“Greater Things Than These”

Fifty-seven years ago this March, an interview of then-Beatle John Lennon by British journalist Maureen Cleave appeared in the London newspaper “The Evening Standard.” It went largely unnoticed until July of that year, when it was published in the United States. The outrage across the Atlantic was swift and widespread:

“Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

Lennon’s comment was received as the Beatles being bigger, more important, or somehow better than Jesus. Beatles records were burned. Many radio stations stopped playing their songs. Lennon attempted damage control by clarifying that he simply meant that the Beatles were a bigger part of the lives of more people than was Jesus at that time. The controversy eventually faded away (the Beatles would four years later). It might surprise you to learn that Jesus said something that can sound equally shocking:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12 (NIV)

Can that be right? Did Jesus suggest that those who believe in Him would do greater things than His works? As you might imagine, Biblical scholars have written a lot about this. Here are just two samples:

“Doubtless it was the worldwide proclamation of the gospel, the salvation of so many souls, and the building of the church that the Lord referred to by the expression greater works. It is greater to save souls than to heal bodies.” Believer’s Bible Commentary.

“This promise can hardly mean that the efforts of disciples will exceed those of Jesus, who, for instance, provided the stupendous miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. What is “greater” is that these works will be done by regular people in whom the power of Christ has taken up residence following his glorification.” NIV Application Commentary

I believe Jesus may have been referring both to the global reach of the Gospel to come and ordinary people doing extraordinary things through the Holy Spirit. My opinion is that the global reach is the greater of the two.

It’s easy to forget that Jesus preached to a very small geographic region during his time on earth. He was aware of the way the world would shrink due to technology. The same week I was preaching on this, a dear friend shared an amazing story with me.

She and her husband were introduced to a missionary to an African nation (for his security, I will not say which one). He was involved in translating the New Testament into a local dialect for the very first time. She was overwhelmed as he shared his experiences. I can only imagine. To that culture, the Gospel isn’t 2,000 years old. It’s brand new! Imagine readers learning about Jesus, why He came, how He lived and being changed by that alone. Then imagine their horror when they learn how He dies. Then imagine their joy when they learn what His death purchased, 20 centuries after it all happened!

I believe that’s what Jesus was referring to. But I also believe He was referring to ordinary people, like the missionary my friend met, doing extraordinary things. They work in tandem. What about you? If you’ve accepted Christ into your life, what extraordinary thing does Jesus expect from ordinary you? What “greater things than these” is He calling you to?

It might not take a trip to Africa. It could be introducing your next-door neighbor to Jesus. He might want you to work with a mission ministry in your own town. But make no mistake, all who follow Christ are part of the “they” that will do “even greater things.” We have the amazing privilege each day of asking Jesus what “even greater things” He wants us to do. I pray that excites you as much as it does me!

— Pastor Jerry Bader

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