Verse 12 just seems wrong – am I right? That “[the believer] will do greater things” than the things Jesus had been doing? That Bible passage seems like the most difficult one in this bunch, doesn’t it? I know you agree, rather, that Jesus is the greatest person in the history of the world; I mean, Jesus’ person and work saves the world…and some of his works – raise the dead, heal the blind, read the mind…wow! Verse 12 seems like something you wouldn’t want to say – “Yes, I have done many things greater than Jesus…” In fact, to be most honest, most of us would probably say whose life has gone so greatly that we would even remotely entertain the prospect of accomplishing something greater than Jesus? Just seems wrong, right?
Think about this: if we have a hard time with that, just imagine those first disciples when they heard it. John 14:1-12 are Maundy Thursday words. Maundy Thursday like just before Jesus dies on Good Friday words; MT, in upper room and afterward words, heard right alongside terrible prediction words: strong Peter would deny knowing Jesus at all; judgy Judas would betray Jesus to death; Jesus himself was going away soon – about to be handed over to the chief priests and the religious leaders for trial and execution. Not great words to hear for the disciples, from Jesus. Imagine it! So great was the teaching Jesus had brought… So great were the works this Jesus had done… So great it had been to be with him…and then somebody hit stop, like with a sledgehammer, and this great dream was shattered. To be without Jesus that just couldn’t possibly be great at all. Thinking about doing anything greater, anything great at all, that probably didn’t seem possible. The greatest thing on their minds was probably troubled hearts… that worried that nothing would be great ever again.
Do you think worry because of troubled hearts ever gets in the way of rightly thinking about your life in which Jesus is not visibly present? For the disciples, Jesus was and then wasn’t – you’ve never seen him. But the commonality that makes that a thing to think about then or now is that human life is troubling sometimes. Today in our prayers, Pastor Free will bring intercessions for somebody with Leukemia and for a family whose 18yr old daughter died. It’s Mother’s Day and that’s wonderful, except maybe if your mother wasn’t wonderful or you weren’t to her or you were never able to be a mother or your mother died and you miss her – even this day could be troubling. Think about how often it seems in all the trouble of life – whatever yours is – that Jesus is rather far away, so that sometimes you don’t even think about him, just that he isn’t about, around to help you right this trouble or fix that wrong. And sometimes, so troubled, it becomes tempting to ask like Thomas – “Lord, we don’t know the way…” and we mean, through this trouble, this difficulty, this hardship – and we might think, “Now, if I can just find it, find the way out – then things will be great.” And we might ask like Philip, “Lord just show us…and that will be enough for us. Then we’ll be set – if we could just see, the next 10 years, or how an election will go, or what choice to make, or the Father himself…then things would be great.” But do these things become greater than Jesus? Strangely, backwardly… not that we intended it, but we were lured there in the trouble. We would agree: nothing could be greater than Jesus…but we live as though some of these troubles actually are.
I think our first-glance hesitation with v.12 – the seemingly absurd idea of anyone doing things greater than Jesus’ things – I think it’s related to the central point Jesus wants believers to see: that he is the way to make everything greater than we can imagine. And he’s revealing that the hardest verse for our tempted, troubled hearts to grasp only seems like v.12 because we have a harder time with v.6 – “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
In all these words, Jesus intends to comfort you with his love. Let Jesus’ promise and his words drive away all the fear and the trouble this sinful world and our sinful lives bring. Jesus says in v.1 “Trust in God; trust also in me.” He calls you to put a stop to troubled hearts and to keep on putting your trust in God, in Jesus. Trust that what? That Jesus has worked; he has gone to prepare a place where you will stay with him trouble-free in his Father’s house forever. That if he has gone to make that place ready for you, he will come back and take you to be with him – to stay with him where he is. So that though you feel apart from him now, you know you will be with him forever, and that gives you peace. This is totally possible for your troubled lives because, as he said: “You know the way to the place where I am going.”
What way? Do you remember Jesus’ words back in ch.13 that almost sound contradictory? He was talking to Peter, about to predict his denial, he said, “where I am going, you cannot come.” Jesus was talking about death, where our sins should have taken us. But he alone went to the cross. In his love Jesus took our sins there. Through the way of the cross, by his suffering and his death, Jesus went to the Father to make everything ready. All our sins that we have made greater than him – he is greater than them all – and has proven his love to be the same by forgiving them with his own sacrifice. The writer of Hebrews said, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” And Jesus would say, “I am the way and the truth and the life…”
Jesus is the way – the only way to life with God forever, the only way to freedom from the trouble of this world, the way to forgiveness and peace from sins – by faith this is your way through life to life. Jesus is the truth – the truth of how life with God works, that sin is serious and damning and demands payment into death, the truth that payment has been made – by faith this is the truth of your life. Jesus is the life – the life death cannot hold – he rose again; he is the author of all life, the Word of God that brings life, the message that gives you spiritual life, the promise of everlasting life – by faith this kind of life is your life.
Jesus is promising here that everything we could possibly need to know the greatness of God by personal experience, to get through the troubles of life to that place – it’s all in Jesus. In him God is: the Father at work with Jesus himself – perfectly. We have a new and living way opened up for us through Jesus to God, by which the greatness of his grace allows us to do greater things than we could imagine otherwise, indeed, greater things than Jesus’ things…
Isn’t it so? Look at that difficult v.12 again. There he says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” For as grand and out-of-reach as that sounds, note a couple of important words that help us understand that Jesus is applying to your life the simple truth that he is your life and everyone else’s too.
- First – to whom does Jesus apply this amazing thought of greater works? To “anyone who has faith in me” – not just apostles, not pastors, not super-holy charismatic people – v.12 is normal Christianity done by normal Christians – you 10 year olds, you mothers, you graphic designers… “anyone who has faith in [Jesus].”
- Second – all Christians will do “what [Jesus has] been doing” or literally, “the works I have been doing…” Jesus’ works were mighty – raising Lazarus from the dead, walking on water, healing the blind. Is Jesus saying that every Christian will do these miraculous things? Raise your hand if you changed water to wine this week… This might exempt most of us from Christianity… it might also be bad Bible interpretation. Because you know how later on St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 said that God can bring about miracles through his people, but those aren’t the greatest gifts – God’s people are gifted to show love that glorifies him in all kinds of normal ways. And, in fact, even Jesus’ miraculous works worked in some normal ways. As he said to the disciples in v.11, “Believe me…or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles [works] themselves.” Even Jesus’ miracles were for one thing – to point people to faith in Jesus. Isn’t Jesus saying something rather normal like this: Verse 11: “My works function to lead people to faith in me.” Verse 12: “When you believe in me, I will work in you, and your works, like mine, will lead people to faith.”
- Third – All Christians will indeed do “greater works than these ones Jesus was doing.” You know already Jesus doesn’t mean you’re going to walk on water with more poise and finesse than he did or raise from the dead more dead people than he did. But how will your works point people to Jesus in a greater way than Jesus’ own works did? I think the clue is in the last phrase and absolutely fits with the central point Jesus has been making. He said the cause for greater works is, “because I am going to the Father…” by way of the cross, for payment of sins, to win salvation. Completed salvation causes greater works than Jesus’ works which only ever preached a salvation yet to be finished. What’s new and greater is that never before in the history of the world had anyone ever been forgiven by faith in the already crucified, already risen, already reigning Christ. But that was about to be true… still is.
Here’s how it is for you: in John 20, Jesus sends his disciples out to the world, empowered by the Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ. Up till that time, God had proclaimed salvation to be completed, sins to be forgiven. But you, disciples of Jesus, have the greater work of saying what Jesus himself didn’t get to personally take out to the world – he left it with you and me. We say to one another in words and works, “On the basis of the crucified and risen Christ, by way of a paid ransom, a complete payment, a finished work – I forgive you / you are forgiven / do not be troubled.”
Verse 12 is absolutely right – it’s what people who know v.6 love to live. You will know and share the crucified and risen Lord Jesus who is the only way to God. You will live in the knowledge of his love that completed your salvation and frees you from trouble so that you have peace to show love toward one another. You will simply be Christians. And the love of people who have been so loved, the presence of people who have such a promise, the perseverance of people who have a permanent place with God – that will point many other people to know the greatest person ever, who completed the greatest salvation ever, who is the truth, the way to real life. And there is nothing greater than that. Amen.