Billy Graham Center
World Congress on Evangelism, 1966
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THE HEAVENLY VISION
Many people have looked upon the Acts of the Apostles as the "Fifth Gospel." Others have called it "The Gospel of the Holy Spirit." The Four Gospels are a record of the acts of the incarnate Christ on earth, while the Acts of the Apostles is a record of the acts of the risen Christ through the Holy Spirit in the Apostles. Therefore, it has also been called "The Acts of the Holy Spirit." From beginning to end this book is an account of the Spirit's work.
All who study God's word would agree that the divine Acts have not ended or been completed, for the work of the Holy Spirit has continued to this very day. The Lord said, "My, father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17) to remind us that since the rebellion of Satan and the Fall of man, God has not ceased to work nor has the Lord. When we look into the Book of Acts, we seem to see what Peter and Paul accomplished. But God's plan could never be achieved by Peter and Paul alone. Who can say that God has not been working for two thousand years after Acts 28?
According to Luke, the Beloved Physician, the Book of Acts was a continuation of the theme in his Gospel: "All that Jesus began both to do and teach" after his ascension (1:1-2). Further, the disciples' most important duty was to wait for the power of the Holy, Spirit and by revelation to be shown the proper sequence of their work: "In Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (1:8).
Church history shows that for the past two thousand years God's hand has raised faithful witnesses to Him in every place, thus continuing His divine acts through the Holy Spirit. Among them were Martin Luther, Hudson Taylor, D. L. Moody, A. B. Simpson, John Wesley, William Carey, David Livingstone, to name but a few. Other names are yet to be added, although the closing chapter of time is ever nearer at hand. Have we perhaps deeds worthy of being recorded?
1. We are to be men sent of God. Judas lost his apostleship because he betrayed his Master; and by the casting of lots he was replaced by Matthias. But what "witness of Christ's resurrection" did Matthias give? Is there any record? The difference between being chosen by human instrumentality and being chosen of God becomes very clear. Matthias' name was chosen by Peter; Paul was chosen of God. Do we lack workers in our churches today? Yes, indeed. But among the workers there are too many man-appointed Matthiases and too few God-chosen Pauls. This explains why our work does not progress. Humanly-raised shepherds cannot work with God because they are not chosen of God. May we ever seek His will in order to be men truly sent of God.
2. Do not tarry at Jerusalem. The church was born at Pentecost. Through the mighty workings of the Holy Spirit three thousand people (and on another occasion five thousand) came to believe on the Lord through Peter's sermon. Christians were not only born of the Spirit, they were also filled with the Spirit. Gladly selling their possessions and bringing the money to the Apostles, they made the early Church at Jerusalem a big as well as a wealthy Church. As the Word of God prospered in great triumph, the Church at Jerusalem needed a shepherd like Peter. But by tarrying at Jerusalem the Apostles became content with their situation; it seemed they had almost forgotten the Lord's last command. Therefore He allowed Stephen's martyrdom and Saul's persecutions in order to hasten the Church's witness elsewhere. After these happenings, in fact, the church scattered abroad to Judaea and Samaria and to other places to preach the Word (8:1-4).
This was also true of the Church in China. At first our Christian churches were founded mostly in the big cities along the Chinese Eastern Shores, and were reluctant to set foot in the interior areas. Then God raised up Hudson Taylor to begin the work of the China Inland Mission. Unfortunately, while Taylor himself tried to conform to Chinese habit and culture by wearing a Mandarin gown, for example, and by living in every way like a Chinese, other missionaries found it hard to follow his fine spirit and pattern, and progress of the work was limited.
Then the Lord permitted the Sino-Japanese War, which made Christians on the Eastern Shores evacuate to the interior. As a result, the Gospel was proclaimed far and wide. Knowing that there were yet other unfulfilled obligations, the Lord allowed the Red Seizure of China which pushed us overseas. Once Shanghai was our Jerusalem, Nanking, Soochow, Hangehow our Judaea, and Hong Kong and Southeast Asia our Samaria. Today, even if we had spread the Gospel throughout Southeast Asia, we still would have fallen short of the Lord's trust and commission to bear witness to Him "unto the uttermost part of the earth." What a debt we owe! May God have mercy upon us and send forth single-hearted men and women as missionaries to all countries of the world to be His witnesses, and to be faithful to the glorious record of the Great Commission. This is our prayer!
3. We are to preach to the Gentiles abroad. The first half of the Acts of the Apostles gives detailed descriptions of Peter's work, the second half of the book does not mention him even once. This does not mean that Peter retired from service, but that what he did was no longer necessary to narrate. In his place Paul takes over -- Paul, obedient to the last command of the Lord, and called the Apostle to the Gentiles. While Peter was the first to have the key to preaching to the heathen, he was too prejudiced to regard them worthy of and included in the plan of salvation. In Chapter 10 God in a vision reminded him that no one should be regarded as common or unclean. Yet Peter, before Cornelius the Italian and his kinsfolk, spoke words that he ought never to have uttered: "Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company or come unto one of another nation" (10:28). Christian workers can so easily become conceited, can so easily say what hurts rather than edifies. Although Peter was sent forth, he did not continue to make the best of his obligations. Perhaps he thought himself a big specialized independent Apostle, who should go only to the circumcised, and should give Paul the opportunity to go to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:9). From then on, Peter was laid aside as if what he did thereafter was of no importance to record, although the Spirit of God inspired his writings of the Petrine epistles.
4. We are not to be disobedient to the heavenly vision. King Solomon said: "Where there is no vision, the People perish." (Prov. 29:18). What Paul saw in the vision on the Damascus road caused him to be greatly used of God in his later years. Wherever he went, whether in Asia or in Europe, God used him to establish churches. Paul suffered a great deal for the work of the Lord. He himself said that he labored more abundantly than all the other Apostles (I Cor. 15:10). This was no exaggeration. And this was why he could testify before King Agrippa: "I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision" (Acts 26:19) From this we learn that to work for God we must not only have a vision, but we must also be obedient thereto. Paul's work reveals the secret of his success -- he lived his life according to the Heavenly Vision, and was obedient to the eternal will of God
5. We must follow Paul's way. When someone expressed the need for sending men to preach the Gospel to our overseas Chinese in different countries, I could only sigh: Why, like Peter, must we always witness among our own people? Why can we not, like Paul, proclaim the truth to other nations as well?
Paul had nothing against his own kinsmen. In fact, he said of them, "I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for m brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:2- 3). And he said, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved" (Rom. 10:1). Yet again and again he made it plain that he looked upon the Jew and the Gentile alike. "There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him" (Rom. 10:12). Several times Paul determined to go to Rome because he considered Rome the "uttermost part" of his parish. He had to reach Rome before he could count himself as having fulfilled his mission to witness for the Lord "unto the uttermost part of the earth."
6. We must take up the mission to go far beyond. Many churches in our day have known the clear command of the risen Christ, and have heard the Macedonian Call from every quarter of the world. However, they have remained unmoved in heart; they have taken no action; they have never considered the whole world their parish. How shall we be revived? Why not follow Paul's example and go afar with our mission? Why do we take only Peter's first step? Why are we unwilling to take the second, the third, and the fourth steps?
At first glance, most churches seem to be prospering. Closer examination, however, often reveals a prevalent coolness of heart. To be exact, how many souls are really being saved? The Good Shepherd was willing to leave his ninety and nine which were safe and sound to seek out the mountains for the one lost sheep. What about our churches today? As long as there are sheep in the fold, we say, why should we care about the many outside? We smugly settle down to what we think is the work of a Shepherd! Would that before the Lord's second coming the whole Church of Christ would step into God's plan, would have a part in filling up the records of the Book of Acts, bearing witness of His Resurrection, not only to certain native people, but also to other nationalities as well. If we do this we will be following Paul's pattern, who earnestly sought to do Christ's will, "that he might finish his course with joy, and the ministry which he had received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24).
Dear fellow Christians, which way will we choose, Peter's or Paul's? In this modern world where travel is no problem, may we have a Heavenly Vision like that of Paul; while it is day, may we follow his example.
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Last Revised: 4/5/06
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