8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? he words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. 12 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that he Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. (John 14:8-14 NASB)
I notice many people attaching the idea of having “great” faith with the result of “great” works or acts. People tend to do the “if, then” formulaic statements when it relates to our understanding of Jesus’ explanation of faith with “If you ask Me anything in My name, [then] I will do it” (v.14). When it doesn’t happen at all, or even perhaps just in the manner expected, we tend to explain that away as either lacking faith or God’s will coming in direct conflict with that which is being asked. Perhaps what’s simply happening, though, is a misunderstanding of the “anything” Jesus is talking about. Perhaps our wants and desires are misguided and misappropriated.
The tendency in reading this passage, in specific regard to the “greater works” (v.12), is to take a screenshot of Jesus’ ministry and qualify His “greater works” with our own fallible human concepts. We’ll read this passage and think, “Well, Jesus healed the sick, walked on water, healed paralysis, and raised the dead to life–if I have faith, then I should be able to do these things as well.” Although I find myself to be charismatic in the way I find God’s presence to be metaphysically tangible, I actually read this passage a little differently. When we hear Jesus say “greater”, the immediate thought goes to what we find great in His ministry. We, with our temporal mentality, see greatness as what’s empirically obvious–walking on water and raising the dead contradict the laws of the physical universe.
What we should rather be doing is ask, “What does Jesus find great?” To get an idea, there is one event in our Lord’s ministry where Jesus specifically defines these miracles and clarifies their purpose–the paralytic in Mark 2.
1When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. 2And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. 3And they *came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. 4Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. 5And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 7“Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’? 10But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, 11“I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” 12And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.” (Mark 2:1-12 NASB) [emphasis mine]
The phrase “so that you may know” (v.10) is Jesus very clearly telling us why He conveys His power. Yes, Jesus wants to give life in abundance–in every possible aspect that life can and should be experienced. Paralysis is a tragedy, and so is death even greater still. But, the worse tragedy of all, the most disheartening reality, is a person’s own living hell–a hell that never ends. Jesus knows very well our cynicism and doubt. He knows our need for certainty, and lack of faith because we always need to know for sure. Therefore, He proves Himself to us in our very mode of understanding–He bends the boundaries of physics to demonstrate His authority over all of physics. As an aside, this is one major reason why every human philosophy, religion, and naturalistic explanation feels the need to refuse the narratives of Jesus–how dare any person claim authority over physical law! This phrase is Jesus saying, “I can save you from what you think is life into what is actually life–true life, for I AM the Life!”
Therefore, when Jesus talks about the “greater works” He must by necessity be referring to salvation–for healing sick and walking on water simply aren’t “great” enough! The invitation for us simple, horrible, mediocre, prideful, self-indulgent, and self-absorbed people to participate with Him, the Christ, in salvation is truly astounding. This passage comes when Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit being the believer’s “Helper”–in fact, directly after these statements Jesus talks specifically about the Spirit. In other words, not only does Jesus invite us to participate, He comfortingly tells us that He will be right there in doing this. The greatness of salvation is too much a burden for any person to be responsible for, in the ministry to others. Therefore, Christ lovingly nudges us in saying, “You need Me, and together we can save the world!”