Fifth Sunday in Easter

TEXT: John 14:1-14

“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. (John 14:12, ESV)

That’s an intriguing passage, isn’t it? John, chapter 14, verse 12. In the King James Version, it says:  “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.”

Actually, I like the way Eugene Peterson translates this in The Message. Jesus says: “Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see—these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing.”

I’ve read this passage three different ways just now—and I’ve read it over many times more than that during the past week—because … This passage is not only intriguing … it’s puzzling! It raises questions in your mind, doesn’t it?

“The one who believes in me … will do greater works than these.”

So, why can’t we? That’s the big question this Scripture raises for me. Why can’t we do what Jesus did?

The works that Jesus did were amazing. He walked on water. He made the blind to see and the lame to walk. He healed the sick. He even raised up the dead! If Jesus meant what he said, then we should be able to do the things that he did. And listen to this: greater works—greater works—we should be able to do, because he has gone to be with the Father.

Now, I have seen all kinds of miracle workers and faith healers over the years—and I have to admit, I’m often suspicious of them. Sometimes that stuff seems as bogus as the latest prediction of Judgment Day. Sometimes the so-called miracles just don’t smell right. Even so, I do believe in healing. I’m sure most of us know of people who have been miraculously healed by the intervention of God in their lives.

Yes, I do believe that some have the gift of healing. However, I have never known of anybody who could measure up to Jesus. I’ve never seen anybody who could match the works of the Lord. And yet, this is what Jesus says to us: “See what I’m doing? What I’m doing you will be able to do.” Then he adds, “even greater works than these shall you do, because I go unto my Father.”

So, why can’t we? When our loved ones are suffering, why can’t we take their pain away? Why can’t we lay hands on them and cure their cancer? Or heal them after a stroke? Or make their Alzheimer’s Disease go away?

When it’s pouring rain outside, and I want to barbeque a steak … Why can’t I wave my hand and make the weather clear up? Why can’t we do what Jesus did?

Often, people try to answer that by saying it’s because we don’t have enough faith. That doesn’t quite wash, though, does it? Because Jesus doesn’t say you might do it if you have enough faith. No. He says, “You will do it!”

Here’s what I think our problem is: when we read about the miracles Jesus did, we are so impressed with the power of God that we fail to understand what the miracles are about. They are not about power, but about love. What Jesus did, he did not to demonstrate his power, but to express his love. That’s what his miracles were for.

Consider the first miracle recorded by John (2:1-11). It took place in the village of Cana, where Jesus and his disciples attended a wedding. The reception was only getting started, and they were already running out of wine. The father of the bride was distraught. The wedding feast was on the verge of disaster. The young bride was in tears. The new husband was perplexed. They didn’t know what to do.

Now, you have to understand:  in the ancient world, to run out of wine in the middle of a feast was to be disgraced publicly. So this was really awful. Then Mary went over to Jesus and told him: “Do something.”

I can just hear her saying that. “They’ve got no more wine. Do something. You’ve got to do something.”

Do you remember the story? Do you remember what Jesus said? He said, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?”—which is an ancient way of saying: “Mother, get off my back!”

But she won’t. She won’t leave him alone. Jesus had never performed a miracle in public, but now—at his mother’s urging—he does perform one. He calls for them to bring in containers filled with water, and he turns the water into wine. Why? Not to show his power, but to express his love for people in a difficult situation.

This is what the gospel is all about. It’s about love. We cannot duplicate the power of Jesus. We can’t walk on water. I don’t have the ability to raise up people from the dead, and neither do you. But what we do have is this: we have the opportunity to express the love of Jesus. And when it comes right down to it, that’s what Jesus came to do. He came to express his love, not show off his power.

You may have heard of an American evangelist named Tony Campolo. He’s not only an evangelist. He’s a Baptist minister, and an author, and a professor of sociology. I’ve heard him speak a couple of times, and I want to tell you—this guy is good!  If you ever get the chance to hear him, don’t pass it up. Here is a story I’ve heard him tell, and you can also find it on his website (www.tonycampolo.org). This is what he says:

I was in Haiti. I checked on our missionary work there. We run 75 small schools back in the hills of Haiti. I came to the little Holiday Inn where I always stay and shower and clean up before I board the plane to go home. I left the taxi and was walking to the entrance of the Holiday Inn when I was intercepted by three girls. I call them girls because the oldest could not have been more than 15. And the one in the middle said, “Mister, for $10 I’ll do anything you want me to do. I’ll do it all night long. Do you know what I mean?”

I did know what she meant. I turned to the next one and I said, “What about you, could I have you for $10?”

She said yes. I asked the same of the third girl. She tried to mask her contempt for me with a smile but it’s hard to look sexy when you’re 15 and hungry. I said, “I’m in room 210, you be up there in just 10 minutes. I have $30 and I’m going to pay for all three of you to be with me all night long.”

I rushed up to the room, called down to the concierge desk and I said, “I want every Walt Disney video that you’ve got in stock.” I called down to the restaurant and said, “Do you still make banana splits in this town? Because if you do, I want banana splits with extra ice cream, extra everything. I want them delicious, I want them huge, I want four of them!”

The little girls came and the ice cream came and the videos came and we sat at the edge of the bed and we watched the videos and laughed until about one in the morning. That’s when the last of them fell asleep across the bed. And as I saw those little girls stretched out asleep on the bed, I thought to myself,  “Nothing’s changed. Nothing’s changed. Tomorrow they will be back on the streets selling their little bodies to dirty, filthy johns because there will always be dirty, filthy johns who for a few dollars will destroy little girls. Nothing’s changed.”

I didn’t know enough Creole to tell them about the salvation story, but the word of the spirit said this: “For one night—for one night—you let them be little girls again.”

Now, I know that what Tony Campolo did wasn’t quite like turning water into wine, or walking on water. But look, ask yourself this: if Jesus was going to make a decision about which was the greater work—walking on water or giving one night of childhood back to three little girls … Which do you think Jesus would consider the greater work?

I cannot replicate the God’s acts of power in Jesus Christ, but I can perform acts of love in his name.

Here’s another story. It’s a news story that made headlines not that long ago. I’m sure you’ll remember it.

On October 2, 2006, a 32-year-old milk truck driver named Charles Carl Roberts barricaded himself in an Amish one-room schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. Roberts took hostages and eventually shot ten young girls—killing five—before turning his gun on himself.

It was a crime that shocked the entire world. But what came next was even more shocking, because—within a few days of the event—grieving Amish parents reached out to the murderer’s widow, offering her not only forgiveness, but financial assistance as well.

What kind of people would do that? I think we know, don’t we?

“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.

Jesus did perform miracles—and I believe he still does. However, there’s something even greater than miracles—and God has called us to do it. He has called us to be instruments of his love.

He calls us to reach out to people who need to experience his love. And when we do that, those acts of love are greater by far than the work that Jesus did when he walked on water. When Jesus was here in the flesh, he was only able to look into the eyes of one person at a time. He was only able to express love directly to one person at a time. But he has ascended to be with the Father, and he has come back as a spirit—the Holy Spirit that comes into our lives and fills us with his love.

Now, if thousands of people go out tomorrow morning and each of them performs one act of love in Jesus’ name, then … surely you can hear the voice of Jesus saying: “The work that I do, you are doing. And you’re doing it greater than I did it, because thousands are greater than one. I could only love one person at a time, face-to-face. But there are thousands—no—millions of you now, and each of you at any given moment can love someone intimately and powerfully in my name.”

Let me quote the Scripture one more time. Jesus says to his disciples—including you and me: “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

May each one of us live out this verse. And may it be said of us that we did the work that Jesus would have done if he were here in the flesh. May God bless us—and do great things through us—in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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