Introduction and Context
Please turn with me to John 14:12-14. Just 3 verses, so I'm not going to keep you too long tonight, but amazing verses which can often be misunderstood and misapplied. Yet verses which should encourage those of us who are believing and trusting in Jesus, who is God the Son and the way the truth and the life, to expect great things from God and so pray and step out in faith and to attempt great things for God in the power of the Holy Spirit, to do the works that I do, says Jesus in verse 12, and he goes on 'greater' works than these will we do because Jesus has gone to the Father and sent his Holy Spirit. And this is all for the glory of God the Father, for the extension of his kingdom (as in the case of Jabez's prayer), and to see his lost children found.
We're not saved by good works but we are saved for good works that God has for us to do. Does that typify your Christian life and outlook? Are you attempting great things for God and expecting great things from God? Are you persevering in prayer, full of faith or have you been waiting for answers for so long that you've almost given up? Do you believe Jesus or are you struggling with doing so? It's a tiny bit like the Wales euros team before their semi-final with Portugal and I stress the 'tiny bit like'.
Gareth Bale was prepared and full of faith in Wales' ability to win the euros. Others in the team were perhaps not quite so prepared and confident.
'We've obviously exceeded a lot of people's expectations,'says Gareth Bale. 'But I always believed we could go all the way - you see the fairy tale of Greece [in 2004] and Denmark [in 1992] and you think why can't we do it?'
But Wales' success has caught some of Bale's team-mates unprepared - midfielder Joe Ledley has had to postpone his wedding on Saturday, while Chris Gunter won't be able to see his brother tie the knot on Thursday. But there have been no such conflicts for Gareth Bale.
'I fully believed that we could do something, that's why I booked my holiday for the 11th [of July, the day after the final] - I am not like the others!' he said.
And these words of Jesus from John 14-17 are to prepare his disciples then and now for carrying out The Great Commission – Jesus' command to go and make disciples of all nations – full of faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit. And Jesus says, back in chapter 4 of John that the fields are white for harvest – just lift up your eyes! Do you believe Jesus?
Now for hundreds of years in the West this commission of Jesus was basically ignored. Many thought the Great Commission applied only to the 1st century apostles. But it was a Baptist, William Carey, who brought attention back to the Great Commission and who said NO! Christ's command is still binding on Christians now. Why? Well otherwise the command to baptise in Matthew 28 would only be for the apostles; and the promise of the presence of Jesus would only be for them. And that's nonsense. Jesus says his promise is 'to the end of the age.' Until he returns. Carey then challenged some ministers with these words:
'Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God.'
And so began a great period of missionary work that's made Christianity a truly world-wide faith. The numbers of Christians have gone from 120 at the start of the Day of Pentecost to one third of the world's population. The latest estimate of the total population of the world is 7.2 billion. So the number of people identifying themselves as Christians today is around 2.4 billion - significantly more than the number of any other faith.
And this missionary work is to continue here and around the world today. Here we have the Holiday Club in just two weeks and CYFA going to Nokuphila in South Africa, then there's the Jesmond Parish Church and St Joseph's October outreach (and do get a copy of the very latest draft outline of that outreach from me at the end) and of course St Joseph's, which is a full blown mission project in itself.
But perhaps the prospect of all that mission is quite scary for us. You quiver when you hear the word mission even though Jesus has promised to be with us in that. If only Jesus was physically with us in mission we might be thinking. Perhaps it causes us to have troubled hearts. Well John 14 should be encouraging for us. Back in verse1 Jesus says:
"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe [and trust] in God; believe [and trust] also in me."
In verse 6 Jesus says we have a message that we must share with others for:
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
And there is a certain hope for those who believe and trust in Christ (v2-3), a hope which post Brexit Britain needs to hear. On the front page of one newspaper last weekend was the headline: 'Rarely in our lifetimes has Britain faced such an uncertain future.' Jesus says emphatically:
"In my Father's house are many rooms [or mansions]. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."
Home is where we are (or should be) accepted, not for what we have done, but because we are part of the family. If we are God's children then there is a place for us in heaven. So how are we adopted as God's children? Not through our own efforts but through faith in what Jesus Christ has done. Did you know that there will be no good people in heaven - only forgiven people, forgiven through trusting in Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord. You see Jesus goes on to say in John 14 that he's going to prepare a place for us. Did Jesus mean that he was going to vacuum the room, change the sheets and draw the curtains? No. He meant that he was going to die in our place on the cross and be raised from the dead. He was going to win the victory over sin and death so that we could share in that victory through faith in him. But will believing and trusting in Jesus, God the Son, make any difference now, this side of heaven? You bet it will. Look at verse 12-14:
"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. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it."
Now at this point I could ask those of you who are trusting in Jesus do you believe those words of his? These are amazing and wonderful verses. But some of you are probably thinking well yes they are amazing verses and I want to believe them - whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do… Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do… If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it - but first what exactly does Jesus mean? (which is my next heading).
What Exactly Does Jesus Mean?
You see some people read verses like this rather superficially and immediately think about what Jesus has been doing - his 'works' of raising the dead, feeding 5,000 men and probably 10,000 women and children too, healing the blind, lame and so on - and conclude that's what we all should be doing. And so it can lead to people moving in one of two directions. Some will 'talk up' of having performed miracles - which on closer inspection in all honesty don't come anywhere near the miracles of Jesus - so it's untrue. Or some will say, 'Jesus got it wrong'- we can't raise the dead like he did, so this isn't true. The alternative, of course, is to ask whether we've interpreted what Jesus is saying correctly. Jesus literally speaks of anyone who has faith in him doing the works he does, and greater works. But verse 12 needs to be linked back to verse 11 where Jesus is emphasising the need to believe in him and so coming to know the Father on the basis of the miracles he performed if nothing else:
"Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves."
So his 'works' have a purpose, namely, to lead people to believe in him. This means that Jesus is saying that his followers through their works will continue to achieve this great aim, bringing people to a saving faith in him and through him being connected to God as Father. So we're talking about works which point to Jesus and anyone who has faith in him - meaning any Christian, says Jesus, will do these kinds of works to this great end. So this isn't restricted to miracles - but any word, any act which will cause people to know that Jesus Christ has come into the world and he's the Son of God and that by believing in him they can have eternal life. And if you're a Christian you'll be doing these works. Do you realise that?
What Does That Mean In Practice?
Let me give you a couple of examples. In our Home Group we have the privilege of having fellowship with KC and Emily, our verger and his wife. Every Home Group they want us to pray for people they meet to come to know Jesus. Fairly regularly they bring new people to the group including some who are not yet believers. Recently they brought two people from Mexico, who are not yet believers to HG and who now attend St Joseph's every week. They show hospitality to so many who are then willing to find out more about their faith in Christ and then KC and Emily attempt to bring them to Jesus. They attempt great things for God as they point people to Christ and in a very humble way expect great things from God. Now I've probably embarrassed them! But do you see?
I've learnt a great deal through having the privilege of being involved in Christianity Explored. One thing is praying in faith for people to come and then to come to Christ or grow in Christ not for our glory but for the glory of God and the extension of his kingdom. And God answers prayer. We're going to be relaunching Christianity Explored after the October Outreach so if you'd like to be involved in pointing people to Christ by inviting and coming along with people or by helping to run the courses then get involved humbly believing God for great things. Do you see?
In fact all the good works we do as believers – such as working with A.I.D., Mburi in Kenya, Armonia in Mexico, St Joseph's in Benwell, welcoming and showing hospitality to folks from the UK and to internationals etc. should be about pointing people to Christ as Saviour and Lord.
How can we do greater works, which will lead people to Jesus? Because, says Jesus he's going to the Father - that is via the cross and resurrection - and in the next two chapters he's going to tell his followers that as a result of that he's going to be in a position to send his Holy Spirit whose job it will be to bring people to faith in him. As I mentioned earlier there are millions and millions of Christians around the world. In this passage Jesus is located in a particular place at a particular time and so even he is limited in the works he could do - working only in Jerusalem. But not now, now he is reigning in heaven, beyond space and time, and by His Spirit doing his works of bringing folk to faith through his people scattered all over the earth. Those are the greater works we're performing - greater in scope and greater in number.
And it is to that end, the purpose of bringing people to faith in him that he will answer our prayers and so bring glory to God the Father - verse 13. This is not a blank cheque for a greedy prayer of the 'Lord give me a Ferrari' variety, rather it is a wonderful means he has given his people to forward his mission in the world, asking that our works will be effective in leading people to Christ. Do you see?
But I can see some of you thinking - is this really so? There's the story of an alcoholic who was wonderfully converted to Christ and who managed to handle his alcohol problem, rather than squandering his money on drink to the detriment of his family and home. And as he began to put his life together with the Lord's help, he received more than his fair share of jibes from his work mates about having 'got religion'. Well, one day they rounded on him at work and said, 'You don't believe all that miracle stuff, do you, about turning water into wine?' And he simply looked at them and said, 'I may never have seen water turned into wine, but I have seen wine turned into food and furniture.' Greater works than Jesus you see.