Jesus promised His disciples and all who would believe in Him through the corridor of time, that they would do greater works that He did (Jn 14:12). These greater works are certainly not miracles. Jesus did so many miracles that the Apostle John said there wouldn’t be enough books to contain them all (Jn 21:25). A simple survey through the book of Acts should provide enough evidence that the miracles of the Apostle were miniscule compared to the miracles that Jesus performed.
The greater works Jesus refers to are simply the conversion of sinners & the advancement of the Gospel & Kingdom of God. Jesus told us that we should expect to see a greater influence of the Gospel than He did. The ministry of Jesus was limited to 150 mile stretch of land known as Palestine. At the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth He had only 11 followers and they were weak at best. At the resurrection there were 120 followers. In summary the ministry of Jesus on the earth was not as extensive as one would have thought.
But everything changed when Jesus left to go to His Father. “Greater works” are inextricably linked to Jesus’ departure. When Jesus left, He promised that He would send the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that when the Holy Spirit came His disciples would have power (Acts 1:8), and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the world is what guarantees “greater works.” The Holy Spirit’s role in coming into this world was to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn 16:8). The Holy Spirit, who can be everywhere at one time, infiltrated the hearts of thousands of people when He came. It began on the day of Pentecost when Peter preached His first sermon and 3000 souls were pierced in their hearts & were saved. Looking over the last two millennia, it is easy to see that the Gospel has spread to every corner of the earth. The Gospel has infiltrated every ethnic group. Truly “greater works” have been accomplished through the Church in the world.
Promise of Power
How these greater works will be accomplished is a major question that Jesus explains to His disciples. The disciples were weak and without power. But when the Holy Spirit filled them, they had access to a heavenly power. Jesus tells them that to tap into this power they must simply pray “in my name.” Prayer, then, is the channel of power for the Church. Jesus said, “whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (Jn 14:13-14). This is not an open-ended promise that God’s people can ask for anything that their flesh desires (new car, new home, etc.). This promise that Jesus made is linked to the previous verse concerning greater works. The work of Jesus was to make followers of Christ and see the Kingdom of God advanced. To pray in His name means to pray in accordance with His mission and His character. It is similar to the Lord’s prayer that we pray – that our Father be “hallowed” and that his “Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:9-10). So, power to do good works comes through a dependence on God in prayer!
The Danger of Pragmatism
It is a good thing to desire to see “greater works.” As God’s people we should expect to see conversions. We should expect to see sinners coming to Christ and having their lives transformed. But in our zeal for church growth, we must not be tempted to lay down the greatest weapons that God has given the church, namely the Word of God and prayer.
The Church began to adopt a pragmatic approach to ministry over the last 50-100 years. When the church began to drop in numbers, particularly the western Church primarily began to use worldly methods in their Church growth strategy. They adopted a more pragmatic approach to ministry. Pragmatism is simply the idea that the end justifies the means. In other words, truth is determined by consequences. Whether something is right or wrong is determined primarily by the end results. When the Church did not see the results that they wanted to see, they began changing the methods in order to produce the needed results. Rick Warren, in his book Purpose Driven Church, even stated it this way, “Never criticize any method that God is blessing.” Pragmatism is typically interested in one thing, numbers and results. And the method to get those results must be good if the Church is growing.
In order to get numbers where they should be, many pastors began changing their ministry philosophy so as to make the message of the Gospel more palatable for the world. They began taking away the offense of the cross and refused to talk about sin anymore. Sermons were no longer authoritative expositions but became self-help discussions. It is obvious that this philosophy of ministry is bankrupt. It undermines sound doctrine, and faithful adherence to the mandates of Scripture. This methodology is more concerned about results than faithfulness to God. Its practice will definitely draw a crowd, but the crowd may be filled with more goats than sheep! Rather than worrying about success, pastor and churches should be concerned about faithfulness to God!
Faithfulness to God
John MacArthur has said to pastors many times, “You worry about the depth of your ministry and allow the Lord to take care of the breadth of your ministry.” In other words, be faithful to the mandates of Scripture, the character of God, and the pure unadulterated Gospel message. Don’t resort to gimmicks and manipulative methods to reach people! But rather trust in the sovereign Savior who said “I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). This is even true in your family life and your job. You worry about being faithful to God and He will take care of the rest.
Not Pragmatism but Prayer
So, will we take Christ’s promises to heart? Christ promised that we would see greater works and the link to the power is not gimmicks or pragmatism, but prayer! If we want to see the power of the Holy Spirit unleashed in our midst we must pick up our greatest weapons once again. We must plug into the power of prayer! Prayer is the key to seeing power in our homes, in our families, in our church and in our community. We must be dependent on God.