I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. – John 14:12
I haven’t been able to get this verse out of my head the last few days. I’m just constantly unsettled by the phrase “greater works” and how it doesn’t accurately describe anything in my life or in the life of anyone I know well.
I Tell You the Truth
As John records it, Jesus starts his sentence with the Hebrew word “amen,” and he repeats it twice for even more emphasis. This was peculiar to Jesus. “Amen” was always used at the end of a message to indicate agreement with the truth it conveyed, just at it is today. Jesus was the first to use it at the beginning of a sentence, and the Gospels record him doing it often. He used it to make sure the hearers didn’t miss the importance of what he was about to say.
There are a lot of passages in the Bible that we make much more of than the original writers or speakers intended. This one, though, is one that I think we make much less of than we should.
Will Do The Same Works
Jesus says that his disciples “will do the same works I have done.” This part needs little explanation. We all have a pretty good idea of what Jesus did, and collectively those works were so incredible that it changed the world forever. That’s a pretty high bar.
Even Greater Works
So then he takes an impossibly high bar and raises it even further: “even greater works.” Okay, let’s be serious for a minute. Who really believes that anyone could do greater works than Jesus did? I’m having a hard time with same works. Greater works? I’m not seeing it. Not at all.
Many others aren’t either. I’ve heard and read many different people trying to solve this problem by explaining “greater works” to be something other than what seems completely obvious. Jesus often spoke in parables and other ways where the meaning of what he was saying was hidden from those he didn’t want to understand. This is one of those cases, some say.
The explanation that has stuck with me, though, was that the works were “greater” not because the works themselves were greater, but because of the ones who were doing them. In other words Jesus healing someone was amazing, but a dirty, uneducated fisherman healing someone was even greater.
Maybe, but I’m not buying it. Jesus seemingly couldn’t have been more clear here and he made sure to emphasize this truth. I think we’re trying to explain it away because we don’t see this playing out in real life. Instead of explaining it away, though, I’d rather try to figure out why we don’t see it.
Anyone Who Believes
It’s certainly not because Jesus meant this for the 12 apostles alone. He made that as clear as possible, too: “anyone who believes.” Anyone.
Anyone who believes in me will do greater works than I have done.
I think this is the key phrase to understanding this truth. Jesus says that anyone who believes in him will do greater works.
Maybe the most important thing that I’ve learned over the past four years is that I had never really believed in Jesus. I believed in a particular characterization of Jesus. I believed in church. I believed in my faith. And I believed strongly. Once I decided to be all in, I was all in.
Church is good. Jesus died for the church.
Faith is good. Without faith, it is impossible to please God.
The problem is that I placed a higher priority on those than I did on Jesus — not intentionally, but it’s so subtle. Looking back, I see how I used to describe things: My faith was important to me, my faith sustained me, I wanted to be in church whenever it was open. Jesus was there, but not in the forefront.
And that was largely because my view of Jesus wasn’t entirely accurate. I’ve written about that at least a couple of times. In fact, as I look back over the history of this site, I can see my focus gradually changing. I started off writing about how we can do church better. Then it was how we can better reflect the Jesus who we believe in. Now it’s finally to Jesus himself and who he really is.
Unless we start with who Jesus is — who he really is — and let everything we do stem from our belief in him, we don’t have any chance of doing greater works. None.
Staying focused on him alone is probably the hardest thing in the world to do, though.