As Jesus met with His disciples in the upper room, He told them of His imminent death, resurrection and return to heaven. He told them not to be troubled, because He would return one day to take believers to His Father’s house (Jn. 14:1-3). The disciples had given up their vocations to follow Jesus and had grown to love and depend upon Him. Now what would they do? To add to their sadness and confusion, Their Master said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father” (v. 12). I’m sure the disciples were thinking back to Jesus’ many miracles and wondering how that could be possible. What they did not realize yet was that when Jesus returned to heaven, the Father would send the Holy Spirit to indwell believers, empowering them to be witnesses throughout the world (Jn.14:26; Acts 1: 8). That would be the “greater work” of which Jesus spoke. Jesus’ ministry had been limited on earth to being in one place at a time. The day was coming when the work of building the Kingdom of God would go worldwide through the Holy Spirit indwelling every believer, equipping and empowering them as Christ’s ambassadors (II Cor. 5:20). That’s why Jesus went on to tell the disciples: “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you, And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness and judgment” (Jn. 16:7,8).
Remember Jesus’ statement at Caesarea Philippi? After Peter’s confession that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16), Jesus said, “upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (v. 18). Gates were used for defense, so Jesus was indicating that no powers of darkness would be able to stop the spread of the Gospel and the building of His church.
When Jesus died, the disciples hid in fear, but in three days Jesus arose and forty days later ascended back to heaven. Then, just ten days later, on the Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came as Jesus had prophesied and the disciples, who had hidden out in fear and confusion, were empowered and began spreading the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ in payment for sin. Most of them became martyrs for their faith. But when they were gone, the Gospel continued to spread to the far corners of the world, and does to this very day. You see, as George Mueller once said, “God buries His workers. (But) He never buries His work,” because Jesus is the One building His church. We have had many great evangelists, pastors, teachers, missionaries, and Christian workers who have come and gone, but God’s work goes on. We recently mourned and celebrated the home-going of arguably the greatest spiritual giant of our lifetime, Billy Graham, who in his evangelistic ministry which covered some six decades, reached hundreds of thousands of people for Christ throughout the world. At the graveside service, his pastor posed the question: “Billy’s gone–what happens now? Who will take Billy’s place?”
There may not be another Billy Graham in our generation (although his son Franklin and grandson Will seem to be walking in the same footsteps), but Christ will continue the work of building His church. He still has His messengers throughout the world. If you know Christ as Savior, you are one of them! Billy Graham, just a few years ago, hosted a gathering in Amsterdam of 10,000 Christian leaders from some 200 countries. We have a missionary friend who focuses much of his efforts on the Philippines, working to train some 41,000 pastors! God’s work is going on throughout the world, even—and especially—among the Muslim people.
On November 6, 1935, Billy Sunday, the most famous preacher in the world at the time, passed into eternity. That same night, a gangly teenager wandered into a revival meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. He went forward to declare that he was putting his faith in Christ as Savior that night. His name? Billy Graham! In a single night, God took home His leading voice in that generation and brought forth His voice for the next generation. But ultimately, the hope of the Gospel does not rest with evangelistic superstars. Most lost people will come to Christ through a Jesus-follower that they know. Someone already in their life. That’s you! That’s me! We are His witnesses, His ambassadors. Every heart with Christ is a missionary. Every heart without Christ is a mission field. Most who came to Christ through Billy Sunday’s or Billy Graham’s crusades were there because of a believer they knew and trusted. Most people who ever come to Jesus for eternal live do it because of a Christian they know. That may well be you and me. Let Christ rule in your life and share your “Jesus story” with those that God brings into your life—at work, at school, in the community. People listen to someone they trust and respect—and that’s usually someone who has built a relationship with them. That’s called “Lifestyle Evangelism,” in which each of us as Christians should be involved.
When Jesus wanted to reach the Samaritans, He didn’t hold an evangelistic crusade in their village, He reached a Samaritan woman and sent her back to her people to be His voice and we read: “Many of them believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony,” (Jn. 4:39), and others came to hear Jesus and “many more believed because of His word” (v. 41). Like the Samaritan woman, we too are to be His “voice,” sharing our Jesus story with those God puts into our lives. We no longer have Charles Haddon Spurgeon, or John Wesley, or George Whitfield, or Billy Sunday or Billy Graham with us today reaching out with the gospel. Their work on earth came to a close. They died and were buried, but God’s work goes on, through each one of us. He continues to build His church until the day He returns in the clouds and calls the church home, as He promised in John 14:1-3. We long for that day, but until then we have work to do—His work.