Scripture Reference: John 14:8-15
A Believing HeartDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | July 16, 2000
Selected highlights from this sermon
Jesus isn’t just “one of the guys” — He is God. And a promise He made to His followers was that they would do greater works than He had. While on Earth, His ministry was geographically limited. But with a believing heart and with His Spirit, through the works of translators, and through transportation, radio, television, and the internet, His believers are reaching the world with His Word.
You and I live at a time of history when there’s a great deal of pressure to trim Jesus Christ down to manageable proportions-to make Him one of the boys, so to speak. To put Him on the same shelf as Krishna or Buddha or some other leader. One of the things that John’s gospel helps us to see is that you can’t do that because Jesus is unique and, as you look at the text of Scripture, what astounds you is not the similarities that He has to other religious leaders but rather the contrasts. The differences.
For example, and I hope you have your Bibles as you turn to the fourteenth chapter of the gospel of John–we’re doing a series of messages on the Upper Room Discourse entitled “When Jesus Has Your Heart.” Today we speak on the topic of a believing heart.
But remember last time how Peter and the other disciples began to interact with Jesus. And Thomas said to Him, “You know, we don’t know where we’re going and we don’t know the way,” and Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” And then Phillip begins to ask Him and says, “Well, you know, you talk about going to the Father, but we have not seen the Father. Show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” And Jesus said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” What distinguishes Jesus is that He claims to be God and He not only says that, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God,” which is astounding, but He also says that, “all the works that I do; they are not really my works; they are the works of the Father.” Verse ten: “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? And the words that I say to you are not my own; rather it is the Father living in me who is doing the work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe me on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”
Miracles do have an ability to elicit faith. Not in an absolute sense, because there are many people who saw the miracles, and the more miracles they saw, the more they rejected Christ. But Jesus here makes a claim to deity that is outstanding. Also, Jesus is different from all other options because of the promises that He makes. “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God? (and every Jew knew that that was the first commandment that you believed in God.) Believe also in me. And to believe in me,” Jesus taught, “is equivalent to believing in God. But don’t let your heart be troubled.” (And I say to those of you today with troubled hearts, don’t let your heart be troubled!)
But now what follows in this context in John 14 is one of the most astounding promises found anywhere in the Bible. In fact, when you read it, you say to yourself, “Surely Jesus could not have said this!” But He did. And we have to look at it, and we need to apply it. You’ll notice He says in verse 12, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” That’s quite a promise! But notice He doesn’t end there. “He will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father.” And we say, “Lord Jesus, do you really mean it?” What could He mean?
First of all, He says, “Those who believe in me will do the same works that I do.” Well, what works did He do? He healed the sick–all kinds of different diseases were healed under the ministry of Jesus. He heals the sick, He takes some bread and feeds a multitude, He stills the storm, and He raises the dead. When you read the book of Acts, you discover that the disciples did many of these things. We could almost say they did the same works, because the apostles did some of the same things that Jesus did. Sick people were brought to them and they were healed, and distressing situations were taken care of. And after the time of the apostles, however, miracles generally fade from the pages of church history.
Oh, I know that there were fantastic claims made sometimes during medieval times but I need to tell you that they were often intertwined with an awful lot of superstition. And some of the pagan miracles were said to be done by Christians and so forth. Generally speaking, we don’t see a lot of those physical kinds of miracles today. We see some but not a lot, not like the pages of the New Testament. And that’s been true for nearly two thousand years.
Before James M. Boice died, he spoke to his congregation for seven minutes in great weakness, but one of the things he said to them was, “Many of you have been asking, should you pray for a miracle?” (He had liver cancer.) And he said, “Yes, go ahead and pray for a miracle, but I want you to know that we don’t see a lot of miracles today. If God didn’t want me to have cancer,” he said, “He would not have given it to me. And just pray that God will give me (and I’m paraphrasing) the grace to die well, because I know that my sickness is part of God’s providence and part of His grace.”
Jesus said that, “If you believe in me, you’ll do the same works.” And the apostles did, but after that we don’t see a lot of the same works. Some, but not a lot.
But now we come to the most astounding part of the promise. If we are surprised by the words that, “You shall do the same works as I do,” look at what the rest of the promise says: “and greater works than these you will do.” What on earth would the greater works be? Well, in order to get a clue, we need to understand that, in the eleventh chapter of Matthew, Jesus said something very interesting about John the Baptist. He said John the Baptist was a great man, but the man who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is. What Jesus meant was that John is not as great as the least is because John was not really in the kingdom of heaven, the realm of the kingdom of heaven. He lived too early for that. So Jesus is saying that he who is least in the kingdom is really greater than John the Baptist. Christ is talking about greater privileges, greater privileges. And I think He has the same idea in mind here, as we shall see in a moment.
What He is saying is that “those who believe in me, after I go to the Father and the Holy Spirit descends upon my followers, they will do greater works than I through the proclamation of the gospel throughout the whole world. There’s going to be something that is greater that takes place in the realm of the Spirit during the era of the Spirit, which I am about to inaugurate. There is something more wonderful that is going to take place during that period of time even than what I am doing while I am here on earth.” Why do I say that?
Well, when you think of the greater works, you realize, first of all, that the spread of the gospel throughout the world by the followers of Jesus is greater, first of all, in kind. In kind. It is much greater to have lives transformed by the power of God. It is much greater to have the gospel of Jesus Christ go out than the physical healings that took place in the New Testament times. The Sea of Galilee will rage again after Jesus stopped it. The skin of the leper that was made whole will become wrinkled within time and that leper will die. How much more wonderful is the salvation of souls? F. B. Meyer says, “The pain from which the word of Jesus saves us is greater than a disease could ever inflict. The soul is greater than the body as the jewel than the casket. All work, therefore, which produces as great an effect upon the soul life as the miracles on the physical life must be proportionately greater as the tenant is greater than the house and the immortal is greater than the mortal.”
Let me ask you a question. Let’s just bring it down to where you live and to where you’re sitting today. What would you rather do–be physically healed and be lost forever or be spiritually healed, be converted, and dwell with God in heaven forever? Well, I think we’d all say, “Yes, I’d like number two–miracle number two rather than miracle number one.”
Last week I was speaking in New Orleans. I discovered that down there they call it N’Awlins. And at the CBA convention and also participating in the morning service was Joni Eareckson Tada. And I remember the story of how she told that she was in Jerusalem and she came to the Pool of Bethesda and how wonderful it was to be there, because for years she had hoped that she would be healed at that pool. She’s a quadriplegic. Or rather, she’d be healed like that crippled man was under the ministry of Jesus, she said. But now, as she finally came to the pool, she said she thanked God that she had never been healed physically though she so desired it in those early years of her disability. “Because,” she said, “the work that God did in my heart as a result of my sickness and my disability, was greater than the work that He would have done if He would have healed me like He did that man so many centuries ago.” There is something within the heart that is a greater miracle.
So, preaching the gospel, that miracle is greater in kind; may I say that it is also greater in extent? When Jesus was on earth, He was limited, really, to a few square miles, comparatively speaking. You know, the land of Israel is maybe only about 80 or 90 miles long and 40 miles wide, and the entire ministry of Jesus was limited to that area. You think today of missionaries who have gone to Asia and throughout Europe and, really, throughout the world. So today, even as we meet here in Chicago, congregations are meeting in all the places of the world. At least a few people are meeting to give praise to Jesus because of the miracle of the gospel. Jesus spoke only Aramaic. That was the only language that He spoke. Today the gospel goes out in the many different languages of the world and, thanks to Wycliffe Bible Translators and thanks to our missionaries, thousands of languages now have the Bible translated and thousands of different people have come to know Christ from all the different languages of the world. Think of how the ministry of Christ has been multiplied through His people!
Jesus spoke without a P.A. system. I can’t help but believe that when He was speaking to five thousand or eight thousand or ten thousand on the seas of Galilee, hundreds and maybe thousands could not get all of the words that He spoke because it dissipated in the air. Today, because of P.A. systems and because of radio and because of television, we go throughout the world.
Now remember when Jesus made this statement. Notice that He said, “Because I go to the Father.” Elsewhere He said, “It is good for you that I go away, for if I go not away the comforter cannot come on to you. But when I send Him to you, He will be with you but then He will be in you.” And Jesus has multiplied Himself millions of times over in the lives of His followers. “Those who believe in me will do greater works.” So, we have a marvelous promise.
May I say that we also have, in addition to the greater works, we do have this great promise and I’m looking at verse 13: “He who believes in me, the works that I do will he do also. He will do greater works because I go to the Father (verse 13) and I will do whatever you ask in my name so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it.”
We struggle with promises like that, don’t we, because we’ve all struggled with unanswered prayer. It sounds as if it’s a carte blanche–ask whatever you want to ask. If you ask for a 50,000 dollar/year job, make it a $150,000, make it a $150,000,000! Ask for whatever you like–you fill it in–and God will do it. We know that that can’t be the case because we all know that we’ve asked things that we’ve not received. Some people say that this applied only to the apostles because, interestingly, the apostle Paul did not make such blanket statements about prayer. You remember he said, “Offer your prayer to God and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” He said, “What you’ll receive is not necessarily the answer to your prayer; what you will receive is peace.” But I think even within the context of Christ’s words there are limitations that are clear.
First of all, He says, “If you ask anything in my name I will do it.” To ask in the name of Christ means that we ask consistent with the character and the desires of Jesus. Because He doesn’t lend His name to everyone. You can’t say that you just tagged on the name of Jesus at the end of a prayer and therefore you can expect a request. Remember, in the book of Acts, the sons of Sceva wanted to cast out demons like the apostle Paul and they said, “We’re going to use the name of Jesus to cast out demons.” And they began to use the name of Jesus, and some demons came and ripped their clothes off and they fled naked because the demons said, “Paul we know and Jesus we know, but who in the world are you?” (Could I ask parenthetically, do you think that your name is known in the spirit world?) But they learned something: it’s not just tagging the name of Jesus onto a prayer that makes it powerful and that asks God to answer it. It means that we ask consistent with the character and the desire of Jesus.
Often I’ve been asked to lend my name to certain organizations, and I still do that from time to time but I’m more careful than I used to be, because one time a man came to me who was well-known and he was beginning this organization and he asked whether or not I could have my name on his letterhead, and I said yes, and then I learned later that his organization was going in an entirely different direction which is quite contrary to where I was at. So, I asked that my name be removed. In the very same way, to come in the name of Jesus means that we come understanding His will, His desires. F. B. Meyer said, “Let the living water, which has descended from the eternal city, return back to its source through the channel of your heart. You are really praying the will and the plans of God.”
So the first limitation is we ask in His name. The second is that we ask that the Father may be glorified in the Son. That means that we come now not with our own agendas but we come with God’s agenda. And we don’t use prayer simply to say, “Lord, I’m in difficulty; please get me out,” though it’s fine to pray prayers like that and God often hears the prayers of those who are troubled. But at the end of the day, what we say is, “Lord, I want to give to You, I want to submit to You, and I want the Father to be glorified in the Son. In fact, I desire that He be glorified more than I desire that my personal request be answered.” It’s that burning desire to see the glory of God.
I think the best illustration of this kind of prayer is Jesus in Gethsemane. Notice that Jesus didn’t come and say, “Now, Father, get me out of here at all costs.” He said, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. If it’s possible. But, nevertheless, not as I will but as Thou wilt.” And then He prayed a second time and says, “Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass from me, Thy will be done.” Now, that’s prayer to the glory of God. What did it give Jesus? It did not give Him exemption from His trial and His suffering. That prayer gave Him the ability to go through that suffering for the glory of God, because it was His death that glorified God, because by that you and I were redeemed.
You read the ministry of Jesus in the New Testament and what you see is constantly the glory of the Father, the honor of the Father is really all that mattered. The suffering of the Son was secondary always to the glory of God. And we need to pray that way too. We give God our desires, but then we say, “Father, if it be possible let this happen or this not happen but, Father, nevertheless, if it cannot be otherwise, Thy will be done.” Now that’s scriptural praying. It’s praying that doesn’t take us out of the pain but praying that gives us the grace to endure in the midst of the pain.
But, nevertheless, it’s a marvelous promise if we pray in the name of Jesus and for the glory of God. And that’s why, you’ll notice, in the card that you have before you, we not only have greater works and a greater promise but we have a greater challenge.
I think, for example, of George Mueller, who began some orphanages in England and he did not begin them primarily to take care of these street children, though the need was great. He said that that was not his primary motivation. He said his motivation was that there were so many Christians who did not believe in prayer and they did not believe in God. There were three categories of people who refused to trust God. First of all, there were old people who thought to themselves, “We need to be filled with anxiety because in our old age…” (and in those days, the 1800s, they did not have social security. They believed that God would not care for them, so they were filled with anxiety.) And Mueller said, “They need an example of what it is like to trust God.”
Secondly, he said there were businessmen who were doing business just like the world. Like that man from whom I bought a camera lens in Hong Kong many years ago who said, “I, too, cannot play straight because along this street there are all these other stores, and if I’m totally honest I will not be able to pay my bills.” I encouraged him to just go for broke and to trust God. I’m not sure that he accepted my encouragement. But Mueller said there were businessmen like that who said to themselves, “If I really play honestly, God will not bless my business and the competition will eat me alive.” So they compromise.
And there was a third group, and that was people who were in doubtful professions who said to themselves, “I’m not in a good profession that honors the Lord but, nevertheless, I need it in order to live.”
So, Mueller said, “I’m going to begin orphanages and the rule is going to be that I will ask for no funds. Ever. And all that I’m going to do is pray, pray, pray, pray, pray, pray. So that we have examples and illustrations of the faithfulness of God to inspire faith in the lives of believers who doubt Him.” And you know the rest of the story, don’t you? Years ago I read his biography of how one miracle after another happened, even when the kids sat down with nothing on the table, there would be that knock on the door and someone would bring groceries. And day after day after day they prayed and they prayed and they prayed and they prayed. And God answered and answered and answered and answered and answered.
Notice what the text says. You ask in the name of Jesus, which Mueller most assuredly did, and that the Father would be glorified in the Son. And what glorifies God more than secret praying that brings about public answers? Now, we struggle with unanswered prayer, but here it is folks: whatever you ask along those lines, Jesus said, “I will do.” You say, “Yeah, but, you know, there are marriages today and it would be very honoring if God were to bring the two together and we’ve prayed and we’ve prayed and God has not done that.” I know those situations, but all that we can do is to continue to humble ourselves and to pray and to pray and to pray and to know that God might have an agenda within our hearts and within the hearts of those who struggle that is even beyond our agenda, so we always need to commit it to the glory of God and say, “God, let Thy glory shine,” and that the Father may be glorified through the Son. But we don’t give up praying because we have not seen the answers to our prayer. Rather, we persevere in prayer, believing and trusting and yielding. Sometimes prayers aren’t answered quickly.
Jesus said on one occasion, when the disciples were trying to cast out demons, he said that there are some kind that do not go out except by prayer and fasting. Jesus is saying that there are times when God uses unanswered prayer as disciplines so that we might be more persistent, more believing, more holy, more committed, and more determined to see the answer. So, I say to you today, do not give up. Do not give up, because the answer may be on its way.
How do we conclude? First of all, I want you to notice today that we’ve emphasized that we carry on. We carry on Christ’s work. If we would reread the text, we’d notice that Jesus said, “I do the work of my father.” And now He is saying, “and I want you to know that when you’re in this life and I’m up in heaven and I’ve sent the Holy Spirit, you continue my work. You are my hands, you are my feet, you are my eyes, you are my love.”
I think of that Kaiser Wilhelm church in Berlin that we saw recently where the statue of Christ fell over in World War II when the church was severely bombed, and it’s been left and restored as a ruin as a reminder of the war. But they were restoring this statue, but one of the arms was broken off and they decided that they would not restore that arm, and it’s there today in the church without an arm. As a reminder that Christ’s arms are really our arms.
Jesus isn’t here today to minister to that boy without a father. Jesus isn’t here today to help that single mother. Jesus isn’t here today to give a word of encouragement to a young woman who may find herself bearing a child. Jesus isn’t here today to speak those words of comfort, to do those acts of kindness, but what He is saying is, “as I go to the Father, I’m leaving you behind to carry on my work; the works that I do, you shall do also.” Yes, the proclamation of the gospel, but wrapped up in that, the love and the concern and the compassion of Jesus spilling over in my life and yours into the lives of others.
So we carry on doing Christ’s work. We also carry on with Christ’s power and His blessing and that gift of the Holy Spirit. And we don’t do so discouraged, because we believe in the Holy Spirit, we believe in the power of God, we believe in the ability of God to do those miracles, to take those hardened hearts and to change them. And so we go on and we ask God to purify us, we ask God to teach us discipline, we use unanswered prayer as a motivation to seek God more intimately, more determinedly, and we keep on going because He said, “If you ask in my name and for the glory of the Father, that will come to pass,” and so we submit and we yield and we believe and we keep going.
One day a man who was chiseling some marble stones for a construction project. A minister walked by and said, “You know, I sure wish that I knew a way to bring the same chisel and the same hammer blows to the human hearts that I deal with that you do to those stones that you are shaping.” And the story is that the man said, “Yes, you can if you work like I do–on my knees.”
Now, each of us faces situations today, or we know of situations today, that, humanly speaking, are totally impossible. The worst thing we can do is to give up and to simply say we’re going to stop praying because we’ve prayed and it hasn’t worked. Jesus would say, “Wait a moment.” Think of the implications. You pray in the name of Jesus, consistent with His will. And you pray for the glory of the Father, that God may be glorified. And you ask God to purify us so that our motives are exactly that pure, and the people for whom we are praying that they might be purified through their struggles. But we keep on going because we have confidence that human hearts and situations can be changed if we work on our knees. “Yes, the works that I do shall he do also.” Through the proclamation of millions of believers, greater works shall he do, because of the gift of the Spirit, and we go on believing no matter what.
One day some disciples came to Jesus-the disciples of John–and they came to Jesus and they said, “You know, John is in prison and he’s beginning to doubt whether you’re the Messiah because the Old Testament says that the prisons are going to be opened and the dead are going to be raised, and these things aren’t happening, and he’s beginning to wonder if you’re the Messiah. Tell us, are you He that should come or should we look for another?” Jesus said, “Well, go back. Tell John, the dead are being raised, the blind are seeing and the poor have the gospel preached unto them.” And then Jesus added this little statement. He said, “and blessed is he who is not offended because of me.” We could translate, “blessed is he who is not upset with the way I run my business.”
Blessed is the person who comes before God with his requests and leaves them there and comes and keeps believing and keeps trusting even if he doesn’t see the answers that he thinks should come. Blessed is the person who just keeps on going on. Because he believes that, when God desires, the answer will come.
Join me as we pray together. Father, we really do desire that we be a praying people. And we ask today that You might help us to keep hanging in, to keep believing. We pray that, like George Mueller, that You might all give us those wonderful examples of secret praying and public answers. Teach us what it’s like, Lord, to pray only for the glory of God, setting aside all personal interests, that You be glorified and that You receive all the credit and all the honor. And for that we shall thank You. In Jesus’ name, amen. Amen.