Day 5 – Greater Works than Jesus?
When Jesus wants to share something of great importance, He does it with a unique expression: “Truly, truly, I say to you” (John 1:51; 3:3, 5; 5:19, 24). Expect that whatever He says next, all ears must hear. “Truly, truly” is equivalent to “thus says the Lord,” and when God says something with this much emphasis, nothing is more pertinent.
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.
– John 14:12
“Whoever believes in me” draws our attention to a unique human function. According to studies in neuroscience, believing is a cognitive activity. When we acquire belief in something or someone, a representation or marker of that something or someone is retained in memory. Like a library with books, the human brain stacks beliefs in the form of propositional statements that can be articulated in words (e.g., I believe that wearing a mask could prevent the spread of the pandemic) and recalled when necessary. Therefore, to believe in Jesus is to commit at the cognitive level to specific claims about Him. For example, I believe that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6).
But believing is only half of the good news: “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do.” By “works,” we are to understand any visible manifestation of God exemplified in the ministry of Jesus. “Works” are signs and wonders of God’s presence disclosed in deeds of humility (13:14-15), in acts of love (13:34-35), and in multitudes of miracles (9:1-5; 7:3; 10:25, 32-38). Is Jesus saying that beliefs play a causal role in the production of behavior? Does He expect that where there is belief, there should be works? Are we born again to be united with God in word and deed? All of the above.
“Will also do the works that I do” speaks of all believers. Surely, God did not become a worldview so that we can reach unity with Him by embracing a set of beliefs. Truly, God did not become a religion so that we can live by following a set of rituals. God became a human being so that all who believe may live out their humanity by following Jesus. How banal it is to reduce the gospel to God taking human form for the singular purpose of enriching our cognition with propositional truth (2:23-24; 12:42-43). How irreverent it is to limit our Christian experience to a set of beliefs that save us and guarantee our eternal security – as crucial as that is (3:16; cf. 6:28-29). Believing in Jesus is the first step toward living like Jesus.
“Greater works than these will he do” celebrates human agency neither in quantitative nor qualitative terms. How can our works be greater when everything about us fails in comparison to Jesus? The measure of greatness relates to a new era initiated by Jesus going “to the Father.” If prior to His death and resurrection, His works could not be seen for what they are (2:22; cf. 3:3-4, 11, 32; 8:13-14, 58-59), now every work done in His name carries the cross and resurrection seal as a visible manifestation of God’s power (15:26-27; 19:34-35; 21:24). Therefore, greatness lies not in our strength but in overcoming our weakness by dying and rising with Christ. Greatness lies not in our works per se but in what they say and show about the work of God (3:21). It is His work that makes our works “greater,” not in might nor in numbers, so that no one can boast, but in bearing witness to the world about His transformative power in our lives.
Will your works in 2021 become signs and wonders of God’s presence?
Almighty God, I understand that doing the works that Jesus did is beyond me, but what is impossible for humanity is possible for God. With Jesus at Your right hand and Your Spirit in my heart, I am empowered to live out Your works. I believe but help my unbelief.
Beniamin Pascut, Ph.D.
Ministry Director, Christian Union Lux (Yale University)
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