For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
The necessity of heavenly vision
"Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint, happy is he who keepeth the law." (Proverbs 29:18).
"Whereupon King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision." (Acts 26:19).
King Solomon spoke three thousand proverbs. He is the wisest of men. God gave him a hearing heart; in other words he could hear God with his heart. And out of his hearing heart he gave us many proverbs, and of all the proverbs there is one that is very, very important. Because Proverbs give us the principle of life and here is a principle that is applicable not only to the earth but applicable even to the spiritual realm. And this is what the proverb says, "Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint." In another version it may say, "Where there is no vision, the people scatter." Or even stronger, "Where there is no vision the people perish." So we can see how important is this matter of vision.
It is important even in this world. You know, in this world, if people do not have vision, or in other words, if people do not have a dream, if people do not have a goal, if people do not have a strong ambition, if people do not want to obtain to something, then that person can do nothing. If you want to be successful in this world, you have to have an ambition, to have an impelling force within you; there is something you want to arrive at. And you are willing to pay any cost for it; you will be able to endure hardship, you are able to sacrifice many things in order to get what you are after. So we find that even in this world vision or dream, or ambition is very, very essential. Otherwise our lives will just be mediocre. Or our life will just be drifting. We will not be able to succeed in anything.
The vision of the people of Israel
Now of course when Solomon spoke that proverb, he especially had the children of Israel in his mind. Therefore he said, "Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint, happy is he who keepeth the law." Now to the children of Israel, they were God's earthly chosen people. And God gave them a vision, on Mount Sinai, God gave them the Ten Commandments; He gave them the law. And in the Ten Commandments, God revealed to them what kind of a God He was; that He was holy in nature, He is altogether different from anything else, He is all unique by Himself. Those are the first four commandments; God is holy. And then the other six commandments show us that God is righteous; so far as His nature is concerned, He is most holy, altogether different, and so far as His actions are concerned, He is all-righteous. And God gave this understanding to the children of Israel. It is God's vision to the people of Israel. If they kept the law, they would be a most happy people. You know, happy is the same as blessed. They would be blessed if they kept the law. And this vision united the children of Israel into one. It gave them the goal of life.
But brothers and sisters, we know that the law is just and righteous; the law is spiritual. But unfortunately the children of Israel were earthly and fleshly. And because of this, you will find that as a nation they failed to keep the law of God. Even though by the mercy of God there were some who were able to fear God and who were able to receive the sacrifices. And these are the few who were able to keep the vision. But so far as the nation is concerned they failed to become the blessed people of God.
Now dear brothers and sisters, we are God's heavenly chosen people. Praise the Lord He has come into this world; the shadow has past and the reality has come. So by His grace we are called the heavenly people of God; a spiritual people of God. And to us, God has also given us a heavenly vision. It is not the law. It is grace. It is not something about God, giving us an outward knowledge of what God is like, but rather it is something of life, something inward, it is something of the spirit. And thank God, He has given us a heavenly vision, and that vision is something that should grasp us, and happy are we if we are obedient to that heavenly vision.
The importance of having heavenly vision today
Now brothers and sisters, what is that heavenly vision? The heavenly vision is not a mental knowledge of God. The heavenly vision is God Himself. God reveals Himself to us in His beloved Son. God shows us His eternal purpose; how His eternal purpose is concerning His beloved Son. In His beloved Son, He has called a person to be the bride of His beloved Son, and that is the gist of the heavenly vision. So brothers and sisters, it is of tremendous importance, that we who are God's people know what that heavenly vision really is; that by the Spirit of God, we may have that vision in our spirit.
Now by vision it does not mean something that you only see with your naked eye. It is something deeper than that; it is God's revelation. And by His Spirit He reveals His heart to us. In our spirit, deep down in our human spirit, we see something of God; we see His heart, we see His mind, we see what He is really after, we see what is precious to Him, that it may be precious to us. And brothers and sisters, this is why we need God to give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation to the true knowledge of God.
In my contact with God's people in many places, I've discovered that the greatest need among God's people is to catch that heavenly vision. Thank God that God's people are blessed, by the grace of God, He has not only enabled us to receive salvation; thank God that we know that our sins have been forgiven, thank God that we know that He has given us His own eternal life. Thank God that He has blessed us with many blessings. But brothers and sisters, the greatest needs among God's people today is to catch that heavenly vision, because without it, we really do not have a purpose for our life. What is the purpose of our Spiritual life? Why is it that God should save us; out of multitudes of people that the grace of God should come upon us? Is it so that we may be free? Is it so that we may live our own lives? Is it just that we may enjoy the blessings that God has blessed us with? Brothers and sisters, that would make us very selfish. That would make us very self-centered. If we believe in the Lord Jesus and we become a self- centered people, how will that give glory to God?
Brothers and sisters, God has a higher purpose for us. He wants us to know Him in a living way. He wants us to enter into His very heart. He wants us to be what He wants us to be, that He may be glorified in us; that His Son may be glorified in us. Otherwise even we as Christians have no real purpose of life. What is the goal that you are seeking for today? We are called with an on-high calling. We are called with a glorious calling. We are called with a holy calling.
Now, what is that calling? What is it that God really desires to obtain in us, that will make our life really useful to God, and glorify God? Is there something in us that enables us to press on toward the goal? Is there a power within us that we are willing to sacrifice everything for that one thing? Is there something that will give us discipline, endurance, something that will unite us together as one people? If brothers and sisters you have your own vision, I have my own dream, and you have your own purpose, and I have my own idea, we will be a scattered people. What is it that really unites us into one, what really disciplines us that we will not perish? Brothers and sisters, it is that heavenly vision. So for me, I feel that it is of tremendous importance that every child of God must catch that heavenly vision that God has meant for every one of us. Because without that heavenly vision, we will cast off restraint. We will be a people without discipline, without a goal, life will be meaningless, we will not be able to fulfill God's will, and God will not be glorified in us. Heavenly vision is a must in our Christian life. It is the only thing that enables us to follow the Lord to the very end.
All those who are the Lord's, we find in the New Testament, we find among the apostles, in the church history, among God's people, who really glorified God in their lives by the grace of God, they really achieved something for God's glory. They were able to endure; they were willing to sacrifice for one thing; that the heavenly vision might be fulfilled in their lives. Every one of them, you will find, were caught by that heavenly vision. Dear brothers and sisters it is our prayer that every one of us here will be caught up by that heavenly vision. It is not a mental understanding: it is an inward reality.
Now of all those who have that heavenly vision, I feel that the apostle Paul is the one who seems to have caught that heavenly vision in a most inclusive way. Now it is very true that apostle John caught the heavenly vision, the apostle Peter caught the heavenly vision, and you'll find that in every one them there was some special emphasis. But not because of that special emphasis do you lose the general outline of that heavenly vision. But to me I feel that the apostle Paul seems to give us a very clear general outline of the heavenly vision. So, God willing, we would like to share together on the heavenly vision that Paul saw.
You know his whole life and ministry were controlled by that heavenly vision. Even toward the end of his life, he gave his testimony before King Agrippa, so he said, "Wherefore King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision." "It is that heavenly vision that changes my life, it is that heavenly vision that controls my whole being. I live for that heavenly vision, and that heavenly vision lives in me; it is a spiritual reality." This is Paul's testimony and I believe that it is God's will that it should be our testimony. You know the testimony of the apostle Paul is given in the book of Acts three times. The first time in Acts chapter 9; it was Luke who records what happened. He recalls what happened to Saul the Pharisee on the road to Damascus. And then in Acts 22, the apostle himself gave his testimony before the Jews, and then again in chapter 26, he gave his testimony before the gentiles. Even though it was before King Agrippa, you remember that the Roman Empire was represented there.
So three times his testimony is recorded in the book of Acts. Now dear brothers and sisters, when God speaks once, we may not hear it, so God has to speak twice. But here you find God speaks three times. Now what does that mean? It means it should catch our attention. It means that this testimony of the apostle Paul is not just something personal; it is a testimony that should be ours. God gave the heavenly vision to the apostle Paul, that he may pass it on to us today. So every one of us needs to see that heavenly vision. We may not experience it in the same way as the apostle Paul, because for everyone it is different. You know, God loves variety, yet in variety there is unity. So we may receive that heavenly vision in a different way to the apostle Paul, but the outline of that heavenly vision should be the same, otherwise how can we be united into one?
So dear brothers and sisters, it is my burden to share with you on the heavenly vision given to the apostle Paul. Now in order to understand what really happened on the road to Damascus, it is important for us to understand a little background. We want to know what kind of a person that man, who was called Saul before, was. Now in the New Testament, you find that there are many references to his past; he himself told of his past, especially if you turn to Philippians 3:5-6, he gives us a bit of his background. He says he was circumcised on the eighth day; now for a Jew this was very, very important, because you remember how in Genesis chapter 17, God made a covenant with Abraham and the sign of that covenant was circumcision. Any male born to the children of Abraham must be circumcised on the eighth day; that is the sign of God's covenant with Abraham. If a male child is not circumcised, he will not be considered as belonging to the commonwealth of Israel. He will be outside of God's covenant.
But we know that when Abraham was circumcised was ninety years old. And you remember that his son Ishmael, when he was circumcised he was thirteen years old. So strictly speaking, they are not very orthodox. But this young man who was called Saul, was circumcised on the eighth day, so you will find he was of the covenant people of God. More than that, he said, he was of the race of Israel. You know that that is very important too. Why? Because he was not of Esau. You know Esau lost his birthright and his blessing of the birthright, but Jacob got the birthright and the blessing. And even though he got it wrongly, God really chastened him, until he was turned from Jacob into Israel, and Paul said that he was of the race of Israel. More than that, he said I was of the tribe of Benjamin. You know that Jacob had twelve sons, but eleven of the sons were not born in the Promised Land; only Benjamin was born in the Promised Land.
So you find that he was the very orthodox of the orthodox Jews. And furthermore he said, I am a Hebrew of Hebrews. You know, Saul was actually born outside the Promised Land; in a gentile city, Saul of Tarsus of Cilicia, yet he was born to a Hebrew family. But what is a Hebrew of Hebrews? It means that even though they live in a gentile city, in their home they still speak Hebrew. You know, many people may migrate to different countries, and even their children do not speak their native language in their home anymore. For instance many Chinese children in the States cannot speak Chinese. So they are no longer typical Chinese. But in this family, even though they lived in a gentile city, they spoke Hebrew at home. So he was a Hebrew of Hebrews. Now brothers and sisters, this may not mean much to you, but to a Jew, this is most important; that he is really God's chosen one, he is really a covenant people of God that makes him different from every nation.
And not only that, if you look into his upbringing, even when he was young, living in a gentile city, he received Greek culture. You know at that time the Roman Empire ruled, but the culture was Greek culture, and Saul was born in Tarsus, and somehow his family was able to get Roman citizenship. So when he was born he was a Roman citizen, and at that time, being a Roman citizen was something very special because there were more slaves than citizens in the Roman empire. As a Roman citizen he had a right to all the Roman rights. Then he also received Greek culture, the highest culture during these days. And furthermore, he was trained as a Pharisee. Now today when we hear the word Pharisee we think that's bad, because our Lord Jesus cursed the Pharisees, "hypocrites." But to the Jews, at that time, the Pharisees were very, very special.
Never in any time were there more than a thousand or so Pharisees. It was a very strict set of Judaism. They devoted their lives not only to study the scriptures, but also to keep every item of the law. They kept the law beyond what they could find in God's Word. They kept the traditions of the Fathers. So they were looked upon by other people as a model. And this young man was not a hypocrite; he meant business. He said, "According to the righteousness of the law I was blameless." He kept every letter of the law. And we know that he was a student of Gamaliel; Gamaliel at that time was one of the greatest rabbi's. Gamaliel was the grandson of Hillell, who was a great rabbi, a school of the Pharisees. And this young man studied under Gamaliel. And he was zealous for the traditions of the fathers. He told us himself, he was more advanced than his contemporaries. What a young man he was!
Brothers and sisters, young men of any age will seek worldly things. It is very rare to find young men seeking moral, religious, spiritual things. But this young man Saul, despised worldly things, and knew they were passing by, and sought after something eternal. He was moral, religious, and was very zealous. And in his zeal for the traditions of the fathers, he persecuted the followers of Jesus. Because according to the traditions of the fathers, Jesus was considered an imposter, because Jesus did not fit into their idea of the Messiah; they were looking for a political Messiah to overturn the Roman Empire and make Israel the first of the nations. But when our Lord Jesus came, He did not do these works; He sought the spiritual good of the people. So they were disappointed at him, they thought that he was an imposter of Judaism; they crucified him, and anyone who followed Jesus was to be eliminated. That is according to the tradition of the fathers, and this young man Saul did his very best to carry out that task. And all the time he was thinking that he was serving God.
Dear brothers and sisters, you know the traditions of the Jewish fathers are the best traditions in the world. And even with the best tradition in the world, you know that that is total darkness. This young man meant well, he was sincere, he was honest, and yet he was totally blind, blinded by human tradition. There was no revelation. There was no heavenly light, he was groping in darkness. He didn't know that he was persecuting God; he thought that he was serving God.
Dear brothers and sisters, how strong is tradition. Even the best of human tradition, if it is not of revelation from above, the best of man's tradition is total darkness. And tradition is so powerful it can dominate that person. He didn't know what he was doing. Oh brothers and sisters, beware of human tradition; even though we may grow up in Christian tradition.
I was born to a Christian family, they used to be Buddhist or Confusionist but thank God my father was the first one to turn to the Lord. He was persecuted because of his faith but I was born into a Christian family. My father loved the Lord and we had family worship every evening. But dear brothers and sisters, I can testify that even Christian tradition that is handed down by the fathers without revelation from above is total darkness. Not until one day, God in His mercy revealed His Son in me. Oh brothers and sisters he opened my eyes and that is reality. So never, never be content with any type of tradition; we need revelation, revelation from above.
Now God knew this young man Saul's heart, God knew he was sincere, but blind. So you find that God's grace came upon him. But God allowed him to go as far as he could. I often say that God's cord of love is very long. Actually the cord of love was already around this young man. But God allowed that cord to extend and extend. It seemed as if this young man would just go to the end. But one day God said "Thus far, and no further." He persecuted the believers and entered into Christian homes, seizing men and women and put them into prison; condemning them and when condemned to death, he gave his vote. He hated those followers of Jesus. And he asked for permission from the high priest and even went to gentile cities to seize those who were followers of Jesus, to bring them back to Jerusalem and to condemn them. Ah brothers, the longsuffering of God. God allowed him to go as far as he could - not without previous warnings; God gave him many warning, but he neglected them and hardened his conscience, and persecuted the Christians with double efforts.
Saul's experience on the way to Damascus
While he was on his way to Damascus, God allowed him to travel as far as near the gate of Damascus, it was noon day, and suddenly a light came from heaven, brighter than the noon sun, and shone upon this young man and his followers, and they were all stricken to the ground. Brothers and sisters, the first thing in the grace of God that comes to our life is this heavenly light. You know, we were all groping in darkness; we did not know what we were doing or where we were heading, but thank God, one day the light of God from heaven came to us.
Brothers and sisters, in Genesis chapter 1, you'll find that the earth was filled with waters, and darkness was upon this earth, the first word God spoke was, "Let there be light," and there was light. Is it not the same as we look back to our Christian experience? In 2 Corinthians 4:6, Paul said it is God who spoke that out of darkness light should shine, who shines upon our heart with that heavenly light, and we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters, one day that heavenly light came upon us, and in that light, all the darkness was exposed. Formerly we did not know where we were nor how sinful we were. But when that light came, it exposed us, and we found we were the chief of sinners. I believe brothers that when that light came upon that young man, all his past life passed before his eyes; he began to see his past life in the light of heaven, and how he had to repent in dust and ashes, how he had to realize how sinful he was; he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, he was one who was against God. Oh brothers and sisters, thank God that light came, and we saw our darkness and we repented in dust and ashes. Thank God, He did not just show us our darkness; He revealed the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. For the first time we see our Lord Jesus, we see the glory of God in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ. Glory to God.
In that light, when he was stricken by that light, he heard a voice, a voice from heaven, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads." Brothers and sisters, was it an angry voice? It was a voice full of love and sympathy. "Saul, Saul, you do not know me, but I have always known you, I know your very name, you are, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? Why? Do you not know that it is hard for you to kick against the goads?"
You know brothers and sisters, in the old days, when a farmer ploughed the field, he would use an ox or a horse and that ox or horse would be put under a yoke. And you find the farmer will guide that yoke to plough the land, and of course he wanted to plow the land straight. But you know an ox can be very stubborn and has its own will. Sometimes the ox will see something good and will veer off and will not obey his master. So what the master will do is to take a sharp instrument in his hand called a goad, and he will use the goads and gently touch its leg. Now the master does not want to hurt the ox, but just remind the ox that he has a master; that he is not his own. But the ox is so stubborn, and when that goad touches his leg, he kicks back, and it hurts. Now after a number of times being hurt, he learns his lesson and will be obedient to his master.
Dear brothers and sisters, do you know that you have a master? Do you know that when you come into this world, God has a purpose in your life; that you are born into this world not by chance, but by the will of God. God's purpose in your life is that you may serve His purpose. That is why you come into this world. You have a master, you are not born free to do whatever you life - we are all born with a master, our creator is our Master. He has a definite purpose in each one of us. We are to serve His will. But brothers and sisters, we do not know, we do not understand; we think that we are our own masters, that we can do whatever we want to do, we live here to serve our own purpose, to satisfy ourselves. We forgot God altogether. But you are not free. You were born to serve God; you have a Master, but you do not know it, and rebel against Him. But in His grace He sometimes uses the goads against you. Is it not true?
Look at this young man Saul; God had used the goads a number of times upon him. When Stephen was martyred, the first martyr, he was filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit. Yet the gentile synagogues argued with him. I believe Saul was one of those who argued with him, but they could not overcome him because he spoke with the wisdom from above, so they arrested him, took him to the counsel, looked at his face, like the face of an angel. Stephen gave his testimony, and Saul being trained a Pharisee, when he heard that testimony began to hear reality instead of outward appearance. God is looking for reality; God cannot be satisfied with an outward appearance. That truth must have touched Saul's heart. Then when they pushed him out of the city, Stephen saw heaven opened and he said, "I see Heaven opened and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God."
What a wonderful vision. They had to close their eyes and ears, and harden their conscience and push him out and stone him to death. When Stephen was dying, he said "Lord do not lay this sin on them" and then he rested. This young man Saul was watching the clothes of those who stoned Stephen. Do you think that his conscience was not touched? He was a good man, a moral man, a religious man, a real person and no doubt his conscience was deeply touched. But what does the bible say? Afterwards, he doubled his efforts to persecute the Christians. In other words, he wanted to silence his conscience. His tradition was so strong that he was able to silence his conscience. Think about that, a moral person, going into homes, seizing men and women - how could you do that - forcing people to blaspheme in the synagogues? How could a pious person do that? He must have hardened his conscience. Oh brothers and sisters, how terrible that must be.
Again and again God reminded him, "Saul, Saul, it is hard to kick against the goads. You only hurt yourself to death. Why don't you repent? Why do you persecute me?" It was such a gentle, loving voice. It must have melted Saul's heart. "Me, the chief of sinners, a blasphemer, a persecutor, and yet you love me, forgive me and save me? You want to be my Master?" Oh brothers and sisters, there on the ground, he saw the Just One. He saw the One her persecuted was the Righteous One, the sinless perfect One. And not only that, it pleased God to reveal His Son in him. It was more than just an outward seeing. He saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. His eyes became blind, but his inner eyes were opened. It pleased God to reveal His Son in me - this Jesus is not only the Just One, He is the Son of God, and all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in him bodily, He is the heir of all things, He is the head of all things. He is the Master of everyone. Brothers and sisters, that is the heavenly vision. He saw the Lord and to him he surrendered. "Lord, what shall I do. I used to be my own master, but now I give up my rights. You are my Master, I surrender."
Dear brothers and sisters, do we have this heavenly vision? Can we have the heavenly vision and still be our own master? Can you see our Lord Jesus as the glorious Son of God and still retain your own rights? Have you seen the heavenly vision? Once you see the heavenly vision, you are no longer your own, you are his forever. But this heavenly vision is more than this. God not only revealed His Son to us, with His Son, He reveals something else which is dearest to His Son. Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?
You know the Word of God is exact, but the Lord said, why do you persecute me? Me. Now Saul was a Pharisee; he was trained in logic and argument. With his natural mind he can immediately answer, I have never persecuted you. I have never had a chance to meet you. You are in heaven and I am on earth, how can I touch you? It is ridiculous! No. His inner eyes were opened. Immediately he saw an eternal truth. He saw when he persecuted the followers of Jesus, he was persecuting Jesus himself. Why? Because Jesus is the Head and those who believe in him are his body. Every believer in Jesus is a member of the body of Christ. The Head is in heaven, but the body fills the whole universe. If you touch any member of the body, you touch the Head. Brothers and sisters, the head and the body are one. Immediately on the road to Damascus, Saul's eyes were opened and he not only saw Jesus the eternal Son of God, the Master of all, but he also saw the Church, the body of Christ. What a revelation!
Beloved brothers and sisters, when we believe in the Lord Jesus, "by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free, even all were made to drink into one Spirit." If anyone should touch you, the Head will complain, "Why do you touch me?" Brothers and sisters, here is a universal man. Not a small person, a universal man, the Head is in heaven and the body covers the whole world, all the ages from the very first to believe in the Lord to the very last, no matter which country you are from, at what age you live, you are one body. One Lord, one body. And the body and the Head are one. It is one life. And this body which our Lord took up after His ascension will be His vessel of testimony on earth. Praise the Lord. This is the heavenly vision.
When you see that vision, it delivers you from your little self and puts you into the universal man. Your fellowship is with the saints all over the world. Our fellowship is with the Father and the Son, and through this we fellowship with one another, that our joy may be fulfilled.
International Conference 2004 "The Heavenly Vision"