Truly, truly, I say to you, He that believes on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do…
This is one of the reasons why the disciples, whom Christ was about to leave, were "not to let their hearts be troubled." The discipleship to which He had called them was a very arduous one, but so long as He was with them, performing such miracles, they were safe. They would therefore think with dismay of His going away, inasmuch as this marvellous miracle working would cease, and they would be left to the merciless Pharisees. It was, then, fitting to tell them that they should do the miraculous works and greater things. The way in which our Lord speaks about miracles is striking. Had these narratives been a fiction, Christ would have spoken of miracles very differently. So far from magnifying them, He speaks of them as inferior things. Both Christ and His apostles appealed to men in two ways. Such as were unspiritual were appealed to by miracle; but He often told them that it was a higher and more spiritual thing to believe Him for His truth's sake than for His works' sake. So He tells His disciples here they should have power to work miracles, so far as this was needed to convince the unspiritual world; but they should have a greater power, viz., to do spiritual works in the conversion and sanctification of men. This is Christ's meaning.
(1) Because He connected it with the gift of the Holy Spirit, whose work is to convince men of sin, and righteousness, and judgment.
(2) From the very nature of the case: no one can doubt that moral goodness is greater than miraculous works.
I. THE HISTORY OF THE APOSTLES ABUNDANTLY FULFILS THIS PROMISE. Depending upon His power, that is, "believing on Him," they did the miraculous works.
1. Christ does not mean that these were greater than His own; no miracles may be compared with His.
(1) His were always wrought in His own name, and by His own power; those of the apostles always in the name and by the power of their Master.
(2) His were always full of great spiritual significance. Nature was moulded by Him into evangelical sermons.
2. But their spiritual achievements were to be greater than Christ's miracles.
(1) The conversion of the three thousand on the day of Pentecost was a greater miracle than the feeding of five thousand in the wilderness; the conversion of a single soul is greater than the hushing of the storm. In the charge Christ gave to the seventy He makes the same distinction between the miraculous and the moral. He gave them power to heal the sick and to east out devils. The exercise of this power seems greatly to have elated them. He instantly turns their thoughts to spiritual things.
(2) It is a common, perhaps a correct impression, that the personal ministry of our Lord did not produce such great spiritual results as that of the apostles. The Holy Ghost was not yet given. We have no records of two and of five thousand converts at a time. The largest intimation of the spiritual results of His ministry is that after His resurrection He was "seen of above five hundred brethren at once." And yet what preaching was ever like His preaching, in spiritual character, and depth, and earnestness? "Never man spake like this Man." And yet the Jews listened to His preaching and remained unconverted. Was it that Peter had a greater truth to proclaim than even Christ taught? Was it that. no preaching can be powerful to save men's souls but the preaching of the Cross? Christ predicted His death, and spake of its atoning character, but He did not preach it to the people: the apostles "preached Jesus and the resurrection"; and even in their comparatively rude and unskilful hands it proved more powerful in subduing men than Christ's Divine words. His own great prediction was fulfilled — "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me."
II. OUR LORD INTIMATES A GREAT AND IMPORTANT PRINCIPLE IN THE SERVICE OF HUMAN LIFE — that grace is greater than gifts; that the ministry of moral truths and influences is greater than the exercise of the most brilliant talents. It is a great work to perform a miracle; but the credentials of a messenger are not so great as his message. It is an honour to be so employed and attested, but this is in order to the accomplishment of the mission. In Christ Himself miracles were the lowest manifestations of His glory. They showed that God was with Him; but His true glory was in His own character, and mission, and words. So it was with the apostles. Paul's shaking the viper off his hand is but a small thing compared with his sacrifice of his honours and emoluments for Christ's sake. Peter's healing of the lame man is but a small thing compared with the conversion of three thousand on the day of Pentecost. The moral sense of all men confesses this. There is constant danger lest we be led away by brilliancy, crowds, outward successes, intellectual miracles. Ministers sometimes so mistake, and others so mistake them. A man is lost as a minister of Christ who thinks about popularity or sets himself to seek it. The humble, obscure man is often greater than the prominent and brilliant one; he has greater aims, secures nobler things, bears a nobler character.
1. Conversion is greater than miracle —
(1) In its sphere of operation. Miracle operates in the outer and physical world. Regeneration operates in the inner and moral world, amongst the passions and purposes of the soul.
(2) In the power that is put forth. In miracle God's simple fiat is absolute; He commands the laws of nature — they instantly obey; but in regeneration God's will encounters another will — a will that He has made free and powerful, and that He will not coerce. Nature never resisted Christ's Word; the men of Jerusalem would not come to Him that they might have life. To convert a human soul, therefore, is infinitely greater than to create a planet: moral forces have to be used; it needs to be made willing, and this demands no less an agency than the Incarnation and the Cross.
(3) In its results. Miracles have fed the hungry, etc.; but conversion changes moral character, makes its subject a saint, and when he dies it secures his life with God in heaven.
2. Charity is greater than miracle (1 Corinthians 13). Moral excellencies have in them the quality of permanence; Christ's miraculous acts have ceased. His love moved His power, which was miraculous; our love moves our power, which is not miraculous: the feeling and motive are the same, only the power and the form of the action differ. Christ's disciples perpetuate His pitying love — they visit the sick, they relieve the poor, etc. And this is far grander than miracle: the aggregate benevolence of the Church of Christ is a nobler thing than the creation of a new world would be.
3. Patient submission to God's will is greater than miracle. What can be nobler than a life wholly consecrated to God and to whatever is holy and benevolent? as life of self-sacrificing service in the Church, the school, or the mission field — a life that surrenders its dearest joys and interests for Christ's sake? Perhaps the only nobler thing is, when devoted service is crowned by patient suffering.
4. Victory over death is greater than miracle.
(H. Allon, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.