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“Very truly, I tell you, 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.” – John 14:12
“If in my name you ask me for anything,” Jesus said, “I will do it” (v. 14).
Could that possibly be true? Did Jesus offer his followers a blank check for anything they wanted? Was it like an upgrade on finding a genie in a lamp, with unlimited wishes?
A quick surface reading might suggest that Jesus’ promise was akin to winning a billion dollar lottery, but there has to be more to the story, right?
Context is everything, and these words of Jesus come from a particular setting that governs our understanding of the promise. The context, first of all, is the Gospel of John, an account of Jesus’ life that differs significantly from what we find in the more similar gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John’s gospel was written later than the others. It has a distinct literary style and a decidedly more theological bent, focusing on the central theme of Christ as the incarnate Word of God, one with the Father, who makes access to God available in a radically new way.
Jesus and the Father(vv. 8-11)
John describes a lengthy farewell conversation between Jesus and his disciples. In the final hours before his arrest, Jesus emphasized the significance of his having been sent by the Father – while also being one with the Father – to initiate a new way of relating to God. Today’s text follows immediately on what some describe as the pinnacle of John’s theology: Jesus’ insistence that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (vv. 6-7).
It was Philip, John says, who didn’t yet get the point, and who asked for a clearer picture: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (v. 8). Jesus’ reproachful response reflects both patience and exasperation: “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (v. 9).
What Philip and the others didn’t get is that Jesus himself was the ultimate self-revelation of God, the closest any human could come to seeing God. And so he asked: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (v. 10a).
Jesus’ identity was so enmeshed with the Father that the works Jesus did were also works of the Father (v. 10b). He had done what he could do to reveal God’s presence through both word and works: now it was up to the disciples to believe: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe because of the works themselves” (v. 11).
John’s gospel makes much of various “signs” that demonstrated Jesus’ divinity and called for belief. It concludes with a word to readers that “these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).
Jesus wanted his followers to believe on the basis of his word alone. Failing that, he called them to believe in response to the works they had seen. Even Jewish observers, according to Nicodemus, had recognized that “no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God” (3:2).
It’s no surprise that Jesus’ critics rejected his claim, but the disciples seemed to have had just as much trouble believing it. This, however, is the central thrust of the Fourth Gospel’s message: that Jesus, through his life and works, death and resurrection, revealed the love of God to humankind as plainly as it could be done.
This opened the door to a new way of relating to God: as Jesus could speak of a mutual indwelling relationship with the Father, so his followers could speak of being in Jesus and Jesus being in them. Later in this same conversation, Jesus insisted that he would not leave the disciples as orphans, but would come to them. “On that day,” he said, “you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (v. 20).
Jesus and his disciples(vv. 12-14)
To think of Christ dwelling in us is astonishing: what Jesus went on to say in vv. 12-14 could be even harder to grasp. After challenging his followers to believe in him – in part because of the works he had done – Jesus solemnly declared: “Very truly, I tell you, 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” (v. 12).
Does this mean believers will have power to work even greater miracles than Jesus, and whenever they like? The next two verses, on the surface, seem to suggest that: “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (vv. 13-14).
But, we don’t see widespread miracles among Jesus’ followers. Does that mean we’re lacking in belief, as some would contend, or lacking in our understanding of what Jesus meant? When Jesus spoke of “the works that I do,” it seems clear that he had more than miracles in mind: his primary work was to reveal the depths of the Father’s love, and it was about to culminate in Jesus’ “hour,” the climactic events of crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.
When Jesus spoke of the works his disciples were to do in vv. 12-14, he did so in the future tense: they would do these works after his time on earth was finished and he had returned to the Father. While on earth, in the midst of his ministry, Jesus could reveal God’s power through miraculous signs and speak of dying and rising again, but his hearers could easily remain skeptical. Once Jesus had finished his course, however – after he had been crucified and buried, after he had risen from the dead and revealed himself to many, after he had ascended to the Father – then the disciples would have the full story to tell. Empowered by the Spirit, their works could be greater than those of Jesus because they could declare the complete story of God’s saving revelation in Christ. Through their witness, far more people would come to follow Christ than Jesus had been able to win over during his time on earth (see “The Hardest Question” online for more).
But what of vv. 13-14 and the apparent promise that Jesus would do whatever the disciples asked of him? We note first that in both verses, Jesus qualified such requests by the condition that they should be asked “in my name.” Asking in Jesus’ name is to ask what Jesus would ask. It rules out any selfish request, any desire to build one’s own reputation as a miracle-worker, or any petition outside of what God desires. To ask in Jesus’ name is to ask in accordance with Jesus’ will – and what Jesus wants is revealed in the next few verses.
Jesus and the Spirit(vv. 15-17)
Those who follow Jesus – those who Jesus said would do even greater works than he – are those who truly love Jesus and demonstrate their love by keeping his commandments (v. 15). Earlier, Jesus had summarized his teaching in a “new commandment,” namely, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (13:34).
Showing love for Jesus involves more than singing praise songs or humming “Oh, How I Love Jesus” or wearing a cross around our necks. We show our love for Jesus by loving the people Jesus loves, even when it is hard, even when we don’t get everything we pray for.
We are not alone in our efforts, however. Jesus promised his disciples that he would send “another Advocate, to be with you forever” (v. 16). The word Jesus used (transliterated as “Paraclete”) could also be translated as “counselor,” “helper,” “encourager,” or “comforter.” Jesus had been a Paraclete to the disciples as he had taught and exhorted and counseled them during his earthly ministry. After his departure, he said, he would send another Paraclete, identified in v. 17 as “the Spirit of truth.”
Earlier in the conversation, Jesus had identified himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life (v. 6). After Jesus had completed his mission on earth, the Spirit would continue his revelatory work, keeping the truth of Jesus present through the lives of believers. “The world” had rejected Jesus and would also reject the Spirit, but believers would know the Spirit “because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (v. 17).
On Pentecost Sunday, we remember the gospel challenge to follow Jesus by living as he lived, loving others unselfishly and trusting in the presence of his Spirit to lead us in the right way. We may often feel lost in this world, separated from others and useless as instruments of the kingdom. But we are never so lost that Jesus cannot find us, never so far away that he cannot hear us when we call, never so incompetent that God cannot show saving love to others through us.
The promises of Jesus and the presence of the Paraclete remind us that we are valued and useful participants in God’s ongoing kingdom because we know Jesus – and more importantly, Jesus knows us. NFJ
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Adult Teaching Resources
Download the PDF for May 15, 2016 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.
Read Scripture online: John 14:8-17
At times it can seem like your youth think that you are a genie in a bottle that can grant their wishes to come true. You have an unlimited amount of money, time, and where-with-all to grant their wishes, or so it is assumed. Many parents fall into the trap of trying to grant all of these wishes. Sacrifice, stress, and debt mount as parents try to live out their life as a genie. The problem is that none of these wishes are even the greatest gift we can give to our youth. We need to be reminded that the love that we have for our youth is the greatest thing that we can give them. As we love, we point to God, and even a greater love than we can imagine.
Teaching Resources | Download
Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.
Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.
“Aladdin The Genie” from Aladdin via www.youtube.com
Read Scripture online: John 14:8-17