Greater Works Than These – June 6, 2010
Psalm 63:1-11, Acts 3:1-10
June 6, 2010
When Jesus was in the upper room with his disciples, just before his arrest, he told them a lot of things. He wanted to prepare them for what was about to happen, and what would happen in the not-so-distant future. We talked about that during Lent. Well, one of the things he told them was this. He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and greater works than these will he do…”
Now, let’s be clear about this from the beginning. When Jesus used the word “works,” he was referring to his miracles. And before we think about what he was saying to his disciples, we might just take a moment and remember some of those “works” that Jesus did! He healed people. He gave the blind their sight. He made the lame and crippled to walk. He raised Lazarus from the dead. And there were many others. And these disciples knew all that. I have to think that was the most amazing, almost unbelievable part of their relationship with this man. Yes, he was Their friend. Yes, he was their teacher – their rabbi. But he was also one who had this great power to do things no one had ever seen before! And now here he was telling them, “greater works than these will you do…”
What do you think was going through their minds at that moment? Again, sometimes we read Bible passages and we miss their impact. We forget how hard it would have been for these men to know the truth of what Jesus was saying to them! “Greater works than the ones you do, Jesus? Are you kidding?” And even if we do somehow get the impact of that, we then think. “Well of course they would to his works! These were the disciples! These were the saints!! We’re talking about Saint Peter, Saint James, and Saint John. Of course they would do the works of Jesus!” No big deal there! We forget that they were just ordinary men like you and I.
Then, even if we do think about it long enough, and we do get the impact of what Jesus was saying, and what a powerful thing it was for these men to start to do those things, we then tend to think that such things were for that time and place, but not our time. And if we get even an inkling that Jesus may have meant those words for us, then we tend to think he was just using “hyperbole.” Do you remember what that is? “Exaggeration for effect.” We think he was being inspirational. He was saying something so lofty his disciples couldn’t possibly attain it. But by striving for it they would become better than they were – they and us! And I suppose there was an element of that going on here. And that’s a good thing! But there was also an element of simple truth. Those men would do greater works. And we are called to those greater works ourselves, as crazy as that sounds!
Today we have the story of the first of those works. And I want us to look at that story today, because it’s a great story. But I also want us to get into the mode of thinking about the miraculous power of God. Because if we don’t, we will naturally begin to diminish our understanding of the power of God. And I’m afraid that happens all too often. And that’s when doubts start to set in. That’s when we start to become skeptical of the supernatural in our world and in our lives. And then we may even begin to doubt the miraculous stories in the Bible. You know, even the things Jesus did come to us in story form. And after a while, those stories start to look like just that – stories. Maybe even fantasy stories.
I’m saying all this because I want you to see how our concept of the miraculous can begin to suffer. And then, when we think about the words of Jesus, we start to believe in our minds that we can’t possibly do these kinds of works. We don’t have the power or the faith, or we’re simply not worthy. Jesus must have been talking to his disciples alone. And then the worst thing that begins to happen is that we start to believe that even God himself can’t do these things, either. As if he doesn’t have the power.
If we’re honest, I think we’ll have to admit that that happens more than we’d like to think. And I think that’s a huge problem for the Church! Too many of God’s people have taken the power of God out of the picture. Or they’ve simply reduced God’s power simply to the ability “to give us stuff,” or “to do stuff for us” when we pray hard enough. But there’ s not much more. Those things aren’t bad. But for too many people, God has become just a great “mail order house in the sky.” And isn’t that a far cry from the God of the Bible, and the God of all history, the God of the earthquake wind and fire, who is beyond our comprehension, understanding, or control!
Now I know we don’t talk about these things very much. But deep down inside of us, we all have those nagging doubts. No matter how long we’ve believed, we wonder sometimes. “Does God have the power? Can he work miracles in our lives and in our world today?” And we turn our image of God into a fairly tame, and powerless being, don’t we?
In contrast to that, I love the imagery of God in “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C. S. Lewis. Those are his “children’s stories,” but they carry such amazing truths! In that series, the Christ figure is the great lion Aslan. And Aslan is a powerful figure. When one of the characters was first told about him, he asked, “A lion? Is he safe?” And the answer is wonderful. “Of course he’s not safe! But he is good!” Isn’t that a great image of God? It’s the image of a powerful, sovereign God who works his will in the world despite what our will might be. It’s a powerful image of a God we can’t control, but whose love for us is a vast as his uncontrollable power!
God is amazing! And that’s what I’d like us to think about as we look at this story for today. Then this is the “mental picture” I’d like you to take with you. This is the first miracle story in the book of acts. And it’s a wonderful beginning to the fulfillment of this statement of Jesus, “Greater works than these will you do!”
Imagine Peter and John that day. What were they thinking? They had come up to the Temple where they were going to join their fellow Jews in worship. And they saw this lame man. Now that was nothing new. Disabled people asking for alms in public was a regular part of their daily lives. In fact, alms giving was integrated into their faith. It was part of their religious practices. But now things were different. So what were they thinking? Were they thinking of Jesus’ words? Were they wondering if they could cause this man to walk? Did they have any doubts at all that they could “pull this off?” Or were they supremely confident that the man would be healed? What do you think?
While you’re thinking about that, consider that this was not a “private act.” Peter and John didn’t take this man aside. They didn’t go into a nearby home and allow no one else to be there. Even Jesus did that sometimes! Not them! They launched right into this – their very first miracle – in full view of the public, at the gate of the Temple – right in the middle of the town square, so to speak! What if nothing had happened? Did you ever stop to think of that? They would have looked supremely foolish in front of a whole lot of people! Some would say this wasn’t very good planning! “Because what if…?” I don’t know about you, but if I were charged with doing this, I would have tried it out on a smaller scale – in private!
Peter says to the man, “Look at us.” He gets the man’s attention. He doesn’t avert his eyes, as we’re sometimes tempted to do when we’re approached by a homeless person asking for a handout. Peter faces the man head on, and then he says these famous words, “Silver and Gold have I none, but that which I have give I thee.” (I’m sure he said it in King James English!!) “I give you what I have! In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise and walk!”
That was the disciples’ first miracle! And it launched a series of great “Acts of the Apostles,” which sparked and fed the fires of the beginnings of the Christian Church. And we have to ask, “Are we really to follow their lead?” “Are we really to do ‘greater works than these?’” I wonder. It does seem unlikely that we will make the lame to walk and the blind to receive sight, doesn’t it? But let me suggest this. On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being no belief in the miraculous at all, and 10 being Peter and John’s bold, public leap of faith, where are we? If we think about it, aren’t most of us down towards the 1 or the 2? And shouldn’t we give some thought as to how we might raise that number? I think that should be a priority of our faith! And the best way I can think of for doing that is for us to think of that! It is to open ourselves to the miraculous. It is to choose to believe in the power of God and allow God to surprise us with his power!
That’s not easy! I don’t pretend it is. But the problem is that too often we simply don’t bother. And too often we spend way too much energy being skeptical. That’s the natural choice. We have to do the “un-natural” thing. We need to choose to believe in the supernatural!
I want to challenge you today to do that. I want to challenge you to think of the power of God. And I want you to see that God’s power is not reliant on our ability to believe it! Whether we feel it or not, we worship the same God of Moses, and Ezekiel, and Peter, and Paul. He has the same power today as he had when he raised Jesus from the dead, and when he lit a fire in the disciples to go out and change the world! We need to know that he can change our world! And we will only really see that when we step out of the way, and when we ask God to work in our lives. And I don’t mean in a way we prescribe, but in his own way. I want us to strive truly to live out the prayer we utter every week, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done!”
So remember Peter and John. And remember Jesus’ words, “Greater works than these will you do”
Eternal God, help us to see your power in our lives first hand! Help us to believe in your supernatural ability to break into our lives when we least expect it. Show us the power you have to lift us up and set us high on the rock, no matter what the storms of life might bring. Help us to wait upon you and to seek to see your hand in our world. For we pray in the strong name of Jesus, Amen.