I had the amazing opportunity to go to a conference put on by the Gospel Coalition in Geneva, Switzerland last week. The theme of this conference was the Gospel and the book of Galatians. I learned a great deal and found myself extremely encouraged in the power of the Kingdom of God.
The Powerful Kingdom
In one particular sermon on Galatians 1:11-21, Tim Keller described how Paul’s testimony is so powerful, in part, because he used to be a persecutor of the Church. Paul was not the kind of person anyone would imagine would convert to Christianity. And in chapter 1, as he is describing his former resistance and disdain of the Gospel he says something surprising, he referred to God as “he who set me apart before I was born.” Keller pointed out that this is a bit shocking. Certainly God chose Paul, but after reminding us that he spent many years hating Christ, we would not expect him to say that God set him apart BEFORE HE WAS BORN. That means that Paul persecuted the Church AFTER being set apart by the Lord. What an perplexing statement. Why would God permit Paul to persecute his Church after he was already chosen to be a part of it? But Keller drew out the implications even further. Paul was not just writing an autobiography, but was defending the power of the Gospel through his testimony. After all, persecutors do not become preachers very often. His conversion was so unexpected that the believers in Damascus were afraid that it was an act. His faith was and is so powerful because he went from hating Jesus to preaching him. His former life of persecuting the Church, in the end, was what gave power to his testimony. It was not just that God saved him, but that he used his former resistance to further his kingdom. All of Paul’s efforts to stop the Church had only been used to grow the Church. Amazing.
The Unsurprising Kingdom
It turns out that the story of Paul is only one of many examples of the power of the Kingdom. Look at the story of Joseph. He had a dream that his brothers would bow down to him. To prevent him from rising to power they sold him into slavery. As a slave he was taken to Egypt where, in time, he became the second in command to Pharaoh. The very act of selling him into slavery is what allowed the dream to come true. In fact there is no reason to believe that the dream would have come true without their betrayal. Can you imagine this realisation processing through their brains as they bowed to him and asked him for food? Take the crucifixion of Jesus is yet another example. Jesus said that he came to forgive sins and the Pharisees accused him of blasphemy. They then killed him to stop him from growing in power among the Jews. But it was his death that brought forgiveness to the world. The Pharisees tried to stop Jesus and only ended up serving as tools in the hand of God to further his ministry. The greatest evil that has ever been committed was just a pawn in the hand of God to accomplish the greatest good that could ever be done.
The Unstoppable Kingdom
Right now there is a group of people called the Boko Haram who have killed or kidnapped thousands in an effort to triumph Islam in Africa. I just heard today from a French Gideon that he has been refused access here in France to pass out Bibles at high schools and prisons. In the name of “separation of Church and State” it is nearly impossible to preach Christ in the public square. In China our brothers and sisters are thrown into prison, beaten, and killed as the government tries to stop the growth of the underground church. And you know what? They do not stand a chance. You cannot stop the Kingdom of God. Resistance is not merely futile, “resistance” furthers the Kingdom. Jesus said to Peter, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The Boko Haram, French secularists, and Chinese communists will not prevail against the Kingdom of God. In the end they will find themselves God’s tools.
If you find yourself reading the news and worrying, stop. If you are a Christian, you are part of a movement that literally cannot be stopped. That does not mean that we stop praying. Please pray for the persecuted brethren around the world. Please pray for our ministry, that we will have long lives and finish the translation. But please pray in confidence. Pray knowing that whether it is through us, or through others, God’s kingdom will succeed. And pray in hope. God’s enemies never stood a chance.