Christ’s “Greater” Works

 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!”

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9 responses to “Christ’s “Greater” Works

  1. Christopher,
    I first want to thank you for taking the time to read my blog post, and secondly for sharing the link to this post as a response, of sorts, to mine.

    You have a very well constructed article explaining your view of the passage, and you seem to be very thorough, I might add. However, it concerns me that you seem to limit Christ’s promise of “greater works” (plural) to a single work of salvation, although it is, as you stated, arguably greater than raising the dead.

    Jesus had done many marvelous works on earth, and he promised that His followers would be able to do those same works, and greater still. Even if the “greater works” did refer to salvation only, it still cannot account for the adjoined promise that “the works I do shall he do also.”

    Even so, I cannot imagine that when Jesus said “greater works” (plural), that it was referring to salvation at all. In fact, if you are correct, then you are saying that the salvation of others is a work that we perform (through Jesus). That is problematic, since Scripture states that our only responsibility concerning the salvation of others is that we only plant the seed and water it. God is the one who gives the increase in salvation.

    I would like to humbly submit to you that Jesus meant exactly what the plain reading of Scripture suggests: That if you have a proper faith relationship with Him, you will be able to perform the works that He did, and greater still. In fact, I have seen this promise hold true in my own life, which is what prompted me to write my blog post.

    Jesus cast out demons on command. Did not Paul do the same? In fact, a personal friend of my family’s, a missionary, did likewise. That former demoniac is now serving in the ministry.

    Jesus altered the weather by the word of His power. I was helping a missionary pilot serve in a small town church. The weather was so bad during our flight that it would have been impossible for us to return home. When we landed at the mission church, he breathed a prayer that the storm hold still until we finished preaching and landed back home. To my amazement, the return trip was incredibly smooth, and I could see a literal wall of very flat-sided clouds directly beside our small plane while we flew home in complete peace.

    Having grown up in the ministry, I could recount story after story after story of ordinary men of God doing extraordinary works as did Christ, simply because they had the faith to take Christ’s promise literally. Faith is acting like it is so, even while it is not so, in order that it may be so, because God said it is so. God said that you can do greater works. Faith will act upon that promise, bidding the eternal truth of God to become present reality. I’ve watched it happen.

    Thank you for reading, and I pray that you too will be able to see God work miracles through you as I have seen. May God bless!

    — Joshua

    • Joshua,

      Thanks a lot for taking the time in making your thoughtful response. I mentioned in the post that I do “find myself to be charismatic”, and in saying that I very much imply my unlimited view on the Holy Spirit’s active work within the human’s life. This post was not a “this vs. that” sort of argument, but to the degrees of greatness in works that we can participate with Christ in doing. Just as we participated in our own salvation by freely coming to Christ, and calling out to Him until that Spirit threw off our chains and set us free, in the same way we participate in leading others to salvation. My idea was that salvation is a tremendously supernatural experience we often placate to focus on the miracles we see to be great. In other words, the tendency is to glorify the temporal miracles over the eternal one–it’s more an argument on how we interpret “greater” works.

      There would be no need to share the stories, though I would love to hear them for the testimonies they uphold in their own right, because I as well have my own experiences and have witnessed God doing these phenomenal acts. My position on what’s termed as “spiritual gifts” is that they are not so much us obtaining gifts, but the Spirit using us as vessels. In other words, even as we can take John 14:12 and say that Jesus included these miracles in His reference, they still wouldn’t be us doing them but the Spirit through us. So, both interpretations, and mine really includes both but prioritizes salvation for the sake that we should uphold salvation as the greatest, are truly Christ’s invitation to participate with the Spirit in these works. It’s Him using us in both circumstances.

      God Bless!

      – Chris

    • Thanks for coming over and commenting. I really liked your illustration of faith–perhaps your Hebrew clarification could be called “Tangible Faith”. Tying your posts with the one I wrote, they definitely go together–thanks!

      • Bingo! Biblical faith IS tangible. Hebrews 11:1 begins by saying, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for…” I’ve read that for years, without it jumping out at me. Faith is substance. Do you have faith? Then where’s the substance?

        Faith really is quite different than we’ve been taught.

  2. Good post… I’ll add a perspective that I don’t thank has been said yet.

    First, without getting into the details of wether we can raise people from the dead, or play with snakes without getting bit, I think there is a underlying context that seems to be looked over alot, at least from what I see.

    The whole point was that Philip did not understand this statement:

    “6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.[d] From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

    So that is why philip said to him “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Then Jesus said “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”

    The greater work is the manifestation of faith in the believer by the holy spirit and that the Father is truly known through the Word of Jesus: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

    Now, I believe we pray according to the Lords will, not because we, own our own accord, muster enough faith to make things happen, wether it be calming a storm or raising the dead. God is sovereign we are not.

    25″These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

    This is just what I seen when reading through the text… Good post man..

    f

    • Late response to your reply, I realize —

      First, it’s interesting that you raise the idea of the greater work being “the manifestation of faith in the believer”. I agree with you in the sense that the growth of faith is truly a great work, and perhaps when I emphasized salvation in this post what can really be said about this topic is the vastness of all that the Holy Spirit can do through us if we offer ourselves “as living sacrifices” (Romans 12:2).

      Second, a very important factor to note is that Jesus raises the reality that the “great works” are in fact being done by the Father through Him, or as He would later indicate by the Holy Spirit. That’s why it’s so phenomenal the notion Jesus raises elsewhere that if we have faith, even as small as a mustard seed, we can command mountains to move–for it’s not by our power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within. I do not think it necessary to hold the position that we “pray according to the Lord’s will”, and when you say that we cannot “muster enough faith” I think that is the wrong idea altogether. For our faith is us stepping forward, not because we possess any power, but rather that the Spirit moves as we give Him sovereignty. God’s sovereignty is not forced, we have to realize that. Just because things are as they may be, doesn’t necessarily mean God “willed” that–the very existence of sin indicates that our own free will affects the world, even in all its destruction. Perhaps I’ll write a post someday on my precise view on God’s sovereignty in our lives harmonizing with His love and our free will.

  3. Lovely post, Chris! 🙂
    If I may add, I have some comments about the “Greater works”, Jesus may have meant that;
    (1) He made miracles for 3 years, but then miracles will be made until the end of days.
    (2) He laid the foundation of faith, but left his disciples then all chritsians, to preach to the whole world.
    (3) He let his disciples do miracles that “looked” greater. Healing by shadow (Acts 5:15) looks greater than healing by touch (Matthew 14:36)

    Finally, I believe that this whole speech was to teach His disciples humility. He told them that:
    (1) It wasn’t Him talking, but His Father.
    (2) It wasn’t Him doing great works, but His Father.
    (3) They would do greater works than Him.

    Those were my 2 cents! 🙂

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