The first half of John’s Gospel has recorded a number of powerful signs which Jesus worked. Now, as he is about to leave his disciples, he promises them (and you) in John 14:11-14, that you will work greater works than these! Can he be serious? He summons you to believe, to do, and to pray.
Believe! The command to believe focuses on who he is, the Son of the Father. It includes understanding what he came to do. His words had told of his going to the Father. That was a path which, that very evening, led to the garden where he would be arrested, to the suffering involved in the mock trials, and to the agony of the crucifixion. All of this he would do as the God-man who entered our world to redeem us from both the guilt and power of sin. Beyond the tomb that path included the resurrection and ascension. Jesus had just said that he would be busy preparing a place for you. His going to the Father involves triumph and glory.
The works of Jesus were visible pointers forward to that reality. The first sign, changing water to wine at the wedding of Cana, was more than a kind act to save embarrassment at a wedding. It was more than a wonderful display of power. It was an anticipation of the great feast of the new heavens and earth celebrating the overcoming of death (Isaiah 25:6-8). The other signs function in a similar way, culminating in the last miracle that John records, Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. That act looks forward to the life-giving work of the risen, ascended Lord.
Do! To those who keep on believing in him Jesus promises that they will do what he has been doing and will do even greater works. This is not a promise that you will become a miracle worker or that God will make you healthy and wealthy on demand. You see something of doing Christ’s works in the miracles recorded in Acts, signs performed by the apostles. But Jesus is looking beyond the band of apostles to all who believe, who keep on believing, in him. He sees them, he see you as part of them, as still connected with him, the risen, ascended, glorified Lord. The Lord in heaven continues his work through you, his people. On earth he fed 5,000 one meal. The ascended Lord feeds countless multitudes throughout the world today and every day. While Jesus walked on earth you had to go to the land of Israel to be with him. Today he is with you and all of his people wherever you are located. He gives new life, not just a few more years on earth to Lazarus and a few other raised during his public ministry, but true, lasting life, life that endures even beyond the grave, life that culminates in eternity in the new heavens and earth. He has changed and continues to change the lives of countless people who were dead in sin, shaping them to his glory, changing them from serving self to honoring him and doing his will.
All of this happens because he is going to his Father. “’Greater’ does not mean that their works will surpass those of Jesus but that the works that Jesus has done on earth are merely the beginnings and signs of the all-encompassing power and glory with which he as the heavenly Lord will be clothed and in the exercise of which the disciples will be involved in this dispensation of redemptive history.” (Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary, p. 497).
These works are being accomplished as you speak the good news to your neighbors, both in Newberg and in Uganda. But these works also involve the changed daily life that you live to the glory of God, see Matthew 5:16. Notice how 1 Corinthians 15 sweeps through redemptive history, from the first Adam to the second, from creation to resurrection, from death in the world to the return of Christ—and culminates in an exhortation to give yourself fully to doing the work of the Lord, with the assurance that it is not in vain.
The secret of doing the works of Christ and even greater works? Pray! Although he is going to the Father, Jesus is not going to be so distant that he cannot hear you. Speak to him. Cry out to him. Know that he hears you! Jesus is about to promise the gift of the Holy Spirit. Your praying involves all three persons of the Trinity.
“In my name” means more than simply adding the words, “in Jesus’ name,” before the Amen. It includes recognizing him as the Savior, trusting in him, seeing him as the one way to the Father. Calvin writes: “When God invites us to himself, he holds out to us one Mediator only, by whom he is willing to be appeased and reconciled.” (on John 14:14).
As Solomon dedicated the temple he recognized that the magnificent building he had constructed could not contain the Creator and Lord of the heavens and earth. Yet, this was the place where God had caused his name to dwell among his old covenant people. Thus, Solomon’s prayer contained the assurance that if God’s people turned toward the temple and prayed, God would hear them, even if they had been carried captive to distant lands. What that temple anticipated has come to reality as the risen Christ ascends to the Father. Instead of simply a direction, you have a name, a person, in whom and through whom to pray.
Keep on believing in him, do his magnificent works, and trustingly pray to him.
[In preparation for a sermon on John 14:11-14]