This is the first sermon I wrote about a year ago. Hope to get some of your thoughts and feedback. Enjoy, or don't.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. John 14: 12
I have heard it said that when Christ said that believers would do the works that he did, and "greater works than these shall he do" that he was speaking of the number of works, and not the quality. However, I find this understanding of it to be in error according to the Bible, and they are missing something very beautiful about the good works "which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" Ephesians 2:10, when they speak of it as "the number of works".
I would agree that he is not speaking of the quality of the works, otherwise the word "better" would have been used. Who is better than God is and who can ever do anything better than him? There is however, another definition of the word "great" that has been overlooked. A definition that can be found is, "Remarkable or outstanding in magnitude, degree, or extent". That is found in the American Heritage Dictionary, although I'm sure better sources could be cited. Hence being greater could mean more intense, or extensive. So when Christ said that the believer would do greater (not better or more) works than these, was he not talking about the magnitude, degree, or extent?
Let's look into the Scriptures to answer that question and get a clearer understanding of this principle. A good rule of Bible interpretation is to use the Scriptures to interpret the Scriptures, "For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit" Romans 8:5. The Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Ghost and they are spiritual, hence they should be interpreted using other Scriptures with the help of the Holy Ghost. With that said, let's take a look at the other places the Holy Ghost uses the word greater, and may God give us the understanding of how we should read this word in John 14: 12.
The first place that the word greater can be found in the Bible is in Genesis 1:16. It is written, "And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also". So we see that "greater" as it is used there addressed the intensity of the sun as compared to the moon. The first place in the NT that the word greater is used is in Matthew 11:11. When speaking of John the Baptist, Jesus said that "Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he". To say that John was better than any other man would be to say that he was good, and the Scripture says there is none good. The word greater is used correctly, instead of the word better. So what did Christ mean when he said "there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist"? How did he rise to greatness? Well, we see it in the rest of the passage there in Matthew. Jesus says in verse 9 and 10 "But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare the way before thee." John the Baptist being great was directly connected to his ministry here on the earth in preparing the way of the Lord. This is evident in the gospel of Luke 1: 13-17.
In this passage the angel tells Zacharias of his son, John. The angel says "For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." John came preaching the law to the people of Israel. He came to bring the fear of God back to them. In Malachi 1:6 we see that the children of Israel did not fear God as their master, neither did they honour him as a father. When it says that he shall "turn their hearts to the Lord their God", it means that he would cause them to remember the law and the judgments of God again. "Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments." Malachi 4:4. His ministry would cause them to honour God as a son would his father, and fear him as a servant would his master. The result of this turning of the hearts back to the Lord is the turning of the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the fathers to the children. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments." John 5: 1-2. "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." Matthew 7:12.
We can see in Luke 1: 17 that the Lord's purpose for John was to "make ready a people prepared for the Lord". Israel's problem was that they were unwilling to even try to keep the law of Moses because they did not fear or love God. They did not care about the law and the statutes, or the judgments of God. They were not ready to receive the gift of eternal life that would be purchased by the blood of Jesus on the cross because they did not try to keep the law and therefore could not realize their need for forgiveness. We see this truth in Romans chapter 7. You cannot know that you have sin except by the law. Verse 7 says "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." Then Paul by the Holy Ghost goes on to explain how that the law which was ordained to life he found to be unto death. The law shows us to be what we are, sinners who are separated by our sin from our Creator, and deserving of an eternity in the lake of fire. The principle of having to die before you live, sorrow before joy, is found throughout the Bible. That is what John's ministry was, to cause them to have sorrow so Jesus could give them joy, to cause them to weep so that they would be comforted.
So we can see that John rose to greatness by fulfilling God's purpose for his life. Remember the Bible tells us that he was filled with the Holy Ghost from the womb. No other man was ever filled with the Holy Ghost from the womb. However, he was not born of God at that time, as Jesus was and we are when we are saved. At this time John was only born of the flesh, hence "he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he". Jesus says in John 3:5, "except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." It is also written in John 1:12, 13, "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." It is evident that John was not born of God yet because Christ had not finished the work of redemption yet. He was not given power to become a son of God, he was given power to prepare the way of the Lord. John gave record of himself when the Pharisees came to John and asked him who he was in John chapter 1. He told them he was not the Christ. He also confessed that he did not know Christ when he said, "And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water." John knew exactly what he was, a sinner in need of forgiveness like the rest of the world, but he also knew he was a man that had a work given him by God to do, to baptize with water so that the Christ would be made manifest to Israel. Does God give lost people work to do? The Bible says yes. In Romans 13: 3-4 it is written, "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." Are rulers saved born again christians? Not all, if any are. Are they all ministers of God? Yes, because it is written in verse 1 of the same chapter "For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God."
Now that we affirm the truth that John was a lost man because he was not yet born again, we know that out of all those that had not yet been born again, John was the greatest. His ministry was great, and he was great, not in the way of being better, but rather of intensity and direct influence, or magnitude. In Matthew 3: 5-6, "Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins." So then what do we do with "notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he"? Well, are not all those that are saved of Christ? Are we not his body? "The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven" 1 Corinthians 15: 47. When we are born again, born of the Spirit, the Lord from heaven is birthed in us, and he is the kingdom of heaven, from the greatest to the least "Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all." Is not a kingdom the people of the kingdom and their king? Paul the apostle called himself the least of all saints in Ephesians 3: 8. Is he greater than John the Baptist? Yes, Paul was a debtor to all men, whereas John the Baptist was sent to Israel. Does that mean he was better than John was? Of course it doesn't. We were all the enemies of God. Christ died and rose on the third day and made us righteous, including John the Baptist. We must keep what Christ said about the least in the kingdom of heaven being greater than John the Baptist in context. At the time Christ was speaking those words, no one had yet been born again. The only one who was of the kingdom of heaven was God. Hence we have the verse that says "But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you." Matthew 12: 28. So in the most literal sense, Christ was speaking of himself being the least in the kingdom of heaven, because it was only him and the Father, and he said "…the Father is greater than I" John 14: 18. The fact is that in Christ, there is not any better than any other, only good, and that is God. The Bible teaches that we are in God, and God in us, so no one is better than another.
However, is there lesser and greater? Yes, that is clearly taught in the Scripture. Think of the body, are there not certain parts of your body that have more influence in its function? Does that mean that one part is of more importance or value? Certainly not, as we see in 1 Corinthians 12. We see that every member of the body of Christ has a different work to do, and different position. "And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all." Just as all the stars in the sky not shining as bright as another, not everyone can do the same things of the same intensity because some are weak in the faith, and some are stronger as seen in Romans 14. This does not mean that the weaker brethren are less vital to the function of the body though. In 1 Corinthians 12: 21, 22 "And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:"
So, knowing the way that "greater" has been used in other places of the Bible, we can see if it would apply to John 14:2 the same way. Let's consider what Christ says in the first part of the verse "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also;" The Lord says that the works that he did on the earth, we who believe would do also. When you are saved, the new man who is formed in you does the same things that Jesus did while he was on the earth, which was righteousness. "If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him." 1 John 2: 29. The first work is baptism. Hence it is not that believers are saved by water baptism, it is that they will do the works that Jesus does, and Jesus was baptized. He overcame the devil and his temptations by the word of God and his sinless life. This is also a given for them that believe. "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death." Revelation 12: 11. Just as the Son of man overcame the devil in the wilderness by the word of God and his sinless life, so we also who believe overcome the devil with his sinless life, the blood of the Lamb, and the Bible, the word of our testimony. "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee." Psalm 119: 11.
Now lets consider the next part of the verse "and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father." Not only will we who believe do the works that Christ did, but he says that we will do greater works. This is something that is too wonderful to fully grasp. However, I consider this verse in 1 John 5: 20, "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life." So we see the Son of God has given us an understanding for the purpose of knowing him, and the power of his resurrection. "Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead." Philippians 3: 8-11. So may the Lord give us understanding of the wonderful truth of "greater works".
Christ says in Matthew 5: 14-16 "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father which is in heaven." The Lord says that we are the light of the world. Notice that he called us (plural) the light (singular). Is this a mistake in grammar? We know it isn't. We know that the word of God is perfect. So why then does he say that WE are the LIGHT? This can be understood when we find that Jesus (singular) is the light of the world. "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." John 8:12. He also says, "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." John 9: 5. One could ask, "how can Jesus be the light of the world if he isn't in the world anymore?" That is a good question that deserves a good answer. The answer is found in Matthew 18: 20 "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." We find that Jesus is indeed in the world by his church, his body. For it also says "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." Matthew 28: 20. These passages seem to contradict John 14: 2 when he said "I go unto my Father", however a closer look and we will see the Truth, we will see our Lord. "My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice." Song of Solomon 2: 9.
So lets get closer to that lattice and get a better look at our Saviour. First we must address Matthew 18: 20. Christ says that the condition for him being there is that two or three are gathered in his name. Hence he is in the midst of his church, this is also found in Revelation 2: 1, "Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;" When Christ had said that he is in the midst of two or three gathered in his name we must remember that he had not built his church yet. We see this when he tells Peter "upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." in Matthew 16: 18. Note the future tense words "will" and "shall". So what about when Jesus died on the cross and was in the grave three days and three nights? Was the light of the world taken away? Lets look at what the Scripture says. In John 12: 24- 36 it says when Christ spoke of his death "the people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man? Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth." The world had the light while Jesus walked the earth. Where was Jesus to be found when he was in the grave? Was he in the midst of two or three gathered in his name? The answer is found in Zechariah 1: 7, "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the sheperd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones." This prophecy was fulfilled the night Christ was arrested "All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the sheperd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad." Matthew 26: 31. For three days and three nights there weren't two or three gathered in the name of Christ, they were offended and the sheep were scattered. We see the answer is yes, the light of the world had left. There was only one place Jesus was, and that was in the grave. "For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." Psalm 30: 5.
So did Jesus lie in Matthew 28: 20, when he said "I am with you alway"? Again, context is key. We see that Jesus had already risen from the dead and had given them the Holy Ghost. This is seen in John 20: 19-22. Notice they were gathered together in one place and he was in the midst of them. Then he said, "receive ye the Holy Ghost". "The darkness is past, and the true light now shineth." 1 John 2: 8. He had returned unto them and would never leave them again as he promised in John 14: 3, "And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, that I may receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." Romans 10: 6-8 is brought to remembrance when meditating on the truth that Christ is with us, and will always be. "But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) or, who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring Christ again from the dead.) but what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;" Christ is with us by faith. "The just shall live by faith" Romans 1: 17. If Christ is the Life, then how do we have life if he has gone to the Father, and we are here in the world? The answer is by faith. God tells us in his word that Christ is with us and "will be with us alway", and we that believe, or the just, shall live by faith, true faith that produces good works, and progressively greater works. That is the Light, it is Jesus, it is God, it is the light of the world, it is us when we do good works by the power of the Holy Ghost through faith.
We see in nature that all living things grow. Growth is the result of life. When things stop growing, they are not living anymore, but dying or in other words getting closer and closer to death. When things are past the prime of their life, they aren't getting stronger any more, but weaker. Since God has given to us eternal life in his Son Jesus Christ, we will always keep growing while we are here on the earth. That is why we are here, to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. This truth is found in Matthew 5: 13-16. When we read Matthew 5: 15, "Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house", we see that men do not put candles under a bushel, or a bed as it says in Luke 11: 33. Just as men did not put a measure on lights, or put lights under something to dim the light down, God's sons will not deny his power by their unbelief and stay in this world. "Let your light so shine before men." The words that Christ speaks are life. "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." John 6: 63. If a true son of God, being a "light of the world" that he is, wishes to remain in the world to do the greater works that Christ spoke of in John 14: 12, then he should heed the commandment of our Lord to "Let your light so shine before men". If the true church of Christ wishes to continue to be in the world to do the greater works then we need to let our light "so shine before men", without measure or restraint. A son of God will say "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Philippians 4: 13. The Scripture speaks of them who have a "form of godliness, but denying the power thereof, from such turn away." 2 Timothy 3: 5. They deny the power of God by their unbelief. The children of God do righteousness. They can do good works, they should do good works, and they will do good works as long as they are in the world. "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." John 9:5. The children of the devil cannot do good works, they don't want to do good works, and will not do good works. "…whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother." 1 John 3: 10. However we who believe will continue to grow, and do greater works until the day of the Lord. We know that "he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:" Philippians 1: 6.
We are exhorted to humble ourselves, and believe God. In James 1: 21 we are exhorted to "lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls", and "humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and he shall lift you up" in chapter 4, verse 10. If we humble ourselves under his mighty hand, and subject ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, he will "exalt us in due time" 1 Peter 5:6. When is the time? When we humble ourselves. "To day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts" Hebrews 3: 15. "For our conversation is in heaven" Philippians 3: 20. Our conversation is in Christ, 1 Peter 3: 16. We can humble ourselves, and live by faith at the right hand of God the Father in Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost. With that said, how high is God? We do not know, "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." We do know that he is the Most High. How great are the works the Lord would give us to do if only we would humble ourselves and continue to believe him more and more each day! It is limited only to the right hand of God, it is enough that the "servant be as his master" Luke 6: 40. If we humble ourselves, and let our light shine, and believe God, it is easy to accept the truth of us doing the works Jesus did on earth, and that we will do greater works. Just as the sun outshines the moon so greatly, our light would continue to grow and become more intense until the whole world was filled with the Light, our Lord Jesus. For those little children who believe God, they will say amen to Jesus when he says "and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father."
So lets approach this part of the
verse as little children and not let our own understanding of things and our own doubt and fear blind us from the truth of what Christ tells us here. Lets
remember that when Christ said "greater works than these" he was speaking of the works before his death. "Greater love hath no man than this,
that a man lay down his life for his friends." John 15: 13. From that verse we can see that he was not talking of his death on the cross when he would lay
his life down. No work could be greater than that. As a result of his death, the whole world's sins were forgiven. It is not possible to do something of
greater magnitude than that. So when Jesus had said that believers will do "greater works than these", it would have been everything that he had done
up to that point. So, what are the greater works then? Well, I'm not so sure if we could name them specifically, but we should all know what the greatest
work is and should all strive for that and on our way there we will do the "greater works" that Jesus spoke of. We believers are all on our way to
becoming exactly like Christ. "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn
among many brethren." Romans 8: 29. What is the greatest, or most effective way to be like Christ? Well, it's by having the greatest love, to do the
greatest work, and that is laying our lives down for him by laying them down for our brethren. "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down
his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." 1 John 3:16. Also, let us not say in our unbelieving hearts that we can't. For
Christ has given us the Holy Ghost which is why he went unto his Father. Jesus tells his disciples in John 16: 7, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It
is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you." So in
conclusion, I would ask all my brethren that read this, would you lay down your lives for your brethren and do "greater works than these"?