A sermon delivered by Michael Cheuk, Pastor, Farmville Baptist Church, Farmville, Va., on May 22, 2011.
Fifth Sunday of Easter
What if someone were to tell you that “You will do even greater things than Jesus”? Would you believe it? I would have a hard time believing it. Frankly, this sounds like something that a cult leader or a Bible thumping televangelist decked out in a white leisure suit might say. But in our Gospel lesson this morning, it wasn’t a cult leader or a slick televangelist who made the claim that we could do even greater things than Jesus. It was Jesus himself! What could He have meant by that?
But before we get to that, let’s look at the context of this passage. In John chapter 14, after three years of apprenticeship and training with Jesus, the disciples are told by their master: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” In these verses, Jesus basically announced that He was about to leave them, and this raised the anxiety of the disciples. When a good leader is about to step down, when there’s about to be a change at the top, people are often uncomfortable. This happens in schools, in universities, in churches, in government, and even in families. And when it happens, people are uncertain and they wonder: without this leader, how will we know where we’re going? How will we know what direction we should take, which way we should go into an unknown future? We see this attitude in Thomas: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?
Jesus answered Thomas in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Christians often use this verse to show non-Christians that Jesus is the only way to God the Father. But as we can clearly see in this passage, these words were not intended for unbelievers; instead, they were directed at Jesus’ closest followers. He was instructing His own disciples on what it takes to follow Him after He returned to the Father. But in the midst of uncertainty and high anxiety, people want a leader to just show them the way, to just tell them what to do. We see this attitude in Philip: “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” To this, Jesus replied: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
The key to following God is knowing Jesus. “If you really knew me,” Jesus said in verse 7, “you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” The word for “know” in this verse is the Greek word ginosko which is the kind of knowing that comes from progressive understanding through experience. It is not merely a transfer of information. Ginosko is a knowledge that is based on relationship and experience through time.
When you want to get to know someone, it is not enough to read up on that person, or to ask a mutual friend about what that person is like. It is not even enough to text each other or talk on the phone. You have to spend time with each other, doing things together, relating and experiencing life together. But even for couples who have been married, their knowledge of one another is only the tip of the iceberg. It takes a lifetime for them to really know one another. And that’s the kind of knowledge that Jesus was talking about when he said: If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.
The key to following God is knowing Jesus. So how do we know Jesus in a way that will lead us to God the Father? Jesus said: I am the way, the truth and the life. We know Jesus by walking the way of Jesus, by trusting the truth of Jesus, and by experiencing the life of Jesus.
We walk the way of Jesus by following in His footsteps and doing what He did while He was on earth. As we examine the Gospels, we see what Jesus did during his three-year earthly ministry. Jesus proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom. He did that by going to the different places preaching and teaching to the crowds, by healing the sick, exorcising the demon possessed, feeding the hungry, confronting the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. As disciples, we are called to know Jesus by following in the way of Jesus.
Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, we can’t perform the miracles that Jesus did and you’re probably right. Although, I must say, we have heard stories of Christians performing miraculous healings, especially in places like Africa and Asia, and it is precisely in those places that Christianity is exploding in growth. Perhaps our inability to accept and perform miracles speaks more about our unbelief than it does about the power of God. This leads to the second way we can know Jesus: by trusting the truth of Jesus. Jesus said in verse 12: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” We will never know the power of Jesus until we step out in faith to pray for healing, for recovery, for reconciliation, or for a miraculous intervention. But miracles aside, we still don’t trust the truth of Jesus often enough. Jesus tells us not to worry about what tomorrow may bring, but we won’t trust Jesus enough to let go of our worries. Jesus tells us to come to Him with our burdens and He will give us rest, but we insist on carrying our burdens even though they are wearing us out.
And when we fail to walk the way of Jesus, when we fail to trust the truth of Jesus, we are guaranteed not to experience the life of Jesus, a life that is one with God the Father, a life that is abundant and purposeful. To walk the way of Jesus, the trust the truth of Jesus and to experience the life of Jesus – this is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. As Jesus was proclaiming the kingdom and doing the work of His heavenly Father, Jesus was training his disciples to walk his way, to trust his truth and to experience his life. In fact, toward the end of His ministry, Jesus no longer spent time with the crowds; he invested more and more time and energy with the twelve disciples, so that they would be equipped and ready to continue on his mission.
As Jesus was about to return to his Father, He sent out His disciples with a commission. This commission was recorded in Mark 16:15 as “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” It was recorded by Luke in Acts 1:8 as “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And it is recorded in Matthew 28:19-20 as “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
During his earthly ministry, Jesus went to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria preaching the good news. During his earthly ministry, Jesus made twelve disciples, eleven of whom continued on the mission. But Jesus said to them, “But you will do even greater things than these.” Jesus might have added: you will do even greater thing than these by going not just into Jerusalem, Judea, and Samarian, but by going into all the world and being my witness to the ends of the earth. You will do even greater things than these, not by making disciples of twelve, but by making disciples of all nations. Today, Jesus might say to us: You will do greater things than these by discipling college students so that when they graduate, they will be my witnesses everywhere they go. You will do greater things than these, not by feeding only 5000, but by feeding whole villages in Zimbabwe or by distributing over 37,000 bags of food a year through FACES to feed the hungry here in Prince Edward county. You will do greater things than these, not just by healing diseases, but by contributing to a global missions offering that will provide safe drinking water in Malawi so that people won’t get sick from water-borne diseases in the first place.
Fulfilling the Great Commission by living and proclaiming the good news of God’s Kingdom and by making disciples of all nations IS the “even greater thing” that Jesus spoke of. And as far as I can tell, it is the only command that Jesus gave to his followers before He returned to His heavenly Father. Jesus didn’t command his followers to raise buildings, increase budgets, boost attendance, offer programs or frankly, to hire religious professionals like me. The apostles and the early church focused on the great commission and making disciples, and out of that, the church grew exponentially in those early years. This historical fact has led Mike Breen to say:
We don’t have a leadership problem in the church in the United States.
We don’t have a missional problem.
We have a discipleship problem.
If we make disciples like Jesus made disciples, we will get more leaders than we can handle and more vision and action for mission than we will have ever seen.
That’s the way Jesus did it.
That’s the way his disciples did it.
That’s the way the early church did it.
That’s the way every missional movement has done it.
Tom Nelson also has this to say, “If we as a church succeed in every area, but fail to make disciples who can spiritually multiply, then ultimately we have failed. Yet if we fail in every other area, but succeed in spiritual multiplication, then ultimately we have succeeded.” Now, I have to say that if we succeed in spiritual multiplication, my guess is that we won’t have to worry about finding our mission or vision, we won’t have to worry not having enough money to fulfill our mission, and we won’t have to worry about our worship attendance.
Jesus commanded his disciples to make disciples. How are we in fulfilling Jesus’ great commission? How are we in making disciples who in turn can make disciples of Jesus? I imagine that there is great joy in the Watson family today with the birth of Zachary Tyler. He is part of the future of the Watson family. And I imagine that there is even greater joy in the family of God when new disciples of Jesus are birthed and nurtured. New disciples are the future of the church. That’s why building a discipleship-making culture in Farmville Baptist has become a top priority for me. Discipleship making is the engine of our spiritual transformation journey, and new disciples will play important roles in our church’s future story. What an amazing honor and privilege to follow Jesus! May God help us to live and grow and spiritually reproduce in Christ, so that we might do even greater things for Christ! Amen.