GUEST COLUMN – GOSPEL VICTORIES
Reading the news headlines is often depressing, particularly for the Christian. The world brims with bad news — corruption, immorality, violence, deceit, and sheer foolishness.
If that were not enough to make one feel downcast on a sunny day, many Western Christians also feel weighed down by rising anti-Christian sentiments and struggles within the church.
In the Gospels we read of the disciples’ longing for the establishment of Christ’s earthly kingdom. Scripture reveals to us the anticipation of God’s people for the moment when every knee will bow and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord (Isaiah 45:23; Romans 14:11-12).
When Jesus’ disciples asked what would be the sign ‘when all these things are about to be accomplished’, and when Christ would come back to make all things new, Jesus responded ‘not yet’. ‘Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father’ (Mark 13:3-4,32).
But why not yet? In answering the disciples, Jesus pointed them to their task. Prior to his Second Coming is the era of gospel proclamation.
There is glorious good news to tell, news that is greater than all the sin and misery of this world. Christ did not end this world after his resurrection and ascension, because many will still receive his accomplished redemption.
Jesus tells his disciples and us, ‘Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’ (Luke 24:46-47).
By the Spirit, Peter declares the same truth to the church: ‘The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come…’ (2 Peter 3:9-10).
Has this been happening? Is Jesus’ reason for delaying the end of this world accurate? Are the elect being gathered, despite this world’s wickedness? Yes. And one grand proof of this stands in the history of gospel victory.
If we go back to Christ’s ascension, the church was a very small crowd — eleven remaining disciples, the women and other scattered believers, in Judea and Samaria. Jesus’ followers gathered to pray in Jerusalem — a small church in a hostile city, hostile nation and deeply pagan world.
When the day of Pentecost came, the Holy Spirit came to them in power transforming them into bold witnesses. Peter, the former denier of Christ, became a public preacher of Christ.
The Spirit enlivened and empowered the church, which became a profound witness of God’s grace in salvation.
Within thirty years, churches had been planted across the Near East, into Asia Minor, Greece, Italy and North Africa. The apostle Paul aimed to preach in Spain. Others carried the gospel through distant parts of the Roman Empire and beyond.
Satan and sinful men raised up brutal persecutions and a bewildering array of false teachings, yet God’s Word, inspired and inerrant, recognised and preserved by the Spirit-filled church, endured. So did the church. The gates of hell did not prevail against her, whether in the heart of Rome, or in dangerous barbarian backwaters.
Within the first three centuries, the church grew from perhaps a few thousand to ten per cent of the population of the known world.
Armenia became the first overtly Christian kingdom of the New Testament era. Not long after, the final, brutal wave of persecution in the Empire ceased. Christianity gained legal status, bringing the church relief as well as new temptations.
Despite encroaching superstition and Romanism, the Word did endure. God preserved his church and gospel victories continued. Waldensians, Lollards and Hussites, along with other movements remaining within the Roman Catholic Church, stood as a testimony to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
These movements burst into full flame in the Reformation, with a great recovery of the Scriptures and gospel of Jesus Christ.
Much of Europe was transformed, countless numbers converted. Persecutions, errors, heresies continued to challenge the faithful church in her witness, but the gospel continued to spread.
Through exploration, colonialism and missions, the gospel came to lands long in spiritual darkness. By the nineteenth century, the good news of Jesus Christ began making inroads into South America, Africa, Asia and the South Pacific.
By the twentieth century, many of these small inroads became strong indigenous churches.
Today, the church in Africa vastly outnumbers that of North America. In Asia, Christians outnumber believers in the whole West. The gospel of our Lord is advancing. Countless numbers are being saved by grace from sin, and myriads are growing in grace, even as you read this.
This world has many dark, sinful and vexing realities. We are dismayed by cultures in rebellion and decline, especially those that have formerly known God’s grace. But let us not grow weary in doing good, nor lose heart.
Jesus is enthroned as King of kings and Lord of lords. By his Spirit, he directs the glorious gospel victory, advancing through the ages to complete the daily growing, innumerable crowd of saints in glory and on earth.
Rejoice in Christ the Saviour and King, singing ‘the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!’ (Revelation 15:3).
The author is Associate Professor of Church History at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids, Michigan) and a minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.