Recently, while visiting at a friend’s fellowship on a Sunday morning, I overheard a comment made in the foyer following the worship service. A young lady was excitedly talking to her friend about a ‘truth’ that she recently discovered while at her small group meeting and was excited about the upcoming opportunity to see it come to fruition in her life. It seems that she, and for that matter all Christians, through the power of the Holy Spirit, have the ability to walk the streets of our cities and preform amazing, superpower like miracles, in this way becoming the hands and feet of Jesus on this earth. We just need to first claim the amazing words of Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” – John 14:12
Sounds amazingly cool and so helpful to a hurting world. Is she right? If she is then why don’t we see these words coming to fruition, on the streets of Toronto, Seattle, Perth or Beijing as a regular occurrence? After all, Jesus did say those words and he always means what he says. Jesus raised the dead, walked on water, and fed thousands – all amazing miracles. So, if it is true that those who have faith in him will perform “even greater” works than those miracles just mentioned then we should be in for an amazing show of power. Here’s the thing though; we just don’t see the evidences of this in the life of Jesus’ disciples, certainly not since the days of the Apostles. But a question I think begs to be asked is, “Should we?”“Should you and I be able to walk on water?”
Now I’m not going to argue someone’s personal experience, and I don’t doubt that God couldn’t and hasn’t healed someone through the laying on of hands and through prayer. I’ve personally seen it happen and believe and expect that God could do so again. The claim I’m specifically addressing here is that we should be the agents of “greater”things than these – meaning we should all be in the process and practice of preforming greater miracles than Jesus did.
At the risk of alienating some of you I must tell you that I don’t believe that is what he meant at all, and in fact I don’t see any evidence to substantiate it as a norm in the church’s experience – ever. Even in the days of Pentecost we didn’t see it occurring as some may argue Jesus meant it to happen. There are some who would point to the heady days of the early church such as when Peter’s shadow touched people and they were healed in Acts 5 as evidence of this happening. But when we read the passage in context, it never actually says people were healed because of Peter’s shadow. In fairness, it could have happened, but it’s speculation at best – we just don’t know.
An argument I’ve heard for why we’re not seeing amazing miracles like Jesus did today is because of other people’s unbelief or the result of the lack of faith of that pesky cessationist in the room we all know. Here’s the thing though, Jesus experienced a lack of faith from others too, even being accused of preforming demonic trickery by a room filled with faithless people. And then there are clear examples where miracles were performed on behalf of people who evidenced no faith in him at all. I mean think about it, how much faith does a corpse have?
But what about Mark 6:5 where Jesus could do no mighty work? In view of his wide range of supernatural abilities, it is hardly conceivable that Jesus failed in power on this occasion. The truth is that Jesus did perform some miracles in the territory at that time. Even Mark specifically says: “He laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.” – Mark 6:5b. His power, therefore, was not the problem. Matthew actually explains it, “He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” – Matthew 13:58. Bottom line? Jesus chose to limit his miraculous demonstrations in his old neighbourhood.
Still, Jesus did actually say that not only would his followers do the same works as he did, but they would do “greater” works. So, are we missing something in the translation then? Obviously, it’s important to understand just what Jesus meant by those words of his before anyone goes about applying a worldview and then subsequently claiming promises about things that might be or might not be promised.
Here’s what we need to understand. Jesus wasn’t referencing to the works’ being greater in “power”. Simply look to the story of his friend Lazarus. Jesus had raised his friend, who had been dead already for four days in the tomb, yet later on, not even the Apostles during the days following Pentecost did a greater miracle than that. Bottom line? No one has ever exceeded the power or majesty of Jesus’ miracles – ever. Even practically speaking, we must conclude that Jesus wasn’t saying that every single Christian would walk on water, raise the dead, and bring sight to the blind. I still find it telling that with the technology we have today that allows us to record events, we have yet to see a verified raising of the dead or an individual walking on water on YouTube.
Granted, the Apostles performed some miracles that were similar to Jesus’ works, but even they didn’t walk on water or feed multitudes, as far as we know, and they most certainly didn’t transform spiritually dead souls to a new changed life or forgive sins – and what could be a greater work than that?
So, what did Jesus actually mean then that his followers would do greater works than he? Quite simply Jesus was referring to the greater “extent” of his works than what he had accomplished to that point. It’s important to understand that Jesus’ earthly ministry had been largely limited to Galilee and Judea; his disciples, however, were going to extend his ministry to the uttermost parts of the earth. The morning of Pentecost, Jesus’ followers numbered 120; forty days later, in response to the preaching of the Apostles, that number swelled into thousands and by the end of Acts, the gospel had made its way to Rome.
With some of that understanding let’s look at the words of Jesus again in the John passage. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” – John 14:12
Jesus was about to be arrested and suffer a cruel and unjust death. The disciples themselves are going to be scattered that very night. So, these words were of tremendous comfort for his men that night, assuring them that even after his earthly ministry ended, his work would go on. The Disciples of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, would continue to help and heal people but it’s the fact that the gospel would now have a worldwide impact that was greater than the limited geographical scope of Jesus’ ministry.
No longer limited to Israel, we see Jesus’ work continuing in far off places like Canada and Chile, someone is finding a new life in Christ in Japan as you read this, and a life is being transformed in Denmark even while you’re getting ready for your next appointment. Every hour, even now, the great work that Jesus began is continuing all over the world. As God’s people pray in Jesus’ name, answers come, and the greatest miracle of all is now common place – nothing less than the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ – the transformation of a sinful heart to the glory of God.
So, will we perform greater works than these? I think the evidence speaks for itself – unquestionably yes. But it’s not to be able to say we have amazing superpowers, rather it’s all to bring Glory to God. And that my friends is a wonderful reason to get excited about in any foyer after every worship service from here on in.