For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
Vision and new creation
Reading: Rev. 21:5, Is. 43:18-21, Mar. 2:21-22, 2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15.
Now I believe my burden for this afternoon is to share how this new creation that God is after can be fully realized in His people. When God speaks He has an end in view. When he speaks he has something in His heart He wants to be fully realized. God never speaks empty words, His word is true, His word has substance, His word has power, His word has the ability to realize what He wants to realize. Now this afternoon I want to start by saying a couple of very important things. The theme for this weekend conference is 'Heavenly Vision', so all the speakers thus far have touched on this one important thing, Heavenly Vision. Without being caught by this heavenly vision, our life will have no meaning, we will have no direction, we will be drifting, and we have no idea what God is really after.
Our Christian service will have no direction at all. Now we heard from our brothers, when Paul was caught by the heavenly vision, it changed his life drastically, and from that moment onwards, his whole life and ministry was governed and controlled by that one heavenly vision.
Now this afternoon I want to add a further word. If we are caught with that heavenly vision, brothers and sisters, something tremendous is going to register in the depths of our being. When we not only see that vision, but when that vision has really caught us, brothers and sisters there is a sense of urgency, because God me and business. So when we are caught by this vision, the Holy Spirit should give all of us a sense of urgency, even though God is very patient with us and He knows our weaknesses and He knows how slow we are in responding to that vision. He understands all that and He is very patient with us. But on our side, we should all have a sense of urgency because we only have this short life, and this short life is for nothing, but that the vision should be realized in us. So brothers and sisters, if this weekend we are all caught by the heavenly vision, the Holy Spirit will give us a sense of real urgency.
So there's one principle I want to share with you and this principle has become very important to me, because I am not as young as some of you brothers and sisters, and so there is an urgency of time. But through the scriptures, particularly through the writings of Paul, if you narrow it down to Ephesians, we see what God has determined for Himself in the past. Let me put it another way, it is what God has purposed to secure in eternity past; that which He wanted to secure for Himself through all eternity. That thing He wants for eternity to come is to be secure right now in time.
That's why this dispensation is called the dispensation of grace; this is called the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, the dispensation of the church. Brothers and sisters, God wants to involve us in building up the Church. So brothers, God is not passive. When He reveals His vision to us, He is after something for Himself, and He wants to get you involved in this glorious thing which He is after for Himself. That work is the work of grace, that work is the work of the Holy Spirit, and that's why we are given the Holy Spirit for Him to work that work and perfect that work in all of us.
The need to express the new creation
So brothers and sisters, I would just like to share a few examples that we find in the gospel of John of how we can allow that new creation to be a reality with all of us. Now we know that the new creation is Christ. Christ is our new creation. Christ is God's new creation. In Christ God finds His full satisfaction and now He is inviting us to come into the good of it. How brothers, are we going to allow that creation to be the reality with us as His people? And church is to be the expression of that new creation, because Christ is the head of that new creation and what is true of the head should also be true of the body. Now one thing we have to learn brothers and sisters, for that new creation to become a reality, we have to be willing to let go of the old. Now brothers and sisters, that is a very drastic thing with us.
I don't know about you brothers and sisters in South America, but in the U.S. we have a saying, 'the old shoe is always more comfortable´. Do you know what I'm saying? You break it in. Sometimes when you buy a new shoe it is very hard to get used to. Now brothers and sisters, one of the common phenomena which we find among the people of the world is that they love to look back.
We Chinese look back to a long history, and we take pride that our history is almost as long as the Israelites. We have a history of over four thousand years. So we always take pride. But brothers and sisters, if you look back, even though in the historical account there is a record of the glorious past, when you really look back what do you really see? If you want to be kind to the Chinese culture you say 'when you look back you see a glorious ruin.' It was glory but that glory is now in ruins. So we have nothing to look forward to, but we look back and find nothing but ruins.
Now you brothers and sisters in South America, you appreciate brother Christian's ministry, and thanks be to God for our brother. I took a couple of trips with our brother to Turkey, to the seven churches in Asia. We visited Philippi, Ephesus and all the other churches. In the scriptures it is a glorious church, because the church is the body of Christ, but if you go there, to that geographical location, what do you see? You see nothing but ruins. Now what is the Holy Spirit teaching us? That true spiritual values are unseen and yet real. Christ in our midst even though we don't see Him is a spiritual reality. You cannot see it with the naked eye, but we see it with our spiritual eyes, and thanks be to God for His presence with us this few days, what a blessing to be together and just to be in His presence. I tell you this is heaven on earth.
So what the Lord is after is a spiritual reality. But the first lesson we have to learn is that before the new can become a reality we have to be willing to let go of the old. That is the hardest thing to do and that's why what we could not do ourselves, Christ has done for us. On that cross, he has done away with a human race that could never satisfy His heart. On Christ's resurrection, He secured a race in Christ that can fully satisfy the Father's heart. What we could not conclude, He concluded for us. The good that we do not deserve, He opened a way for us. So old things have now passed away, and all things have now become new in Christ Jesus. Thank God for that reality. That reality is what the Lord Jesus has accomplished for us. Now this afternoon I want to share a little bit of what we can experience. Understanding truth is good, but if truth remains objective truth it cannot be life to us. So we need the truth, but we need the light of that truth and we need life to experience that truth. Now lets turn to the gospel of John.
We are going to use a few of the signs we find in the gospel of John and to share some of the lessons that we must learn before that new creation can be a reality with us. John chapter 2 and we'll look first at verse 10. Now when you read through the bible, sometimes you pay attention to big words, words that have real weight. So we've heard many big words this conference, 'heavenly vision', wow that's a big word. I heard our brother from Colombia speak of the 'supremacy of Christ' - that's heavy. What about our experience? How can that be real with us? This morning we heard our brother share that God must be satisfied first and when He is truly satisfied, then we are satisfied.
That order can never be reversed and when that order is reversed, then we are in big trouble. So God must come first, He must be supreme and all God's rights must be fully restored. When His rights and authority are fully restored then we are all ok. When His authority is over us and His right is over us everything is ok. Whenever His right and authority is violated it means nothing but chaos death and darkness. Now let's look at this verse. There are a couple of very insignificant, common words, but they are key to the whole truth. So don't look at the big things and ignore the small things, because in God's sight whether the words are big or small, as long as they are God's words they are all important.
God offers the best wine
Let's look at verse ten. Now you know that this is in Cana, and this is the first sign recorded for us in the gospel of John. Lets read that verse. 'And he said to him, every man at the beginning sets out the good wine and when the guests have well drunk, then inferior. You have kept the good wine until now.' Now brothers and sisters the Lord wants us to have the good wine - that's His heart, His very best and He will not hold anything back. But somehow here He is sort of withholding temporarily - 'You kept this good wine until now? What are you keeping it for? For yourself?' No, no, to give it to us. But brothers unfortunately we are not in a position to receive it yet, so the Lord keeps it for us until the time is right and He can say 'now you may have it'. Now brothers and sisters, God has all the rich blessings with which He wants to bless us. His choice is to give and it gives joy to Him to give His all - He will not withold anything from us. But sometimes He must withold until we are ready for it. Because God's things are very precious to Him. He doesn't squander precious things - He wants to make sure that those who receive it appreciate it and know what they are getting it for. So the feast master says 'you have kept the good wine until now'.
Now what is the key for us to receive that new wine? What is the key? And brothers and sisters I'm sure many of you in this audience have found that key. It was what Mary the mother of Jesus discovered at the wedding feast, because she came to Jesus and said they have no wine. Brothers and sisters as long as we still have our own old wine, we will never taste the good wine that God gives. Now brothers and sisters have we come to that place yet, where we have no wine. Nothing in this world can satisfy us, nothing in the religious world can satisfy us. We sought the satisfaction of the religious world once, but it failed us. Many of us settled that issue very quickly, 'it failed me, I'll turn away from it, I will not look for it again'. It's when we turn away from the old, that which failed us, that we discover the new in Christ Jesus. Brothers, this is not just once, but a continual experience, that is why the ministry of the Holy Spirit must always be fresh, living. Things that were given to us new in the past, may not be new today. God always has something new, something more for us.
Now as I shared with some of the local brothers, that evening we shared together at the hotel, I have to tell you that my heart leaped for joy to see what the Lord is doing, not just outwardly but in many hearts, and to share and to hear the testimony of how you brothers here in this part of the world have been helped by the ministries of brothers Watchman Nee and Austin-Sparks.
Now this one thing I know, because I happened to know brother Sparks in some small way. One brother who did not know brother Sparks all that well, approached an elderly brother who knew brother Sparks very well and said would you please sit down and write for me maybe two or three pages about the uniqueness of brother Sparks? What marks him out from all the other servants of the Lord?
What is that one quality that you detected in our brother's life? After some weeks of searching and meditation he came to one conclusion. He said brother Sparks has only one quality, his quest for God. His God is very big. He said, "He is beyond me and I must go after Him." That marked his life and that was also Paul's life. He said 'I forget all that is behind and I press on'. Now brothers and sisters, that should be our passion. The unsearchable riches of Christ need all of us to pursue Him. He wants all of us together to discover the fullness of Christ, and His fullness is related to His glory. When His fullness is fully expressed, that is His glory.
Now brothers and sisters, how is your wine supply? Do you still have your own wine? Is the world still offering you some of its wine? Is the religious world still offering you some wine? Brothers and sisters, if you are still looking for that kind of satisfaction, you are not going to discover the very best that God wants to give to us. May we discover soon that the wine which the religious world offers us fails us. But if they failed us, don't go back again. Let the old pass away so that you can discover the new. So that this sentence that we read 'you have kept this good wine until now' may not be true with us. The Lord may not have to wait, He will find us ready for the new wine. The Lord is doing a new thing, don't consider the old. Thank God don't look back, look forward.
Now the Olympics in Athens were very exciting, were you excited in Chile? Congratulations to you Chileans, your duo tennis players won gold medals. Anyway, I was reading a Christian devotional calendar, and a good running coach said that the first thing a runner must do is never look back. When you look back there's no chance. Now you know nowadays, the way they calculate your time is to a fraction of a second. That's right, a fraction of a second. So he said don't look back, the moment you look back you are disqualified. So what should you do? You look to the finishing line. This is our goal, God's best. God Himself is our reward. Brothers and sisters, praise God He will not keep His wine away from us. He is waiting for us to say 'I have no wine, I want your very best' He is waiting for that cry from our hearts, 'no wine! You have the best'.
Cost and extent of spiritual vision
Now lets come to another sign which we find. Its chapter nine of the gospel of John, about the man born blind. We'll look at one verse, lets look at verse thirty-two. Now these are the words from a man who was born blind and he was given sight. Now we are told this sign is very different. This man was born blind. It speaks of our true spiritual condition. In this man's case, it was not his eyes that were diseased; it's not that his eyes were damaged, but this man had no sight to begin with. So the reason why this man was given sight was a sovereign creative act of God. It is a creative act of God. It was something that was never there and he received it. Now who can do that? Only God can do that. Only God the creator can do that. This man realized that. Now let's read that verse, verse thrity-two.
'Since the world began, it has been unheard of that anyone has opened the eyes of one born blind.' Now that is a powerful verse - since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone has opened the eyes of one born blind. Now brothers and sisters, what is new?
Maybe I'll give you an example. This is my first time in your country, so its very new to me. This is the first time I've met you brothers and sisters, so you are all very new to me. But for the locals, its not new, its very old - you've been here all the time and have known each other for many years. So on this human level, new is relative. What is new for me is old for you, and what is new to you may be old to me.
So what is the definition of spiritual newness? We find that definition in first Corinthians two, verse nine. This verse is also a quote from Isaiah sixty-four. Verse nine, what is newness? 'The eye has not seen nor ear heard nor have they entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love Him.' Now brothers and sisters, this is new. Eyes have not seen, the ears have not heard nor have they entered into the heart of man and these things are from God, prepared for those who love Him.
Now in our past June conference in Richmond, we said that that verse which we find in first Corinthians two verse nine, speaks of the church. The eyes have not seen, the ears have not heard, and it has never entered into the mind of man - that is new creation, that is Christ, that is His body. So how we need to have a renewed mind, a spiritual mind to discern spiritual things. So this blind man says, since the world began what happened to me never happened before.
Now brothers and sisters, if we have received any spiritual sight, it is God's doing, its God's mercy, because we were all born spiritually blind. Our spiritual sight is zero, but if we are given any spiritual sight, its God's creative act, it's by His doing. It's just like creation, when God said let there be light and there was light and we had no contribution. It's all His mercy, all His doing.
But let me go further, when we are given spiritual sight, we become the object of controversy. People say 'where did you get that?' You are given spiritual sight to see something, and people say 'how did you get it?' You see what I'm saying? It created a lot of problems in the religious world. So when this man was given sight, he created a lot of problems for the pharisees. They said "is this the same man?" It's someone like him. But he said 'I am the man' and they still didn't believe him, because it was something they had never heard of. Its something God has done. People cannot figure it out, they become very confused. Where did you get all that? You have the same bible, I have the same bible, how come we don't see the same thing? How come you see so much more than I do? Well, where did you get all that?
Now this is a real story. An American brother went to Honour Oak to listen to brother Sparks' ministry and after he shared, this American brother spoke to a local brother and said, 'can I ask you a question? Can you tell me what version of the bible brother Sparks is using? How come he has the footnotes in his bible that I don't have in my bible? Where did he get all that?' What I'm saying is that there is a cost when we are given spiritual sight. Are we counting that cost? Because when he was given that sight he was thrown out of the synagogue. Brothers and sisters, there's a cost when we are given spiritual sight.
Spiritual sight it not cheap, it is costly. It is given to those who mean business with God. Now you think about that - it is easy to listen, but it is costly to obey. Brothers and sisters, think about that. When brother Sparks saw the church as the body of Christ, Christ as the living head and when he saw the work of the cross that is necessary to bring the church about, he told another brother who was very intimate with our brother, ' when I received that vision, the whole of England turned against me'. Brothers and sisters remember that vision is not cheap; it will cost your very life. But brothers and sisters, it's worth it, because that is the only way that God can get that which He wants to get for Himself. It is that way in which creation can be a reality with us. It is costly for the church to be a real church as God would have it. So brothers and sisters we have a week of this wonderful conference and we need to count the cost but brothers and sisters I have to tell you its worth it - that is the only way to God's heart, thank God.
God's answer to death is resurrection
Lastly, let's look at the eleventh chapter of John's gospel, but first I want to share how we want to keep the old. Sometimes in our loving way, unwisely - sometimes I show my loving sympathy to my brother so that we keep the old. So unconsciously we often do that to our brothers and sisters. We show our sympathy on a human level but we ignore the heart of God. This verse really hit me recently, John eleven verse thirty-seven. This sounds right, it sounds logical but a thing can sound right and logical and be totally wrong. Let's look at this verse, verse thirty-seven, 'and some of them said, "could not this man who opened the eyes of the blind, also keep this man from dying?"' You know to keep someone from dying is a great thing on a human level. There's a sister who came to our fellowship some years ago and when she first came, she said 'Why did God allow Jesus to die on a cross when He was very young, only about thirty-three years old? Why didn't He allow Him to live longer so that He could do more work? Why did He need to die so quickly?' Now to her it sounds very logical - why die unnecessarily before the time is right? That's human reasoning and how human reasoning gets in the way of God's will.
Brothers and sisters, that verse, 'if this man can open the eyes of the blind, why could He not also keep this man from dying?' Doesn't that also sound very logical? But is that God's way? No, God's way is beyond our understanding. God never reasons with us, He only asks us to obey. God alone knows what is truly good, we don't know whats good. Man's falling away from God is because we want to know what is good and whats evil. Good and evil is in the providence of God. We are to seek Him and depend on Him to tell us what is good and evil in His sight. Brothers and sisters, we do not know what is truly good, God alone knows what is truly good. So the Lord Jesus delayed His visit to Bethany and waited until Lazarus was really dead. Without death we will never experience resurrection power. 'If you keep your life you'll lose it and if you let go your life for my sake, you'll gain it'.
Now that is not human logic but that is the way of life. So we find in this chapter that the Lord waited until the fourth day and the Lord said 'where did you lay him' so they took him to the place and the Lord said 'now, remove the stone' and Martha was so nervous, she said ' he has been dead for four days, he already stinks, he's been dead for four days, he's beyond hope.'
Now we are told that in Jewish tradition if a person has been dead for three days, there's a possibility that he can revive, but on the fourth day, decay sets in and there is no possibility of reviving. But it's then that the Lord enters into the picture and Lazarus rose from the dead. Now brothers and sisters, when Martha said "Lord by this time he smells, he has been there four days, that which is natural is natural. That which is natural ends in death. You cannot reverse that, what is natural ends in death." But thank God, the Lord said 'did I not say to you if you believe you will see the glory of God?' (verse 40).
Now what is glory? Life out of death is glory and that's why the church is a glorious church, because the life which we possess is a life out of death. That is the church, that is Christ who is our life. Now brothers and sisters, thank God, with us death is not the end. God's answer to death is always resurrection and church is the answer to death because our head is a glorified, risen Lord Jesus and the answer to the world is 'Christ is my life' - Christ's resurrection life.
Steady in the midst of commotion
Now finally, just to encourage you brothers and sisters here in South America. All that God is doing in us as believers in the church corporately is all beyond us, it's all His work. You'll discover that we are surrounded by the threat of death but we live by the power of the resurrection. When there's no death, there's no resurrection life and brothers the church must dare to face death because we have His life, resurrection life and our Head is in glory.
Now brothers and sisters, tougher days are ahead of us, we are living in the days of great shaking, but thank God, we are standing on a solid rock - Christ, His death, burial, ascension, glorification and exaltation. That is our solid foundation, and we are unshakeable because of who Christ is. He is our New Creation and thank God for that.
Finally brothers and sisters, to catch the heavenly vision, to make that vision real, it is costly. Are we prepared for that? Are we willing to say, 'no wine' the Lord is my joy and my satisfaction. When we're given that spiritual sight and people look at us as though we're really strangers in the world and we're strangers, what marks us out from the world is our vision. What marks us out as true Christians and true believers is our vision. It's costly but it's worth it, and thank God, if Christ is with us who can be against us? If Christ is our justification, who can condemn us? And thank God those who He loves He will love until the end. Brothers and sisters, thank God for what He's doing and may we hold on to Him. I'm so glad that we could be with you brothers and sisters these few days.
What God is doing in the U.S., in China and many places, is not separate from what He's doing with you - we are together. Your glory will be our glory, your overcoming will be our overcoming. May the Lord help us, but unfortunately if we experience defeat we also affect each other, so let's be strong in the Lord, standing firm in one Spirit because Christ is our victory and to Him be all the glory. We are one and nothing can be against us because our Christ is a conquering King. We give Him all the glory.
International Conference 2004 "The Heavenly Vision"