|OBEYING THE VISION
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
June 1, 2014
We are in a season of graduations. Transitions. Moving from past to future - whatever that future might be.
Probably you’ve heard at least one graduation speech that goes something like: “After all the hard work - sweat and tears - we finally made it.” There are a few well deserved thank yous to a special teacher or parents. A few inside jokes. Then some philosophic thoughts. Followed by some vision statement about chasing dreams. The future is ours. We can achieve whatever we try to achieve.
Which is understandable. Having visions about what we would like our lives to be like. Processing all that - it is hugely important for us to be thinking about God’s vision for our lives.
Proverbs 29:18 tells us: “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.”
Prophetic vision is all about God speaking to His people. God’s word - His instructions - His commands. God revealing His vision - what God wills for how His people are to live. Are we together?
Vision is about God speaking - revealing - how He - God - wills for His people to live.
“Casting off restraint” - in Hebrew - describes someone taking off their turban and having their hair set loose to fly any which way. A bad case of turban head. The idea is like being out of control. No restrictions.
Some versions put it this way: Without prophetic vision the people perish. In other words living unrestrained by God’s word leads to destruction - perishing. Which as a vision for our lives - destruction and perishing - doesn’t sound all that good.
In contrast - someone who gets blessed by God - experiences the fullness of life with God - enviable - satisfying life - all that God has to offer us in life - being blessed by God comes as we’re careful to keep God’s law - God’s commandments - God’s word.
In a season of transition - like what we’re experiencing during these weeks - this is a great opportunity for us to perhaps be reminded - perhaps be renewed in our commitment - perhaps maybe even consider for the first time - God’s vision for our lives. What is it and what might that be like for us to live that way?
Coming to Acts 26. Paul is on trial. Let me set the scene for us.
Paul is on trial. The Jews in Jerusalem have accused Paul of disobeying the law - insulting God’s people - desecrating the Temple by taking a Greek into an area of the Temple complex that was only for Jews. What ultimately is a trumped up charge. But the Jews went nuts. They wanted to kill Paul. The Roman soldiers got there first. So Paul has been arrested.
Paul was taken to the Governor Felix. Who questioned Paul about what happened and why. After 2 years of adventures with Felix, Felix is replaced by Festus. Festus who was appointed to be Governor - appointed by the nut case emperor Nero. During those two years of false imprisonment Paul has repeatedly shared his testimony - shared the gospel - with Felix - with Festus - with whoever was around to hear.
Finally - after all that - finally Paul is brought before King Agrippa II and his wife Bernice. Agrippa was an Edomite. The Edomites were descended from Esau the twin brother of Jacob. Meaning there is generations of bad blood between the Edomites and the Hebrews. King Agrippa reigns with the approval of the occupying Roman government. Meaning that as Paul is brought before King Agrippa there’s a ton of behind the scenes political and ethnic tension - animosity - anger.
Agrippa II was the last of the line of king Herods. Herod #1 - the Great - was the Herod who killed the babies in Jerusalem when Jesus was born. His son, Herod #2 - Antipas - was the Herod who had John the Baptist beheaded. His grandson - Herod #3 - Agrippa the first - put the Apostle James to death. Now we’ve come to the last Herod - Agrippa II - who Paul is appearing before. Meaning these guys don’t give a rip about what God’s vision is for their lives.
Bernice - wife of… King Agrippa. Bernice was also Agrippa’s biological sister. Bernice and Agrippa are living an incestuous relationship. A couple enslaved by their own lust and passion. Living in open moral depravity. Living openly what was a capital offense in Israel. But, no one seems inclined to point that out - the Herods being such warm and fuzzy people. Meaning morality is relevant.
What’s important for us to hang on to in all that is that 2 years have gone on in what is a mockery of justice. Paul is on trial in a political, ethnic, spiritual, moral mine field. A powder keg ready to explode court room drama. And yet, in the midst of that God has opened up an opportunity for Paul to share his testimony - to share the gospel - with the top echelon of Roman and Hebrew society.
Coming to Acts 26:12 - we’re cutting into that scene - joining Paul in process of sharing his testimony. Acts 26:12 - Paul speaking: In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests.
In what connection? Paul persecuting Christians in Jerusalem is sent by the chief priests to Damascus to arrest and drag Christians back to Jerusalem for questioning - probably death.
Verse 13: At midday - on the road to Damascus - at midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, “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 rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen Me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your 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 power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
The Damascus Road conversion of Paul is a familiar scene. Yes? Let’s make sure were together on two things.
In verse 16 Jesus tells Paul: “This is why I appeared to you for this purpose...”
First - we need to grab that its Jesus Who appears to Paul. This is God breaking into Paul’s life. God speaking to Paul.
Scripture tells us that there is no one - no man, woman, or child - down through history - not even Adam - there is no one who seeks God. (Psalm 14:2,3; 53:2,3; Romans 3:11) It is God who seeks us.
We would have no clue about God - that He even exists or what He’s like - His character and how He operates - no clue unless God reveals Himself to us. We would have no clue about our separation from God by our sin and what it means that God offers to save us - to redeem us - to restore us to a relationship with Him. No clue unless God reveals His working in history to us. Unless Jesus comes and goes to the cross for us. We would have no clue what it means to live in relationship with God - to be restrained by His word - unless God reveals to us His word - His will - His vision for our lives.
Paul is heading for Damascus. If we were to go back through verses 1 to 11 - Paul’s whole testimony to this point is that he stands condemned for being a good Jew. Everything he’s believed and taught and done is consistent with the fundamental beliefs of the Jews.
Paul has his vision - his dreams - his hopes. He’s following what he believes is God’s plan for his life. He’s been raised enviably for a Hebrew - ethnically credentialed - taught and skilled in the law - righteous by Jewish standards - approved by the religious leadership - zealous for God he’s out to persecute Christians.
And then Jesus - the living word of God - appears and speaks to Paul. God’s word breaking into Paul’s life. Which is what God’s word does. Speaks God’s truth into our lives. Clarifies God’s will for our lives. Light breaking into the darkness and confusion of where we live life.
God seeking us - revealing Himself to us. We’re doing life our way - maybe even thinking we’re doing righteous works that please God. But we would have no clue - we would be hopelessly heading for destruction and perishing - if God did not seek us. Jesus appears to Paul.
Second - we need to be clear on Jesus’ purpose for Paul.
Paul is heading for Damascus and Jesus downloads from heaven a whole different purpose for Paul’s life. Radically different. Saul - soon to be Paul - God’s word to you - God’s vision of your life.
The New Living Version puts this in a way that’s a little easier to understand. “I appoint you to as my servant and witness. You are to tell the world what you have seen and what I will show you in the future.” (Acts 26:16 TNLT)
That’s a different vision. Isn’t it? Preach the gospel of the One you’re persecuting. Not just to the Jews but even to the detestable - we don’t touch those - Gentiles. Go into the world and preach the gospel.
Its what followers of Jesus do. Jesus called His disciples: “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” Followers of Jesus fish for men. (Matthew 4:19)
Jesus - the Great Commission - God’s mission statement for the Church - God’s vision for us. Matthew 28: “Go make disciples of all nations… teach them to observe all that I commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19,20)
We know this. This isn’t rocket science or trying to figure out Windows 8.1. This is the basic - easy to process - at core of what we are to be doing with our lives - God’s vision - His great purpose statement for the Church - what Jesus tells Paul - what God commands us: “Go witness.”
Life is about… God. Not us. God who seeks us and calls us to His great purposes - His vision for our lives. “Paul - your life isn’t about you. Its about Me. The purpose of your life needs to be My purpose for your life. Instead of persecuting Me you need to testify of Me.”
Verse 19: Therefore - because Jesus appeared to me on the road to Damascus - because Jesus has revealed God’s purpose for my life - therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.
Paul has a choice to make. As we do. Brought face to face with God’s will for our lives. Paul’s vision for his life or God’s vision for his life? To obey or not to obey?
Thank God Paul chose obedience. Can you imagine? If Paul doesn’t obey God he wouldn’t have become an apostle. The gospel would not have spread as quickly into Asia Minor and Europe. Especially to the Gentiles. Whole churches planted by Paul would not have been planted by Paul. The whole missions movement of the church then and now would be unimaginably different.
The New Testament would be about 1/3 shorter. Paul’s writings include core passages dealing with the very essentials of what we believe as Christians. Passages that deal with the very nature of Who Jesus is - original sin and redemption - salvation - the nature of the church - spiritual warfare - baptism - communion and on and on. Imagine the New Testament without Paul.
Paul’s obedience made all the difference in his life - and not only Paul’s life - but the lives of millions and millions of people - for generations of people in countless places around the world - even in our lives today.
Paul obeyed. He began ministry in Damascus. Moved to Jerusalem and outward from there. To Jews. To Gentiles. The world. Paul testifies even before Felix and Festus and Agrippa and Bernice.
He testifies of His past - ugly as it was. Then he tells how Jesus revealed Himself to Paul - changed his life - saved him - called him - commissioned him - used him. Gave him a new vision for his life. Changed the direction of Paul’s life. Saul becomes Paul. A new person when he met Jesus.
Paul testifies: “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.”
The vision which comes from where? Heaven. Meaning that obedience is about God not us.
Meaning we don’t need to understand where that vision leads. Vision is about what defines the boundaries of the road we walk down through life - straight - narrow - not about knowing all the details of the journey. Jesus told Paul that there were more things that would be revealed to Paul. The details are a God thing. The question was would Paul obey.
God is calling each of us to obey His vision for our lives. Which is about God - not us. Obedience isn’t about whether we feel good enough or equipped enough or if we think we’re damaged goods or we have no clue about what God may require of us. We need to let God sweat the details. We just need to choose to obey. Our vision or God’s vision?
Like Paul - following God’s will for our lives means testifying of Jesus in the politically and ethnic and spiritual and morally relative culture of today. That may mean getting dragged in front of egotistical governors and wacked out kings - being imprisoned on false charges for years.
Following may mean being beaten - ridiculed - living and witnessing counter culture in ways that are decidedly not popular - at work - in our families - the community. Obedience means following through sickness and hardship and stress and pressure and temptation and whatever gets thrown at us.
Reading through God’s word - reading Church history - following God’s vision for our lives - means that we will - not may - but we will be a target for Satan and his minions and every person and system of this world that’s under his control and influence.
Obedience is not about us. Its about God and witnessing of Jesus - going and making disciples - wherever and whenever and in whatever circumstances God leads us to. And, experiencing the blessing of God even in the midst of all that.
Are we together?
In verse 20 Paul give us a very concise and clear summary of the gospel message that he’s been declaring.
First Paul declares our need to repent. Which means having a change of mind about our lives. A change of focus in our thinking.
Behind the darkness of this world is the great enemy of mankind - twisting and distorting the thinking of men - clouding our eyes - spreading around widespread delusions. Satan has set loose in our world a great flood of - from the pit of Hell - propaganda of delusions and lies that spread in nanoseconds with the clique of a mouse or the swipe of a finger across a screen.
We’re bombarded with all that. Commonly accepted philosophies that have at their core the basic Satanic lie that we’re capable and adequate and independent and able to run our own affairs - to live our own lives - to take care of ourselves. That if we’ll do that we will find advancement and fulfillment in life. Get enough stuff and we’ll be happy - satisfied.
To repent means to change our mind - to change how we’re thinking about all that. To recognize it for what it is. Satan’s self-destructive and perishing vision for our lives. Not God’s.
Second Paul declares that we need to turn to God. In our darkness we need to turn to God’s light - His truth - His word - His vision for what life is all about.
Two thousand years after Paul stood before Agrippa we struggle with the same issue today. People have no clue where to turn. Apart from God seeking us - we have no clue where to turn for the answer we desperately need. We don’t even know how to analyze and think properly about our problems. We stumble around in the darkness and can’t see what’s really going on. We don’t know where we’re going. We think we do. But that’s a delusion. We think we have some control over our lives. But control is a delusion.
For as long as there has been history - mankind’s history has been one long record of men - blindly staggering around in the dark - groping and feeling and trying to find our way through the course of our history.
We can try to ignore it - try to philosophize about it - but there is a sense of lostness that permeates the core of our society. And mankind - apart from God - mankind is clueless to even begin dealing with the problem. We go on thinking the same thing over and over again and expecting that somehow we’ll come up with a new idea on our own. Insanity. Yes?
God reveals Himself to us and we desperately need to turn to God and His vision for our lives. The gospel is that God - in Jesus - has broken into our darkness and provided the means of the forgiveness of our sins - the means to wipe away the mistakes of the past - all of what we’ve done in ignorance and enslavement to the lying propaganda of Satan. Paul declares the gospel. God in Jesus has given us the means to be set free from all that and to live in God’s blessing of fulfillment and strength and victory. (1)
Paul declares our need to change our minds and turn to God. Embrace the vision. Turn and run towards Jesus.
Then Paul declares that we’re to perform deeds to live in keeping with our repentance. To live consistent with our faith.
We don’t live consistent with our faith in order to get right with God or to earn or maintain our salvation. But how we live should be consistent with what we say we believe. If our thinking has changed. If we have indeed have turned towards God. Then our lives should demonstrate that change.
That’s Paul’s testimony. Obedience - choosing to faithfully pursue Jesus and Jesus’ vision for his life wherever God directed Him in whatever God called him to.
Which means that its possible to repent, turn, and then punt on consistent. Not that any of us would ever do that.
Let’s be careful. It would be really easy to be looking at me and still be thinking about all the other things you need to be doing this week. For most of us, what we’re hearing is not really new information. But thinking about God’s vision for our lives we need to be careful to not miss the opportunity here. The opportunity to live between the boundaries of God’s word in the awesomeness of His blessing.
Francis Chan - in his book Crazy Love - Francis Chan asks the question: “Has your relationship with God actually changed the way you live?” “Are you satisfied being ‘godly enough’ to get yourself to heaven, or to look good in comparison to others? Or can you say with Paul that you “want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death”? (Philippians 3:10) (2)
Chan writes that as he compared his life to God’s Word - hear in that “prophetic vision that should define how we live our lives” - as Chan compared his life to God’s word he began to see - in Chan’s words: “The American church is a difficult place to fit if you want to live out New Testament Christianity.”
Chan goes on: “The goals - or vision - the goals of American Christianity are often a nice marriage, children who don’t swear, and good church attendance. Taking the words of Christ literally and seriously is rarely considered. That’s for the ‘radicals’ who are ‘unbalanced’ and who go ‘overboard.’ Most of us want a balanced life that we can control, that is safe, and that does not involve suffering.” (3)
That’s hard to think about. Isn’t it? Would you describe yourself as totally committed to God’s vision for your life? Totally obedient? In the way you’re using your God given time and resources? Or are you pursuing “good enough” obedience? Partially committed obedience? Obedience with an asterisk and a footnote with qualifications about wherever and whenever and whatever? How would God describe your commitment to His vision for you life? That’s hard. Isn’t it?
In the June edition of Decision magazine Franklin Graham writes about this man, Hiroo Onoda. Anybody read Graham’s article?
Hiroo Onoda was called the “holdout soldier.” He was second lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army. In 1944 he was assigned by his commanding officer to a secret mission on the remote Philippine Island of Lubang. Onoda did not emerge from the jungle until 1974 - almost 30 years after the war ended.
They’d tried to find him. They sent messages that Japan had been defeated. Onoda believed all that was a trick by the enemy and he refused to surrender. He remained faithful to his direct orders.
Listen to his orders: “You are absolutely forbidden to die by your own hand. It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens, we’ll come back for you. Until then, so long as you have one soldier, you are to continue to lead him. You may have to live on coconuts. If that’s the case, live on coconuts! Under no circumstances are you [to] give up your life voluntarily.”
Onoda was told to carry out his duties until his commanding officer returned. Others in his command had surrendered to U.S. and Filipino forces or died. But Hiroo Onoda remained steadfast, living off the land and evading capture for nearly three decades, keeping his uniform repaired and his rifle polished daily. “Struggle to the end” was his motto.
He wrote of his commissioning - quote - “With integrity—and I include in this sincerity, loyalty, devotion to duty and a sense of morality—one can withstand all hardships and ultimately turn hardship itself into victory. The orders that I was to receive would decide my fate for the next 30 years.” Onoda’s orders were to keep his eyes open and “exert every effort to carry out orders.” Onoda committed each day to do his sacred duty, saying in a solemn oath, “I will give my all.”
Are we hearing “obedience” in that?
In 1974 when Onoda was coaxed out of the jungle by a young Japanese adventurer and told the war had ended, Onoda declared that he had not received proof. He refused to surrender himself and his weapons until his commanding officer returned as promised. The loyalty was so unprecedented that the Japanese military located the retired commander and sent him to the island to officially relieve Onoda of his duties. When they came face to face, Onoda saluted his commanding officer, removed his backpack, unloaded his rifle and laid it on the ground. His war was now over. (4)
That’s the kind of obedience that Paul is testifying about.
Graham writes: “Followers of Christ are called by
Him to continue in obedience to the Great Commission
until His return.
We are not to yield to the world, the flesh or
the devil. Loyalty
to the Savior and faithfulness to His commands are our
We are holdout soldiers in God’s great army,
wielding the sword of the Lord.” (5)
Jesus enabling us to turn from darkness - from sin and meaninglessness in life - to the light of God’s truth - to God’s way through life. Jesus desiring to save us from the grip of Satan - from our vices and habitual sin - to empower us to live holy and sanctified and victorious lives. To bring us into the fellowship of His body the Church.
To bless us - even in the midst of the circumstances of our lives - to bless us beyond what we can possibility imagine. The blessing of His presence now and forever.
1. see Ray Stedman, “Before Governors and Kings,” Acts 25-26, 03.14.1971, Ray Stedman Ministries
2. Francis Chan, “Crazy Love - Overwhelmed By A Relentless God”, 2008, David C. Cook, page 67.
3. Francis Chan, “Crazy Love - Overwhelmed By A Relentless God”, 2008, David C. Cook, page 68.
4. Franklin Graham, “Following Orders,” Decision, June 2014
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