The worldwide pandemic that is COVID-19 has devastated entire countries and their economies. Even in Australia, where we have so far—at least in comparison to the rest of the world—escaped relatively unscathed, the city of Sydney has been in lockdown for over two-months. But what effect has this had on the kingdom of God?
A good mate of mine has planted a new reformed-evangelical Anglican church in Tamworth—north-west NSW—which has grown steadily. Anecdotally, there are a number of other examples from across a broad range of denominations that could be given as well.
Within my own denomination, two new Presbyterian churches—at Willoughby and Kogarah—have also been planted. Significantly, both were started at the beginning of the two major ‘lockdowns’ that the NSW government has imposed. This has meant that churches were initially not allowed to meet in person, and then once the restrictions were finally eased, had to abide by a foursquare meter rule of ‘social distancing’ amongst a host of other health measures.
Humanly speaking, there couldn’t be a worse time to plant a church. But in the sovereign plan of God, the work of the Gospel continues to go ahead. It is a classic case of Jesus choosing to display His strength through our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Not only have new congregations started though, but the existing ones have seen people step up in service, as well as reach out in witness and financial giving. It has truly been an unprecedented opportunity—in terms of my own lifetime—for the body of Christ seek to glorify God as well respond to all kinds of external restrictions.
Significantly, it has also exposed our own personal fears, especially with the threat of a deadly disease. And pastorally this has meant that the preaching of the Gospel—as well as the fellowship of God’s people—has never been more needed. For an excellent encouragement in this regard, see the following article, ‘What you need to know if you’re terrified of COVID’, by James Jeffery.
As we continue to faithfully follow Christ during this time, it’s easy to lose sight of God’s mission. To be more concerned with complying with government regulations and keeping everyone safe, than seeing the Word of God continue to spread. This brings us to the book of Acts. And in particular, the very last couple of verses.
Acts is an incredible part of Scripture, characterised by the miraculous growth of Christ’s kingdom, and accompanied with dramatic demonstrations of God’s Spirit. As Alan J. Thompson remarks in his book, The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus (IVP, 2011), it is concerned more with what the risen Lord Jesus is doing from heaven, than what His apostles are doing here on earth. The closing verses of the final chapter are especially pertinent:
For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 28:30-31)
That’s quite remarkable, isn’t it? Paul is under house arrest; he is literally in lockdown. And yet the Word of the Lord was not in lockdown. For, ‘Boldy and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ’. It’s a great reminder that everything—from the birds of the air to worldwide pandemics—are under His sovereign direction and control (see Matt. 10:29; Rev. 6:7–8).
The book of Acts is a tremendous encouragement in this regard. For one of the major themes is how the triumph of the Word (see Acts 4:29-31; 6:2-7; 8:4-25; 11:1; 12; 24; 13:5-49; 14:25; 15:27-36; 16:32; 17:13; 18:11; 19:10, 20; 20:32). Throughout the book, the preaching of the Gospel is confronted with all kinds of obstacles; e.g. the fear of God’s servants, moral corruption within the church, famine and all kinds of ‘natural’ disasters, as well as sustained persecution from unbelievers. But nothing stops the Word of the Lord from achieving His purpose (Isa. 55:10–11).
What then do we have to worry about? Neither the virus of COVID-19 nor the government restrictions put in place to stop its transmission cannot prevent the Gospel from spreading. For the Spirit of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus is powerfully at work drawing people to Himself, convicting them of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8–11).
Now is the time then to re-commit ourselves to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). Now is the time to share the comfort and hope we have received in the Gospel. For now is the day of the Lord’s salvation.