CONTRIBUTED BY ROB TOMREN
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to study the book of Acts at a ‘Trinity@Night’ course. The course was called “The Unstoppable Gospel” and as we went through the book it became very clear that throughout the book of Acts nothing could halt the heralding of the Gospel. Throughout the book of Acts we see the news of the Gospel spread from Jerusalem throughout the Roman World. Whenever something threatened to prevent its proclamation, time after time they instead act as a catalyst, resulting in a greater dispersal of the message of God’s Kingdom.
Throughout the book of Acts the most widespread method for the silencing of the message of the Gospel was to bring charges against whoever was speaking of the Gospel. This usually was in order to have the person arrested and therefore quieted. This almost invariably had the opposite result, usually providing the speaker with a new audience previously having not heard of the gospel or even previously unwilling to hear. The first example of arrest in Acts affords Peter an opportunity to teach the council of Jewish elders. Later in Acts we regularly read of Paul being brought before the city officials or Roman Authorities resulting in Paul being exonerated after presenting the gospel to those who were to judge him. On the occasions where Paul did find himself imprisoned the Lord still presented occasions to speak of the Gospel. First we see this in the conversion of the Philippian jailer. Then, in the final chapters of Acts, Paul is arrested in Jerusalem and provided many openings during his incarceration to speak to Roman Officials, or his guards, as he made his way to Rome. Here the book concludes with Paul in house arrest in Rome “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31).
External persecution of the proclamation of the Gospel in the book of Acts also took the form of violence or the threat of violence against the people of God, yet this also failed in silencing the message of the Gospel. The first serious act of violence we read of is the stoning of Stephen. This act directly resulted in the scattering of the Jerusalem believers who took to the word of the Gospel to the surrounding towns of Judea and Samaria. When threatened with stoning in Iconium, Paul fled to Lystra and Derbe where he continued to preach the gospel. Thus violent opposition also catalysed the declaration of the kingdom of God.
God even turned the unwillingness of His heralds and internal conflict into a force for the furtherance of His message. By sending Peter to the house of Cornelius against Peter’s better judgement, the Lord quells arguments among his people over the debate of whether Gentiles need to convert to Judaism in order to join the faith. This resulted in the sending of letters to the Gentile churches, giving instruction and exhortation. Additionally through a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas, the Lord facilitated them to both take the Gospel in different directions, thereby also increasing its proclamation.
We may marvel at how God facilitated the spread of his message through the ancient world, however I believe we often misunderstand why the Gospel was so unstoppable. When Jesus first announced his ministry he did it with the words “the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Here we see that the Gospel is that God’s Kingdom is coming. This Kingdom was fully realised in Christ’s death and resurrection. And now with Christ enthroned it shouldn’t surprise us that the proclamation of the Gospel could not be stopped. As the Kingdom has been realised it cannot be stopped. This is still true for us; since Christ has established His Kingdom now nothing can prevent us from spreading word of it.
If you are interested in learning more of how God spread word of His Kingdom in the period directly after Christ’s ascension, Bible Study Club Abide will be studying Acts every second Tuesday evening starting on the 30thof July. For more details see the liturgy sheet!