people of God at CrossPointe! This is why our Purpose Statement is Sharing God’s Grace with Our Community because Sharing God’s Grace with Our Community is the primary way we are enabled to accomplish greater works!
And the prospect of accomplishing greater works in the power of the Holy Spirit in name of Christ should be the driving force behind everything we do here!
I was reading an article in Forbes Magazine written by business consultant Liz Ryan, who argues that companies shouldn’t be so obsessed with having “happy employees.” Instead, she argues that employers should focus on helping employees connect to a greater mission. She goes on to give the following example of a mission-driven person:
“Let’s imagine a person completely immersed in his or her work. We’ll use the greatest violin maker in the world as our example. I don’t know who makes the greatest violins in the world, but we’ll imagine that it’s an Italian violin maker named Franco and that Franco has a studio where 15 or 20 apprentices and journeymen work alongside Franco making the most exquisite violins in the world. Is Franco happy? Truth be told he is alternately ecstatic, frustrated, transported, confused, exhausted and lost in the zone. He and his work are inextricable from one another. No one would say about Franco or his employees, ‘They’re happy.’ Instead, people in Franco’s town would say, ‘Those guys live and breathe violins, and people around the world rejoice.’” 5
Don’t get me wrong; happy is good. I like to think of our experience at CrossPointe as a happy one. Are you happy? “But please understand [writes Liz Ryan] that happiness is only the first station stop on the train that continues on to fulfillment, mission, and absolute buy-in.” 6
If I might borrow her words, those guys live and breathe greater works, and people around Chippewa Lake rejoice!
You want to hear from someone who rejoices?
“Randy, please forgive the long text, but I felt led to share this with you. I had the house to myself this evening. Instead of binge-watching an old tv show, I decided to read some scripture assigned from the Letters Of Paul study manual. Afterward, I felt led to open my calendar and look back to see what was on our schedule last year at this time. Here’s what I found: On January 16th, we met with you at the church. Our marriage and my soul in shambles. After patiently listening to us, you concluded with an invitation to join the Disciple New Testament group you were teaching that following evening. We accepted, attended and, well… the rest, as they say, is history. The journey thus far has been nothing short of miraculous. I thank God and will be eternally grateful that He chose you to share His grace with us. When I look at where we are now in such a short period of time, the phrase, “God of Wonders” comes to my mind. I am in awe of the truth contained in those 3 simple words.
You talk about greater works!
I had the blessing of being here that night but I want you to know for sure that was only because of all of our combined efforts to be the Church! It is one of those greater works whereby the Spirit of God has been working through His Church, that is, through all of us as we engage the people of our community at things like our Community Dinners, Gather to Scatter and at the Polar Bear Event yesterday, as we make decisions to give money so that we can offer folks a comfortable and inviting place, pay a pastor and assistant to maintain a full-time ministry, can offer people opportunities to participate in ministries like Bible Study and Grief Ministry and our Recovery Ministries. And as we offer people the opportunity to encounter the Risen Lord through these ever so important Sunday morning worship services.
Does that not inspire you? “Those guys live and breathe greater works,
and people around Chippewa Lake rejoice.”
I love that Liz Ryan statement “Happiness is only the first station stop on the train that continues on to fulfillment, mission, and absolute buy-in.”
Speaking of buy-in, I close with the story of William Borden, who in the early 1900s, graduated from The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania; a prestigious boarding school known for sending its alumni to Princeton University. He was an heir to the Borden family mining fortune and had a clear path to wealth and success set before him. But before Borden began his Ivy League education at Yale University, his parents sent him on a yearlong trip around the world as a graduation present. And while traveling the world, something happened that no one expected: he was moved by the spiritual and physical needs of people around the world. Borden wrote a letter to his parents and informed them he wanted to spend his life as a missionary. One of his friends remarked that becoming a missionary would be tantamount to throwing one’s life away.
Upon his return, Borden graduated from Yale and then Princeton Theological Seminary. When his ministry preparation was completed, he boarded a ship to Asia to serve among Muslims in China’s Gansu province. Along the way, he stopped in Cairo to learn Arabic and study Islam. In Egypt, Borden contracted spinal meningitis. Less than a month later, he was dead at age 25.
He walked away from his fortune to share in the greater works of reaching people for Christ. Most regarded his death as a tragedy; however, God took the tragedy and did something far greater than Borden could ever do himself. When young men and women read Borden’s story in the newspapers of America, it inspired them to leave all they had and give their lives to also reach the nations with the gospel of Christ.
After his death, it was discovered he had written a series of phrases in his Bible. While he struggled with his desire to become a missionary against his father’s heavy disapproval, he wrote: “No Reserves.”
Toward the end of his time at Yale, where he had started a Bible study attended by ¾ of the school’s student population, he wrote: “No retreats.”
And as he lay dying of spinal meningitis in Cairo, he wrote: “No regrets.” 7
Greater works! No reserves, no retreats, no regrets!!
1 Hendriksen, William. The New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to John. [Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, © 1953]. Page 272.
2 Morris. Leon. The Gospel According to John. The New International Commentary on the New Testament Series Edited by F. F. Bruce. [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing © 1971]. Page 169.
3 William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1942-1944 http://saltforsermons.org.uk/category/church-growth/