Are you feeling discouraged by the opposition to Christians and Christianity we’re seeing in the world? I’m reading through the first half of Acts this month (see “James Gray on Mastering the Bible”), and I’ve noticed something encouraging: over and over, we see that the powers and plans of the world are nothing compared to the power and plan of God. Not only is His kingdom unstoppable, but even the attempts to stop it turn out to be actions used by God to build it.
In Acts 4:24–28, when the disciples are released after being detained by the religious leaders, they say something truly amazing, beginning with a declaration of God’s power:
[T]hey lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said,
’Why did the Gentiles rage,
And the peoples devise futile things?
’The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His Christ.’
For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”
Luke (the author of Acts) shows the utter futility of taking a stand against God, for even when the most powerful do so, they’re still doing “whatever God’s hand and His purpose predestined to occur.” In this case, the rulers’ stand against God involved the killing of Christ, the pivotal event in God’s plan of redemption.
Here’s another example from Acts 8:1–4:
And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.... But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.
Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.
The persecution of the disciples—a powerful attempt to destroy them—merely worked to widen their influence.
And what of Paul (Saul), who was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (9:1), intent on “ravaging the church”? God simply redeemed Paul for His own, turning him into “a chosen instrument of Mine to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (9:15).
And what was the result of God turning the man who was leading the charge against the church into His apostle?
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. (9:31)
In chapter 12, we see a clear contrast between the power of rulers (limited, time-bound) and the power of God (unstoppable, eternal) in the death of Herod. After we hear that Herod “laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them”—killing James and imprisoning Peter, we see how Herod’s power to enact his plan compared to God’s:
On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. The people kept crying out, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.
But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied. (12:20–24)
What a contrast! Herod’s plans died with Herod, but the word of the Lord continues to this very day.
Whether God radically changes a situation (as He did through the conversion of Paul and the death of Herod) or He accomplishes His own good ends through the evil intentions of men (as He did with the death of Christ), His power is greater, and His plan is the plan that succeeds. Hallelujah!