John Lennon created a firestorm of controversy in 1966 when he said the Beatles were “more famous than Jesus,” and that a declining Christian faith may be outlasted by rock music. Beatles albums were burned, and radio stations refused to play Beatles music. Lennon attempted to explain several times that he wasn’t comparing himself with Jesus. The Beatles survived the episode but never toured again, at least partly because of the controversy. It turns out, Jesus Himself said something about greatness that has raised eyebrows from time to time:
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. John 14:12-13 (NIV)
When Jesus said, “greater things than these” He was referring to the miracles He performed. Was Jesus saying we would do greater things than those? Jesus raised the dead, healed the lame, cleansed lepers, gave sight to the blind and sound to the deaf. What could we do to top that? No, He wasn’t saying that. First, let’s think geographically.
In His life, Jesus’ ministry was limited to how far he traveled by foot. We can now preach the gospel anywhere in the world by jet travel, or by Skype, Zoom or even a voice phone call. We can bring the Good News to “the ends of the earth” as Jesus commanded, without ever leaving our homes. That is a far greater reach than Jesus ever achieved during His time on earth.
William MacDonald in the “Believers Bible Commentary” makes a similar point:
“Doubtless it was to the world-wide proclamation of the gospel, the salvation of so many souls, and the building of the church that the Lord referred to by the expression great works. It is greater to save souls than to heal bodies. When the Lord returned to heaven, He was glorified, and the Holy Spirit was sent to earth. It was through the Spirit’s power that the apostles performed these greater miracles.”
Further, these works will be done by regular folks, like us, in whom the power of Christ has taken up residence following His glorification, writes Gary Burge in the “NIV Application Commentary” for the Gospel of John. Whatever we ask in His name (that complies with His will and is done to the glory of His Kingdom), He will do. In other words, great things are accomplished through us by Jesus and not by us.
The ability to share the Gospel to, quite literally, the ends of the earth best explains Jesus’ statement and makes it prophetic. But make no mistake; Jesus does expect to accomplish great things through us. And He also expects us to remember who gets the glory.
This post is published with permission from Oakbrook Church, De Pere, WI