“He must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”

So said Jesus to a crowd of people, including his disciples, in Mark 8:34. It must have sounded odd, though, because what did “taking up a cross” mean? Jesus obviously knew what it meant because a couple of verses earlier he’d told his disciples he’d be killed, so he knew that taking up a cross was in his near future, but did it mean his disciples would need to be killed on crosses too?

History indicates that some of the disciples may have been killed on crosses, but not all of them, so going literally to one’s death on a cross wasn’t what Jesus was getting at, and even if it was how could his disciples “follow” him if they were dead? Taking up a cross had to mean some action while they were still alive, therefore, which is what it means to us today too. To take up one’s cross is associated with an unpleasant task or person we have to put up with: “It’s a cross I have to bear,” we say, when we’re lumped with a physical handicap, or a neighbour’s dog that never stops barking. 

So in our culture we associate taking up a cross with something negative, but that couldn’t be what Jesus meant either, because why would anyone want to “follow” him if it means having even more crosses to bear? 

Jesus also made it clear in his ministry that he’d come to heal people, so all three of those statements he made – denying oneself, taking up a cross, and following him – would have to tie in with that, as essential to our healing. But how can a cross tie in with healing when it pictures severe pain and public humiliation?  

But in Jesus’ case it worked wonderfully, because the pain and public humiliation he suffered on the cross was totally tied in with our healing. In his death he “condemned sin in sinful man” (Romans 8:3). In HIS cross, therefore, he put to death the junk that kills us as humans, the kind of junk he talked about in Mark 7, like weird ideas about sex, jealousy, lying, destructive gossip, hating people enough to want to kill them, obsession with our self-image, and stupid, inconsiderate words and actions that destroy relationships. To be free of all that rubbish is the best thing that can happen to us. Well, in taking up his cross Jesus got that process started, so that one day we could all be free of that destructive nonsense forever. No wonder Jesus went to the cross with joy (Hebrews 12:2). 

So now we have a very positive reason for taking up a cross, when it’s tied in with killing off what’s killing us. Does that positive reason then spill over into why Jesus wanted us to take up a cross as well? 

It’s going to mean we’re in for pain and humiliation like he went through, because that’s what being hung up on a cross includes. It’s not pleasant, for instance, having to admit we’ve got many of the same problems Jesus listed in Mark 7, and even more unpleasant having some of them exposed for all to see as well. 

But the purpose of exposing what’s inside us (and the humiliation that may go along with it), is to experience becoming the lovely human Jesus died to make us into. This is what Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit for too, to help us become visible witnesses to Jesus making awful people into good ones. He went to the cross for that reason, to kickstart that healing for all humanity, and to make his disciples the best living proof of it.

So, yes, taking up our cross may be painful and humiliating, just as Jesus taking up his cross was for him, but when we know the purpose of it, to heal us by cleaning out our hearts and cleaning up our minds from all that’s killing us and our planet, then that surely explains why Jesus has disciples who not only take up their crosses willingly, they also willingly follow him. 

Righteousness – what does it mean and why is it so important?

 Righteousness is important because it would create the greatest revolution this world has ever seen. That’s because of what righteousness is: according to 1 John 3:7, “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he (Jesus) is righteous.” Simply put, then, righteousness means doing what’s right just as Jesus does.  

And would that create the greatest revolution this world has ever seen? Yes, because righteousness by John’s definition has never been done by humanity as a whole. Instead we’ve “all sinned” (Romans 3:23), and according to 1 John 3:4, “sin is lawlessness.” So, instead of all us humans doing what is right, we fell short of that and became lawless. Whereas in Jesus, verse 5, there “is no sin.” If we were all like Jesus, then, we wouldn’t be lawless, and what would the world be like then?

Well, that’s what Jesus is bringing about, because there’s no way we can do it. Our inability to even do what WE define as right is clearly demonstrated in the mess we and our planet are in. “But,” verse 5, “he (Jesus) appeared so that he might take away our sins.” So Jesus came to do away with our lawlessness and our inability “to do what’s right.” And this is how he turns our world right side up, which we’ve never been able to do. 

But how does he deal with our inability to do what is right? Again, John explains, in verse 6: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.” The key to solving our inability to do what is right, then, is us “living in Jesus,” so what does that mean?  

Fortunately, John takes the time to explain that too, starting in verse 9: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” In other words, it’s possible for us to be righteous like Jesus is, with the same desire and ability to do what’s right that he has, because God made us his children too. We have the same “God-seed” in us, therefore, that Jesus has, so that we can live how Jesus lives.

John is thrilled by this, as we see in verse 1, when he writes, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God,” because “that is what we are.” And being God’s children, born of his seed, we are now in the same marvellous position as Jesus is, being able to think and do what’s right just as he does.  

That’s what God has made possible, so that whatever Jesus taught and how Jesus lived we can live those things too. And by living as he did, or “obeying his commands,” as John put it in 1 John 2:3, “This is how we know we are in himverse 5

John spells it out so clearly in verse 6, that  “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” – but in recognition now that we CAN now walk like Jesus because, like him, we are God’s children too. Or as John puts it in verse 29, “everyone who does what is right has been born of him.” 

It goes both ways, then: if we’re born of him we can do what is right, and if we do what is right it’s proof we are born of him. Either way it means righteousness is within our grasp, which has to be thrilling, because it’s through righteousness that Jesus is bringing about the greatest revolution this world has ever seen.

Repent

“Repent” said on its own like that can sound blunt, especially when yelled as a threat by fire-breathing preachers, that we’d better repent, or else – the “or else” usually meaning a fearsome future in an ever-burning hell. 

Can these preachers be blamed – or even criticized – though, for being so blunt, when Paul was just as blunt in Acts 17:30-31? “In the past,” Paul told the Athenians, “God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For,” take note, “he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.”  

Paul was just as blunt in Romans 2:5 too, when he writes to his fellow Jews, “because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed,” because that’s when “God will give to each person according to what he has done,” verse 6

It’s not surprising, then, that repentance is associated with severe warning of judgment by an angry God if one’s behaviour doesn’t improve. The Pharisees and Sadducees would certainly have heard it that way when John the Baptist yells at them, “You gang of snakes; who gave you the idea you could escape the coming wrath?” No way will they escape God’s wrath unless they “produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” because, like an unfruitful tree if “you don’t produce good fruit you’ll be cut down and burnt” (Matthew 3:7-8, 10). 

Add to that Hebrews 10:31, that “It’s a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” and we get the picture – that God is not to be messed with.  

But there’s another side to repentance that reveals God in a different light. It’s first seen in the book of Job, where we see God letting all sorts of horrible things happen to Job, but the result is Job saying, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes,” Job 42:6.  

It dawns on Job how arrogant he’d been in challenging the great God himself. He even thought he could ask God questions that God couldn’t answer. How on earth could he think such a thing? Because of his pride, that’s how. But on seeing it Job repented, because he suddenly realized it was in his own head where the problem lay, not in God’s. 

And it set the scene for what God is bringing every human to see eventually, that pride in our own abilities, opinions and judgments makes us think we have within us whatever it takes to handle any problem we face, and we don’t need God. And clearly, based on what God allowed Job to go through, it’s the toughest lesson we have to learn. How many of us, for instance, based our lifelong thinking on what Jesus said, that the truly blessed in life are those who are “poor in spirit,” who realize they’re just as ignorant and limited in their understanding as Job was, and like Job desperately need God to strip away their blindness so they see the damage their thinking has done to them?  

But this is the point God brings us to, where it dawns on us what our brains and attitudes have made us think and do, and we just sit there, stunned, wondering “Now what?” Which is exactly what happened to the Jews in Acts 2, when Peter revealed the astoundingly embarrassing and horrifying news that they’d just killed the Messiah they’d so much been looking forward to, because of their pride and ignorance. It knocked the wind right out of them, verse 37; “they were cut to the heart and said, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” 

Peter’s immediate reply of “Repent” in verse 38 was good news, because there WAS something they could do. They could admit how blind, helpless and stupid they’d been, just like Job, because this was exactly the raw material needed for God to rewire their brains. It’s what God had allowed the horrible mess they’d made to bring them to, so now he could heal and bless them, just as he promised in Acts 3:26.   

It may seem, then, that God is being harsh and cruel allowing us to reach that point though suffering, but in reality it’s love, because only he can heal a pride driven brain, and only he who can help us see it. And once that’s done he does for us what he did for Job; he fills our lives with new attitudes that bring us blessings we never knew existed. 

“And all of them were healed”

In Acts 5:16 ”crowds gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their  sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” Not one of the many thousands who turned up for healing was turned away. And no matter how serious or terminal an illness or disease, it was guaranteed a healing. 

So if mass healings like this aren’t happening in the church today, why aren’t they? Is it because we aren’t praying like they did in Acts 4:30, for God to “stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders”? 

But take into account that those doing all the healings in Acts 5 were the apostles (verse 12). And the apostles were the ones the church was praying for in Acts 4:30 too. It was also to the apostles that Jesus talked about “confirming the message by the signs that attended it,” like “laying hands on the sick and the sick recovering” (Mark 16:17-18). Paul also talked about “the signs of an apostle” in 2 Corinthians 12:12, that set the apostles aside as special, because they were the ones God had chosen to lay the foundations of the New Testament church (Ephesians 2:20). So this great power to heal was specifically given to the apostles.  

But once that confirmation of the apostles had been done by healings and other miraculous signs and wonders, did that mean the healings and miracles would end? No, because Jesus said the future church would be doing “greater” miracles than even he’d done (John 14:12). 

But what could be “greater” than all those who went to Jesus for healing being healed? Even saying “all of them were healed” in Acts 5:16 isn’t greater than what Jesus did. So what “greater things” could Jesus possibly be referring to? 

Well, healing a person completely from all his sicknesses isn’t a cure for selfishness or greed, nor does it heal bitterness following a broken relationship or a thwarted dream. It doesn’t cure racism, bullying, a bloated ego, road rage, or frustration at injustice, unfairness and favouritism. And think of all the tragic mental aberrations that lead to war, murder and revenge, that once started cannot be stopped. 

In other words, it’s what’s tucked away inside us causing our problems that desperately needs the “greater” healing promised by Jesus – just like a good Doctor gets at the causes of our illnesses, rather than just treating the symptoms. And getting at the causes is why “God raised up his servant, Jesus” in Acts 3:26 too. Jesus came to “bless us by turning each of us from our wicked ways.” Not turn us from what’s bothering us physically; it’s turning us from the curse of the monsters inside us that are making us do awful things to ourselves and to other people.   

Like the monsters inside the heads of the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem, in reaction to the apostles’ amazing healings in Acts 5:16. Because instead of applauding what the apostles were doing, “the high priest and all his associates….were filled with jealousy,” verse 17. How sick is that? But that’s why sick minds are far worse than sick bodies, because sick minds wreck other people’s lives too. 

The big question has to be, then, “Does Jesus heal all those with sick minds who recognize their need for healing and come to him for it?” 

The answer from Jesus is a resounding “Yes, of course,” because in Matthew 11:28 he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” and by “rest” he meant “rest for your souls,” verse 29, not bodies. He wants to heal what’s churning away deep inside our very soul, because that’s where the greatest cure is needed. 

That’s his “greater” healing and greater goal, so that one day he can say of everyone’s heart, soul and mind – that “all of them are healed.”  

“No one dared join them”

In Acts 5:12 the apostles were doing such amazing “miraculous signs and wonders” that “no one else dared join them,” verse 13 – “them” being the group of “believers meeting together in Solomon’s Colonnade” (verse 12).  

So here was the church, and such startling things were happening in it that it scared people. And not because the church was weird, because the second part of verse 13 says, “even though they (the believers) were highly regarded by the people.” So this was a case of people having trouble coming to terms with something they’d never witnessed before. It was all so stunningly different. 

And they weren’t the only ones to be stunned either. In verse 11, “Great fear seized the whole church,” because of the sudden and startling death of Ananias and Sapphira for lying (verses 5 and 10). It really rocked people back on their heels, because this was clear evidence of a power at work among them that meant business. So, no more pretence, folks, or trying to appear religious; those days are gone. 

It’s not surprising, then, that it sent ripples of fear through the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem too, because if anyone was guilty of trying to appear religious it was them. Jesus had certainly made that clear to them in Matthew 23, when he called them out for not practicing what they preached (verse 3), and “appearing to people as righteous but on the inside are full of hypocrisy and wickedness,” verse 28

They were just playing at being religious, because God wasn’t a real, living power to them. Well, that soon changed in the book of Acts as God gave the church some real power – the apostles healing everyone who asked in Acts 5:16, for instance. And did that ever get the attention of the religious pretenders, because in verse 18, “They arrested (all twelve) apostles and put them in the public jail.”  

But next day they discovered the apostles had all escaped, without the guards outside the locked door even noticing (verse 23). Worse still, someone reported the apostles were right back to teaching in the temple again. 

So this was scary stuff, because something obviously extraordinary had happened that these religious authorities didn’t dare admit to, and especially when Gamaliel stood up in verse 39 and said, “if this is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

And how thrillingly scary that is, realizing it applies to us too, that nothing can stop the church today either. We are in that same church today, being given the same power by the same Holy Spirit, and for the same purpose, to “put the wind up people” so they realize there’s an extraordinary power at work on this planet, and there it is in plain view still thriving and still unstoppable, no matter how much violent opposition has been thrown at it.    

Wouldn’t it be great, then, if the church today cottoned on to what the church realized in Acts 4, that the words the Holy Spirit inspired King David to speak in Psalm 2:1-2 applied to them as well? “Why,” David asked in those two verses, putting it in my own words, “do all these windbags think they can take on God?” (Acts 4:25-26). Why do they think they can “conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you sent” (verse 27)? 

But they do think that, so “Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” Give them a shot of your power enough to scare them into the reality of it, in other words. And God clearly appreciated their request because “After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness,” verses 29-31

Scary stuff, because it is now clear, after centuries of persecution, that these verses are as real today as they were to the church in Acts 4. The best of atheists and haters of Christianity have never been able to wipe the church out. And that’s scary, because it’s proof of a power at work on this planet that is unstoppable in its purpose. 

And we are now the carriers and recipients of that power, and for the same purpose: It’s to wow this world with his power, clearly demonstrated in the church doing what the world cannot do. 

And that power is being made real every minute in the church, as we live a life so visibly and startlingly different to the world that it scares people enough to get their attention. Because what they see being lived in us are the obvious and only solutions to the world’s unsolvable problems.  

The revolutionary “one in heart and mind”

In Acts 4:32 “All the believers were one in heart and mind.” In any culture that would be a miracle, but here in Acts 4 it actually happened. It was clear evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in the church, creating something that had never been witnessed or created by any society so far. It was, to put it mildly, revolutionary. 

It was also an answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-21, that “those who believe in me….all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”

“One in heart and mind” in Jesus’ definition, therefore, was a whole lot more than a group sharing the same beliefs, or partaking in a project together, or creating a community that shares the same interests. It meant being “one” like the Father and Jesus are one, a totally unique relationship based on the Father being “in” Jesus, and Jesus being ”in” his Father. 

But that’s the relationship on offer in the church, enabling ordinary human beings like you and me to be “one as we (Father and Jesus) are one,” verse 22. We too, then, can experience the “in” each other relationship that the Father and Jesus have. 

So, what makes such a relationship possible? Jesus answers that for us in verse 22 when he prays, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, (so) that they may be one as we are one.” There’s a “glory” needed, that Jesus himself gives us – the same glory, it so happens, that the Father gave to him in verse 24

And what is that glory? In verse 24 it’s defined as the love the Father has for Jesus, which Jesus then prayed for us to experience too, in verse 26, “that the love you (Father) have for me may be in them.” 

So, how is that glorious love of the Father for Jesus “in” us as well? Jesus explains how in the last sentence of his prayer, when he adds the statement, “and that I myself may be in them.”

There are extraordinary things being said here, that Jesus can make the glorious love his Father has for him real in us too, by actually living that Fatherly love he experiences “IN” us. This isn’t something we have to cook up for ourselves to make us “one in heart and mind,” therefore, it’s having the eternal Son of God make it happen in us, by living his OWN oneness of heart and mind with the Father in us personally.

But HOW does Jesus do that in us personally? By another extraordinary thing he talked about earlier in John 14. In verses 16-17 he said he’d “ask the Father”to give us “another Counselor….the Spirit of truth.” This Spirit would then “live with you and in you,” verse 17, enabling us to “realize,” verse 20, “that I (Jesus) am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” 

The Holy Spirit helps us realize a wonderful secret, totally unknown to the world (verse 17), that it’s only in the union of God and human that this unique “one in heart and mind” happens. Jesus, for instance, is “in” – or in union with – the Father (verse 20), and that’s how he experiences it. And it’s only when we’re “in” or in union with Jesus, and Jesus being “in” and in union with us, that we experience it. 

And Jesus clearly explains what being “in union” means too: Jesus was in union with his Father because everything he said and did was in obedience to his Father (verses 10 and 24), just as we’re in union with Jesus when we obey him (verses 21 and 23). 

So that’s how this unique “one in heart and mind” is created in us. And it very quickly began to happen in the church – first in Acts 2:42-46, and again in Acts 4:32-35. The church found itself experiencing what the world had never experienced up to this point, or even knew was possible and available.

Being “one in heart and mind,” then, was not only miraculous, it was revolutionary, because it gave visible witness to something totally different happening to humans, that only happens to those who believe Jesus is alive and what he’s alive for.

Fellow children of a loving Father

In John 1:18, Jesus said “No one has ever seen God, but (or except for) God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side.” So Jesus has one advantage over us: he knows God. He knows what it’s like to be in the company of the Father forever. (John 1:2) – and what it’s like being loved by his Father for all eternity too (John 17:24). So, if anyone was to ask Jesus what he appreciates more than anything, his answer would likely be, “Knowing the Father” (John 17:25).

I can only imagine what it must be like in the Father’s company for a billion years. If I had been I’m sure I’d be able to “testify,” as Jesus did, “to what he has seen and heard” of the Father (John 3:32). I’d know firsthand, like Jesus does, what the Father is like, and, again like Jesus, know firsthand what it’s like being one of the Father’s much loved children (John 1:12-13). It could then become my speciality, just as it’s Jesus’ speciality (John 17:26), to help people come to know they’re the children of a loving Father as well. 

We were given that chance back in Genesis too, when God created us in his likeness, so that in partnership with him we could make this planet a glowing showcase of his wisdom and love. And in the process of doing that we’d come to know God intimately, as he walked and talked his plans with us, just as he began to do with that first man in Genesis 2. 

We had all that on offer, so that from Genesis and forever onwards we’d come to know the one true God as our Father. But it wasn’t to be, because we were convinced instead that “knowing good and evil” was all we needed to know about God and what he was like (Genesis 3:5). 

And when God set up Israel to know him through all kinds of miracles and firsthand experiences of his love and wisdom – and through that amazing display of his care for Israel to enable others to come to know him too (Deuteronomy 4:6-7) – Israel blew it as well, because they much preferred knowing “other gods” (Deuteronomy 31:20).

But in Hebrews 8:8 (quoting Jeremiah 31:31), “The time is (would be) coming” when, verse 11, “No longer will (people) say, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me.” And how would this come about? Verse 6, by the “ministry Jesus received.”

And what was Jesus’ ministry primarily focused on? Jesus himself explains in John 17:4 when he prays to his Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” And what was the “work” he completed? It’s summarized in four words in verse 6: “I have revealed you” – because, verse 3, “this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God…”

So how, exactly, has Jesus gone about helping us know our Father? Again, Jesus explains, this time in John 17:8, “For I gave them the words you gave me” – “them” in that verse referring to “those (disciples) whom you (Father) gave me out of the world” (verse 6). Through Jesus, therefore, we are hearing our Father speaking, so by “obeying” (verse 6) and “accepting” (verse 8) what Jesus said as coming from the Father, that’s how we come to know the Father as he truly is. 

There’s a second part to how Jesus helps us know the Father too, which he explains for us in verse 12, when he prayed, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me.” 

The name the Father gave Jesus was “Son” (“This is my Son whom I love,” Mark 9:7). So the Father sent his very own Son as our protector from “the evil one” John 17:15, to give us the best protection there is. We are utterly safe in Jesus’ care, because he has the power of his Father in him (verse 11). Which tells us something else wonderful about our Father too, in giving us Jesus to do that for us. 

Jesus’ job also included showing and explaining that the love the Father has for him is the same love the Father has for us, which Jesus expressed in verse 23, “you sent me (to show that you) have loved them even as you have loved me,“ So our loving Father sent Jesus to help us see and actually experience that love, just as Jesus has always experienced it “before the creation of the world,” verse 24

And this is the ministry of Jesus we can experience right now, because as Jesus himself prayed to the Father in verse 26, “I will continue to make you known to them in order that the love you have for me may be in them.“ Thanks to Jesus and his continuing ministry, therefore, our Father’s ultimate and supreme purpose of us coming to know him as our loving Father is being fulfilled in us too. 

Why was Jesus baptized?

In Matthew 3:13, “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.” Which seems a bit odd because John was baptizing “for repentance,” verse 11, and what did Jesus need to repent of? John also told the Pharisees and Sadducees in verses 7-8 to “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” and if they didn’t, verse 10, they’d be “cut down and thrown into the fire.” 

Repentance, then, was very much what John’s baptism was about, so when Jesus comes to be baptized it surprises John, because, being cousins of similar age growing up together, John had never seen Jesus do anything he needed to repent of. 

Knowing Jesus as well he did, then, John says to Jesus in verse 14, “Why do you come to me to be baptized? I should be baptized by you.“ But Jesus replies in verse 15, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”  

But what did “fulfill all righteousness” mean? There’s a hint in the context, because as Jesus rises up from the water after John baptizes him, “heaven was opened” and “the Spirit of God descended like a dove and came to rest on Jesus” – the exact sign John had been given back in John 1:32-34 to help him identify Jesus as the “Son of God” (verse 34). Jesus being the Son of God is then confirmed in Matthew 3:17,when “a voice from heaven” says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

It makes total sense, then, that being the Father’s much loved Son, Jesus wanted to fulfill everything his Father sent him to do. Which is exactly what Jesus did, because at the end of his ministry he was able to say to his Father in John 17:4, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” Everything Jesus said and did was directed toward that end, of completing and fulfilling his Father’s wishes.  

And note in verse 25, that Jesus addresses his Father as “Righteous Father.” 

As the Son of a “righteous” Father, therefore, Jesus wanted to complete, or fulfill, all the “righteousness” his righteous Father wanted him to do. Which explains why Jesus said at his baptism it was “proper” for him to fulfill all righteousness, because it was his greatest wish, as it was his Father’s greatest wish, that he complete every righteous thing his righteous Father had sent him for. No wonder the Father said at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son, whom I love,” because Jesus’ reason for all that he said and did was to complete and fulfill all the righteous work his righteous Father had sent him to do.    

But why would his Father include Jesus being baptized in “fulfilling all righteousness” as well, when John’s baptism was all about repentance? 

Jesus had no need to repent. But we do, because we fallway short of fulfilling the Father’s righteousness, and well short of acting like his children too. So Jesus going through a baptism of repentance was meant for us, not him, to show us what needs to be done for us to become proper sons and children of the Father too. And for us it begins with repentance, admitting that in both our words and actions we weren’t even close to fulfilling all the righteousness that a righteous God created us for, and we weren’t acting like his children either. 

And when that dawns on us, as it did on those stunned Jews in Acts 2:37 when they realized they’d just killed their Messiah, and they asked, “Brothers, what on earth do we do now?” – the first word that came out of Peter’s mouth was “Repent.” 

That’s because repentance is how the restoration of our relationship as our Father’s children begins, which leads to us wanting to live the righteous life he created us for, the ultimate goal being to hear our Father say of us, like he said of Jesus, “You are my children, whom I love; with you I’m well pleased.” 

This is what Jesus set his heart on fulfilling too, John 17:26, “I made you (Father) known….in order that the love you have for me may be in them.” In the fulfilling of all his Father’s righteousness, then, the desired result is us experiencing the same love of the Father that he’s always had for his Son. We realize, at last, just how much we are the loved children of a loving Father.

And that’s the journey the Father has us on. And to show us that the journey for every one of us begins with repentance, Jesus went through a baptism of repentance at the very beginning of his ministry too.  

We can do even “greater things” than Jesus?

In John 14:12, Jesus says to his disciples, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing,” which is amazing enough, but then he adds, “He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to my Father.”

But Jesus healed everyone who came to him for healing, and he raised at least two children who’d died back to life again, and Lazarus too. And how often has that happened in the church’s history? What time in the entire history of the church, in fact, have there been healings for everyone who asked for healing, and children brought back to life after they’d died?

In my own experience too, I’ve never seen healing for everyone who asked, nor have I witnessed somebody coming back to life again. I gather from stories I’ve read and heard that some people are healed, and maybe even resurrected, but that’s nowhere near doing “greater things” than Jesus.   

So has it been lack of faith on our part? Or is it because healing and raising people back to life again was only meant for Jesus’ day to prove he truly was the Messiah, and only for a brief time after that through his apostles and others in the book of Acts?

But if wholesale healing and being raised back to life again is not what Jesus meant by “greater things,” then what did he mean instead? 

Well, not to downplay how marvellous those healings and resurrections that Jesus did were, one has to ask what happened to all those people he healed and brought back to life again? They still had to die, right? Lazarus got his life back, but only to die a second time. And all those people Jesus healed, like lepers and people crippled and blind from birth, they died too. So the miracles Jesus did in his ministry were purely in the temporary, physical realm. They didn’t solve the problem of death. 

By “greater things,” then, was Jesus talking about something beyond the temporary and physical that did solve the problem of death? Yes, he was, because in John 11:25-26 he said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” So there’s a type of “resurrection and life” Jesus is promising here that exists beyond death. Death doesn’t end them. Death doesn’t even affect them, because Jesus himself is the source of them, and he is permanent and eternal. 

And, what’s more, for simply believing what Jesus says in these two verses we can experience this permanent and eternal resurrection and life in the here and now.  

But how do we experience such an amazing miracle? Well, fortunately, Jesus explains that too, in John 5:24 – “I tell you the truth, that whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life….he has crossed over from death to life.” 

In other words, if we believe everything Jesus said and did was sourced by the great God, we will experience being raised to a whole new life now, the life that Jesus himself lives in his resurrected state. And that life for us never ends.   

And now the really good bit, that having “tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age” in this life now, Hebrews 6:5, we are then in a position to teach others about “crossing over from death” to this eternal, permanent resurrection life too.  

And that in Jesus’ own definition explains what he meant by the “greater things.” He’s talking about things eternal and permanent from believing in him being the source of them, which are so much greater than the miracles of temporary and physical healing and resurrection that he did. And not only can we experience personally what that eternal and permanent life is like now, we can help others learn about it now too. 

And in so doing, that’s how we do greater things than Jesus. 

Jesus’ amazing promise in John 14

In John 14:12 Jesus says, “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing (and) even greater things, because I am going to the Father.”

What else can that mean other than trusting Jesus to do in our lives what he did in his? And because he’s going to his Father, he’ll also be in a position to enable us to do even greater things too.

And what “things” would Jesus be referring to? According to verse 10 it’s the things the Father was living, doing and speaking in and through him.  

One would expect some pretty amazing things being said and done by Jesus, then, right? And if I had the great Father God living, working and speaking in and through me, I’d be expecting some pretty amazing things to be happening too. I mean, we’re talking about the supreme intelligence and miracle-making power that planned and created the immensity of our universe.   

So putting verses 10 and 12 together we’ve got the supremely wise and mighty miracle-making Father working his magic through Jesus. It’s not surprising, then, that Jesus says in the first part of verse 11, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” What other conclusion could Jesus have come to, though, having personally experienced the mind and power of the Father living and working in him? And especially when miracles were what he’d expected from being “in the Father” too. He was “into” the Father for just that reason, though, to have the Father do these wonders through him. 

The problem was getting other people to believe it, because Jesus goes on to say in the second part of verse 11, “or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” It seems that even the disciples he’d just spent over three years traipsing round the countryside with, who’d witnessed him doing the most amazing miracles, were still having trouble believing Jesus was speaking and acting on behalf of the Father, or that the Father was the energy and source behind everything Jesus said and did (verses 5-10). 

Jesus’ simple answer to them was, “But what about all those miracles I did?” And then he drops the real bombshell of proof in verse 12 when he says, “You know what? You can do miracles too. All you need do is trust me to do them through you. And, what’s more, I’m off to be with the Father so you’ll have two of us doing amazing things in and through you, so expect to do even greater than I did.” 

I’m not sure what thoughts would be raging through my head after hearing Jesus say that, but I could make a pretty good guess based on my personal reaction to what Jesus said next. Because he makes the most astounding promise in verse 13 when he says, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” 

Put that together with what Jesus has just said in verses 10 to 12, about the Father working and living in him, miracles being the obvious proof of it, Jesus was now making it clear to his disciples that he would now be the source of the same miracle-working power – in them. It would still be to the “glory of the Father,” of course, since the Father was the one who got this started and put Jesus in his position of power – so get the point as to where things would be going from here on out. 

From now on, or soon after Jesus ascended to his Father, Jesus would continue doing miracles by living in and working in his disciples. This is what the Father would set him up for when Jesus joined him. As Jesus’ disciples, then, expect Jesus to do miracles through them, just as he’d expected his Father to do miracles through him.  

The set up from now on for Jesus’ disciples, therefore, was this: Trust Jesus to do miracles in and through them, expecting him to do them too, as visible witness to his power – just as Jesus doing and expecting miracles from his Father gave visible witness to the Father’s power. 

And if it’s any consolation to us Christian disciples today, Jesus knew it would be hard for his disciples back then to wrap their minds round expecting him to do miracles through them. Which is probably why he repeated his promise in verse 14: “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it,” and he means miracles.  

And it’s all to the Father’s glory too, when we’re trusting and expecting Jesus to do miracles in and through us, because the Father was the one who set it up this way in the first place.

So what thoughts or questions does that raise in your mind?….