Allen Jackson - Seeing The End At The Beginning
It's good to be with you again. Our title for this session is "Visions of the Future". I believe God would give us a broader insight and awareness of what he's doing in the earth than just our salvation. I don't wanna diminish our salvation, but I believe God has more for you and me particularly in this very unique season. This is a special session for us. It's our first time back outdoors for a while. It's the first of a six-week festival on Saturday nights. We're outdoors. It's springtime in Tennessee. You'll be able to tell my voice is a little croaky. Between the pollen and the wind, it's a challenge. Turn up your volume a little bit. Show me some grace, but, together, we're gonna ask God to give us a vision of what He has for us in the days ahead. Enjoy the lesson.
So if I had to provide a spiritual diagnosis, I would say there's a blindness upon us, a spiritual blindness. We look, but we don't see, and we hear, but we don't understand, and we just continue in our routine. We gather and pray our prayers and read our Bibles and do the things that we know to do, but we're really not seeing. We're not the first generation to face this. It's not the first time God's people have struggled. In Acts chapter 1, Jesus left. He ascended back to heaven, but in Acts chapter 9, we find him back in time. He's back, recruiting, just like he recruited on the shores of Galilee when he recruited Peter and James and John and said, "Follow me, and I'll make you fishers of men," except, this time, he's not on the shores of Galilee. He's on the road to Damascus, and he's not recruiting Jewish fishermen. He's recruiting a rabbi, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, Saul of Tarsus. He's a rising star in the Jewish religious community, but Jesus understands his heart, and he has a life assignment for him.
It's Acts 9, and verse 4. It says, when Jesus interrupted his journey, "He fell to the ground, and Saul heard a voice say, 'Why do you persecute me?' And he said, 'Who are you, Lord?' 'I'm Jesus, whom you're persecuting. Now get up and go into the city. You'll be told what you must do.' The men traveling with Saul were speechless. They heard the sound, but they didn't see anyone. And Saul got up from the ground, and when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus, and for three days he was blind. He didn't eat or drink anything. Now, in Damascus there was a disciple by the name of Ananias, and the Lord called to him in a vision, and he answered, 'Yes, Lord,' and the Lord said, 'Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He's praying.' And in a vision, he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.'"
It's a fascinating passage to me. It's a very different presentation of Jesus than the one that we typically hear. People say to me, "Jesus was all about love. He was non-confrontational. He was just happy and huggy. He just loved everybody". And when Jesus came to recruit Saul of Tarsus, he put his face in the dust and struck him blind. All we ask you to do is share a coffee mug. I mean, it's really worth a moment's reflection. Jesus came with some intensity. He said, exactly, "Why is it you're persecuting me? Now get your face out of the dust, and let somebody help you into the city. I'm gonna tell you, I've got a job for you".
There's nothing polite. There's nothing really kind about it unless you consider the ultimate outcome. It's a rather dramatic intervention, and for three days, it was so impactful that, for three days, Saul didn't eat or drink anything. I'm thinking, if an unknown character strikes you blind, you might get a little focus too. And then we're introduced to Ananias, a disciple of the Lord. We don't know his backstory, but he saw a vision. Saul can't see, and Ananias sees a vision. And he said, "I want you to go pray for this character". Ananias is a little reluctant. He knows Paul's reputation. And he said, "You need to go because, although he can't see with his eyes, I've shown him a vision".
It's a fascinating interplay with me. You know, there'll be times when you can see physically, but you can't see spiritually, or there are times when your vision physically may not be as good as you would like it to be, but you can have great clarity spiritually. I'm gonna begin this study with this idea that we want you to think about vision in more than just the clarity with which your physical eyes can focus. We need spiritual sight. We need spiritual discernment. We need understanding hearts. We've lived too far in the world. We take worldly analysis of what's happening to our world. We settle for secular explanations for whether things around us are good or bad. We've lost our spiritual vision. We're spiritually blind to too far great of an extent. We look to people who have no spiritual insight, no discernment, no spiritual vision, to try to determine the direction we should go, how we should respond, what we should think, and how we should feel. It's no wonder we stumble. It's no wonder we're struggling to find our way.
In Acts chapter 13, the story expands a bit where, just a couple of chapters later, Saul's begun his mission, and he encounters, as he's traveling, a Jewish sorcerer, a Jewish sorcerer who hinders the gospel, and this is the response, and they said, "'You're a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right. You're full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you, and you're gonna be blind, and for a time you'll be unable to see the light of the sun.' Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. And when the proconsul", there was a governor there, a regional governor who was interested in the gospel, "and when he saw that curse come upon this Jewish sorcerer, he believed in Jesus, for he was amazed at the teaching of the Lord".
It's not surprising that Paul would respond that way. He had a similar experience in his own life. He was opposing Jesus. And when Jesus introduced himself to him, he said, "You'll just lose your sight for a season". And this man is opposing the gospel, and Saul turned and said, "You'll be struck with the loss of sight, with the loss of vision, with the inability to see with clarity". It was a curse for hindering the gospel. Do you believe there could be a curse for hindering the gospel? I don't wanna do that by my silence, by my unwillingness to stand up. So often, I think we imagine it's the ungodly, the immoral, the wicked, somebody else that would hinder the gospel, but when we refuse to use the tools God has given us, we hinder the proclamation of the gospel.
I do not intend to be in that group of people. I don't want to be there. The outcome of this particular encounter is that the proconsul saw what happened, and he believed. I've taken up with this notion of vision because we are stumbling as a people. Our nation has been on a pathway leading us away from a biblical worldview for several years. It's not a new thing. It didn't begin with the current season or any recent election. That's just nonsense. We've been on this pathway for a good while. The church or the community of Christ followers, whichever label you prefer, we had been willing coconspirators on this journey. We have.
They told us, some time ago, years and years ago, they told us not to speak about our faith, not in the marketplace. Don't talk about it. Don't bring Jesus into the marketplace, they said. Don't bring him into the corporate boardrooms. Don't talk about your faith in the halls of the hospital. Don't bring your faith into our courtrooms or into the classrooms of our children. You certainly can't talk about Christianity in those spaces. Jesus, we were told, was not welcome in the halls of academia, and the reason that always was underlying those determinations was that "someone might be offended," and there would always be someone to raise their hand and go, "Yes, I'm offended by that," and so they would look at us and say, "You be silent. Don't you talk about Jesus. Don't you bring your faith. We don't wanna hear that here. We're gonna separate these things".
And we complied with that nonsense. We went along. We said, "Yes, we'll be respectful. We wanna be tolerant". Someone might be offended, and we accepted the notion that we had no right to push our beliefs upon someone else. We complied politely, demurely. We yielded to the evil. Now, we're not gonna get to a better place till we've got the courage to acknowledge we were complicit with this. It wasn't something someone did to us. We volunteered. We heard the message, and we said, "I'll do that. I'll comply with that. I don't wanna cause anyone to feel uncomfortable. I don't want anyone to feel awkward. I don't wanna", we even got a little expression.
You know, in polite society, we don't wanna talk about our religion or our politics. Why not? Two forces that will shape your destiny and determine your freedom and your liberty, you better talk about him when you're with your friends. We were complicit with that nonsense. Now we find that those same settings, the marketplace, corporate boardrooms, the hospitals, and the courtrooms, those same places are being dominated by a worldview that's unacceptable to Christ-followers, and there's a very aggressive advocacy for the adoption of that prevailing worldview.
In fact, if you have the boldness to say, "I disagree," to oppose this new orthodoxy, you understand what happens. You face the threat of removal from the public square. There's legal threats. Financial ruin is dangled before you. We'll move events if you don't cooperate with us, bow to our ideas. Whatever happened to the notion that one's personal beliefs should not dominate the public sphere? I can tell you, from this vantage point, we were foolish, church. We should've held our ground. We surrendered ground that God had no intention of us yielding, and until we deal with that awkward truth, I don't believe we'll get better.
It's time to speak up. There's a whole host of things in the public sphere that need a biblical worldview. They're affecting our lives. Open borders do not reduce poverty. They don't. Electric cars are not an expression of renewable energy. Think. The electricity comes from fossil fuels. Your biological sex is not confusing nor is it difficult to determine. We're gonna have to find the courage to say these things. There is no "free". Someone pays. Abortion really is the taking of a human life. Liberty and freedom, they come from God, not from governments. In fact, the story of history is that governments reduce liberty and freedom. We are witnesses to the intentional dismantling of the values and behaviors which have provided liberty and freedom to us.
Open borders are being promoted no matter the consequences. The onslaught of transgender confusion upon our children is being mandated by an ever-increasingly authoritative government system. It is evil to take an elementary-aged child and confused them about their gender or give them access to chemicals that would alter it. Don't be silent. It's wicked. Financial irresponsibility on our parts has delivered double-digit inflation. International folly is realigning global financial practices which will leave all of us a poorer people. They won't talk to you about it, but it's happening day over day. The decline is precipitous. Most prefer not to notice, and, tragically, the church is strangely silent. We're not in a political battle. It's a spiritual struggle, and I believe the church, God's people, are the key.
I don't believe there's any question from Scripture, and I'm not gonna take the time to develop in a lot of detail, but there is a curse that comes from God for disobedience to him. I'll give you one passage, and it's a familiar passage to several of you, I suspect. It's in the prophet Malachi. He's talking about in the context of how they manage their financial resources. I don't wanna direct it to that particular theme, but I want you to see God's response. It's Malachi 3, in verse 6. It said, "I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them," so, for generations, they have been turning away from God's decrees. Sounds like a pretty accurate description of the contemporary Christian community. Is that fair? This isn't new. It's been happening for a season.
"'Return to me, and I will return to you,' says the Lord Almighty. 'But you ask, "How are we to return"?' Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.' So God said, 'If you'll return to me, I will return to you.' And they said, 'We don't know how to do that.' And then he turns 'em back to obedience, to the truth that they know. 'You ask, "How do we rob you"? In tithes and offerings. You're under a curse, the whole nation of you, because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,' says the Lord Almighty. 'I'll open the floodgates, the windows of heaven and pour out blessings upon you.'"
This is the covenant people of God. It's not some ungodly pagan nation. They have a temple. They have sacrifices. They have religious holidays. They keep kosher rules. They gather in synagogues and read Torah passages, and God said, "You're under a curse because of your disobedience," but he holds out a promise: He said, "If you'll return to the Lord, he'll return to you". Did you know that disobedience results in a curse? "So, Pastor, I don't like to think about that". It's a part of the problem. It's a part of the problem if the church is not aware, if we're not looking and seeing and understanding who will speak, where will the message come from? What, you want a politician to do it? You want a pastor to do it? You want God to raise up a voice? He has raised up a voice. He's given each of us one.
Are we willing to speak the truth? Are we willing to face the truth? Disobedience in our lives results in a curse. The solution is the same for us as it was for the people of Malachi's day. It was repentance, a change of thought, and a change of action which results in obedience to God. You can't just change your thought theoretically in a worship service. We have to change the way we conduct ourselves. It's a new pattern of behavior God is calling us to. Now, this is exciting stuff, the possibility of faith to completely transform the world that we watch. It's not a new idea. I wanna take the time we have left and look with you at Abraham. God gave Abraham a vision. He showed him what was ahead, and it changed Abraham's life. Then I'm asking God to give us a vision, to let us see with new eyes, to see with our heart, and to see with our understanding that we might be able to recognize what is ahead.
Look at John chapter 8, in verse 56. "Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day. He saw it and was glad". Does anybody happen to remember which chapter in Genesis we meet Abraham? Genesis is the first book of your Bible, and we meet him in chapter 12. So from Genesis chapter 12, we're told that Abraham rejoiced when he saw the day of Jesus. Jesus was thousands of years in the future, and Abraham saw him. Hebrews chapter 11, in verse 13, "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They didn't receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted they were aliens and strangers on the earth".
Hebrews 11, is the Hall of Fame of Faith, and it says those men and women saw something beyond what they saw with their eyes. Folks, we need a new vision. We need new perspective. We need new understanding. I can tell you that God, he gave Abraham the whole panorama of redemption, that Abraham, he saw Jesus. Abraham saw what God was going to do. He stood at the beginning point of it all, and he saw all the way through to the heavenly Jerusalem that was gonna come down out of heaven. He saw it first in the family that was gonna be born to him. Even when he was childless, he saw it in the patriarchs. He saw it by faith in a nation that would be created, born in great suffering in Egypt. He saw that his descendants would go and suffer horribly in Egypt, but he saw that God would deliver them. He saw that the coming of a Messiah through that nation of people. He saw it in the gospel going out to the nations, not just to the Jewish people but to the non-Jewish people so that men of every kind, kindred, and race, could become a part of the family of God and the household of faith. He saw the church.
Abraham saw the church, something so special to God, so unbelievably important. It's amazing what the revelation of God brought to Abraham. It's all contained in that vision. Abraham is the beginning of the vision, in one sense, the beginning of what God is unfolding. I know there's other people in the story before we get to Abraham, but Abraham is the father of our faith.
Now, I can't tell from the text how much precision Abraham was able to see with. Of the biblical characters we know, it's Paul who saw with such unique precision. Abraham didn't know the infilling presence of the Spirit of God. That was to come on the day of Pentecost. Paul knew that infilling of the Spirit of the resurrected Christ, and it brought a preciseness to his revelation. With Paul, we hear about the Gentiles becoming fellow heirs with the Jews. Paul saw it with such remarkable clarity. It was unthinkable. I don't know how clear Abraham was, but I know he saw it. I'm reluctant to say it, but I believe it's true: Thousands of born-again believers have no idea about this kind of heavenly vision. It's just separate from us.
Our faith journey is defined by we're taught to read our Bibles, to say our prayers, to meet together. It's as if we have a routine, and our routine is the sum total of our faith. Folks, that is a very thin expression of what God would do for us. Abraham would be a complete stranger to that pattern that we're so familiar with. He had a vision of God which changed his life. He was delivered from an empty life. He led a life of unbelievable fulfillment. He became the father of all who believed, both Jew and Gentile.
Did you know God has an unbelievable life for you? He has a vision for you. It's a tragic perversion of the gospel that we imagine God would diminish our lives and that our great dreams should be apart from him. A vision of the kingdom of God will change how you live, and we're not gonna stop until God gives us that vision. If we fail to have the courage and the boldness and the understanding when we could've used our voice in the previous years and decades, let's not make that mistake again. Let's determine in our hearts to have a vision of heaven, a vision of the kingdom of God, a vision that sees beyond just satisfying my carnal nature, a vision that sees what God is doing in the earth and will not turn loose until we have taken hold of it.
Our greatest spiritual learnings come not from studying but from revelations from the Lord. That's my prayer for us today. Let's pray:
Father, I pray you'll give us a revelation of yourself and your purposes in the earth. Deliver us from a routine and the habit of religion, and open our hearts to the moving of the Spirit of God as never before. I thank you for it in Jesus's name, amen.