For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
The two aspects of the vision
Reading : Acts 9: 6 - 21.
We mentioned last night that it is of tremendous importance that we as God's people should see the heavenly vision. God gave the heavenly vision to the apostle Paul; it transformed his life and it became his testimony. And we believe that it is the will of God that everyone who is the Lord's should see the heavenly vision that Paul saw; that this heavenly vision may give us the purpose of our Christian life, show us the way we should go and give us that power within us to press on towards the goal, enable us to sacrifice everything for this purpose and give us the strength to endure hardships, in order that this heavenly vision may become our vocation. And we believe that this is the will of God. Only by seeing this heavenly vision, will we have the strength to endure to the very end. And it is this heavenly vision that unites us as one people. So dear brothers and sisters, it is our prayer that we are not just talking about the heavenly vision, but by the grace of God, every one of us will see this heavenly vision as the apostle Paul saw on the road to Damascus.
Jesus is Saviour and Lord
What is this heavenly vision that the apostle Paul saw on the road to Damascus? We mentioned last night that as he was approaching Damascus suddenly a light from heaven shined upon him. Dear brothers and sisters, I believe that this light is the Shekinah glory of God. In that glory he saw the Righteous One. He was revealed by the Heavenly Father; that the One whom he persecuted was not only the Righteous One, but He is the Son of God. He is the heir of all things. He the Nazarene whom Saul persecuted is the same one who is now at the right hand of God receiving all power over heaven and earth. God has highly exalted Him, God has anointed Him to be the Lord of all; He is the Master of everyone. Dear brothers and sisters, there on the road to Damascus, in the heavenly light, Saul saw Jesus the Son of God, the Master of his life and to Him he surrendered. And brothers and sisters I think that this is something that we must see. You know when we believe in the Lord Jesus, what is probably uppermost in our understanding is that He is our Saviour, that He came into this world to save us, we receive Him as our personal Saviour, and thank God for that. But brothers and sisters, do we at the same time see that He is not only our Saviour but also our Lord; that He is to be the Lord of our life. You know, to know Him as our Saviour is Christ for me, but only when we see Him as Lord, and we surrender our lives to Him then it is we for the Lord. Brothers and sisters, this makes a great difference.
Our dear brother Watchman Nee, when he was seventeen years old heard the gospel and he knew that Jesus was the Saviour, and that he must receive him, but he had a problem because as a young man, he had all his future planned out and was a brilliant person who could have been successful in any field. So he had his future in his mind, but when he heard the gospel on the one hand he was touched and knew he must receive Jesus as his Saviour but on the other hand he knew that if he should receive Jesus as his Saviour, at the same time, he must surrender his life to Jesus as his Lord. But this was something he couldn't do, so he struggled for days until one day in his home when he was praying the Lord showed him the blackness of his sins, and also the redness of the blood of the Lord Jesus. He was so constrained by the love of Christ that he yielded himself to Jesus as Lord and Saviour. And from that time onward, Jesus was not only his Saviour, praise the Lord, Jesus was his Lord.
Dear brothers and sisters, this is the heavenly vision. We need to see Jesus as our Lord; we need to be constrained by His love, and yield ourselves completely to Him. From now on He is our Master. Dear brothers and sisters, He is the worthy One, He is a Master who is worthy to be served. And on the road to Damascus we mentioned last night that he saw something more. He saw that Jesus is not only the Lord, the Master, he saw that all the believers of the Lord are members of His own body. He who touches any member of the body of Christ touches Christ the head. He saw a universal man; a great man. The head is in heaven but the body fills the whole earth. This is the heavenly vision because did not only free him from himself but also enabled him to enter into a fellowship that is universal. And this is the essence of the heavenly vision. It is not a teaching, it is not a doctrine or something for us just to contemplate. It is a spiritual reality. It is something that God must reveal by His Spirit in our spirit. We must be able to say "once I was blind but now I see" and that makes all the difference, it will change our life completely and it will also give us a purpose for living.
The vision is completed in Damascus
But brothers and sisters, the vision that Saul saw on the road to Damascus is not complete because this vision continued on into the city of Damascus. Now how do we know? Because you remember that the first question that Saul asked was "Lord, who are you? I do not know you." And the Lord said, "I am Jesus who thou persecutest. It is hard for you to kick against the goads." And immediately he realized that the one whom he persecuted was none other than the Lord Himself. So he asked a second question: he said, "Lord, what do you want me to do?"
Now brothers and sisters, you know Saul: he was a person who was strong, energetic, self confident, independent, a master of his own, he controlled his own life, he knew what he was to do. But because he met the Lord, he surrendered himself to Jesus as his Lord, and that was real. How do we know? By his second question: "Lord, you are my Lord now, what do you want me to do." This was probably the first time he asked such a question. He was a person who always knew what to do; he was a person who directed people. But for the first time in his life he asked, "Lord, what do you want me to do? I am finished, I don't know what to do now, I belong to you now and you have to direct me and show me what I should do." In the mind of this young man, he fully expected the Lord to tell him right away. He was a man of action. "Just tell me what to do and I'll get up and do it with all my strength." For him to surrender to another man that was something! So he fully expected the Lord to immediately tell him what to do and then he would get up and do it. But to his surprise the Lord did not tell him what to do; the Lord said, "Go to Damascus and wait there and you will be told what I want you to do."
Dear brothers and sisters, it was a great test for this young man - he had just surrendered his life to the Lord, and now for him life was just a relationship between him and his Lord; there should be no third person, it should be between him and the Lord. Isn't it true that very often we hear people say, "It is between the Lord and me, I don't care about anybody else, I don't need anybody else, all I need is the Lord, my Lord and I, this is my spiritual life." Oh brothers and sisters, when we hear this it sounds so spiritual, but remember it is pseudo- spiritual. It is false spirituality. The Lord had just shown him the body. Any of his ideas about the Lord and I, with no third person in his life, then where is the body? In other words, on the road to Damascus, after he had just received that heavenly vision, immediately he was greatly tested; "you acknowledge me as your Lord and now I am going to be your Lord, but not according to your idea, but according to my idea. I want you to wait. Are you willing to wait?" You know, waiting is very difficult for the flesh. Especially to a man of action; that was the most difficult thing to do. But the Lord tested him. "You saw the vision, now are you willing to obey that vision? You just saw the body of Christ, are you willing to allow other people to be involved in your life? Are you willing to have relationships not only with the Lord but also with other brothers and sisters, or do you want to be independent."
Here was a great test upon this young man. Vision will be tested. Otherwise it will never be your vocation. So you find that the heavenly vision that Saul saw on the road was only part of the vision. There he was given a tremendous heavenly vision, he saw the Lord in heaven, he saw the body of Christ, universal, glorious. Oh brothers and sisters, if you ever see that heavenly vision, it is so glorious it expands you or as it were, takes you out of yourself and brings you into the third heaven, it is tremendously expansive. But dear brothers and sisters, what will be the right attitude if you catch a heavenly vision? You are so lifted up in your spirit as if you were in the third heaven. But what will be the correct attitude? Every time you find in the Word of God, when someone saw a heavenly vision, when anyone saw the glory of God, yes, it lifted him up to the third heaven, but at the same time it also would smite him to the ground. You remember Daniel; he was such a perfect man, but when he saw the vision of the Lord, he said, "My beauty turned into corruption." He fell upon the ground as if dead.
Thank God that heavenly vision is so glorious that it lifts us out of ourselves and takes us to the third heaven, but at the same time it brings us down to the dust and ashes. Who are we that we should be given such a vision? We are unworthy, we are far from what that vision is. It needs the tremendous work of God to bring us into the reality of that vision. The vision that Saul saw on the road to Damascus shows us all the heavenly spiritual principles, shows us the Lord as heavenly and spiritual reality. It shows us the church, the body of Christ, heavenly, spiritual and full of life, full of glory. And all the spiritual principles concerning Christ and the Church are in that heavenly vision. But spirituality is most practical. What God has shown us of that which is spiritual and heavenly must be brought into practice on this earth in this very life. So you find that the heavenly vision which Saul saw on the road to Damascus is only part of it. There is another part of that vision that he had to see in the city of Damascus.
In obedience to the Lord, Saul got up from the ground, but his eyes were blinded by the glory of God; he was a helpless person. This strong man was brought into such a pitiful helpless situation. He had to be led into the city and there he was for three days without eating or drinking. He was praying. He was waiting.
Ananias represents the local church
And while he was praying and waiting, God in a vision appeared to a disciple in the city of Damascus. His name was Ananias. Now Ananias was a disciple of the Lord in the city of Damascus. Even though he was well-known in the city, because he was a very godly person and the Jews knew about him, yet he was unknown in Jerusalem and he was unknown in the world. And moreover even in the record of the Holy Bible, he appeared only once in chapter 9 of Acts. Then he disappeared. Here you find a little man. A small man, unknown, but thank God, know by God. And in a vision, God appeared to him and said to him, "Ananias."
You'll find that Ananias' reaction was so different from that of Paul. He knew the Lord; he was familiar with the Lord, so when the Lord said, "Ananias," he said, "Lord, here am I." He was ready, waiting upon the Lord. And the Lord said, "Rise up and go into the street which is called Straight, and seek in the house of Judas one by name Saul, he is of Tarsus." "Rise up and go there and open his eyes." And Ananias said, "Lord, I have heard from many concerning this man." He was a famous man. His fame had aready arrived at Damascus, "I have heard from many concerning this man how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem." "Here he had the documents from the high priest to come and seize upon those who are yours and to bring them to Jerusalem to condemn them." You see how Ananias had freedom to talk with the Lord. He didn't know what had happened on the road to Damascus; he only knew what he had heard before and he had the freedom to talk with the Lord. Not in a spirit of rebellion, but in a spirit of inquiry. "Lord you asked me to go and see that person, now I understand he came to seize me. Do you want me to go and offer myself to him and let him lay his hands upon me? Now if it is your will, I will do that. Show me what I should do." But the Lord said, "Go." The Lord did not even explain to him but just said "Go, for this man is an elect vessel to me, to bear my name before both nations and kings and the sons of Israel: for I will shew to him how much he must suffer for my name." Without any further questioning, Ananias obeyed. Thank God for that, thank God for that little man.
At the same time, when Saul was praying he saw in a vision, a man called Ananias, a stranger, coming to him and laying his hands upon him and opening his eyes. On the road to Damascus only Saul saw the vision; those who were with him didn't see the vision, they didn't even hear the words, they were so frightened, and only Saul saw that heavenly vision. But in the city of Damascus you find a double vision. You find Ananias received a vision and you find Saul received a vision and these visions are one. Why is it so? Because so far as the practical side of the church is concerned you need confirmation. Two is the witness. So who does this Ananias represent? Ananias represents the local church.
The church is universal, it is the body of Christ under the one head of Christ Jesus that fills the whole universe, the fellowship is universal; whom the Lord receives we receive - this is the spiritual principle. Whoever believes in the Lord Jesus in one spirit we were baptized into one body, whether Jews or gentiles, whether bondmen or freedmen, we are all made to drink of one spirit. Oh thank God for this universal church; all the spiritual principles were shown in that universal church. Jesus is the Lord, the only head, there is this body, fellowship on the basis of life - wonderful! But brothers and sisters, this heavenly vision must touch the earth. This is what the church is. The church is heavenly in origin, the church is spiritual in nature, but the church touches the earth and becomes a witness and testimony to the Lord Jesus.
You remember the apostle Peter when he was on the roof praying; he saw a vision - a white sheet, a huge white sheet hanging by four corners coming down from heaven and touching earth. And in that sheet all sorts of quadrupeds and creeping things and he heard a voice, "Peter, rise and eat." Peter said, "Lord, I have never eaten anything unclean." And the Lord said, "What the Lord has cleansed, do not consider it unclean." Three times Peter refused; how strong was his tradition, and then the sheet returned to heaven. Brothers and sisters, this is the vision of the church, it came down from heaven and included all of us who were sinful, who were unclean, but thank God He has cleansed us. Thank God there is no longer Jew nor gentile, and we should fellowship with one another in a glorious fellowship. Do not let any tradition inhibit you and this will eventually go back to heaven. This is what the church is.
If we only see the church universal, and do not see the local church, if we only see that universal man and do not meet that little man, what will happen to us? We will be a visionary; a theorist - it will just be something for us to contemplate. Nothing will be real. Nothing will be practical. Thank God, in the city of Damascus, Saul was given a vision of the local church. God brought him in touch with a local brother. Ananaias in obedience to the Lord went to the street called Straight and entered into the house. He laid his hands upon Saul. It was not Saul who laid hands on Ananias. Thank God for that. If Saul laid his hands on Ananias, Ananias would have been finished. But God has done a marvelous work, and it was that little man; Ananias who laid his hands upon Saul.
Saul was introduced into the fellowship of the Body
Brothers and sisters, what do it mean by the laying on of hands? Whether it is in the Old Testament when the offerer laid his hands upon the sacrifice or in the New Testament times when the apostles laid their hands on people, what does it really mean? Laying on of hands means identification. When you lay hands on another person it means that you are identified with that person. That's why the Bible says do not be hurried in laying on hands, lest you partake of his sins. So, here you find Ananias, a member of the body of Christ in Damascus who represents the church in Damascus, and represents the universal church; he laid his hands on Saul and received him into fellowship, into the fellowship of the body of Christ. Oh brothers and sisters, isn't that wonderful? Two enemies, who couldn't see one another are now united in one body. This is the work of God. Only God can do this. Praise the Lord.
And Ananias said, "Saul, brother." Dear brothers and sisters, can you imagine how Saul felt at that moment? "Me? Your enemy? And you call me your brother?" That must have melted his heart. "I, a blasphemer, a persecutor, the chief of sinners, and yet the grace of God is so tremendous, it has made mea brother in the house of God." Oh, I believe there is nothing sweeter than the name "Brother." Do you want to be called "reverend?" Brother Sparks used to say that the word reverend in the original means terrible. Do you want to be called terrible so and so? Or do you want to be called brother so and so? Male brother or female brother - because we are all brothers.
You know once brother Watchman Nee told a brother, "Go and tell the brothers." So the brother asked Watchman Nee, "Do you want me to tell the male brothers or the female brothers?" Why is it we are all brothers? Because we received the same life; if it is the life of the Son, we are all destined to be sons of God - the mature sons of God, to receive sonship, through Christ Jesus. Oh brothers and sisters, why do you want to be called by another name? Why are you not satisfied with that dear sweet name brother. Thank God we are all brothers, Jesus Christ is our elder brother and God is our heavenly Father. We belong to the same family - there is no discrimination of any kind. "Brother, Saul. Open your eyes and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
Thank God, when we are joined into the body of Christ through the body our blindness will be removed. We will be begin to see. And you know who Saul saw first. The bible says he saw Ananias. The first person he saw was a brother. Oh, isn't that beautiful ,when you meet another brother, or a female brother, and you discover they are a brother in the Lord; immediately there is a bond between you. Wonderful! For the first time, this man who hated the followers of Jesus, and considered them as imposters, who wanted to destroy them; now he saw a brother. A brother indeed! Oh, when you see your brothers and sisters, who do you see? Do you see the life of Christ in that brother? Do you see Christ in that brother, or do you look at the brother and see Adam there, and see all his faults there, instead of seeing Christ there? Saul saw his brother and was filled with the Holy Spirit. When you are in the body; when you take your place in the body of Christ, the holy ointment that is upon Aaron's head will come down to the beard and will cover the whole body. If you live in the body, you will be filled with the Holy Spirit; this is your inheritance.
Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit, he got food and strength, and do you know what he did? He was with the disciples in Damascus. He learned his lesson. It was no longer "my Lord and I" but, also my brothers and I. So he was with the disciples, and then he began to witness for the Lord, that Jesus is truly the Son of God.
Thank God, from the very beginning of his Christian life, God not only showed him about the spiritual principle of the church, but God brought him into the practical side of the universal church. And throughout his life, you find how true this was. Even three years later, for the first time when he returned to Jerusalem, do you remember what he did? The first thing he did was to try to find the disciples; not to seize upon them and sentence them to death but to seek fellowship with them. They were afraid of him, he was too famous, even after three years. But thank God, there was Barnabas, son of consolation who believed in him and brought him to Peter. And he went in and out with the disciples in Jerusalem. Wherever he went he always sought out the brothers and sisters; he not only saw the vision, he lived in the vision.
So dear brothers and sisters, what is that heavenly vision? The heavenly vision includes two sides: the heavenly part and the earthly part. Christ the Lord in heaven but Christ the Lord in your earthly life. The universal church, the universal fellowship, but the church local, where you join with your brothers and sisters, and learn to be a member of the body of Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. We believe that this is the heavenly vision. And we believe that this is what the Lord wants us to see. So may the Lord have mercy on us.
International Conference 2004 "The Heavenly Vision"