Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Obedient to the Heavenly Vision

We've all heard of the vision that the apostle Paul had on the road to Damascus, before he knew the Lord. At that time he was still a staunch Jewish Pharisee, known as Saul of Tarsus, who was persecuting the followers of Jesus Christ, imprisoning them and putting them to death. It was then that the Lord Himself appeared to Saul in a vision, which is recorded in Acts 9, 22, and 26.

When Paul testified before King Agrippa, he recounted the incident like this:

"While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' And I said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 'But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.'" (Act 26:12-18)

The Vision
First of all the vision included the light from heaven that Saul saw, which was brighter than the midday sun, shining all around him and his traveling companions. Secondly, the vision also included the message that the Lord spoke to Saul. The light he saw was Christ Himself appearing to him in glory right there on the road, so it was a heavenly vision. The Lord's glory that emanates from His presence is extremely bright and heavenly!

The Lord answered Saul's question, "Who are You, Lord?" by saying, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." In saying so, the Lord was telling Saul that when he was persecuting those Christians, he was persecuting Jesus. Whatever Saul had done to one of the least of these brethren of Christ, he had done it unto Jesus Himself. That's how closely the Lord identifies Himself with His people.

The Lord explained the purpose for which He was appearing to Saul: "For this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you." The Lord appeared to Saul to appoint him as both a minister and a witness to both the things he had seen that day and even more things the Lord would yet reveal to Saul in future appearances.

The Lord promised to rescue Saul from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom He was sending him. And here is the reason the Lord was sending him to the Gentiles: to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Jesus. Saul's testimony and ministry would open the spiritual eyes of the Gentiles for a specific reason. Their eyes would be opened so that they would turn from darkness to light, from satan to God, and so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those sanctified by faith in Christ.

That's just what the Lord did through Paul's life and He is still using Paul's life and teachings to do that. In fact, it is still the Lord's desire to do the same thing through His people today. When people's eyes are opened, and they turn from darkness to light and from satan to God, then they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance.

Obedience to the Vision
Now that we have established what the vision was, which was Christ and the things He spoke to Saul, let's consider what he did with that vision. Paul told the king, "So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance." (Act 26:19-20)

These famous words are a testament to the life of Paul the apostle. He could honestly say before the king and all those present, "I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision." (Ac 26:19). Paul had done just what the Lord commanded him to do way back when He first appeared to him. He had been obedient since that time, and continuing on throughout the course of his life. Can we say the same thing Paul did that we have not been disobedient to the heavenly vision?

Listen to the way Paul obeyed the vision: he "kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance." (Ac 26:20) His message was the same everywhere he went, that the people he was speaking to should "repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance." That's a very simple practice, isn't it? He did not fail to tell his hearers that they must repent (i.e., to change your mind and turn from sin), and that they must turn to God through faith in Christ. That part is not disputed by most evangelical Christians, but what about the last part? He told his hearers that once they repent and turn to God, they must perform deeds appropriate to repentance. This is the part that is missing from so much evangelical preaching today.

Paul's message of repentance was quite similar to that of John the Baptist, who said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," telling them to "bear fruit in keeping with repentance." (Matt 3:2,8). As I have said before, this is what Jesus also preached: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 4:17). Or as it says in Mark's gospel: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mar 1:15). It's also what He commanded the apostles to preach as well. "They went out and preached that men should repent." (Mk 6:12). And after the Lord's resurrection He explained that the Law and Prophets proclaim that repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in Jesus' name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (Luk 24:47). And after He ascended into heaven, the apostles continued with the same message. Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Ac 2:38).

Just as John the Baptist told his hearers that they must repent and bear fruit in keeping with repentance, likewise Paul told his hearers that they must "repent and turn to God, they must perform deeds appropriate to repentance." This message was a fulfillment of the heavenly vision he was given. By preaching that message, the Holy Spirit enabled people who heard him to turn from darkness to light and from satan to God and to receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those sanctified by faith.

Persecution for Obeying the Vision
Paul's obedience to the vision did not come without persecution. The Lord told him when He appeared to him that He would rescue him from the Jews and Gentiles to whom He was sending him, which implied that the people to whom the Lord was sending him would seek to harm him. So as he went through life obeying the vision, people did persecute him for it, and the Lord did rescue him from them. Paul said to Agrippa, "For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death." (Act 26:21). The reason to which he was referring was the fact that he had been obedient to the vision and preached the gospel; that is why the Jews seized him (Ac 26:6-7,19-20; 28:20b).

It's interesting to note that if Paul had been primarily interested in defending himself before the king, he could have explained that the Jews saw him walking around Jerusalem with Trophimus the Ephesian, and that when they had seen Paul enter the temple courts, they had supposed that he had brought that Gentile man into the temple with him, which would have been a violation of the Law and defiled the temple (Act 21:29). If he had mentioned that fact, it may have helped his defense. But Paul was more interested in witnessing Christ to the king than he was in giving a strong defense on that occasion. He knew that the real reason why the Jews had seized him was ultimately because he preached Christ as Lord.

Moreover, we have a record in Scripture of the many other times both Jews and Gentiles plotted and tried to kill him, as well as the other instances when he was flogged and put in prison for his obedience to the vision, and how the Lord rescued him out of all those situations as He had promised.

The gospel is not a popular message. People don't like being told they need to repent, turn to God through faith in Christ, and produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Governor Festus was no exception, as he sat there listening to Paul speak to King Agrippa. He tried to shut Paul right down, saying in a loud voice, "Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad." (Act 26:24).

Sometimes people will think you are insane when you are obedient to the vision and proclaim the true gospel message. But Paul assured Festsus that he was not insane, saying, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth." (Act 26:25). What an excellent response! Paul was simply uttering words of sober truth, which Festus and Agrippa didn't want to hear, but that didn't make him insane. It meant that he was obedient to the vision. Although others would see the purpose of such a hearing before the secular authorities to defend themselves, Paul saw it as an opportunity to be a witness for Christ.

He continued witnessing to the truth before the King and pressed on with his challenge to him saying, "For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do." (Ac 26:26-27). He wasn't going to be hindered from witnessing to the king by the governor's attempt to insult and embarrass him.

Agrippa replied to Paul, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian." (Ac 26:28, NASB). Other versions have Agrippa asking Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Ac 26:28, NIV). If the NASB translation is correct, the king was essentially saying (either facetiously or sincerely) that it wouldn't be long before Paul persuaded him to become a Christian, if he kept up preaching to him like that. And if the NIV is correct, then the king was asking Paul if he really thought he could persuade him to become a believer in such a short time as that brief hearing. Whichever way you translate the king's reply, one thing is certain in my opinion -- Paul was getting through to him and he was coming under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I am not saying the king was responding to that conviction properly by repenting at that moment, but Paul's preaching was having a powerful influence on him.

And Paul said, "I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains." (Act 26:26-29). In other words, that was Paul's desire and prayer to God, which he in all likelihood had prayed the Lord would do even before he stood before that court and testified that day. Paul's heart was that the king, the governor, and everyone in that courtroom would come to know Christ. For the Lord had declared at the time of Paul's conversion that he would proclaim the name of Jesus to the Gentiles and their kings (Ac 9:15).

Likewise, Paul's behavior had been consistent during that whole period of imprisonment, including the time when Governor Felix was in office. He preached to the governor, rather than offer him a bribe that may have gotten him released. Scripture states: "But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, 'Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.' At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him." (Act 24:24-26).

Do you notice how the governor became frightened by Paul's speaking about faith in Christ? He was particularly disturbed by his discourse about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, and he shut him right down! That's because he was coming under the conviction of the Holy Spirit for sin, and he didn't want to repent, so he pushed the Holy Spirit away. And since Paul never offered him the bribe he was hoping to receive, Paul remained in prison for the next two years. Felix also did the Jews a favor and left Paul in prison at the end of those two years, when Porcius Festus succeeded him as governor, rather than release him (Act 24:27). Apparently Paul was used as a political pawn in that instance, because he didn't compromise but remained obedient to the heavenly vision, just as he was later persecuted when his preaching brought King Agrippa and Governor Festus under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Paul never chose the easy way out, but rather the straight and narrow path of obedience to the Lord.

Matching Up the Vision with Its Fulfillment
I would like to share one final observation, by demonstrating how the vision the Lord gave to Saul was fulfilled.

Vision of Christ Fulfillment of the Vision
"...rescuing you..." (Ac 26:17) The Lord rescued Paul many times from Jews and Gentiles who seized him and tried to kill him, including when the Roman soldiers rescued him in Jerusalem (Ac 21:31-33), which led to the imprisonment he was under at the time he spoke to King Agrippa. In fact, the Lord also rescued Paul by allowing him to appeal to Caesar and be taken to Rome away from the Jews who wanted to kill him (Ac 25:12).
"the Jewish people and...the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you" (Ac 26:17) Paul "kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles..." (Ac 26:20)
"to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light..." (Ac 26:18) Paul preached "that they should repent.." (Ac 26:20), which corresponds with people's eyes being opened and their turning from darkness to light. 
"...so that they may turn from ...the dominion of satan to God..." (Ac 26:18) Paul preached "that they should...turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance." (Ac 26:20). This corresponds with them turning "from the dominion of satan to God."

Other Supporting Scriptures
There are many other Scriptures that show Paul's commitment and dedication to fulfilling the heavenly vision, but here are just three:

"For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1Co 9:16, NIV)

"I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it." (1Co 9:23)

"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace." (Ac 20:24, NIV)

There was clearly no greater priority in Paul's life than preaching the gospel. In fact, that was his only aim.

Putting it All Together
We've seen from Scripture that Paul the apostle was not disobedient to the heavenly vision of Christ nor to the assignment he was given. What about you? Are you being a witness for Christ and proclaiming the unpopular message of the gospel that men, women, and children should repent and turn to God through faith in Christ, and perform deeds appropriate to repentance? I, too, must ask myself this same question, which is sobering and challenging. This message may not be popular with most people, but it's the only way for them to receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those sanctified through faith in Christ. It's the true gospel, and Paul was not ashamed of it, because it is the power of God unto salvation. Therefore neither should we be ashamed of it, but rather be obedient to that heavenly vision.

Epilogue
After I wrote this article, I asked my children which book of the Bible they are reading for their Life Transformation Groups that they meet in. My three girls meet together each week in one group, and my two boys meet together in another. Both the boys and the girls coincidentally just happened to be reading through the book of Acts right now for their Scripture reading in both groups. Coincidentally I have also been reading through the book of Acts myself in my own private Bible reading. So I asked the girls which chapters they had read today and they said 26 through 27. Coincidentally I had actually read chapters 22 through 26, and it was my reading of chapter 26 that inspired this article. Yet another coincidence was the fact that the boys had just read Acts 9 today about Paul's heavenly vision on the Damascus road.

Since they did not know I had just written this article before dinner, I did not tell them so, but asked them each what they got out of their reading. My sixteen-year old daughter Faith talked about Paul's defense before King Agrippa and how he had appealed to Caesar. I sat and listened to her without saying a word to anyone about this article, just to see what they would say. Then I asked my eighteen-year old daughter Hope what she got out of her reading, and she began to emphasize repeatedly how "Paul was not disobedient to the vision." She also made the observation about how Paul had been more interested in winning souls when he stood before Agrippa and Festus than he was with defending himself, and how he had not mentioned the fact that the Jews had supposed he took a Gentile into the temple. It was her comments about that which led me to come back to this article and add the second paragraph containing that observation in the section entitled "Persecution for Obeying the Vision." It was also her comments to me about Paul's discourses with Governor Felix on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, which led me to come back to this article and add the final two paragraphs at the end of the final section entitled "Persecution for Obeying the Vision."

I want to thank my daughter Hope for her insightful observations, which further enhanced this article, and to give God all the glory for obviously leading me to write this article this evening before dinner, in light of the way He confirmed it so powerfully after our meal at the dinner table.

Attribution Notice: Scripture quotations taken from the NASB, where noted, copyright Lockman Foundation, used by permission. Other Scriptures from The Holy Bible NIV, copyright Zondervan, used by permission. Image of chalk drawing entitled "Yeshua Encounters Saul on the Road to Damascus." Artwork by L. Henry (Hank) Jones, taken from John David Pitcher Jr.'s Jerusalem Channel. Used according to Fair Use Act for educational and commentary purposes. Other image of Saul on the Road to Damascus taken from The Book of Acts -- Visual Bible.

Author's note:  If you enjoyed this post, you may also like The False Gospel without RepentanceRepentance That Leads to LifePopularity of the Gospel, Persecuted or Popular?Your Rewards are Based on Your PracticeThe Obedience of Faith, Is Obedience Optional?, Obedience by the Spirit, Chosen for Obedience, Doing What is RightBeing a Witness for Christ, The Sin of SilenceLife Transformation GroupsThe Conditional Security of the BelieverIs Practical Righteousness a Lost Truth?Practicing Your RighteousnessSpiritual Do-It-YourselfThe Ways of Life, Faith Works!Sins That Will Keep You From Heaven, Abominations in the Sight of GodPleasing the Lord, Holding Fast the Faithful Word, A Personality Profile of the Apostle Paul, and the other posts available through the links on the Home page.  You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master." You can find more devotional content from my daughter Hope on her blog, Words of Hope.

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Him.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.


Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
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Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.

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