The Greater Works of Love – John 14:12-14

The Greater Works of Love

Nick Esch, 2/11/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Remember our context: Jesus and His disciples are in the upper room on the last night of His life. Judas has just left to betray Him, and He’s been telling His disciples in one way or another that He is about to leave them by way of the cross. He has lived the perfect life, He has spent the last three years with His disciples teaching them and doing ministry with them. And now the time has come for Him to die a sacrificial death on the cross.

He told His disciples, “Where I am going you cannot come” (John 13:33). He was going to take on sin, take on wrath, take on death, and satisfy God’s wrath due His people. After doing all this He was going to rise from the dead and then ascend into heaven, into glory with the Father. That’s where He’s going, and that’s where His disciples cannot follow Him. By His grace they will never have to follow Him into wrath, and in His providence it is not yet time to follow Him into glory. But He tells them this and then begins to tell them how there are to live after He leaves.

Our text today is a continuation of Jesus telling His disciples how His people are to live, as well as promises to help them live after He ascends into heaven… But the first part of what He says is directly tied to what we find in our passage today. Jesus began this conversation with, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ (Which I just mentioned; but then He goes on to say) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:33-35).

His disciples seem to tone this out, because they don’t say a word about this; as we’ve seen over the last few weeks they just dwell on what He said about leaving them. So in our text today it seems that Jesus is drawing attention back to and elaborating on what He said they are called to do. They are called to live lives of Christlike love. All true believers are called to this. All Christians are called to love one another as Jesus has loved us, and as we’ll see in our text today, that love is to extend out to the world. If the disciples would have stopped and thought about that for a moment they would have realized how weighty of a call this really is. Looking back, it’s easier for us because now we know that Jesus loved us and gave Himself for us. He poured Himself out in love to the death. And that’s what He’s telling His disciples that He’s about to do, and that’s the type of love every true disciple’s life is to be marked by. With that in mind, look at what Jesus says in John 14:12.

“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.” Whoever believes in Him will also do the works that He does, as in everyone who truly believes in Him—every true Christian. Now don’t misunderstand; it isn’t the works that make someone a believer… It’s because they are believers that they will do the works… As God’s Word says in Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” We are saved by grace through faith in Christ, not by works, but for good works; everyone who is truly saved will do good works… But the Christian life starts with true belief; and true belief is faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ… Saving faith is turning from our sin and trusting in the perfect life, sacrificial wrath absorbing death, and death defeating resurrection of Jesus, and surrendering our lives to Him… Our works do not save us; the works of Christ save us. So if you haven’t surrendered your life to Christ I invite you to do so now… Repent and believe in the gospel…

Now here in our text Jesus tells us that every true believer will do the works that He does… In other words, what Jesus is describing here is the normal Christian life. How amazing is that? Jesus says the normal Christian life will be marked by doing the works that He does. That doesn’t sound normal, that sounds extraordinary… If you’re like me your mind probably jumps to things like signs and miracles: healing people, raising the dead, turning water into wine, making a little bit of bread and fish into enough to feed thousands, and the like… And in one sense this may very well be what Jesus means; I mean the church historically has done many of these things: just read the book of Acts… But if this truly is what Jesus means by works, and if this is what is supposed to mark the normal Christian life, than most of us, along with most of Jesus’ disciples in this text aren’t truly Christians. If all true Christians can do all the miracles that Jesus did, than there are no true Christians. So this can’t be what He’s saying; so what is He saying?…

Right before this in John 14:11 Jesus says, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” At first we might think He’s referring to all that He’s done so far, telling His disciples to look at all of the signs and miracles that He’s done and let that convince them that He and the Father are one. But over and over again Jesus has rebuked people for merely trusting in His signs and not trusting in Jesus Himself. We have to remember that He says this in the context of telling His disciples that He’s going to glory by way of the cross—He’s going where they cannot follow. The works He wants them to trust in are His death, resurrection, and ascension… These testify to the truthfulness of all that He is and all that He’s said. And this seems to be exactly what He wants us to think of in verse 12. When we read, “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do,” our minds should go directly to the sacrificial love of Christ displayed on the cross. Jesus certainly did other works besides living, dying, and rising again to save us from our sins, but these were at the heart of everything He did. He Himself said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The cross is the apex of the works of Christ; it’s why He came… And what should come to our mind when Jesus says we will do this same type of work is a work of selfless sacrificial love, that loves others for their good (eternally and otherwise) and God’s glory, for that’s what Jesus did on the cross.

Now with this in mind, done this not go hand in hand with what Jesus calls His disciples to—all of His disciples to, including us—in John 13:34-35? He said, “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” We are called to love with a selfless, sacrificial love, that pours our self out to the end for the good of others and God’s glory. Now you might be thinking, “But Nick, I thought this verse was saying something more radical than that… Like that we’d be able to do something amazing…” Do you not see how radical, how amazing this is?… This type of love is completely countercultural, and truthfully incredibly inconvenient, yet incredibly beautiful: it engages in messy relationships with people, it sacrifices comfort and ease, as well as time and security and finances. This love is willing to risk, willing to lay down its life for the good of others, just as Jesus has commanded us, and just as He has done for us… And it’s willing to do this for those who can’t earn it and don’t deserve it. Friends, it doesn’t get more amazing or more radical than this… That’s why Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This love amazes all who see it… Jesus says even the world will take notice, and they will see the truthfulness of who we are by our Christlike love…

And again, notice Jesus says in John 14:12, “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do…” In other words, this is not an option… If you are a true believer you will do this… The life of a true believer in Jesus will be a life marked by Christlike love. So while on the one hand this is an amazing promise, that we will be enabled by Jesus to do the works of Jesus, on the other hand this is a weighty call that comes at a cost… It’s costly because Jesus doesn’t just say to love people like us, and to love whenever it’s convenient… No! We are called to live lives that are marked by Christlike love, completely… And Jesus loves people from every nation and generation—all ethnicities, all classes… people from all walks of life. He especially loves the vulnerable and oppressed—those who seem helpless and hopeless in this world… I mean we know this to be true, because helpless and hopeless is exactly how we were when Christ loved us and gave Himself for us.

We were without hope and without God, and heading towards destruction (Ephesians 2:12). “[B]ut God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He didn’t wait until we cleaned ourselves up, or did something to earn His love, for that would never happen; He loved us when we were at our worst, in desperate need, in a spot where we could contribute absolutely nothing… And He did this at amazing cost to Himself… Jesus, who though He is God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. He was in heaven in perfect glory… Rich in glory… Yet though He was rich, yet for our sake He became poor, so that we by His poverty might become rich in mercy and grace and glory. The God of the universe poured Himself out in everyway to save helpless and hopeless sinners like us… And this is the same type of love we are to show others…

Therefore, as we consider Jesus’ love for us in the gospel and begin to work this love out practically in our lives we’ll find that we have to humble ourselves and lovingly engage people that we would have never felt led to before the gospel got a hold of us… Suddenly we’ll care more about people than comfort, than security, than politics, or reputation, or whatever… We’ll start reaching out to people who don’t look like us and don’t live like us; we’ll lovingly reach out to people from other communities and cultures and other countries even… Meditating on how God has loved us in the gospel will cause us to care about the unborn as well as the born and compel us to start getting involved in things like fighting abortion and promoting fostering and adoption, perhaps even fostering or adopting ourselves… We’ll begin to go out of our way to care for the sick and the needy, and to stand in the gap for people from the womb to the tomb… And in all of these things and more we will be compassionate and loving, as well as evangelistic and truth telling, because we will care about their good here and now, as well as their eternal good… And we will do all of this, not because of what anyone else can offer us in return; for that’s not how Christ loved us… We follow His example, loving others not because of what they can contribute to us, but because of our love for God, and because of His love for us… We love because He first loved us… And we love with reckless abandon, because that’s how He loved us…

So this is costly, but it is amazing, and it is worth it… And it is something that every Christian is to give their life too… This is simply what the Christian life is to look like… Every disciple of Christ is to be a disciple maker, and discipling someone is basically just loving them like Jesus to help them come to know Jesus, love Jesus, and live for Jesus, until they are with Jesus forever… Beloved, we have been called to make disciples of all nations; in other words all peoples: rich and poor, black and white, old and young… We are to give ourselves to a life of making disciples, because that’s what Christlike love does… That’s the work that Jesus has done and is doing… He takes sinners headed towards destruction and makes them disciples headed towards glory… And we are to give our lives to this same thing…

And notice what Jesus adds to this. In the last part of John 14:12 He says, “and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father…” Now by greater here He doesn’t mean more glorious; primarily He means greater in number and scope… In other words, God will use us—the church—to reach the nations… And this is exactly what we see start to happen in the book of Acts. After Jesus ascends into heaven in Acts 1 it says that there were about 120 disciples there, and then after Pentecost in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit comes down onto the church, Peter preaches the gospel and about three thousand people are saved… That’s more disciples of Jesus than Jesus ever had in His earthly ministry… The disciples were doing even greater works… And that has continued on ever since. We ourselves are a result of those greater works, and if we are being obedient to the Lord, and living gospel-centered lives of Christlike love, than we too will take part in these greater works… God will use us to win souls…

This is why Jesus says He is going to the Father… In Acts 1:8 He tells the disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” The power of the Holy Spirit didn’t come until He ascended to the right hand of the Father… But once the Spirit came upon the church the church had a powerful witness, a witness of gospel boldness and Christlike love… And this is who they were: it’s what marked their life; they didn’t just go witnessing, they were witnesses… And their witness started in Jerusalem and is still making its way to the ends of the earth… Again, that’s why we’re here in America almost 2,000 years later as disciples of Christ… Because the number and the scope of the works of the church are far greater than they were in Jesus’ day; souls are being won… But it’s only because of Jesus, and because of the Holy Spirit that this is so… Jesus goes and the Spirit comes, and the Spirit indwells and empowers every true believer to live a life of gospel faithfulness and Christlike love…

The Spirit leads and empowers the church to humbly serve and to speak the truth in love, and take the gospel to the ends of the earth; and through the faithful witness of the church, the Holy Spirit causes people to be saved… And it would seem that this is partly what Jesus meant by greater as well. We have the power of the resurrected Lord indwelling us and leading us in the Holy Spirit. Jesus is alive, and He lives in us… The Holy Spirit came down onto the church after Jesus finished His work and ascended into heaven. Everything in Jesus’ earthly ministry was pointing forward to the cross, but everything we do, as Spirit lead, Spirit empowered disciples of Christ flows from the finished work of Christ. We serve and love in the shadow of the cross, knowing that Jesus paid it all, and that it is finished… There’s a power in that; there’s power in the name of Jesus, because of the finished work of Jesus, and that power enables us to do great works of love, great works for the glory of God…

Look at what Jesus says next in John 14:13-14. He says, “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.” First understand, Jesus is not saying that He’s a genie. Notice He says that the reason He will give us what we ask is so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. Glory is the issue here. When Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in my name,” He’s not saying as long as you add, “in the name of Jesus” to your prayer, or if you claim something “in the name of Jesus” that He will grant your request… No! He’s saying if we pray in line with His will for His name’s sake, for His glory, for the glory of God, then He will do what we ask… There certainly is power in the name of Jesus, but that’s because of what the name is… When the Bible says in the Name, or for His Name’s sake, the idea behind name is reputation, or all that someone is… So when you see the Bible speak of the name of Jesus think of all that He is, has done and will do; think of His fame and renown, His reputation, His glory… And this makes sense when we consider that these two verses go with the two before them… Jesus is saying that when we, indwelled and led by the Spirit, ask for help to live a life of Christlike love, for the good of people and the glory of God, then He will help us… He will enable us to do what we need to do… And that’s the very reason we can do the works He does and even greater, because it is He who is doing them in and through us… We are simply instruments in the Redeemer’s hands…

This is at the heart of what prayer is all about; God’s get’s glory as we acknowledge our dependence on Him, and He graciously helps us in all things, especially in faithfully living for His glory. Jesus actually tells us that God has so ordained that He would accomplish His will through the prayers and the actions of His saints. He called us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10). God’s name will be glorified, the Kingdom will come and His Will will be done, and it will happen through prayer… Prayer is a lifeline for all Christians; but we do not pray merely to get our will done, we pray to get God’s will done…

May we never look at a passage like ours today and see it as a way to get whatever we want whenever we want… John Piper said it well when he said, “Prayer is meant by God to be a wartime walkie-talkie, not a domestic intercom…not for the enhancement of our comforts but for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.” Jesus said, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” In other words, on our journey of discipleship, seeking to pour out our lives for the fame of Christ among all peoples, we will find that we are desperately dependent on Christ in order to love Him and live for Him as we ought, but we will also find that He is utterly faithful to care for us, to provide for us and to enable us to live lives for His glory… Now, don’t get me wrong: God in His kindness does often give us the things we want, but He also often says no… Because He knows what we need far better than we do; and He will always give us what we need for our good and His glory… And in so far as we pray in line with the good of His people and His glory, again Jesus says, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” What an amazing promise: the Spirit, and our Spirit led, Jesus answered prayers will empower us to live for Him…

But understand, when Jesus says if we ask Him anything in His name, that He will do it, that assumes that we will be living for His name’s sake. Living for Jesus means living for His name’s sake… Doing the works of Jesus means doing the works the same way that Jesus did, for the glory of God, always… And so we are called to love like Jesus, and in so doing we show that we genuinely love Jesus, because that’s how we live for His name’s sake… And when we are willing to count the cost and follow Jesus, doing the good works that God prepared beforehand for us to do; when we are willing to count everything as loss for the sake of Christ, loving others at great cost to ourselves, we show that we truly love Jesus, we show that He is our greatest treasure, because we are not concerned with what we will lose, we are only concerned with Jesus and His glory… Just like when two people get married, they publically proclaim and display their love by joyfully saying I do to one another, and saying I don’t to everyone else. The greatness of their love is shown in what they are willing to give up… So likewise, in loving like Jesus—loving others at great cost to ourselves—we show that we truly love Jesus, and our love for Jesus is what magnifies His glory… Loving Jesus, treasuring Jesus… that’s how we glorify Jesus… So when we pray in Jesus’ name, what we are doing is asking Him to enable us to pour out our lives for His name’s sake… We’re asking Him to help us live for His glory…

Conclusion

I wonder if you’re even willing to pray like this… Are you willing to cry out to God and ask Him to do whatever it takes to get you to love like this, to live like this, to do these greater works? Jesus said this is how people will know that we are truly His disciples. He said if we truly believe in Him we will do these things. Friends, if we aren’t giving our lives to loving like this, the world has every right to label us irrelevant hypocrites, because if we don’t love people like this we’re showing that we don’t really love Jesus… But if we do truly love like this the world cannot ignore us… In fact this love, these works will draw the world in, and we will see great things, we will see even greater things… People will be saved, lives will be transformed, this city, this country, this world will be impacted by Jesus, His church, and His great gospel we believe and preach…

That’s my hope and vision for this church: that we would give ourselves to gospel faithfulness and lives of Christike love. Believe me, I want to see this church grow; but I don’t want to see it grow superficially… I want it to really grow… I want to really reach people for Jesus… And Jesus says the way we do that is through faithfulness to the gospel and lives of selfless, sacrificial, Christlike love… We don’t need big events or flashy programs or whatever… We need to give ourselves to loving everyone we can with great reckless abandon, just as Jesus did… If we really love Jesus this is what we will do…