August 17, 2014

Greater Works Will We Do Because of the Risen Christ

Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Gospel According to John Passage: John 14:12–14

Sermon from John 14:12-14 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on August 17, 2014

What I’d like to do this morning is give you the big idea of Jesus’ words up front, then break that big idea down into five smaller parts, and then spend some time on application at the end. So, here’s the big idea of Jesus’ words up front: Jesus promises [note the divine wills: “whoever believes in me will do…greater works than these will he do…whatever you ask in my name, this I will do…if you ask me anything in my name, I will do it”] that all his disciples will do works that reveal his glory, reflect his exalted status, and rely on his generosity to give us whatever we need, all for the glory of God. That’s the big idea in these verses, and that I want you to take home. Now, let’s break that down into five smaller parts.

1. Jesus Promises That All His Disciples Will Do Works

Part one, Jesus promises that all his disciples will do the works he’s talking about. His promise isn’t limited to just the eleven disciples. They aren’t for a select group of followers. They’re not just for elders and deacons and missionaries and other leaders. They’re not for a particular class of people. His promises are for you, if you believe in Jesus.

Jesus says it like this in verse 12: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do.” So, if you read of Jesus in the Bible and you listen to his words and you take all confidence in him to save you and change you and lead you, these promises are for you. They’re for all his disciples. You have works that Jesus promises to do through you. Jesus has plans to use you to accomplish his global purposes. No disciple is useless in his kingdom. No follower of Jesus sits on the bench. If you’re on Jesus’ team, you’re playing today—regardless of how you may feel about your work situation, or your degree plan, or your position in life, or your age, or how many people are overlooking your gifts. Jesus sees you; Jesus saved you; and Jesus has works he wants to do through you, right now; and they are glorious.

2. The Works Jesus’ Disciples Do Reveal Jesus’ Glory

Which brings us to part two: the works Jesus’ disciples do reveal his glory. Jesus says in verse 12, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do,” which led me to ask, “What are the works that Jesus does? If we’re doing them, what are they? What do they look like?

I don’t think he means that every Christian will be doing all the exact miracles he was doing—like changing water into wine (2:1-11) and feeding five thousand (6:1-14) and walking on water (6:16-21) and raising the dead from their graves (11:38-44). Not only do these particular works of Jesus play a unique role in revealing him as Israel’s Messiah, but Paul tells us in 1 Cor 12:9-10, 29-30 that we shouldn’t expect all Christians to perform miracles and some of them even look like Jesus’ miracles. God gives some the ability to perform miracles in Jesus’ name, but never are these kinds of works treated as common to all Christians—which is what Jesus is talking about here.

So, we can’t limit them to specific miracles, even though miracles may be included. We’ve got to go broader, and at least three things help us in John’s Gospel. First of all, Jesus’ works include more than just his miracles. His works also include his words. We see that in verse 10: “the words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” Jesus’ words are part of his works. His works also include the whole of his earthly ministry. We see that in places like 4:34, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (cf. 5:36; 10:32; 17:4). And there he’s talking about evangelizing the Samaritan woman and her town as well as teaching the disciples to do them same. So we can’t limit Jesus’ works to his miracles; they also include his words and everything Jesus is about.

Another help is this: nearly every place that Jesus speaks about his works, he also reveals what his works are for. His works serve as a witness to the Father’s glory in Jesus for people’s belief (2:11; 5:20; 6:28-29; 9:3-4; 10:25; 15:24). We see that in verse 11: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves” (cf. 10:38). So his works are broad enough to include all he says and does; and they serve as a witness to his glory for people’s belief.

And then one more helpful pointer: John draws a stark contrast between the works the world performs and the works Jesus’ disciples perform. In 3:19-20, the only works the world can do are evil works (cf. 7:7; 8:41). And what makes them evil is that they expose a refusal to come to the light of Jesus Christ. They don’t showcase the glory of Jesus’ light; they showcase the world’s darkness.

Not so with the believer’s works. When the believer comes to the light of Jesus, his works exhibit something radically different from the world’s works. The believer’s works exhibit God’s work—God’s work in bringing us to the Light of the world (3:21; cf. 1 John 1:5-7). The believer’s works showcase God’s glory working in the Son. Coming to Jesus as the Light reveals that Jesus is the glorious One sent by the Father into a dark world.

So I think the works that Jesus does—and promises that all his disciples will also do—are all the various Christ-like activities we do to showcase the Son’s glory in a dark world, for the purpose of faith in Jesus. When the world looks at Jesus’ disciples, they should witness a community of people zealous for works that reveal Jesus’ glory for belief. You may not heal the sick or raise the dead, but all of you will do things that shout, “Jesus is glorious! Trust in him!” Your whole life will revolve around doing works that says Jesus is the only true Treasure.

3. The Work Jesus’ Disciples Do Reflect Jesus’ Exalted Status

And more than that, part three: the works Jesus’ disciples do will also reflect Jesus’ exalted status. Verse 12 again, “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.”

Now, some people get really hung up here, because they’ve already limited Jesus’ works in the first part of verse 12 to his miracles. Some suggest that Christians should expect to perform greater miracles than Jesus himself performed—greater miracles than walking on the water and raising a man three-days dead and such. The longings of these folks may be commendable, but I think they’ve made a grave error. They’ve reduced the scope of Jesus’ work to the spectacular while ignoring his humiliation in works like compassion to the spiritually destitute, sacrificial service toward the needy, and ultimately death on a shameful cross for sinners.

They also fail to see what Jesus says makes the greater works we do greater, namely, he’s going to the Father. That’s the crucial link—“because I am going to the Father.” The point isn’t that their healing ministry will get bumped up a notch higher than Jesus’ was, but that Jesus will be exalted to his glorious state with the Father, and their works would reflect his exalted status. They’re greater in that they’re associated with the new age of the risen Christ—the age all the prophets longed to see but didn’t see (Matt 13:17), when God would deal the decisive blow to sin (Isa 53; Jer 31:31-34), unveil the world’s Savior (Mal 3:1), pour out his Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2), and send his gospel far and wide to gather in the nations (Isa 52:7).

Jesus’ earthly works were only the beginnings, the pointers, the anticipation of the salvation he would secure at the cross and the power he would send through the Spirit once raised from the dead (John 7:38-39; 16:7; 20:22; Gal 3:14). At that point, all their evangelism and teaching and Christ-like service—even the laying down of their own lives—would bear witness to Christ’s exalted status. And thousands would come from all nations as the free offer of the forgiveness of sins was preached (Luke 24:47).

Think Pentecost when you hear greater works, when 3,000 souls were added in a single day, with even some of the priests believing (Acts 2:41). Think of the rapid spread of the good news from Judea to Samaria and then to the ends of the earth, with sometimes that message being confirmed through miraculous signs and wonders (Acts 1:8; 2:43; 5:12; 8:1; 11:19). Think of God’s word powerfully entering an idol-filled city like Thessalonica and turning sinners away from those idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thess 1:3-12). And to this day, the gospel continues to penetrate the darkness and spread to all nations, bringing people from all backgrounds to bow their knee to the risen Jesus.

That’s what happens when Jesus returns to his Father. He unleashes a ministry unlike the world has ever known and unlike his disciples ever witnessed even in Jesus’ own earthly ministry. So Jesus had been telling them: “An hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live [Why? Because Jesus is exalted]” (5:20). “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also; and they will listen to my voice [Why? Because Jesus is exalted]” (10:16). “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself [Why? Because Jesus is exalted]” (12:32). Disciples do works that reveal more than an imitation of Jesus’ earthly life, they do works that reflect an exalted Jesus who’s gathering the nations through their words and deeds and prayers and sacrificial love, all of which point to his finished work.

Folks, this is why I’ve said before that the church isn’t just an event on Sunday or some other charitable organization. The church is a people who give visible testimony to the lordship of Jesus Christ in all they think, say, do, and feel. Jesus wasn’t promising us just a bunch of miraculous signs; he was promising us an entirely new state of being that his exaltation would begin and that our works would make evident. Your works should show the world that God entered your life, smashed all your idols, snapped the power of sin through the cross, disarmed the rulers and authorities, and now leads you daily to work such that all peoples hear and learn of his exalted status. Your works are greater in that they reflect the majesty of his reign over your life and his exaltation over the entire world. I’ll come back to that in a minute. For now, let’s keep moving.

4. Jesus’ Disciples Rely on Jesus’ Ability to Give Them Whatever They Need

Part four, Jesus’ disciples rely on Jesus’ generosity to give them whatever they need for doing these greater works. First part of verse 13, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do…” Now verse 14, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

So immediately we see that these greater works in us may stem from Jesus’ exalted status—they come from him sending the Spirit from that exalted status to empower us—but we would do well to note that these greater works do not come apart from reliance on him in prayer. Twice he says to ask him whatever in his name; and twice he promises to do it when we do. He doesn’t promise to do it apart from our asking, but through our asking; not apart from our dependence, but through our dependence. Prayer is God’s ordained means to access the exalted Christ, so that we might gain whatever we need to accomplish his work.

Meaning, if you’re not asking, then Jesus’ isn’t bound to give you anything. His promise to give you whatever you need is conditional on your asking. We are reminded of the words from James 4:2, “You do not have, because you do not ask.” Asking is necessary to the life of a disciple. There’s no such thing as a prayerless Christian. If the exalted Christ has sent his Spirit on you, his cry is “Abba!” We come to God for help. We ask him for whatever we need to do these greater works; and when we ask, he promises to do it, to give it.

This not only reveals Jesus’ generosity toward his disciples—he will give them whatever they ask for in his name—it also reveals the place of authority from which he gives it. Nobody can talk like this except Jesus, because he knows the sort of authority and power and inheritance he will possess once he’s exalted. In his exalted state, Jesus possesses all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt 28:18-20). He possesses a name that is higher than all other names (Heb 1:4). He possesses the power of an indestructible life (Heb 7:15). He possesses the ends of the earth as his inheritance (Ps 2:8). And he possesses the divine right to control and distribute all things according to his Father’s will and purpose and the good of his disciples (Rev 5:1-14).

If we’re asking the exalted Christ, there are no limitations to what he can do. None of our requests are too big for him to handle, too much for him to provide. And when we ask, he promises to be generous with his answers.

Now, I’m not saying these words support a “name-it-and-claim-it” sort of theology—the idea being that anything you “name” and “claim” with Jesus’ name tacked on the end will be given automatically. First off, asking “in Jesus’ name” isn’t just a magical formula employed to get what we want; it’s telling us how the request should be made. A person’s name was bound up with their character, what they stood for. To ask in Jesus’ name was to ask in a way that agrees with Jesus’ person—he’s the crucified and risen Lord, the only way I access God (John 14:6-7)—his character—he didn’t seek riches but left riches to become poor for the sake of others (2 Cor 8:9)—and his teachings—he didn’t say to live your best life now but to hate your life in this world in order to save it (John 12:25). Asking in Jesus’ name is much like what John says in 1 john 5:14, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”

The other thing is that Jesus answers prayer not with a goal of making us look glorious, but with a goal of making his Father look glorious; not with a goal of fulfilling our often-times self-centered plans, but with a goal of fulfilling his Father’s Christ-centered plans.

5. Jesus Provides All We Need For the Glory of God

And that leads us right into part five. So out with the prosperity bull—Jesus promises to answer our requests for whatever we need, in order to glorify the Father in himself. Look again at verse 13, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” That’s how prayer works. Prayer is the designed means for us to express our dependence on Christ, for Christ to answer our requests, and for the Father to receive glory through his Son’s answers to our requests.

So it turns out the Son never stops working when he leaves his earthly ministry and returns to his Father. He’s still doing works from his exalted status; he’s just doing them through us as he answers our prayers. And just like he glorified his Father while on earth, he now glorifies his Father in heaven. When he answers our prayers from heaven, the Father’s glory goes public in the Son. So if you asked, “How do people see the Father’s glory in the Son now that Jesus is in heaven?” The answer is, “Look at how he’s working from heaven to give us whatever we need for his mission.”

Summary & Application

Now, let’s bring the five parts back together and apply. Jesus promises that all his disciples will do works that reveal his glory, reflect his exalted status, and rely on his generosity to give us whatever we need, all for the glory of God.

Jesus Includes All Disciples in the Greater Works

Application number one: Jesus includes all of us in these greater works, not just some of us. That means every one of you who believes in Jesus is in the ministry. I didn’t enter “the ministry” when I became a pastor. Gary didn’t surrender to the ministry when he decided to become a worship leader and entered seminary. We entered the ministry when we became Christians; and so did you. Jesus promised it, and to think otherwise is to undermine Jesus’ promise to all his disciples. You all have greater works under the exalted Christ that Jesus has enlisted you to accomplish. Paul even says in Eph 2:10 that “we [all] are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

I want three kinds of people to hear that this morning—the discouraged, the slothful, and the zealous. Some of you are discouraged in some measure, because of where you’re at in life. You don’t know how the Lord wants to use you, and the track you’re on now isn’t all that clear right now. Let this promise of Jesus lift up your head that Jesus has greater works for you to do right now, than even Jesus himself could accomplish when he was on earth. He could do all of them without you if he wanted to; but he doesn’t want to. He’s chosen to use you, and that was made clear when he caused you to be born again (John 15:16). Don’t miss the opportunities to do the work that’s immediately in front of you because you’re waiting on something spectacular or something clearer. He will be faithful to reveal those things in due time. Your task is to make him look glorious in all that’s in front of you right now.

Some of you are simply slothful, because for too long you’ve functioned under the notion that only the leaders of the church do ministry while you sit on the sidelines and watch TV. The devil would like you to keep believing that. But the truth is that Jesus—like James and Paul and others in the Bible—links faith with works in our passage. “Whoever believes,” he says, “will do the works that I do.” Our works reveal whether we are real or not, whether our faith is genuine or not. If you claim to believe, but haven’t been doing much to make Jesus look glorious in the world, test whether or not you’ve truly believed. If you have believed, then consider his promise again here: “greater works than these will you do.” And then work with all the might he gives you from his exalted place in heaven. He’s coming again and will render to each man according to his deeds.

And then some of you are zealous for the Lord’s work. You’re doing the works he’s called you to do with all your might—and to the point you’re leaving everybody else in the dust. But let me encourage you not to forget that you’re not the only one called to ministry. There are a 150 or so in this church who are just as called to the ministry as you are, and you would do well not to forget them, and to learn from them, and to take the time to help them minister to others as well. If your ministry is too important to include others in it, then you are too important to truly minister to anybody. All disciples are valuable to the church, and your pace shouldn’t overlook that. Others have gifts and ministries that complement yours. And don’t forget, part of the greater works Jesus promises that you do is love one another such that the world sees through the church that the Father sent the Son.

All That We’re About Should Bear Witness to the Exalted Christ

Application number two: all that we’re about should bear witness to the exalted Christ. When you enter relationships with others, could it be said by those you meet that the most important thing about you is that Jesus is exalted in heaven? That your identity is bound up with a risen King and his kingdom? That your works prove he has risen victorious over sin, death, and the devil?

How are you responding to the events in our world that would let your neighbors, or your coworkers, or your wife and children and family members, perhaps even the people at a local restaurant you frequent—how are you responding to the various world crises as they come up in conversation? Would your words bear witness to an exalted King who is establishing an unshakable kingdom to triumph over the darkness? Does your confidence in Christ show your friends that the holy mountain on which you stand will one day fill the whole earth (Dan 2:35)?

When we create a family budget or spend our money or assess our giving or how well we show hospitality to others, is part of that assessment questions like these: “Does my budget show that I belong to a kingdom that’s not of this world? Does our giving reveal that Jesus and his mission is more glorious than my entertainment? What sacrifices are we willing to make this year to help others see that our reigning King possesses the riches of heaven and earth and will meet every need? Is there any real and thankful awareness that my exalted Lord sees every transaction I make, and I will make it my aim to please him with every transaction?”

If he’s broken the world’s grip on our souls and given us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places and ensures us a kingdom where they use gold as asphalt, how could we not think like this with our money now? Every work we do with our money should reveal the exalted Lord. Isn’t this what we see the church doing in Acts 2 and 4, selling possessions and belongings and distributing to any with needs, Barnabas selling a field and laying the money at the apostles’ feet. Why? Exalted Jesus! That’s how Luke portrays it anyway—they testified to “the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” Exalted Lord produces the great work of generosity.

We can also work heartily for the Lord in our respective vocations and not merely to please men. Why? We serve a resurrected King. We no longer do our work for the same reasons the world does its work. We work in such a manner as to show the world that our work is carried out by God—that he has brought us to the Light of the world, to reflect his worth and beauty and glory. The Lord’s truthfulness characterizes our works; his initiative characterizes our labors; his Father’s reward is enough to keep us going amidst trial; his sacrificial love for neighbor is behind all our keystrokes and brainstorming and time.

When we live like this, the world has reason to say, “What’s that all about?” And there you have opportunity to speak of the exalted Christ. I’ve heard David Platt put it this way: “Privatized faith in a resurrected King is practically impossible.” All that we do as Christians—whether it’s our ethics at work, or our testimony at the gym, or our commitment to justice, or our hope in the resurrection, or our use of education—everything should tell the story of our exalted Lord. Our words about Jesus must accompany our deeds; and our deeds must confirm our words. We want the world to see him and come to him and delight in his glory. We don’t want them talking about our stuff; we want everything about us—including the sort of stuff we have—to prove the worth of Jesus and bear witness to his reign.

We Should Ask God to Do Great Things through Us

Lastly, application number three: we should ask God to do great things through us. I think many of us struggle to believe Jesus’ promise to answer our requests and give us whatever we need for these greater works. And that could be for several reasons. Some of us have rightly criticized the heretical theology of prosperity teachers—the “name-it-claim-it” folks I mentioned earlier. But our criticisms have sometimes caused us to fear asking God to do great and miraculous things at all. Strangely, in our reactions to the false teachers, we go on and on about what God won’t do for us that we hardly talk about what God is willing to do for us, if we’d only ask. We’ve rightly blasted selfish asking but wrongly neglected the God we’re asking.

We’re talking about the exalted Christ, who upholds the universe, has infinite riches at his disposal, who is all-powerful and all-knowing and self-sufficient, who is the source of eternal life itself, who rules over all enemy forces and can dispel them at will. We can still pray great things, because we have a great King. Let’s not allow our prayers to suffer from fears of historical abuses. Let’s instead lay our requests—both small and great—at Jesus’ feet every day, and trust that he will answer them as he has promised.

Others may struggle to believe Jesus’ promise to give us whatever we need, because this just hasn’t been your experience. You’ve asked, it didn’t happen, and so you’ve given up asking altogether. You’ve even began wondering whether Jesus is so truthful after all. I’ve been there before, doubting whether his promise is sure; whether prayer is all the Bible makes it out to be or not. And the more I’ve walked with the Lord and sought his word, the more he’s rebuked me for my pride and corrected my thinking.

One way he’s done that is by helping me see that God answers prayer in his timing, not ours. That may mean he answers prayer immediately—and I have witnessed that. But that also may mean he answers our requests even long after we’re gone from this world—which should remind us again that prayer is not ultimately about us, but about God and his glory. Satan wants you to believe that if Jesus doesn’t answer your request immediately, then he’s not trustworthy. So does our microwave-smartphone-instantaneous-access-type of culture, which trains us day in and day out to have everything immediately, right now, on the double, time is money, or I’m mad. That you haven’t seen Jesus answer a request you’ve made, doesn’t mean he’s failed you or ignored you. It could mean that he just hasn’t answered it yet.

It could also mean that you just haven’t had eyes to see the answer yet. He sometimes answers our requests in ways we don’t expect. Sometimes he gives us eyes to see his answers; other times he doesn’t. But just because he doesn’t answer in the way we’d like him to, doesn’t mean our prayers aren’t being heard; and this we must keep in mind before casting off prayer altogether. Far better would it be to pray for the infinite God to give us finite beings the eyes to see—and trusting him even when he chooses not to—than to call into question his trustworthiness and ability.

So let’s ask him, Redeemer. He’ll answer on his time table and in ways you didn’t expect or in ways you just can’t see yet, but he’s not deaf. He hears you and promises to give us whatever we need to accomplish his works.

Ask him to add to our number daily those who are being saved (Acts 2:47). Ask him to save people, and then ask him to give you all that you need to disciple them, to care for them, to help them, to sacrifice for them (Luke 11:9). Ask him to tear down the spiritual strongholds in our city through the proclamation of the word (Eph 6:18-19). Ask him for revival in our hearts and for reformation in all the churches of this Metropolis (Jas 5:16). Ask him to instill in our men the aggressive-yet-gentle love of Christ and in our women the faith in a sovereign God that makes them smile at the future (Eph 5:21-33; Prov 31:25). Ask him to far exceed our expectations in evangelizing our neighbors (Eph 3:20). Ask the Lord to save people in this city that would make every self-righteous bone blush at God’s extravagant love (Luke 18:13; Rom 10:1). Ask God to extend his kingdom (Matt 6:10). Ask him for the fullness of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). Ask him to vindicate his elect (Luke 18:7). Ask him to heal the sick (Jas 5:14-15). Yes, ask God to do the miraculous (Jas 5:16-17)! Ask him to cast out demons (Mark 9:29).

Ask him to do what you think is impossible (Luke 18:27). Ask him to bring justice for the unborn and for the suffering of others in Iraq and West Africa to cease. Ask him for wisdom and more reinforcements for this church (Jas 1:5; 1 Tim 3:1-12). Ask him to bring unity where you think unity is impossible (Eph 4:3). Ask him for endurance against temptation (Matt 6:13; 1 Cor 10:13). Ask him for material resources and supplies to multiply ministries (Phil 4:14-19). Ask God to give you what you think you need to get your business off the ground, that you might serve your neighbor and bring a Christian ethic to bear on your particular industry.

Whatever you need, ask. He’s not far off and disconnected from your needs. He’s available and ready to give you what you need for his work. Let’s not insult Jesus’ ability to provide for the mission by keeping quiet or limiting what he’s able to do. He doesn’t lie. All his promises are sure. He sealed them with his blood. His now exalted at God’s right hand, his abilities never to be questioned. And he wants you to ask. Shall we do that now?

other sermons in this series