LEADERS SOMETIMES MAKE audacious statements and then lead people to fulfill them. Leaders turn their convictions about what must happen and their vision about what can happen into what does happen. When they do, the world is changed, often dramatically, with results echoing to subsequent generations. In the 1960s two American leaders made bold pronouncements, which they were later instrumental in fulfilling. Their words—simple, direct, challenging—changed our world.
Speaking to a special joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy said, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.” By the end of the decade, despite Kennedy’s tragic assassination, Neil Armstrong stepped on the lunar surface with his triumphant statement, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” Kennedy’s visionary leadership galvanized a nation, accelerated space exploration, and perhaps most importantly, fueled scientific and technological growth that changed America forever. One brief statement by a brash, young President called a country to achieve something heretofore considered impossible—landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth. The results left a multigenerational impact of technological advance still reverberating today.
Another leader at the end of the same decade made a similar prediction, also with long-lasting results. When voiced, it didn’t carry the weight of a pronouncement by a US President. It seemed braggadocian, even frivolous. Yet, the economic and cultural changes ultimately produced by this prediction and its aftermath also changed American culture. Speaking to the Miami Touchdown Club three days before Super Bowl III, New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath said, “We’re gonna win the game. I guarantee it.” The Jets, from the upstart American Football League, did win, setting in motion a series of events resulting in the creation of the modern National Football League. The NFL is a multibillion-dollar enterprise that has profoundly shaped American culture. Not only is the league itself worth billions, its impact has been felt in creating or impacting other multibillion dollar industries—like the growth of college football, the promotion of NFL players as marketing icons, and even the creation of fantasy football (played by millions of people every year). Two statements, by two very different leaders more than 50 years ago, set in motion events that have changed and continue to change our world.
During His lifetime, Jesus made several world-changing statements. He often challenged His followers—including you—to accomplish more than they previously thought possible. One statement by Jesus, however, towers above the others. It seems impossible to fulfill, yet demands our serious attention to discover how to live it out. Jesus said:
I assure you: The one who believes in Me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. If you love Me, you will keep My commands. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever (JOHN 14:12–16).
Jesus said His followers would do “the works that I do” and (astoundingly) “greater works than these.” Unbelievable! Jesus called you, an everyday Christian, to do greater works than He accomplished. Quite bluntly, that doesn’t seem possible. As you consider impacting your world by more intentionally sharing the gospel, the challenge can seem daunting, even impossible. Based on Jesus’ bold statement, supernaturally changing your world may seem difficult, but it’s still possible.
Jesus changed lives. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and clothed the naked. He confronted the corrupt, battled Satan, and overcame demons. Jesus even raised the dead! The Lord who accomplished so much told you to imitate Him and, beyond that, do even “greater works than these.” It’s easy to dismiss these claims as a charismatic leader’s hyperbole. But this is Jesus speaking. His words are a mandate, not the aimless meanderings of a leader venting superfluous ideas to titillate His hearers. Discovering what Jesus meant, and how to accomplish the greater works He mentions, is essential for fulfilling these important directives.
SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS
What did Jesus mean by greater works? More importantly, how is this possible? How can we, fallible humans, do greater works than Jesus or his first-century followers? Searching for solutions leads to several possible—though inadequate—answers to these questions. First, one possible reason we can do greater works is we have a greater opportunity than existed during Jesus’ lifetime. There are more people alive at this moment in history, whenever you are reading this, than ever before. Jesus changes lives and there are more lives that can be changed today than any time in history. We can do greater works because we can reach many more people with the message of salvation than could be reached during Jesus’ time on earth.
Second, greater works are possible because there are greater needs, and more people in need, than in any previous generation. Family dysfunction, frequent divorce, and children in crisis create cultural chaos. Wars, genocide, terrorism, and nuclear threat make our world a violent, destructive place. Prejudice and gender bias, particularly among religions that foment discord and depend on oppression to maintain their influence contribute to the turmoil many people experience daily. While many of these same problems existed in the first century, the scope of their destructive influence is much greater today.
Third, greater works are possible because there are better tools for ministry currently available than at any previous time in history. Innovations in communication and transportation are particularly helpful in getting the gospel to more people in less time. Television, radio, cell phones, computers, and various resources connected to and through the Internet have made formerly isolated people groups more accessible. The international airline network, coupled with other forms of comparatively inexpensive transportation, make it possible to go almost anywhere from almost anywhere in a relatively short time frame.
Finally, Christians today have a greater foundation of ministry expertise than ever before, making possible greater works built on past successes. The church has more than 20 centuries of experience, a significant track record of effectiveness (as well as mistakes we have also learned from). Many problems have been addressed and solved. This accumulated wisdom, for those who are willing to study history and learn from it, makes doing ministry more efficient and effective as we draw on the amassed record of kingdom experiences.
These external factors may be part of what Jesus meant when He said we would do greater works. But while they postulate some possibilities, do they account for the means to do what Jesus said?
No, they don’t.
The problem with these suggestions is they are only true for this generation and only for some believers in some locations. They aren’t true for all believers in all places for all time. There must, therefore, be other ways and means for us to do greater works. Those resources had to be available immediately after Jesus’ ascension and still available today. They must be accessible to all believers, everywhere, and for all believers for all time. Determining what those resources are seems mysterious, until you consider the obvious. In the same discourse, Jesus not only told us to do greater works but He also explained how to do them.
Jeff Iorg, Unscripted: Sharing the Gospel as Life Happens (Ashland, OH: New Hope Publishers, 2014).
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