A heavenly Vision
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Paul is actually testifying. He is giving one of the great testimonies — Paul’s testimony — that is found five times in the New Testament. So that is pretty much what he is doing here. He is giving a testimony of how the Lord has worked in his life. He said,
“Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee…”
That is a great verse. I do not know if he thought about it very much, but God was saying to Saul, “I am delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles unto whom I now send thee…” I believe that God’s servants should be in the hands of God, and I think that is what the Lord is talking about here, “I am delivering you from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom I now send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:”
I am going to read verse 19 again, and I am going to take another text in another part of the Word of God. Inverse 19 Paul said before King Agrippa,”Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:” And perhaps what we can talk to you about tonight is the heavenly vision that God gave to Saul, now the Apostle Paul. In the book of Proverbs, Chapter 29, verse 18,we read this statement, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
I am not talking tonight about some spooky thing — some way out thing. I have heard people testify that they saw things and heard things which they did not see nor hear. All God wants us to know is in this Book, and God does not have to give us some great experience and have us see things with our natural eyes. All of it is right here in the Book. But there is such a thing as a vision. I believe God’s people, God’s preachers; I believe God’s churches ought to have a vision. That is a vision that comes from God, a heavenly vision of why God saved us, why God formed the church, and what we are supposed to do. We need to have a vision. I want to be true to the text— “Where there is no vision, the people perish:” A heavenly vision.
I. We Need a Vision of God.
I believe there are some verses that make it plain as to what this really means. I want to give you four verses out of the Old Testament tonight about this.
First of all, “…And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision.” That is found in 1st Samuel 3:1. I would like to have the time to explain to you why this is said in the Bible. The Word of the Lord was precious. It was unusual, it was rare, because there was no open vision. These were the days of one of the old prophets who was not faithful to God. And little Samuel was raised up by a Godly mother and of course of the Lord, and when he was probably three or four years of age he was placed in the temple with the old prophet who was supposed to get things from God and bring them to the people. But we read, “And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision.” Now the reason was that this old prophet was not living for God. He had sons who lived off the people of God. They were like thieves and scavengers and the Bible says he reprehended them not. God was not saying much to that kind of person, and I say to you I do not think God reveals very much to people who are not right with Him, who are not in the Lord’s will or carrying out God’s purpose for their life. But for those who do, He gives knowledge and what the Bible speaks of as a vision.
I read in Lamentations, Chapter 2 and verse 9, “…her prophets also find no vision from the Lord.” Here again you have what I just said to you about the old prophet not faithful to God and to His truths. Now here is a time when God’s people had been severely chastised, had been taken into captivity for 70 years, and the Bible says “her prophets also find no vision from the Lord.” Oh they were scattered and they had gotten away from the Book of God, gotten away from the will and the purpose of God. So her prophets during that time found no vision from the Lord.
You know, you have got to be where God can talk to you. You have got to be where God can show you something out of the Bible. That is what a vision is. God gives a picture in your heart and on your soul of what you are here for, in the world for, and what you are supposed to be doing for the Lord.
I read about the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and in the Book of Joel, Chapter 2, verse28, it says “…your young men shall see visions:” You see, there is such a thing as a spiritual vision. Well, I will mention an example. I had a lady say to me one time, “You must come to my home and pick up a book I have written. It will do you good in your ministry.” So I stopped by one day and knocked on the door, and she came and handed me this notebook she had written, page after page, but all of it contrary to the Word of God. I am not talking about something like that — I am not talking about something false or something spooky, or something you have to see with your natural eye. I am talking about what the Bible talks about when it speaks of God’s people having a heavenly vision, and, “…where there is no vision, the people perish.” And Paul was able to say, “I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.”
I believe God wants to give us a vision tonight. I remember in my lifetime in my ministry when I felt like God put something on my heart that was real and there was a purpose in it. The call of God was in it. It was a vision from God. I remember when the Lord spoke to me about starting a Bible College — church-centered — not just out in the desert somewhere but a church-centered Bible College, and about forty-four years ago we started Midwestern Baptist College. I know it was of God, but one of my dear friends, a preacher friend, wrote me a letter at the time and in it he wrote,” We do not need another Bible College. We need your help and influence in the Bible College we already have.” It turned out to be a Bible College very successful numerically, but departed from the true teaching of the Bible. I know God wanted Midwestern Baptist College raised up. God made it plain to me. I do not think I could have ever preached with freedom and victory in my life if I had disobeyed God, but a dear preacher friend said, “Do not do that.” But about 114 missionaries are on the field who were trained at Midwestern Baptist College, and over 300 preachers are somewhere on this continent preaching the Word of God, and around the world people are witnessing for Christ. O, let God give you a vision of what can be done if we follow the voice of God and go for the purpose of God in our lives. “I was not disobedient,” Paul said, “unto the heavenly vision.”
I do not like something that must be tangible. You do not have to put your hand on it, you do not have to see it with your natural eyes. I remember when I first saw the little building where this church started, and I told you that story many times and I will not do that tonight. Mrs. Malone and I looked in on a little dance floor in a building set right where that part of these buildings is — the other side of that wall. We stood up on some large stones as large or larger than this pulpit and looked through a window and I saw something, not really, but what I believe God is talking about when He says,” Where there is no vision the people perish.” I believe He was talking about God’s people having a vision of what He will do if we obey Him and carry out His purpose for putting us here. We looked out on that dance floor and saw every chair with a person in it and in my heart and soul I saw the building filled. Mrs. Malone saw a little old fashioned band shell as a place for the choir and she saw it filled, and before many years had gone by, my vision had come to pass, and the little building was filled and people were saved, and God was working.
Oh, tonight we need to let God work in our hearts and give us a vision of what can happen if we follow Him closely and obey Him and do the work and the will of God. I say I am not talking to you about something spooky. I am talking to you about what I believe the Bible teaches about a vision. I heard people speak about things which are not according to the Word of God about a vision.
Dr. Lakin was preaching here one time and he said that he knew of a church where no one could have any real important part in the work of the church and could not be heard unless something really outstanding had happened in their life, and that you could not join the church unless you could testify that something unusual and outstanding had happened in your life. He said that one time a lady stood up, a kind of elderly lady, and she said, “I want to apply for membership in this church.” Someone said, “Well, you must be able to tell us of some outstanding experience you have had in your life.” And this dear old lady said, “Well, I laid in the bed the other night and I heard a bug scratching on the head of my bed.” And she repeated it two or three times and said,” That is my experience.” The people told her that did not mean anything and they were about to vote her down when a member with more sense than most of them stood up and said,” I move we take her in because I have been in this church thirty years and I have never heard of anybody having such an experience as a bug scratching on the head of her bed, and I move she be received.” I am not talking about that really. I am talking about something real — a real vision.
You thank God that He put in His Word, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” And the greatest man of the Bible you might say, said, “I have not been disobedient unto the heavenly vision that you gave me.” He would not have put it there if He did not want us to have a vision in this church. I am positive the Lord talked to the Apostle Paul about what He wanted him to do. He said, “I am going to send you to the Gentiles, the heathens.” Gentiles were considered heathen — they were lost people. “I want you to be a soul winner.”
II. We Need a Vision of Lost Souls.
You know, I believe God wants to give us that vision. I believe you need to see yourself tonight because you are born again and have the Spirit of God in you. You can go to people who know not Christ, and point them to the Word of God about how to be saved and you can win souls. You need a vision of yourself as a soul winner for God. Oh, Paul was sent to lost people to win them to Christ. I read in the 16th Chapter of the Book of Acts where a “vision appeared to Paul in the night. There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us.” What kind of vision did Paul get? Well, Paul and his team wondered, “Should we go there or there or there?” And the Bible says the Holy Spirit forbade them to go to these places, but in the night God gave to Paul a vision, and what was it? It was a man, not a building, not a country, not a continent, but a lost soul who cried out, “Come over into Macedonia and help us. We need God. We need to be saved. We need a preacher. We need a Christian.” And the vision Paul had that night was a vision of a man crying out for help.
You know the Bible says that when Jesus saw the multitudes, He had compassion on them. We need to see people. People, not programs, not beautiful buildings, not symbols of Christianity. We need to see people who are lost and without God and need help. “When He saw the multitudes He had compassion on them.” We need to see the multitudes, the multitudes around us. I do not know how many hundreds of thousands of people— I am not talking about Pontiac alone — but hundreds of thousands of people who live in the shadows, so to speak, a few miles from this church. Oh God, give us a vision of people who are lost for miles around this church, where there is no church that preaches the gospel, and no people who knock on doors, and no one with a heart to win souls, to see people saved. God, give us a vision!
We need a vision like David Brainerd had when he went to the American Indians. We need a vision like General Booth had who founded the Salvation Army and made altars for people to be saved out of the sidewalks and the curbs all over the world. God, give us a vision. We need a vision like Hudson Taylor had when he went to the Chinese and thousands were saved and churches started, and there is still a touch of Taylor’s work in the great Communistic nation of China. Give us a vision tonight of Adoniram Judson going to the far Burmese people whose language he did not know and for whom he must translate the Bible into their language, but he went simply because God gave him a vision of a lost nation who needed to hear about the gospel. We need a vision of lost souls.
Now let me tell you some folks say, “Well, you hammer on the same thing all the time.” I think that is what God wants us to do — hammer on what God hammers on. Jesus came into the world to seek and to save that which was lost. I want to say to you that it is a sin for you and me to claim to be a church, a New Testament Bible-believing church, and not see people saved. I mean many people being saved, coming to know the Lord as their Savior. God, give us a vision of lost souls and let us not be disobedient to the heavenly vision. God wants to give us that vision. I believe that with all my heart. You might resist, you may prefer to hear something else, but I think I am talking about what is nearest to the heart of God. I do not think anything is closer to the heart of God than soulwinning, getting people saved. Oh please, tonight, I beg of you, let God give you a vision of lost souls.
General Booth started the Salvation Army —his wife carried it on. When she was buried — he had already gone to heaven — when her funeral was taking place in London, they put a large glass bulb over her body. People wanted to touch her. Their tears would flow upon her were her body not protected. And for hours upon hours upon hours there were lines— a procession — that would go by and look at the face of Catherine Booth. And at one time during that funeral there came a lady leading a child by the hand with another one in her arms and her tears dropped on that big glass bulb as she looked at the face of Catherine Booth. And someone said, “Lady, you must hurry. Others want to view Mrs. Booth also.” She said, “Please do not hurry me. Besides these two,” the one she was leading and one she was carrying, “I had two sons, one 19, and one 20, both going to hell, and Catherine Booth said `I will lead those boys to Christ,’ and now they are saved.” Oh, let me have a few seconds more to look at one who won my sons to the Lord.” I tell you, God wants to give us a vision of lost souls.
III. We Need a Vision of the Judgment Seat of Christ.
I must hurry, I can not give you the full sermon and I will not try, but we need a vision of the judgment seat of Christ. Notice so many people living like there is no such thing. The Bible says, “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” (Romans 14:10)
You see, even in our relationship to our brother, we are going to give an account at the judgment seat of Christ. You know, I remember one time when Mrs. Malone and I were on a train trip in Scotland, and I remember one time we could not get up to the window to get information or tickets and we had to stand and wait. And I remember how a man got upset because he could not get to the window where the ticket agent was. When he did get up there, he fussed at him and told him what a sorry job he was doing. The agent said he was doing the best he could and he pointed and said, “I want you to look up there at that balcony around us and there is a door up there that says, ‘Superintendent,’ and he said, “what I am interested in is not only pleasing the people, but my main purpose is to please that man who sits in that office — my Superintendent — I want to please him.” And I want to tell you, friends, you ought to want to please God. Tom Malone ought to want to please God. God, give us a vision of standing some day at the judgment seat of Christ when we have not pleased the Lord in our life on this earth. We need a vision of the judgment seat.
IV. We Need a Vision of Hell.
Oh, how much I could say tonight about how we need a vision of hell. I think, maybe, there is some conviction in my heart that I do not preach on it more. It is an unpopular subject. The world today only uses the word hell as a slang word. They do not believe in it, but the Bible teaches that there is a hell. Hell is down, hell is at the end of a Christless life. Every person we do not get saved is on his way to hell — no exit — no water — no peace — no quietness —only weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and it never comes to an end. God, give us a vision tonight of a hell that is at the end of the road of a Christless life. God, help us believe what this Bible says.
One time during visitation work, a person said, “Who said there is a hell?” I said, “Jesus said so.” The kindest, most loving person who ever walked this earth said so five times in the ninth chapter of Mark. Five times He said about hell, “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”
I have told you many times about wanting to win my father to the Lord, but I never did until I saw him in hell. God gave me a vision of my own father who is responsible for me being born. I saw him in hell. I heard him cry for water. I heard him call my name, “Help me.” I heard him beg, “Is there no way out? Is there no end?” Until I saw my father in hell, I never could win him, but thank God, I was able to win him to the Lord. God saved him and he is in heaven tonight. God, give us a vision of hell.
I want to mention to you a lady I was thinking about this morning – I have often thought about this before. When the Woodys were here — Mr. and Mrs. Harold Woody — they were in this church for years, and they were both Sunday Schoolteachers, always on visitation, and they saw hundreds and hundreds of people saved in this church and they had a great part in it. There was a lady like that — Mrs. Malone would remember her — her name was Janet Hardenberg. Janet Hardenberg was a blond-haired lady, and she had an unsaved husband. She lived for the Lord. She was not putting on a show or going through the motions or just talking the language. Mrs. Hardenberg loved God. She loved God. She loved the soul of her husband and wanted to keep him out of hell. She came one Sunday night, like this Sunday night service, and she came down and took me by the hand and she said, “Please pray for me. I want God to give me a vision of hell. I want to see what it is like more than ever. I want to feel it. My husband is lost, he needs to be saved. Please pray for me.” And this good Christian woman asked me, “Would you pray for me.” The next Sunday night there was a visiting speaker. I was here. I listened to him preach with tears, with sobs, on the subject of hell. I saw this lady leave her seat and come down to the front and she said tome, “Pastor, God answered my prayer. I see what it is like. I feel what it is like for my husband to go to hell. God has given me a vision of hell.” She was a wonderful Christian before, but what a difference afterwards. I have seen her comedown with children all around her that she had visited and won to the Lord. I have seen her come with a family. I have seen her come with other ladies of her age group. I have seen her come nearly every Sunday bringing somebody to the Lord because she cared to ask God, “Oh, God, give me a vision of hell. “Her husband drove race cars. It was not long before the car he was driving in the race wrecked and caught fire, and not long after that he died, but she won him to Christ. “Oh, “she said, “I want to see what hell is like.”
We need that. Some of you, you are afraid of what people will think of you if you talk about hell. They will call you one of those fundamentalists, and that is a compliment. They will say you take the Bible literally, and that is a compliment. They will say you are a fanatic, and that is a compliment. I am a fan of Jesus, and have been for going on sixty-two years, and I believe every word, every word that the Lord has ever said about anything in His book. The Bible say shell is at the end of a Christless life.
V. We Need a Vision of the Church.
We need a vision of the church. I must skip this — who is in it, what it is here for, the purpose of it, why you need it. The Bible answers all those questions.
You know a man claimed to be an infidel. I have often wondered if there really is such a thing. This thing of people saying, “There is no God, no God.” The Bible says, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God…” And in the Hebrew language, that verse says, “The fool hath said in his heart, No God.” No God. What he is saying is, “No God for me.” And one day the church caught on fire and the infidel, like others in the old days, ran to join the bucket brigade to put out the fire in the old-time, old-fashioned church. Someone said, “Never saw you running to the church before.” He said, “I have never seen the church on fire before.” Oh, I would like to see this church on fire. Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you like to see it burning? I mean in the Spirit, on fire for God. We need a vision of what the church is for — a church on fire. That is the kind of church you read of in the New Testament which is the model church. It is a church on fire, a church busy, reaching people, living for God, holding up the Bible, lifting up the Lord. We need a vision of the church — a church on fire.
VI. We Need a Vision of Jesus, Himself.
And I want to close. You know we need —and I want to try to explain this — please help me, pray for me that I can say what I want to say — we need a vision of Jesus, Himself. I would say that ninety-nine percent, maybe one hundred percent, I do not know, of the people in this auditorium tonight know the Lord Jesus as Savior, but we need to know Him as a friend and sanctifier, as an advocate, as our coming King, as our constant companion and friend. We need a vision of Jesus.
In John 12:21 the Greeks came — that is synonymous with Gentiles in the New Testament — unsaved people. The Greeks came to a great feast, 12th Chapter, verse 21,and they said to Andrew, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” “We want to see Jesus.” I want to ask you something. Don’t you want anyone who comes through any one of these doors into this place, don’t you want them to see Jesus? You need a vision tonight in your hearts. We need a vision of all about Jesus, about lifting Him up, about Him being the Savior of the world, our go-between and advocate at the throne, our coming King. We need to see Jesus as He is in the Bible. When He went to the Mount of Transfiguration, He took with Him Peter, James and John, and two men from heaven came — two famous men, Moses and Elijah — but they did not get the attention. The Bible says, up on that mountain they saw no man, no man, “no man save Jesus only.” We are not interested in promoting some man, some one of us. We should be loyal to one another, but the One we need to promote is Jesus, lift up Jesus. In Hebrews, Chapter 2 and verse 9, the writer says, “But we see Jesus…” “We see Jesus…” He is talking about knowing Him in the heart and soul, loving Him, trying to be like Him, a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Joshua saw Him, I think the pre-incarnate Christ, when he stood at the walls of Jericho and wondered what plans should be followed to take that city, and he saw a man with sword in his hand, and he said to him, “Are you on our side or for the other side?” He said, “I am the captain of the host of the Lord.” That is Jesus in the Old Testament. The preincarnate Christ. He is our Captain. We need to see Him tonight as our way to victory and, if you please, our way to success in the work of God. I mean visible success in working for God. He is the Captain. He has the plan, the way and the truth that what we need is to see Jesus, have a vision of Him.
Isaiah said, “In the year that king Uziah died, I saw the Lord, I saw the Lord, high and lifted up. Uziah died, I saw the Lord — I saw the Lord — high and lifted up. I saw Him!”
Oh, we need to see Him tonight, and see Him high and lifted up. I tell you, you will never go wrong when you lift up the Lord in your life, in your church, in your work.
Stephen saw Him. What a wonderful spirit-filled man was Stephen. Stephen preached a sermon which, if you read it sometime carefully in the 7th Chapter of the Book of Acts, was a resume of the Old Testament from Genesis right down to that time, and he wound up his sermon by saying, “You have killed the Holy One, you have crucified the Holy One, you have put Jesus to death.” Stephen ended his sermon, he began it in the 12thChapter of the Book of Genesis and he gave a resume of the whole Old Testament. They heard him say to those unsaved Jews, “You killed the Lord. You murdered Jesus. You put Him to death.” They rushed upon him with stones and they stoned him to death. But my, what a wonderful thing happened. The Bible tells us of Stephen, “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God” Then the Bible repeated the statement by actually quoting Stephen when he said, “…Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55, 56)
And though broken and bleeding and dying, he said, “I see Jesus.” They stoned him to death. Those who stoned him took off their garments. There stood a young Rabbi who hated God’s people, who put them to death, and he said, “Lay your clothes right here. I will take care of them while you kill that deacon.” That spirit-filled man called out, “I see Jesus,” and as he died, he said, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” And he said, as Jesus said on the cross, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” He saw Jesus as the Bible sets Him forth.
Two days later that young Rabbi was on his way to Damascus with letters of authorization in his pocket to kill more Christians and to persecute the people of God. Suddenly alight shone from heaven and a voice came to his ears saying, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” Saul had never put a hand on Jesus, but when you put a hand on a child of God, it is just like putting it on the Lord. He said, “Why do you persecute me?” Saul had persecuted God’s people —same thing — same thing. You might as well slap Jesus as slap one of His Christians, one of His believers.
Saul fell to the earth, blinded, and cried out to God, “Lord, what would you have me to do?” You know why? Because just a few days before, a Christian had seen the Lord. He had a vision of Jesus as He is set forth in the Bible. God, give us a vision..
Let us just stand together and bow our heads in prayer. Oh Lord, tonight give us a vision. Lord, what I pray for these dear people I pray for myself, for my own heart and soul to see more of Thee and know Thee, to have a vision about people, the world filled with people on their way to hell. Please, I beg of Thee from the depths of my heart, I cry out from my soul, O Lord, tonight give us a vision. May we not go through this life in a daze and in confusion, but let us have a vision of what it is all about, what we are here for.
Give us a burden for souls, a love for people, for Christians, for each other. Lord, keep us under Your hand. And Lord, we want to believe that when You say we are going to the other side, we are going all the way. Nothing can stop us if we obey You. We believe nothing can stop men and women who love and obey the Bible and have a purpose in their life and a vision of what it’s all about.
Lord, speak to us tonight. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.