Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that, “When God acts, he can do more in a minute than man with his organizing can do in fifty years.”
Isn’t that true?
It may be more true to say that when God acts, he can do what we with our organizing could never do in fifty years.
When we first began this series, I said we would come back around to John 14:12, it’s time to keep that word. This verse is one of the more challenging of the sayings of Jesus. Let’s read.
“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.”
To get a better grasp of this verse, we are going to ask three questions. What does Jesus mean by works? What purpose did those works serve? How did Jesus accomplish those works?
1. What are the works that Jesus does?
When Jesus says that believers will do greater works than Jesus, what should we understand that to mean?
Perhaps he was anticipating the great works of Mother Teresa among the poor in Calcutta? Or Amy Carmichael’s rescue mission station for girls sold as temple prostitutes? Maybe George Mueller’s revolutionary orphanage which gave a hope and a future to over 50,000 children in his lifetime? Surely these are great works.
Or maybe he was thinking about the gospel. Didn’t Billy Graham do great works as he preached the gospel to millions of people? We can also talk about MLK and the non-violent civil rights movement which brought so much change and inspiration around the world.
These are certainly all good works. But if we want to know what Jesus meant by works, we must let the Scriptures interpret the word for us.
When the first evangelistic sermon was preached, Peter used that word.
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know . . .”
Peter elaborated on the word works, with two more terms: signs and wonders. The phrase “signs and wonders” appears 8 times in the New Testament and 9 in the Old Testament. It’s converse, “wonders and signs” is found in Acts 4 times.
In the Old Testament, the phrase is used in reference to two periods of time. Seven times, the phrase describes the miracles God worked through Moses as a sign to Pharaoh. The other two instances are found in the book of Daniel, referring to the works of God which served as signs to capture the attention of Babylonian rulers.
The Greek word translated as signs is semeion. It means that by which a person or a thing is distinguished from others and known ; a sign (typically miraculous), given especially to confirm, corroborate or authenticate.
The word translated as wonders is teras. It is something so strange as to cause it to be watched or observed, a miraculous wonder, done to elicit a reaction from onlookers.
According to Peter, the works of Jesus were signs and wonders.
The gospels are filled with accounts of miraculous works performed by Jesus. There are different ways to categorize those works, but I think of them in terms of three groups:
- Spiritual works: casting out evil spirits, reading the motives and thoughts of the human spirit.
- Healing works: curing sick, injured and disabled ( a flow of blood, a withered hand, blindness, deafness, paralysis, epilepsy, leprosy, dropsy, and fever), raising the dead.
- Works of nature: multiplied physical resources, miraculous catch of fish, walking on water, calming storm, cursing a fig tree.
Let’s take a look at one instance of a healing work. This comes from John.
“48 ‘Unless you people see signs and wonders,’ Jesus told him, ‘you will never believe.’ 49 The royal official said, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’ 50 ‘Go,’ Jesus replied, ‘your son will live.’ The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, ‘Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.’ 53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed. 54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.”
Notice three things in this account:
First, Jesus set up the miracle with a statement. “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will never believe.” Jesus ties his miraculous works with our belief.
Second, look at the timing of the miracle. Not only was the man’s son healed, but he was healed at the exact moment Jesus told him it would happen. That little extra flair produced something important. In verse 53, when he “realized that this was the exact time” he was filled with wonder.
Third, the man and his whole household believed. This leads us to the second question –
2. What was the purpose of Jesus’ works?
We just saw it in John 4. The great purpose of the signs and wonders of Jesus was belief.
As Jesus spoke to skeptical listeners, he appealed to his works as grounds for faith in His message.
“37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
“Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.”
Nicodemus acknowledged that the works of Jesus had convinced him that Jesus came from God.
“This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.'”
Signs and wonders serve a very specific purpose – as one pastor said, “Signs point beyond themselves to a greater meaning, concept, or purpose.”
You can see three purposes of miraculous works in Jesus:
- To authenticate the message/messenger of the Kingdom.
- To apply the message of the Kingdom come.
- To give a foretaste of the coming Kingdom.
It is clear that Jesus loved the people who benefited from his works. We see that in the resurrection of Lazarus, when Jesus wept with his mourning friends. It is very clear that Jesus loved Mary and Martha. There is warmth and compassion and love written all over the works of Jesus.
But there is also one great purpose – to authenticate the message of the kingdom. The works of Jesus pointed beyond themselves to the authenticating hand of God.
3. How did Jesus accomplish His works?
Let’s look back at John 14:10: The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.
Do you see it? This was a recurring theme for Jesus. “My words are not my own. I only speak what the Father gives me.” “My works are not my own.”
What did Jesus mean by that?
It’s made very clear in the gospel of Luke. It starts in chapter 3.
At this point Jesus is roughly 30 years old. As far as we know Jesus has lived a typical life. He is a tradesman. One of several brothers in a working class family.
No one would have suspected the things to come in the next three years. What changed?
Luke 3:22 – and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.
Everything changed the moment the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus. From that point forward, the history of Jesus became the history of Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit.
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,”
“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.”
In the power of the Holy Spirit, the works began.
Have you ever considered this about Jesus?
It has been speculated that the only divine act of the Son of God in the whole life and ministry of Jesus on earth was the decision to submit to the incarnation.
From that point, Jesus took on the full limitations of our humanity.
It was only as he was led and empowered by the Holy Spirit that Jesus accomplished his works.
Let’s summarize what we have seen so far.
The works of Jesus were miracles that authenticated his message, performed as he was led and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
This is the meaning of works we need in order to understand what Jesus meant in John 14:12.
Today’s message is the beginning of a three-part sermon. So stick around as we continue to break down John 14:12 next week.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown