When the death of President Calvin Coolidge was made public, someone quipped, “How can they tell?”
How foreign is that lifelessness to the vibrant, dynamic power Jesus offers. Listen to Him: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.”
What a breath-taking promise. On the surface of it, it seems incredible. If this is even remotely possible, then mustn’t we admit that we have never taken Jesus seriously? The least we have to confess is that we have certainly been satisfied with far less than He has in mind for us as His followers.
I think of one of Charles Schultz’s Peanuts cartoons. Snoopy, the hound of heaven, says of Woodstock, that would-be bird of paradise, “Someday Woodstock is going to be a great eagle.” Then in the next frame he says, “He’s going to soar thousands of feet above the ground.”
Woodstock takes off into the air and as Snoopy looks on, he sees Woodstock upside-down and whirling around crazily. So he has second thoughts and in the next frame Snoopy says, “Well, maybe hundreds of feet above the ground….”
Just then, Woodstock falls to the ground, looking dazed, and Snoopy has to conclude, “Maybe he’ll be one of those eagles who just walk around.”
Isn’t it amazing how quickly we settle for less than is promised and is possible? S.R. Crockett tells us that in his beloved countryside of Scotland there is a churchyard in which lie buried whole generations of a family. On each of the tombstones there is cut the name, and then this, as the summing up of their endeavors and achievements: “They keeped shop in Wigtown — and that’s all.” (Preface to John Gait, Anals of the Parish. Edinborough: J. Grant, 1936, p. 17).
We at least smile at that — “They keeped shop — and that’s all.” Probably good people, all of them. But greater works than Christ? What might be written on our tombstones? Good folks, loved their families, kind, gentle, good citizens, giving — but greater works than Christ?
So what have we here in this word of Jesus? “Greater works than these will you do, because I go to the Father.”
That’s what the Man said — the Man who came to save the world. The Man who healed and forgave and loved and washed His disciples’ feet. The Man who calmed the storm and took little children on His lap and blessed them; the Man who ate with sinners and flung His life in the teeth of the raw and rampant prejudice of His day by conversing with the Samaritan woman; the Man who finished all the work God gave Him to do, and is now crowned with glory and honor. That’s what Jesus said, “Greater works than these will you do, because I go to the Father.”
Let’s seek to appropriate the message of this word under the rubric, Never apologize for being human.
Isn’t that our common response? I’m only human, you know? When some great possibility opens, when some challenge is thrust upon us, when the invitation comes to break step with the crowd? “I’m only human.”
We’re still using being human as a cop-out. Even after the “human potential” revolution, and the humanistic psychology movement with convincing prophets like Abraham Maslow, even the thousands of books that have been written on the amazing power that belongs to all of us, yet goes untapped, we are still using being human as a copout.
We keep at it — apologizing for being human. I want to register three affirmations to bolster my admonition, “Never apologize for being human.” In approaching it this way, we might be able to begin to appropriate what Jesus said: “Greater works than these will you do, because I go to the Father.”
Let’s begin with a truth which you have heard so often and in so many different settings that your mind may be dull to it: You are more than you think you are! I believe that’s a part of what Jesus is saying to us — “You are more than you think you are!”
I read recently of an elderly bachelor and an old maid who started going together. Each had lived alone for many years. Gradually the old gentleman recognized a real attachment to her but was shy and afraid to tell her his feelings. Finally he mustered up the courage to say, “Let’s get married!” Surprised, she threw up her hands and shouted, “It’s wonderful to think about, but who in the world would have us?”
It’s easy to sink into that kind of self-understanding. When I’m feeling blue and am down on myself, when depression threatens to turn the sky of my life into dark clouds of gloom, when I sense that I’m becoming too preoccupied with failure, I try to remember the
“When I look at the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him? Yet thou hast made him little less than God (some translations have it “a little lower than the angels”) and dost crown him with glory and honor” (
If I can put this word of the Psalmist together with what Jesus said — “Greater works than these will you do because I go to the Father” — then I can know that I am more than I think I am. The Psalmist goes on to say, “Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.” Not unlike what the Man said: “Greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.”
So, let’s nail it down: You are more than you think you are.
Now a second truth: “There is something you can be, but will never be apart from Jesus Christ.” Listen to what Jesus said: “Greater works than these will you do, because I go to the Father.” There is something you can be, but will never be apart from Jesus Christ.
In 1985, after the disastrous earthquake that hit Mexico City, The Los Angeles Times reported a beautiful story that took place in the streets of its city. A little Japanese-American boy decided that he would like to do something to help the victims of that earthquake. When he heard that the damages had gone into the millions of dollars, he decided that he would like to raise $1 million himself to send to those victims. He started going door to door in Los Angeles selling postcards for 25 cents. When he came to one house and presented his cause, the man there asked him how much he hoped to raise. Without even hesitating, the little boy said, “$1 million!”
“One million dollars,” exclaimed the man. “That’s a lot of money. Do you expect to raise it all by yourself.” I like what the little boy said, “Oh, no sir, there’s another little boy helping me!”
What does that say to you and me? Commitment and expectation of that sort enables us to tackle the impossible. Add to that the divine factor — the plus of Christ’s power — and you have the story of countless millions of persons who have proven what Jesus said was true: “Greater works than these will you do.”
Look at it. In His own day, Christ made only a passing impression on His own little atomy of land, and almost none on the great world beyond it, but followers of His have swept across the earth like the conquerors they are, winning masses for the Master far more than He ever gained Himself. People by the millions have been healed in His name in lands that would never have heard His name, much less been healed, had not missionary doctors and nurses gone to those far-flung corners of the earth with the healing love of Jesus Christ. And little children, by the tens of thousands, are being kept from starvation today, by people who are doing His works.
It is not important to list the mighty works or name the names of people who have done those works, because that list would almost be without end. What is important is that those who have done those works all say it was not they who did it, “that the inspiration, the power, the endurance that made it possible, all came from Jesus Christ; and that if He had passed out of being on Calvary, if He had not gone to the Father, had not remembered them and planned for them and stood by them, and supplied all their need, all the achievements that men credit to them would have been utterly impossible” (The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, p. 706).
There is something you can be, but will never be apart from Jesus Christ. You don’t have to think of it dramatically. Think of your day-to-day life.
Jesus can make you a loving person you will never be without Him. Jesus can make you a forgiving person you can never be apart from Him. Jesus can make you a serving person you can never be apart from Him. Jesus can make you a witnessing person you can never be apart from Him.
Out of tragic South Africa comes a poignant story of what I am saying. Alan Paton tells the story in his 1981 novel, But Your Land is Beautiful. The story takes place in the Holy Church of Zion on Maundy Thursday where the ritual of footwashing precedes Holy Communion.
The black pastor has invited Judge Oliver to come to the church to wash the feet of Martha Fortuin, a black woman who has raised and cared for the judge’s children. Judge Oliver is known as a white man of character, willing to stand against his fellow jurists on issues where principle is involved. The judge accepts the invitation, but no one could have expected what takes place.
The judge, remembering how Martha Fortuin has often kissed the feet of his children, bends over to kiss her feet, after he has washed them in ritual. Tears fill the eyes of other worshipers in the tiny church. Somehow the press learns of the event, gives it wide publicity, and it cost Judge Oliver the chief judgeship which was to have been his.
A few days later the black pastor calls on Judge Oliver to ask his forgiveness for involving him in an act that destroyed his professional future. The judge replies, “Taking part in your service on Maundy Thursday is to me more important than any chief judgeship. Think no more about it.” And that is why the people of the Holy Church of Zion renamed their church in South Africa, “The Church of the Washing of Feet.” (Lycurgus Starkey, Jr., Missouri UMC, Columbia, Missouri).
Like Judge Oliver, there is something we can be, but will never be, apart from Jesus Christ.
Now, let me register the third affirmation to bolster my admonition: “Never apologize for being human.” Prayer is the human act that enables us to transcend the limitation of being human.
Think of it. No other form of life can pray. Jesus links His amazing word — “greater works than these will you do because I go to the Father” — with His equally amazing promise about prayer,
Do you note that He says the same thing twice. It’s obvious He wants that to register in our minds. Pay close attention to the verb tense. Jesus did not say, “Ask anything in my name and I might do it.” He didn’t say, “Ask anything in my name and I will probably do it.” Nor did He say, “Ask, and there’s a good chance that what you ask you will get.”
No, He was very emphatic: “Ask anything in my name and I will do it.” We need to register the extravagant and unlimited fact it seems, but the promise Jesus gives us here is not unconditional; rather, this promise is explicitly and strictly limited. It is only what we ask for in Christ’s name, only what we can pray for for His sake that He promises to give us.
So we can continually count on receiving what we ask only if what we ask will advance God’s cause and bring Him glory. “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” So we pray in Christ’s name.
Notice another condition: the connection between faith and prayer. Look precisely at what Jesus said in
And that brings us to the third connection we want to make about prayer and faith and the greater work that we can do. That connection is in the scripture which follows our lesson,
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.”
Here is Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit — the promise of His indwelling presence. In the New Testament alone, the Spirit is referred to nearly 300 times, and the one word with which the Spirit is constantly associated is power.
If Christ is with us — and He has given His word that He is — then we don’t ever need to apologize for being human. And we can believe that greater works than Jesus did in the flesh can be done now because He has been released from the flesh, and indwells all of us who receive Him by faith.
Do you get the picture? During His earthly life Jesus laid hands on a few sick folks and healed them. He spoke to people, bidding them to follow Him, and some of them did. There were 120 disciples at Jerusalem and 500 in Galilee when He died. You could have put them all in this sanctuary and had a lot of space left over.
That was what Christ had been able to do. Because now He indwells us, we, as millions of Christians before us, can be the leaven of the Kingdom in our own sphere here, there, all over the world, as the kingdoms of the earth are impacted by the Kingdom of Christ. “Greater works than these will you do.”
An Indian legend relates that a brave found an eagle’s egg and put it into the nest of a prairie chicken. The eaglet hatched with a brood of chicks and grew up with them. All his life, the eagle — thinking he was a prairie chicken — did what the prairie chickens did.
He scratched in the dirt for seeds and insects to eat. He clucked and cackled. And he flew in a brief thrashing of wings and flurry of feathers no more than a few feet off the ground. After all, that’s how prairie chickens were supposed to fly.
Years passed. The eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird far above him in the cloudless sky. Hanging with graceful majesty on the powerful wind currents, the bird soared with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings. “That’s a beautiful bird,” said the eagle, “What is it?”
“That’s an eagle, the chief of the birds,” the neighbor clucked. “But don’t give it a second thought. You could never be like him.” So the eagle never gave it another thought, and it died thinking it was a prairie chicken.
Eagles — Prairie Chickens — Christians in name — Christians in actuality and in power. “Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do because I go to the Father.”
Is there a greater tragedy than to die without knowing who you are? Or to live denying who you are? Never apologize for being human. But, more critical than that, lay hold of the power that is given you by the Christ who indwells you.
When the death of President Calvin Coolidge was made public, someone quipped, “How can they tell?”