Against All Oppositions: The Triumph Of The Gospel
At any period, it always seems that the oppositions stacked up against the spread and triumph of the gospel are just too much.
It’s no different in our days.
The preaching of the gospel has been outlawed in many nations while the persecution of believers persists.
Secularism and secularisation have taken hold of many nations and it seems that people are less concerned about whether they are reconciled to God or not. Atheism, confessional and practical, abounds. God and concerns about the soul have been relegated and obscured to a place of almost zero importance.
In other places, religion has been spiritualised such that the individual’s experience of “the divine” is ultimate and faith is without any content except what the individual brings to it. New age spiritualism, which is nothing more than repackaged pantheism, is the order of the day.
And then there are the threats of false religions and false gospels. In the face of growing religious pluralism, the unique claims of the gospel have been seen as untenable, even by professing Christians. And modern Christianity has become a hodgepodge of christless “gospels” where sin, repentance, and justification are treated as curse words that should be avoided.
Even within evangelical Christianity, internal divisions and rancors have threatened the unity of the church and the witness of the gospel.
Despite all of these, one fact remains: the gospel will triumph.
As we’ll see, the early church faced many similar oppositions that threatened the spread of the gospel. But the gospel triumphed against all those oppositions. Two thousand years later, the church is a universal phenomenon.
The good news is that our time will not be different.
Persecutions and prisons
After the death of Ananias and Sapphira, the message of the gospel was followed with many signs and wonders performed by the apostles.
Jealous of the crowds that came from many distant towns to be healed by the apostles, the Jewish leaders arrested them and put them in jail.
God intervened and took them out of the prison. But the Jewish leaders arrested them again and warned them to stop preaching in Christ’s name. They wanted to kill them but God raised up one of their own to dissuade them.
But the threats of the Jewish leaders could not stop the spread of the gospel. “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 5:42).
Some chapters later, Stephen was killed and his death led to a “great persecution” of the saints in Jerusalem. The unified church was dispersed throughout Judea and Samaria.
What was the result of the persecution and dispersion? “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). Also, “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there” (verse 5). This persecution even led to the first gentile church in Antioch (Acts 11:19-21).
In fact, one of those who approved the stoning of Stephen — Paul — became a Christian himself and contributed immensely to the expansion of God’s kingdom (the kingdom that he had persecuted). The gospel is so powerful that God even used its greatest persecutor in that century as its greatest evangelist.
In Acts 11, King Herod decided to join the persecution gang by killing John and putting Peter into prison. Though God allowed John to die, he delivered Peter from death. Instead, it was the prison guards and Herod himself that died.
While Herod, the persecutor, was being struck down by an angel of the Lord, “the word of God continued to spread and flourish” (Acts 12:24).
The Jews in Pisidian Antioch heaped abuses and insults on Paul and contradicted what he said (Acts 13:44-45) but none of that stopped the gentiles from honouring the word and responding in faith (Acts 13:48).
Paul was thrown into prison in Phillipia and right there in the prison, a whole household was won to the kingdom (Acts 16:16-40). He was persecuted in Thessalonica, but yet many people received the word of God and believed it despite the opposition (1 Thessalonians 1-2). It was the same in Ephesus (Acts 18:5-11, 19:8-12, 17-22).
Even in Rome where Paul was under house arrest, the gospel message continued to be proclaimed, to Jews as well as Gentiles (Acts 28:17-30).
The book of Acts did not end in a sorry state because the greatest evangelist of the church was in prison. Why will it? As Paul himself said, “God’s word is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:9).
Rather, Acts ended on this triumphant note: “He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ – with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31).
Paul couldn’t carry the gospel to the Romans at this time but the Romans came to him. One way or the other, what’s certain is that the gospel will triumph over all oppositions. The word of God will never be chained. It will continue to be proclaimed unhindered irrespective of the external circumstances of those proclaiming it.
Instead, everything that happens will serve to advance the gospel (Philippians 1:12).
False religions and gospels
Simon the Sorcerer was a man with a huge audience. In Samaria, all the people, high and low, gave him their attention and called him “The Great Lower of God.” They followed him for a long time because of his sorceries.
However, despite the hold that this man had on the people of Samaria, when Philip came with the gospel, “they believed” and they were baptised. The gospel ministry was so powerful that Simon the Sorcerer himself was baptised (Acts 8:9-13). The one who astonished many was astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw from Philip.
Like Simon, Bar-Jesus was a Jewish sorcerer who practised his craft in Cyprus. He was the attendant of the proconsul and the magistrate seemed to highly value his counsel.
He opposed Barnabas and Paul and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith he was already prone to accept.
But the power of God overpowered him and the proconsul believed the teaching of the Lord that had amazed him (Acts 13:4-12).
When Paul got to Athens, “he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). Athens was a polytheist, religious-pluralist city where all the residents “spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (verse 21).
Even in that society, “some of the people became followers of Paul and believed” (verse 34).
Athens was not just a polytheist society, it was one where various philosophies ruled, including the philosophy of the Stoics and the Epicureans. But even in that society, the gospel triumphed.
Various false gospels emerged in the early church. There were the legalists who denied justification by faith alone (Acts 15), the gnostics who believed Christians needed some special knowledge or experiences beyond Christ to access the divine (Colossians 2). There were also those who denied the humanity of Christ (1 John 4) and the antinomians who “pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord (Jude 4). Many savage wolves did arise to distort the truth and draw away disciples after themselves (Acts 20:28-30).
But the true apostolic gospel triumphed and was “proclaimed to every creature under heaven” (Colossians 1:22-23).
The triumph of the gospel was not due to the perfection of the early church. The triumph was in spite of some of its internal problems.
In Acts 6, the Greek Jews complained against the Hebrew Jews for the neglect of their widows in the daily distribution of food.
But this internal rancor did not ultimately weaken the spread of the gospel. Rather, God gave the church the wisdom to address the situation after which “the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
Later on, Paul and Barnabas, the two prominent evangelists of the early church, had a tense disagreement that led them to go their different ways.
But instead of this leading to a spirit of bitterness that destroyed their work, it led to a multiplication of the missionary efforts, with Paul leaving with Silas and then Timothy and Barnabas leaving with Mark (Acts 15:35-16:3).
The end result was that as Paul and his new crew went about delivering the decisions reached by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem to the churches, they “were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers” (verse 5).
Mark, who followed Barnabas, would later become a ministerial asset to Paul (2 Timothy 4:11).
The sure triumph of the gospel
Just as the gospel prevailed in the early church, it will prevail in our time.
The whole world will be so filled with the glory of God (Habakkuk 2:14) that people from every tribe and language and people and nation will reign with Christ (Revelation 5:9-10).
This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world (Matthew 24:14). All of God’s elect — those he has given to Christ — will come to Christ and none of them will be lost (John 6:35-40). Jesus, the good Shepherd, will bring all of his sheep into the fold, the kingdom (John 10:16). Christ will have all those he had purchased with his blood.
Christ will continue to reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet (1 Corinthians15:25). None of Christ’s enemies (who are also the church’s enemies — the church is Christ’s body) will survive. Whether atheism, secularism, evil regimes and their leaders, false religions, false gospels, and discord among believers, all of Christ’s enemies will be defeated, with death as the final victim. Nothing would be able to stand before the ultimate triumph of the gospel.
The victory of Christ (the triumph of the gospel) is inevitable. No one can stand against his decrees or hold him back from doing what he has decreed (Daniel 4:35).
Christian, do not be discouraged. Nothing can stand against the gospel. Everything that happens will serve to advance the gospel.
We might look around us and behold the mountains of oppositions against the gospel but none of these oppositions will stand. Every mighty mountain will fall down before this Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4:7). The gospel we have been given triumphs against all oppositions.
Ours is to proclaim the gospel and cooperate with Christ as he works in and through us to overcome all his enemies and cause the gospel to triumph.
Our sovereign God will work in his providence through all the means he chooses, especially the church, to see to it that this gospel will triumph.
Let’s keep praying, trusting, proclaiming; let’s keep loving the Lord our God with all of our hearts; let’s keep submitting ourselves to him so he can use us as he sees fit in this great work.
This gospel will triumph; God never fails.
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform.
He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding ev’ry hour.
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan his work in vain.
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.