Paul was the greatest missionary who ever lived. When writing to the Philippians, he was in jail. That’s the last place he needs to be! Why would God allow this to happen? Wouldn’t it be better for Paul to be out in the mission field sharing Jesus?
Regardless of what is happening in the world, God is still at work.
In Acts 16, Paul was also imprisoned, yet in that passage, it was because God did not spare Paul from prison that he was able to witness to his jailer.And so it goes throughout the history of the church. Where God has been working in ways that people might not have expected. Powerful empires have tried to crush Christianity.
It’s often been true that the church has faced oppression. The blood of the martyrs waters the seeds of the church. And in places where it’s easy, where it’s common to be a Christian, there can be complacency. It’s easy to just assume everyone around us is a Christian. Whereas in other parts of the world, you actually have to take risks to acknowledge Jesus.
None of this is to say that we should want bad things to happen! But to be mindful that in the face of sin and injustice, noting stops God. The gospel is unstoppable.
Sometimes it’s because God does not spare people from the difficulties that people are in positions to evangelize and share the gospel. Sometimes through the wickedness and evil of men, because of God’s immeasurable goodness, he graciously puts them in position to hear the gospel that they don’t even deserve.
A modern example
During the reign of Nicolae Ceausescu, Romanian citizens were facing persecution from the government for transporting Bible across borders, sharing their faith, and even worshipping privately in their own homes.
Virginia Prodan was a Romanian lawyer who defended Christians of these basic human rights. Prodan was a Christian. She had suffered much for her faith. She had been beaten and torutnred. She had been placed under house arrest. One day, when returning to her office, one of her assistants told her a man wanted to speak with her.
The man was a giant, 6’10” which dwarfed the 5 foot tall Prodan.
He pulled out a gun and told her he had come to kill her.
Writing in Christianity Today, she said:
I considered the man before me. Behind those hate-filled eyes was a creation of God. He had an immortal soul, and he needed to know about the love God has shown in Jesus Christ. At once emboldened, I met my killer’s eyes. “Have you ever asked yourself: ‘Why do I exist?’ or ‘Why am I here?’ or ‘What is the meaning of my life?’ I once asked myself those questions.” My voice stayed calm and did not waver.
He slid his gun back into the holster. I leaned forward. “You are here because God put you here, and he has put you to a test. Will you abide in God or in the will of a man—your boss, President Ceausescu, who requires you to worship him? God has given you free will to choose.”
The assassin didn’t kill her that day. He acknowledged that he had needed Jesus in his life. The power of the gospel had penetrated his heart.
But it was because God had not spared Prodan from that persecution that she had been enabled to witness to that man.
And there are other stories we can find in modern times from almost every empire that has cracked down on Christianity, that has persecuted Christians, of the gospel working through the cracks of the walls that empires have built up. The gospel is unstoppable. Because God is unstoppable at achieving his purposes. Even in oppressive regimes that try to totally crush Christianity, the gospel still takes root. The truth finds a way.
In our world, persecution and challenges shouldn’t be a surprise when the gospel is that Jesus came into a fallen world to redeem people to himself. It’s a message that’s offensive because it confronts people with the reality of sin. It points to the narrow way.
In America, we’re often times too comfortable.
If we think that we always need ideal conditions to share the gospel; if we think that the gospel always needs receptive environments to thrive: it doesn’t. Because the spread of the gospel, is not about our abilities and talents and planning. Not suggest this things are irrelevant. God does equip and gift people in different ways.
But even when it seems to be against all odds, it is the power of God through which the gospel reaches people. The gospel is unstoppable.
What does that mean to you?
It makes sense people would be hostile to the gospel. When Jesus came to redeem a world that was dead in sin. A world that was so sinful the it killed its savior.
And it’s not a shortcoming of God that he doesn’t do more to make the way to share the gospel easy. It’s his grace that he came to earth and made the gospel possible to be proclaimed at all. It displays his power and glory that the gospel still goes forth when people try to thwart his work.
People have tried to stop the gospel’s advance. And those people are dead and gone, but the gospel message continues because Jesus lives on.
Originally published February 6, 2018
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what you think, and don’t forget to subscribe!
Josh Benner has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has served churches in Minnesota and Illinois. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in St. Louis.