This article draws out the message about vision from God and how this shows us His best way, that comes out of the Bible readings for Sunday, May 22 and relates to the study on The Living Word for May 22.
These are taken from the Revised Common Lectionary, an inter-denominational scheme followed by many churches and chapels.
God’s delights in making His ways known to help us, and showing His salvation to people who wouldn’t think they would qualify. And that is very much the tone of Psalm 67 which sets the scene for us.
1-2 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face shine on us — so that Your ways may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.
3 May the peoples praise You, God; may all the peoples praise You.
4 May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for You rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth.
5 May the peoples praise You, God; may all the peoples praise You.
6 The land yields its harvest; God, our God, blesses us.
7 May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear Him.
Psalm 67 excerpt
Hold on to that thought of “all the nations”, and “all the people” as we come to Jesus’ teaching about vision and direction from God.
We are going to read about how Jesus prepared His disciples for the time when they would not have Him physically present to lead them and teach them. Not that they would be left alone. But it was all going to be different — very different.
His presence and His peace would remain with them, but a spiritual presence, not a physical . They were used to Jesus being with them to remind them of all that he had taught them earlier. He told them how it would work, not that they really believed or understood. But forewarned, when it did happen, they would believe.
Here are His words in John 14.
23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves Me will obey My teaching. My Father will love them, and We will come to them and make Our home with them.”
24 “Anyone who does not love Me will not obey My teaching. These words you hear are not My own; they belong to the Father who sent Me.
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you.
26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
27 Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
28 “You heard Me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved Me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.
29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.”
We noticed that the first word of this teaching that Jesus shared with his disciples is “Anyone”. This is important. He is preparing His disciples who will shortly find themselves on a mission to people not like themselves.
He explains how the Holy Spirit, who He calls the Advocate or Encourager, will act to remind them of His teaching.
This is really helpful for us to take on board. It tells us how Jesus guides us today. It also introduces those first disciples — and us as present-day disciples — to another way in which He works. He very often shows us beforehand something that is going to happen. We may not understand it at the time, but then when it does happen, we know it’s part of His plan. We know He is in it and we can trust Him for His greater purpose.
This is what Paul and his companions discovered. They had been following the Lord’s leading with great success through what they called Asia, modern-day Turkey. But as they reached the west, there was an area north of where they were still to reach. Yes, it was part of the plan — or at least they thought it was. But no, the Holy Spirit was not giving them peace about going there. Perhaps there were some practical difficulties as well. They needed to seek God’s vision afresh.
The only way they could go, was to the busy port of Troas. And there they stayed, and there this remarkable vision came to Paul. There was no mistaking the Lord’s direction for them now — and it involved a considerable new step of faith.
Let’s hear the story in Acts 16.
9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
11-12 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. From there we travelled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.
13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.
14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshipper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.
5 When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
God’s vision for his mission was much bigger in extent than their vision for it.
Women have already featured in the Acts story. As well as Mary the mother of Jesus, we have heard the story of Tabitha in Joppa ()modern day Tel Aviv) being raised from the dead, there has been a mention of Mary the mother of John Mark, and Rhoda the servant girl. But now, for the first time, we meet a prominent Gentile woman.
So, at this point of the story, we see three new things happening at once. The Good News of Jesus and His salvation offered to all, has crossed from mainly Jewish Asia to Gentile and Greek/Roman culture Europe. The first convert was a Greek woman, Lydia the dealer in luxury cloth. And for the first time, a woman is identified as a leader in this fledgling church.
Later, in the fourth and fifth centuries, after the church was institutionalised as the official religion of the Roman Empire, it reverted to being male-dominated. Although change would come, it was still the subject of considerable debate in some quarters, in the late 20th century.
I think it is a given that when the kingdom comes in its full form when Jesus returns, there will be equality, and fairness, and every other kind of righteousness.
We are going to go on to consider another extraordinary vision, this time given to the aged apostle John. In a long and unfolding visionary encounter, several times he sees into heaven and the heavenly worship. In this episode, he sees a vision of what he calls the New Jerusalem. For Jews, Jerusalem with the temple was the holy city and dwelling place for God on Earth. And so this new “”Jerusalem” is a way of describing God’s new dwelling place on Earth — present and personally close to all the people He loves, and who love Him. With a river of the purest water running through it and highly fertile, fruitful trees this reminds us of the picture of the Garden of Eden.
10 And He carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.
22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
23-24 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it.
25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.
26-27 The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
22:1-2 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him.
4 They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.
5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
Rev. 21:10, 22-27, 22:1-5
It would not be long before the apostle John would see heaven for himself. That vision of the new heavenly community was for him to record for us — for our vision and encouragement.
This is what God does: He reveals himself through scripture, He reveals his purposes for us by speaking through particular verses, and He does give us vision for the future and what He wants us to be joining in with now. These may not be the dramatic visions of Peter and Paul and John, but more of an inner witness or a sense of being guided, as the Holy Spirit speaks to us.
He does this through particular verses of Scripture and highlighting things in ordinary conversations or happenings of life.
This is His Jesus-like gentle steering of us, helping us to follow His best way and help to start establishing His kingdom now.