What do you hope or wish for? What is that you long for? Where would you go? Who would you see? What would you do? We all have dreams and desires, for our present, for our future and for the futures of others.
These dreams and hopes are often our motivation for dealing with the ins and outs of our daily lives. We drag ourselves out of bet and push through another work day because we hold to the hope that our will work will be noticed, we’ll get that promotion, start making more money, and be able to buy a home of our own, or take the family on that special vacation.
Most of our hopes and dreams are related to this physical life. Work, home, family, relationships, achievements. We don’t often wish for something in the spiritual realm. If we do, it’s usually related to healing, miracles, or another kind of blessing that actually affects our temporal lives.
That is, of course, with exception. I’ve run into some people who simply want to see Jesus. But is it really as simple as it sounds, and should we be hoping so intently for it to happen?
For the record, I’ve never had a vision or an out-of-body experience where I have seen the risen saviour, Jesus Christ. Do I consider myself a lesser or failed Christian for this? Not at all. But I think many feel that they are.
You might chalk it up to zealous preachers who often speak before they think, assuming that every thought in their head or every word in their mouth that comes while preaching is the anointed message of God. I know that many preachers feel this way, but in reality it just isn’t true. Sometimes timing, or setting, or topic do not allow for those “instant messages” to be revealed. Heat of the moment thoughts and “revelations” can often be beneficial, adding to the material or touching a specific heart with a word from the Lord. But not all of them, and preachers should be careful to screen the words and thoughts delivered from their pulpits.
Take for example the preacher who insists that every Christian must have vision of Christ, or else they are not truly saved. You don’t think it could have happened? We had a member of our church who came to me one week because he had heard it from a television pastor. This member so desperately wanted God’s working in his life, so was immediately hooked by the prospect that he might see Jesus.
But days of praying and waiting had turned into weeks and months. Why was he failing to see Jesus? Was there some sin in him that might prevent him? Was God angry with him? Was he really saved at all?
You begin to quickly see the danger in following the words of a man delivered to his fellow man. Words that come not from Scripture, but from a speaker who is excited about a topic and wants to communicate and deposit that energy into the hearts of his listeners.
I believe that a longing to see the risen Christ is noble. We will see Him one day. While that may not be “good enough” for some, it should be acceptable to most. Why? Because if you take a quick perusal through the New Testament, you’ll find that those privileged enough to see Him were few. In fact, I only count three.
Stephen was the first believer to see Jesus after His resurrection. You can find his story in Acts 6:8-7:60. Stephen was one of the first deacons, set apart by the Apostles to assist widows. He was also a man who knew his Scriptures and allowed the Holy Spirit to use that knowledge in debate with unbelievers. He was, in fact, so wise and applied Scripture so well that the Spirit’s conviction ran so deep in some men that they had him arrested and brought him before “the council.”
When asked to defend himself, Stephen proceeded to trace Israel’s history from Abraham to Christ to prove Jesus as the Messiah. His words so filled the room with anger and hatred that they writhed in their seats, and the Message adds that “they went wild, a rioting mob of catcalls and whistles and invective.” It is here that the story suddenly turns.
But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55-56, NKJV)
At that point the crowd threw Stephen out of the city and stoned him to death.
The Apostle Paul’s encounter with Jesus (Acts 9:1-22) is often read and quoted, and is likely one of the primary reasons preachers and teachers come and say things like the story I related earlier. Here was a man, knowing Scripture and having a zealous heart for God, who goes around trying to keep God’s people pure by locking up, and even killing, those who have turned from the one true God to follow who he considered an imposter, Jesus of Nazareth. On his way to round up a few more heretics, Paul has a run in with none other than Christ Himself. Suddenly the most ardent accuser becomes an energized defender and spreader of the Gospel.
For the Christian, or near-Christian, who has/is lived a life that may appear completely opposed to God and His agenda, the prospect of seeing Christ and being commissioned into service and beginning an entirely new life must be engaging. From Saul to Paul; persecutor to defender; Jew-only to God-for-the-whole-world. And we have the opportunity for a similar upside-down change of our own lives in God.
But are you ready to live the life that Paul lived? Are you prepared to endure persecution, stonings, friends abandoning you, being put in prison, beatings, and more? Can you submit your agenda to that of those in authority over you (read about the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 16)? Perhaps you are looking for fame and recognition, to have the spiritual impact that Paul had on the known world and the world going forward. Remember that Paul disappeared to Tarsus for an unknown period of time (see Acts 9:30 and 11:25).
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Some of you might be able to see where we’re headed with this. If you’re not sure, I’m going to keep you guessing for a while. To keep this post on the shorter side, I’m going to write and post part 2 later. Can you guess who the third person was to see Christ? If you can, why do you think these three were given a vision of Christ in glory? How do you think that relates to us, and whether or not we should see Him before the appointed time?