THE POSSIBILITY OF GREATER WORKS
By James L. Thornton
John 14:12 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.
How could the disciples do greater works than Jesus did while He was on this earth? And wasn’t He speaking of you and me as well? What, then, is the significance of His words for you and me? Wasn’t He saying that we could do greater works than His? Could it be? Could it actually be true that you and I—all of us who belong to Jesus Christ—have the potential to do greater works than Jesus did? Isn’t that a little outrageous? Isn’t that almost…blasphemous? No, it is neither outrageous nor blasphemous. It is truth. Jesus, whose name is Truth, said so Himself.
The works Jesus performed during His public ministry were mind-boggling. He cured diseases…cast out demons…raised corpses to life…created wine, fish, and bread with a word and a touch…calmed mighty storms with a single command. How could it be said by any stretch of imagination that the works of the disciples and that our works—we who belong to His church—are greater than Jesus’ works? Has this promise ever been fulfilled? Can we point to anything that would help us understand that in our world today?
Some have said, “Well, you have to understand that the ‘greater works’ are related to belief.” In other words, the reason we don’t do these greater works is because we don’t believe enough. Is that true? The problem with this understanding is that if our ability to do such works depends on our faith, then we would have to have greater faith than Jesus! Jesus didn’t say, “He who believes in Me with sufficient faith,” or “He who believes in Me with all his heart,” or “He who believes in Me intensely and with great sincerity shall do greater works.”
He simply said, “He who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these he will do” (John 14:12);
But that makes no sense…does it? Greater works? Greater miracles than He performed? What could that mean?
In John 2, at the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus converted the simple molecular structure of water into the far more complex molecular structure of wine. Can we do more than that?
In John 4:50 by a word uttered over ten miles from the scene, Jesus instantly reversed the decay process and restored to life and activity the nobleman’s son. Can we do more than that?
In John 6:1–14, Jesus took five loaves and two fish and created out of them enough bread and meat to feed five thousand hungry men and their families. Can we do more than that?
In John 6:15–21, Jesus created an anti-gravitational force of an unknown nature that enabled Him to walk along the surface of a stormy sea. Can we do more than that?
In John 11, Jesus stood at the mouth of an opened grave and called through the veil of death to His friend Lazarus. Not only was Lazarus dead, his limbs, eyes, brain, and internal organs were already in a state of decay. This man had been dead for four days; putrefaction was well under way. And yet at the creative word of Jesus Christ, all the cells and functions of that body were instantly restructured, and the departed spirit was summoned again to the body. Lazarus lived and spoke and thought and remembered. Awesome! What could possibly qualify as a greater work than that?
Great works? Marvelous miracles? Yes, beyond all question. And yet think about it: every one of those acts was only superficial and temporary. I am not discounting what Jesus did. I am simply making the point that no one was permanently helped by these miracles. None of men’s deepest needs were met by these works of power.
Yes, He created food for a single meal; but the people just got hungry again.
Yes, He stilled the raging sea; but only until the next storm.
Yes, He healed bodily ailments; but every person he healed eventually died anyway.
I don’t know what you think about Lazarus, but I really feel bad for him. How would you like to die twice? That’s what happened to him. He had already passed into Glory. He was already walking the streets of heaven, talking to Abraham, Moses, and David, filling his eyes with heavenly splendor and gazing on the very throne of God. And what happened? Jesus brought him back. Years later, Lazarus had to repeat the whole process. He had to die again. The miracle of bringing Lazarus back was no favor to Lazarus! Jesus did it as a sign miracle for all who watched.
Dr. John Mitchell, preeminent Bible teacher for many years at Multnomah Bible College, used to tell the story of sitting at the bedside of a dying friend. The man seemed to be slipping out of this life. His breathing grew very, very shallow until, finally, it seemed to stop.
Well, Dr. Mitchell thought, he’s gone now.Suddenly, the man’s eyes popped open and he looked up at the craggy face of Dr. Mitchell. “Who’s there?” the man said.
“It’s all right,” Dr. Mitchell soothed. “It’s just me.”
“Oh,” the man groaned, “I’m so disappointed!”
The dying man had anticipated looking into the face of Jesus—or at least an angel. Instead, he saw the same old hospital room and the face of the old Scotsman Mitchell. If he was disappointed, just imagine how Lazarus had felt! What a letdown to find himself back in his grave clothes lying on a slab in a dark tomb.
Yet the Author of Life called him back, and he stepped once again into the lesser light of the sun. And you and I can do a greater work than this? How so?
THE PROMISE OF GREATER WORKS:
The fact is, Jesus tied His promise of “greater works” to the coming of the Holy Spirit.
In John 14:12, Jesus said, “And greater works than these shall he do.” For what reason? Here’s the key: “Because I go unto My Father.”
This is a common phrase and a common teaching. John 7:39 states: “(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)” He had not yet left.
In John 16:7 Jesus said, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.”
These greater works Jesus promised were dependent upon Jesus’ physically leaving this world and going back to heaven. Those things could not happen, He told them, until He went to His Father and sent the Holy Spirit down to take His place.
Shortly after Jesus had spoken these words to His disciples, He went to the garden that night where He was arrested, taken to trial, and brutally crucified. He rose from the grave on the first day of the week and appeared to the believers over a period of forty days. He then ascended back to His Father, and ten days after His return to heaven, the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, and came upon them in power.
Then Peter and the other disciples stood in front of the very mob and the very rulers who had crucified Jesus and proclaimed His resurrection and offer of salvation. Three thousand people experienced the miracle of regeneration in one day.
Someone has said that more people believed on the Day of Pentecost than had believed in the entire three and a half years Jesus walked on this earth. I believe that is possibly true.
Amazing as our Lord’s words in John 14:12 may be, it is literally true that a believer today may accomplish greater works on earth than our Lord Himself accomplished.
I would like to suggest to you three ways that our works are “greater.”
1. WE HAVE A GREATER MESSAGE:
The great works Jesus did while He lived and walked among us dealt with the material. The greater works that He promised we would do deal with the spiritual.
In Luke 10:17, the disciples had just returned from their first preaching mission:
Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.”
In other words, they were thrilled that they had been able to cast out demons. But Jesus said to them, “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:19–20)
Did you hear what Jesus said? They had been cheering and laughing and rejoicing because they were able to order some evil spirits around. Jesus said, “That’s okay, but don’t get so excited about that. What you really need to get excited about is that your names are written down in heaven.”
What was Jesus saying? The spiritual is far more important than the material. The eternal is infinitely more important than the temporal. You and I have difficulty understanding that.
One of the reasons we do not have greater works going on in our lives is because we, as believers, do not understand the priority of the spiritual over the material. We have a much greater message because conversion is the greatest miracle we could ever be associated with.
I heard about a group of short-term missionaries who recently held evangelistic meetings in Africa. During those meetings, these believers reported, a blind man miraculously received his sight. When the believers came back to report to the sending churches that was just about all they could talk about. A man’s sight restored—what a miracle!
Yet during those same meetings, many embraced Jesus Christ as Savior, received the Holy Spirit, and found eternal life. Many stepped out of spiritual blindness into the light of God’s kingdom. But that news always seemed to receive second billing to “the miracle of healing.”
If we could only view these things as God does! The message of reconciliation meets the basic needs of every man and woman, every boy and girl, and it meets those needs permanently. In miracles, only God’s power and goodness are revealed, but in conversion, God’s grace, and mercy, is revealed—something that causes even the angels to look over the ramparts of heaven in wonder (1 Peter 1:12).
The message of the saving grace of God is the greater message because it was the message that extended to the Gentiles and rolled outward across the world like a mighty tsunami wave. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ have given to us in this generation, the greatest message that has ever been communicated to any people. Anywhere. At any time. Period. It is called the eternal gospel, the Good News.
You and I can show compassion and reach out to help people with their hurts. We can minister to them in their sorrow. We can assist them in dealing with terrible addictions or dysfunctional family situations. But if, in the process, we do not give to them Jesus Christ and salvation, we have only postponed the inevitable. We have not really helped them!
In years past, when the “social gospel” was popular, many Christians became excited about meeting people in their social, physical needs. There are many versions of the social gospel out there today, and certainly we need to do good to those in need. And yes, it is true that if we meet the physical needs of “the least of these” brothers and sisters, we have ministered to the King Himself. But if we do all these things and we leave them without the permanent message of salvation, we have not changed them. Our message is greater because it is for eternity.
2. We Have a Greater Ministry:
Not only is the message greater, but we literally do have a greater ministry. The works Jesus did while He walked the dusty paths of Palestine were localized in scope. If you were up on a space shuttle flight, you could look down at the great curve of the earth and, if the shuttle was in the right orbital position and weather permitted, you might strain your eyes and see a tiny strip of land at the edge of a great continental shelf a few miles wide and a few miles long. This was the extent of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
During His lifetime, the Son of God was confined in His influence to a comparatively small section of that thin slice of Middle East landscape. That was His ministry. If you’ve ever been to Israel, you know it’s not a very big place. It’s a postage stamp.
Martin Luther said, “For Christ took but a little corner for Himself to preach and to work miracles, and but a little time; whereas the apostles and their followers have spread themselves through the whole world.”
Jesus committed the gospel to a small group of eleven men in order that they might carry it to the ends of the earth. At that time, the whole world, with the exception of a few in Israel, was lost in the darkness and despair of unbelief—“without hope and without God in the world.” And yet in just a little more than three hundred years, Christianity closed nearly all the temples of the heathen Roman Empire and numbered its converts by the millions.
These were the greater works, and down through the centuries, He still carries on this ministry through the believers in the body of Christ. Today, our words are carried across the entire globe. We who work out of our home transcribing these messages to print publishing them on the World Wide Web are capable of reaching literally millions upon millions of people around the world. This is a voice that is not hushed in a few minutes but stays there to be read over and over.
And these words, somewhere down the road, will get into the mix of a radio ministry that is on many radio stations, and they will go all over the United States. It is possible through satellite hookup to show the image of the minister preaching the gospel to literally billions of people at once.
Jesus never did that. Could He have done it? Yes, He could have. But He has chosen, rather, to give the opportunity to us—to you and me—to do the greater works. We have a greater ministry, just as Jesus said we would.
Our dreams will always be greater than our memories because this world is exploding in its ability to communicate. Back in 1962—some thirty years before the advent of the Internet—Marshall McLuhan wrote, “The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.”
Unfortunately, Christians are sometimes the last people to take advantage of this technology.
I remember when television first came out. Many Christians shunned it, believing it was run by the prince of the power of the air. The evil one certainly had his influence in that medium (and still does), but why not use television as a means to proclaim the Good News? Why not use radio? Why not use print? Why not use the Internet? Why not use any means at hand to take the message of the gospel and spread it throughout the whole world?
The faster the better.
The farther the better.
The sooner the better.
Until He comes!
What Jesus was saying to His disciples was this: “While I was on this earth, I was localized, I could only touch individual men and women in My travels and speak to a few local audiences. But believe Me, after I am gone and the Holy Spirit comes to fill and empower My sons and daughters, then My ministry will be as far spread as Christians are.”
So wherever there is a Christian, there is Christ.
Wherever there is a believer, there is ministry.
We have a greater message and we have a greater ministry. But there is something else.
WE CAN DO GREATER MIRACLES:
What in the world do you mean?” Let me suggest to you that the Lord Jesus, while He was on this earth, never saw a conversion like that of Saul of Tarsus. He never saw a revival like the Great Awakenings that have shaken our world. The miracle of regeneration is indeed a grade A miracle. It is the greatest miracle there is. Do you believe that?
Ponder for a moment Dr. Morris’s unique description of conversion:
“A person who is a closed system (where nothing can enter) spiritually, utterly inadequate and self-centered, suddenly becomes an open system, integrated, and with his life centered in the omnipotent Creator. He who was spiritually deteriorating day after day, as a matter of fact “already dead while he liveth,” through the power of the Holy Spirit, now the God of hope fills him with joy and peace. He abounds in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit, and he becomes quickened together with Jesus Christ. His life was a chaos, and now is a cosmos, with order, meaning, and goal. He is born again, a miracle of grace, a living testimony to the great Power of creation, who also is the God of salvation.”
That’s what happens when a person receives Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. That’s what happened to you when you said yes to Him. You were a closed system, and you became an open system. You were chaos, and now you are cosmos.
You can tell people about that. Just look them in the eyes and say, “Did you know I once was a chaos, but now I’m a cosmos?”
What are we talking about? We’re talking about the miracle of regeneration. The longer God gives me the opportunity to preach and teach the more overwhelmed and amazed I am at how God, by His grace, works in human hearts. He can take a person who is going totally in the wrong direction and—in a moment of time, through an encounter with Jesus Christ—radically change that person and set him on the road to glory with holy happiness and joy in his heart.
Jesus Christ is the only one who can do that. And that is the miracle He has called us to perform as we spread throughout our neighborhoods, our nation, and our world as ambassadors of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
How do we go about doing the greater works? If you read this passage of Scripture in context, you won’t have any doubt about what this is all about. Look again at
John 14:12. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.
13. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
14. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.”
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:12–14, nasb)
THE POWER BEHIND THE GREATER WORKS:
The greater works are accomplished by prayer. It is exciting to me to understand what begins to happen as we pray. It’s not that we pray in order that we might do the work. Take another look at the verse: “And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do.” If you ask anything in His name, He will do it.
That is no small distinction! Sometimes Christians get weary because we forget. We think God wants us to do His work for Him. That will make you tired very, very quickly. You can’t do it! I can’t do it! Our legs are too short to run with God! What Jesus is saying is this: when we pray, God is going to do His work through us, and we will be channels for His work.
Sometimes we do commendable, praiseworthy things in the energy of our flesh. But when God begins to do the work through us, it is an entirely different proposition altogether. Incredible things begin to happen. Dreams take shape that are greater than our memories.
THE PRIORITIES OF THE GREATER WORKS:
A long time ago a pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago made this comment: “Never undertake more Christian work than can be covered in continual prayer.” Good advise. I have a feeling that many of us are over our limit. I have a feeling that many churches are well over their limit. Oh, how we need to grasp the priority of prayer.
As we pray, God will show us what He is doing, we will get under the spout, and He will pour His work down through us. The reason I’m excited about it is because I know God’s vision for you and for me, for my church and for your church, for my family and your family, for my city and your city, is much greater than ours would ever be. I’m energized just thinking about what God is going to do.
But I believe that people should not concentrate so much on the goal as on the power. And as we pray, we may discover that what we thought were great and lofty goals are pale and puny alongside His goals for our life and ministry.
Let us ask God to make us faithful as people of prayer, and let us pray that God will do His work through us. Then, whatever God wants to do, let’s be open to it!
God is going to do it in His own way—in startling, unexpected ways—through us as we trust Him and as we pray. Our prayers are greater than our past, and our dreams are greater than our memories. Just as Jesus said they would be.
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James L. Thornton