Hyperbole or Potential? An Unusual Statement Considered
For whatever God says to us. . .is full of living power. (Hebrews 4:12)
Jesus Christ was frequently found to be most effective when using hyperbole, extravagant exaggeration, to emphasize an important principle or lesson. Examples of this are many in Scripture. When making a point about the degrees of sin and hypocrisy in the lives of His accusers as He did in Matthew 23:24, He condemned the self-righteous leaders as those who “strain at a gnat in judging other men’s action, while they themselves are swallowing camel-size inconsistencies with evil deeds.”
Another example is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 6 verse 42, when Jesus asks the scribes and Pharisees, “How can you possibly remove the speck of dust from another’s eye while overlooking the plank in your own eye?”
These grand accusations were addressed to the religious legalists of His first-century day. He continued to upbraid them for their hypocrisy, referring to them as “a generation of vipers.” Such extraordinary statements would obviously not be well received, and it was early on in his ministry that Jesus faced great hostility from the religious hierarchy. They didn’t have to listen long before they began seeking ways of eliminating His influence, effectiveness, and, indeed, His very life.
I recall an incident when the nine-year-old son of one of my deacons held a freshly sharpened pencil with its point held upward on the seat of another boy in front of him. When that boy sat down squarely on it, the puncture went deeply into his buttocks. When I challenged the father about possibly disciplining his son, the deacon angrily responded: “My son didn’t do that’ his hand did!” The father’s continued defensiveness made any biblical reproof or appropriate correction impossible. (See 2 Timothy 3:16.)
The difficulty that the scribes and Pharisees had to overcome was Jesus’ giftedness in striking at the hearts of men in His fast-growing audiences as He declared new truths with simple eloquence. When the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to bring Jesus back, presumably for false teaching or heresy, the officers returned to the priests admitting, “Never has any man spoken like this man!” And when the miraculous public works of Jesus were not able to be denied by His enemies, they reverted to attributing them to Satan. “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub” (Matthew 12:24).
With that as background, I’d like to examine another statement by our Lord found in John 14:12. In speaking to His disciples about the reality of His divinity and relationship with the Father, He asks them to consider His works as evidence. In the previous verse, it is obviously clear that neither His followers nor His adversaries could deny the wondrous things they had seen with their own eyes.
In his later letters, John refers to his personal walk with Jesus some fifty years earlier this way: “What we have [actually] seen with our own eyes, [physically] touched with our own hands, that is what we declare to you.”
The follow-up statement in John 14:12 also refers to His works, but adds a most provocative challenge that cries out for some sort of explanation. It is an invitation to His immediate disciples and also, as I wish to suggest, a proposal that involves an opportunity for all believers to contemplate, implement, and fulfill in the present age.
Here is that statement: “Greater works than these [that you have seen me do] you shalldo because I go to the Father” (emphasis added). In other words, “After I’m gone, greater works will be done by those who wish to glorify God.” And verse 16 suggests that the Holy Spirit will definitely be involved and participate in those acts.
Now, wait just a minute! Is this more hyperbole? How can such things actually take place? Can this be possible? In what manner will these works be manifest? Today, we are not walking on water, interrupting funeral processions, raising the dead, or paying our taxes with cash extracted from money-laden fish.
I believe Jesus has challenged us to think of a totally different kingdom—one in which miracles have nothing to do with the natural world, but are nevertheless possible in our daily lives as we understand God’s will.
Contemplate this: Jesus has ascended to the Father in heaven. The remaining work to be accomplished now has to do with Christ’s kingdom here—a spiritual kingdom represented by the church, the Body of Christ, and composed of all who trust in our Savior. We are “a spiritual house, built of living stones, to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). What could most glorify God in this present age that would be greater than a repetition of the astonishing wonders on the natural world of the first century?
Remember, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of darkness and the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12). That’s a different battle with a different enemy for a different prize. “They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars” (Daniel 12:3).
With humble deference and respect to my most awesome Lord Jesus Christ and a humble and sincere desire to discern His promise, I offer the following considerations for your prayerful pondering.
I believe Jesus Christ would say to you and me today:
· It is greater to bring about a changed life for God than to change water into wine. · It is greater to enlighten the mind of a skeptic or pagan than to open blind eyes. · It is greater to create faith in God than to unstop deaf ears. · It is greater to invest our lives in bearing witness for Christ than to find money to pay our taxes in a fish’s mouth. · It is greater to stimulate praise to God than to loosen the tongue of a mute. · It is greater to heal the heart of a twisted soul than the hemorrhage of a bleeding woman. · It is greater to rescue a person out of a life of evil than to cleanse a leper. · It is greater to walk in the Spirit than it is to walk on the water. · It is greater to enliven a dead spirit than it is to raise up a stiff, decaying body. · It is greater to disciple one new believer in the bread of life than to give bread to five thousand people. · It is greater to bring back into fellowship those who are estranged from one another through bitterness, envy, or misunderstanding than to bring together 153 fish in a net!
“If someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a one with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourself so you won’t be tempted also” (Galatians 6:1, HCSB).