For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
Vision and calling
"Whereupon king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision." (Acts 26:19).
We do thank the Lord for gathering us together for these days. The Lord has been good to us and we are most grateful. We want to thank the Lord especially for the privilege of visiting you. We thank the Lord that He has His hidden ones all over the earth, and we do look forward together to the soon coming of our blessed Lord. The theme for our time together is on the heavenly vision; we call it the heavenly vision because it is not earthly and it is not human, it is from heaven, it is from the Lord Himself. We thank God that it pleases Him to reveal His Son in us. And we thank God for giving us as His gift to His beloved Son. We thank God for showing us His very heart and very mind. And we thank God that He wants us to see this heavenly vision. Because with this heavenly vision we have a goal before us and with the heavenly vision we have the inward strength to press on toward that goal. That heavenly vision disciplines us, that heavenly vision gives us strength to endure, that heavenly vision gives us that inward love towards the Lord. And this heavenly vision unites us as one body, as one people.
We believe that it is the will of God and His good pleasure that everyone who is the Lords should catch that vision. Or to put it another way, this heavenly vision should catch us. It should transform our lives and should be the very testimony of our lives. In this heavenly vision, we mentioned during these last two days that it is composed of two parts. Saul saw one part of the heavenly vision on the road to Damascus, in that heavenly light he saw the Just One and heard His voice, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads." And it pleased God to reveal His Son in him. In that heavenly vision, God allowed Saul to meet his true Master.
Because Saul was created by God for a purpose but he never knew it until on that road to Damascus he met his Master; the Lord Jesus Christ. And to that Master he surrendered himself. Also on the road, he saw something together with the Lord; he saw the Church as the body of Christ, because our Lord said, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? In other words all those believers, all those followers of the Lord Jesus are part of the Lord Jesus, they are his body, the members of His body and whoever touches any member of that body, even the smallest member, touches the Head, touches Christ Himself. So Saul saw that glorious universal Man. The Head is in heaven but the body covers the whole earth and in this body the Head manifests Himself. This is the testimony of the Church.
The two aspects of the vision
Beloved brothers and sisters, there on the road to Damascus, Saul as it were was taken up to the third heaven and there he saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. How emancipating was that vision! It really delivered him out of himself and into the very glory of God; the very purpose of God. But brothers and sisters, this is only part of the vision. This heavenly vision continued on into the city of Damascus. And there in the city of Damascus the Lord revealed to him the other part of the heavenly vision. He showed him a little man; not that universal man but a little man by the name of Ananias, a believer in the city of Damascus. He sent Ananias to see Saul and to lay hands on him; identify himself with Saul. By the laying on of hands Saul was brought into the fellowship of the body of Christ. And Ananias said, "Saul, brother -you are a brother in the Lord. Have your eyes opened and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And Saul's eyes were opened, and he saw Ananias; no longer as enemies but as brothers in the Lord.
So brothers and sisters, this heavenly vision, this universal man has to touch upon the earth, and there you'll find the local church where God's people are. They are a miniature of the universal church; all the spiritual principles in the universal church must be practiced in the local church. That will complete the heavenly vision. If people only see the heavenly part of the road to Damascus without seeing that vision in the city of Damascus, you know what will happen. He will be a person who was lifted up to the third heaven; he saw something glorious, but is never something put into practice, and sooner or later he will become a visionary, and what he has seen will gradually fade away.
On the other hand, if you only see the vision in the city of Damascus, you see what the local church is without seeing that heavenly vision on the road to Damascus, do you know what will happen? You will gradually become legalistic and eventually become exclusive because you do not see how broad the horizon is. So it is very very important that by the grace of God He should reveal the two parts of the heavenly vision to us. Because God's truth is always balanced.
God wants to introduce us into the vision
Now this evening we would like to concentrate on this declaration by the Apostle Paul. There before king Agrippa and the nation declared that if you want to know who I am, and what makes me different, what my ministry is, here it is: Wherefore king Agrippa I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. "It was this heavenly vision that changed my life. Before I saw that heavenly vision I was a Pharisee, a self-righteous person, zealous for the traditions of the fathers, I persecuted the church, I was a blasphemer, I thought I was serving God but actually I was opposing God, I was sincere but I was in darkness. But thank God by His grace, He has revealed that heavenly vision to me. And that heavenly vision changed my whole life. I am what I am by the grace of God."
Furthermore, that heavenly vision controlled the life of this man. He became the apostle Paul and labored for the Lord Jesus and God used him to establish churches all over. He became a witness, a servant of the Lord, a chosen vessel of the Lord and he suffered much for the Lord's sake. And yet to him it was all worthwhile. So toward the end of his life he concluded his whole life and ministry in one sentence. I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.
To be given that heavenly vision, to see that vision, is the mercy of God. Not because anyone is worthy; we are all unworthy, but it pleases God to reveal His Son in us. It pleases God to show us what the church really is. There is nothing for us to boast of. It is all by grace, all by mercy. But brothers and sisters, just seeing the heavenly vision doesn't mean that you have the vision. Just because you have seen it doesn't mean you've seen it in your spirit. God has given you an insight into His mystery, but that doesn't mean you have the vision. It is only the beginning. The reason why God shows us the heavenly vision, is not for us to boast of, or to talk about, because our God is most practical. If He shows us anything from above, He wants us to enter into that vision. It shouldn't be vision on the one hand and us on the other. It is God's will by showing that heavenly vision that we be drawn into that vision, and that vision will come into us. That vision should become our vocation. If not, then even seeing it is not enough. Oftentimes we made a mistake.
When by the grace of God He opened our inner eyes and gave us understanding to see Jesus as the Son of God and heir of all things; all the fullness of Godhead dwells in Him bodily, the Master of all, the Lord of all, thank God for opening our eyes to see who Christ Jesus is; to see Him as the Father sees Him. This is the mercy of God. What we see of Jesus is just a little of Him, and how we are thankful for that, but we should see Him as the Father sees Him. It is God's will that we should see His Son as the father sees the Son. It pleases God to open our eyes to see the Lord in a fuller way. How grateful and thankful we must be. If God opens this mystery to us, even the mystery of the Christ, and allows us to see the Church, that it is to be the body of Christ today, to be filled with the fullness of Christ and to manifest Christ Jesus on the earth - that this Church when matured will become the eternal bride of God's Beloved Son - what a glorious purpose that is. But if God reveals these things to us, He wants us to enter into the vision and allow the vision to enter into us so that the vision that we see becomes our life, our ministry and our vocation.
We find then that the apostle Paul not only saw the heavenly vision, but actually the vision really entered into him. He was drawn into that vision; it was no longer that the vision was the vision, and Paul was Paul, because you cannot explain Paul without the vision and when you see the vision, you see Paul there as well. And we believe that this is God's will for every one of us as well. But how can seeing be transformed into being? How can what God has revealed to us in our spirit become our daily life and even become our testimony on this earth? Where is the secret? Paul said, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.
The vision involves a calling
Paul used a double negative here. He didn't say, "I was obedient" but "I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision." Why did he put it in this way? I believe it is for two reasons: the first is for emphasis, because when you want to emphasize something you use a double negative, and the other reason is that it shows us how easy it is for us to be disobedient to the heavenly vision. It is most easy! Thank God that many have seen the vision, but few are obedient to it. Most people by the grace of God catch a glimpse of the vision and it stirs up their heart, but they fail to obey the vision because there is a cost to be paid.
There is a challenge here. When God gives you a vision, there is a calling there. God is expecting you to respond. The way you respond makes all the difference. Think of Abraham, when he was in Ur of Chaldeans, a city full of idols, and tradition tells us that even his father Terah was a builder of idols. And yet this young man living in a city of idols, in the home of an idol-maker, somehow God touched his heart. According to the Jewish story, one day his father was going out and told his son Abraham, "Take good care of these idols." But as soon as his father left, Abraham began to take the arm off one and the legs off another and make a mess of the idols. When his father came back and saw the situation he asked his son, "What have you done?" And Abraham said, "Father, after you left these idols began to fight against one another and that was the result." And his father said, "Nonsense, how could these idols fight against one another." So Abraham said, "So why should we worship them?" Now that was a Jewish story.
By all means the bible tells us that while he was in Ur of Chaldeans the God of Glory appeared to him. This young man must have been seeking for truth and God knew his heart, so the God of glory appeared to him. But whenever the God of glory appears to you, there is always a calling. The glory of God appeared to Abraham and God called Abraham, "Go out and leave your native city, leave all your family and everything that speaks of your old relationship and go to the place that I will show you." Dear brothers and sisters, whenever there is a vision from above there is always a calling involved.
Our God is most practical, and the calling is to leave everything in the past behind, to cutoff every old relationship and go to where the Lord will show you. It is a leap of faith. So the bible says, "by faith Abraham left his city. He left his home and went out not knowing where to go." He only knew one thing; the God of glory had appeared to him.
Whenever a vision from above comes to us, there is always a calling there. And the calling is: leave everything from your past behind you and go and follow the Lord, not knowing where to go, and yet you go. It is a matter of faith. Most people are not able to mingle faith with the Word that they heard. So the result is that vision gradually becomes a mirage. And you become a visionary. There is no reality in life. Thank God that this man said, "I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision." He had to begin to walk the way of faith. He did not know what would really be involved. All that God told him was that "you will be my witness, you will be my servant, because I have chosen you, and you will bear my witness before kings and Jews and before the nations. And you will suffer much for my name's sake." How much, he was not told. In other words, God called him. That vision called him to leave everything of the past behind. All his past success, all his past ambition and achievements and all that he could be proud of himself for, all that he sought after, all that was left behind to follow the Lord by faith, not knowing where to go or what would happen, but knowing that the God of glory was leading him.
The cross turns vision into vocation
What turns vision into vocation? Very simple: it is the cross. Without the cross, without bearing our cross and following the Lord Jesus, our vision will never turned into our vocation. Think of our Lord Jesus; he was equal with God and that was not something to be grasped at, because He is God, and yet He emptied Himself of all the glory, honour and worship that accompanied Him as God. He emptied Himself in order that He might come into this world. Of course, He could not empty Himself of His deity because this is what He is. But He emptied himself of all the honour and glory that accompanied that deity. He came to this earth and took up the form of a bond slave. Being in the fashion of a man, He was obedient to God, even unto death and that the death of the cross. Our Lord Jesus came into this world to die; He was born to die for our sake. He was the sinless One. He should never die: how could God die? And yet He took up a human form and lived upon this earth just as we do. A heavenly man lived upon this earth.
Everything in Him and about Him is different from the world as heaven is different from earth, so is He different from everything of this world, because He does not belong to this world. He is a foreigner as far as this world is concerned. The bible says, "though he is on earth yet he is still in heaven." He brings heaven down to the earth. His whole life was not governed by this earth nor the world, but by heaven; by His Father's will. He lived among people, so different, so foreign.
No wonder the world does not understand Him. "Why does he not use his power and overturn the Roman Empire and make Israel the first of the nations and make Himself the Messiah that the Jews were waiting for?" He could do that, but He wouldn't. He said "I cannot do anything by myself, I cannot even say anything by myself. Whatever I hear the Father say, I say it, and whatever I see the Father doing, I do it." Here is a man who denied himself to the uttermost. He is the perfect man. Yet even with that perfect man, he denied himself completely. He would not even say a word by himself but always by the Father's will. His time was not even his own. "Your time is always ready, yet I must wait for my Father's time."
He was so foreign to the world that it could not understand Him and rejected Him; crucified Him because He did not belong. Even His own disciples could not understand Him, when He spoke about spiritual things they took it as being earthly and material. How much our Lord must have suffered; the longsuffering of our Lord Jesus. He came to die upon the cross. That's why He came. Even though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience through the things He suffered, and being perfected He became the leader of our redemption. Now according to Hebrews, that word means He is the causer of our redemption. We would never be able to walk this way of the cross. Yet our Lord Jesus walked the way of the cross until He was crucified. He not only set an example for us, but is the very life and power within us and causes us to deny our self, take up our cross and follow Him.
Why should you wonder, if you want to have the vision that you have to suffer? Is it not what the Word said: that we must suffer much tribulation, in order to enter into the kingdom of God? Do not think that it is strange that the world will hate you, because it first hated our Lord, and servants cannot be greater than their master. We who follow the Lord, have we counted the cost? Heavenly vision is glorious, but it is very costly. It costs your very life. Because this natural life of ours is worldly and earthly and fleshly. Everything in us is opposite to that which is heavenly. It is contrary to that which is spiritual. That is the reason why, if you want to follow the heavenly vision, you have to pay the cost.
There will not only be outward sufferings, but also inward sufferings. You will have to deny yourself, and tell yourself "I do not know you." Simon Peter denied the Lord three times but made the wrong denial; he should have denied himself. But brothers and sisters, do not blame Simon Peter; we are no better. So far as we are concerned no one is able to bear the cross and follow the Lord. Peter thought he was able. If all the disciples left the Lord, he thought he'd follow him even to death. Our Lord said, "Simon, Simon, Satan wants to sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you. When your faith is restored, strengthen your brothers." In our natural zeal, we say, "Lord we are able, you have shown us the heavenly vision, and for your sake I am willing to die and for your Church's sake I am willing to give myself no matter how much suffering I will follow you." But wait. Have no trust in your flesh. Oh how we need to humble ourselves and say, "Lord, you have shown us the way but it is impossible. You are the only One who can make me do the impossible."
The apostle Paul said, "I am what I am by the grace of God." "I have nothing to boast of; I couldn't do it, it is the grace of God." Oh brothers and sisters, His grace is sufficient for us. All He requires of us is a willingness. Are we willing? If we are, He will make it possible. And after everything He has done, all we can do is bow and say "Lord, it is all by grace, glory to your name."
This is the only way to transform vision into vocation. Are we willing to go this way? It is the way of the cross, but the cross leads to the throne and to the crown. It is the cross that crosses you out completely, that crosses everything out of you that is not of God and it is the cross that increases Christ in you; He must increase, and I must increase. This is the way of the cross. Are you willing to go this way? Thank God, He never told us everything that will happen to us. If He should do this, we would not even dare take one step. Thank God, He leads us step by step. Dear brothers and sisters, are you willing to walk this way of faith?
What is faith? Not your faith, it is His faithfulness. We depend on Him. That's the reason why the apostle Paul said, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. "So far as I myself am concerned, I will be disobedient, but thank God, I was not disobedient to the heavenly calling." Look at the apostle Paul; by the grace of God, he looked upon the past as dross. Everything that he counted as his treasure he now looked upon as refuse. He would gladly let go of these things. Why? For the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. "Oh, if only I can win Christ, gain Christ, and know Him, and the power of His resurrection and be a partaker of his sufferings, and be conformed to His death that I may arrive at the resurrection from among the dead. Not that I have already arrived, but I have forgotten the past, and I press on toward the goal, that I may attain that for which He has apprehended me."
The vision costs your life
Brothers and sisters, do you know that the Lord has apprehended you? Do you know the Lord has laid His hand upon you and that He has a purpose for your life? Do you know that He wants to glorify you and transform you, and conform you to the image of His Beloved Son? That is why He has apprehended you. And so Paul said he wanted to apprehend that for which he had been apprehended. "Nothing less is sufficient. All that God has purposed in my life will be fully rewarded to the glory of God." And no wonder, what a life Paul left behind! "It is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me. It is Christ who is formed in me." Dear brothers and sisters, is this our life? Is the vision becoming our life? In the vision we saw the Lord, and in our life it is the Lord, all and in all.
Not only that, we find that in the life of the apostle Paul, how he loved the church, as Christ loved the church; he loved the church. In his life he always sought for fellowship, wherever he went, the first thing he did was to find out the disciples. Is this the first thing that we do when we go somewhere? To find out God's children that we may be with them? He loved the church and gave himself for it, just like our Lord Jesus. He said "asides from all the sufferings I have suffered, there in my heart I bear the burden of the assemblies. Who is weak and I am not weak, who stumbles and I burn not?" He said "I am willing to spend and be spent for you." He loved the church; that was his life. He was no longer independent. He was always in fellowship. He needed the Lord and he needed his brothers and sisters. This is vision becoming vocation.
And think of his ministry; after that vision that he saw, that vision really consumed him. He lived for that vision; he became a witness, a testimony to the Lord and was willing to suffer in order that that testimony might go out. Thank God, very few if any knew the mystery of God more than the apostle Paul, or the mystery of Christ, the Church like Paul. He not only preached it, he also lived it. He said, "I know nothing other than Jesus Christ and Him crucified. But among the perfect I will talk about the wisdom not of this world but of the wisdom of God; that eternal will of God, what God has prepared for those who love him. Eyes have not seen, ears have not heard, nor has it entered into the mind of man, the things that God has prepared for those who love Him."
Dear brothers and sisters, for this ministry he gave his life in order that he might lead every one to perfection in Christ. Now, is this our vocation? What are you living for? What is our service? Are we serving the Lord according to the vision, that the vision may become a reality, that the Church may become a glorious Church, without spot or wrinkle, or of any such sort, holy and blameless, and fit for the beloved Son. Is this the goal of our ministry? Is the goal of our ministry that the Lord may be known? Hallowed be you name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Is this our ministry?
And look at Paul. How he suffered! He suffered more than any of the other apostles. If you read 2 Corinthians 11, how he suffered! But there was something within him that gave him strength and endurance that he would be joyful in suffering knowing that suffering would end in glory. Oh, isn't that worth it? Heavenly vision is not cheap. It costs your very life. It costs everything. But it is worth it. Are we willing? We cannot do it. But He can. He has done it; He has demonstrated it in His life. Our Lord Jesus has been perfected and He is the author and causer of our salvation. If only we trust in Him, He will make the impossible possible.
May the love of Christ constrain us, that we may rise up and follow Him, by the grace of God, we will reach the end.
International Conference 2004 "The Heavenly Vision"