Beijing’s Temple of Heaven park complex attracts many tourists each year with its buildings’ elaborate wooden architecture and meticulously kept grounds. Before the complex retired to tourism, however, it served as a place of Heaven worship, where for hundreds of years Chinese emperors performed the Border Sacrifice, during which a spotless animal was sacrifice and prayers made for protection and blessing. The temple was built in the early 15th century during the Ming Dynasty and was expanded in the early 16th century, during which three more temples were constructed, the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Earth, and the Temple of the Moon.
What’s interesting about this complex is its reverence for an unnamed “highest deity.” In the place of honor inside both the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (pictured above) and the Imperial Vault (a slightly smaller structure than the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests), for example, are tablets with inscriptions that read simply, 皇天上帝, Huángtiān Shàngdì, or Highest God of Heaven. (In the modern Mandarin Bible, the word for God is the word that was originally used here, Shàngdì.) Other tablets for lesser gods (sun, moon, earth, etc.) are present as well, but this supreme creator was held as the highest and most important. Another interesting structural aspect of the complex is the inclined path of the Vermilion Steps Bridge, which ascends from the Imperial Vault to the Hall of Prayer.
There are eerily similar details in Luke’s account of ancient Athens:
For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. Acts 17:23-31
Today, the Gospel has swept over China, and there are more Han believers than American believers on earth. God has revealed himself to the Han in a special way, and it’s amazing to see how He has been bringing Han people to Himself since at least the 1400s.
Since it’s obvious then that God is working in miraculous ways in East Asia as He did in the book of Acts, I’m praying for Acts 16:14 to happen amongst the Hui people: “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia…the Lord opened her heart.” May God soon open the hearts of the Hui as He opened the heart of Lydia – as He is opening the hearts of the Han.