One year ago today, health officials in the United States confirmed COVID case number one thousand. What a year since. In uncertain times, like the ones we live in today, it’s especially relevant to ponder God’s providence, the theme of Pastor John’s new book by that title, Providence (you can now order the title from our friends at Westminster Books for just $19.99). The reassuring truth of Scripture is that God’s sovereign decree governs over everything — over every virus, and over every nation, and over every human ruler. He does this to bring about his final purpose and end. Such an awesome doctrine, when we see it and delight in it, can make a very deep and definite impact on how we live, even down to how we fulfill our mission on earth. It’s one of ten implications Pastor John is focusing on in this little Wednesday series on the podcast. Last time, in episode 1595, we looked at how God’s providence gives us the confidence that God has the right and the power to answer our prayers. Providence gives us confidence to pray. That was implication number eight. Here now with implication number nine is Pastor John.
This ninth real-life effect, real-life benefit, of believing firmly in the all-embracing providence of God is very closely related to the previous benefit concerning prayer. There in episode 1595, we turned the objection — that prayer is pointless if providence is true — upside down. In fact, the truth of providence makes prayer powerful, not problematic. Now I’m going to do the very same thing with evangelism and world missions that I did with prayer.
“Evangelism and world missions will be successful precisely because of God’s all-embracing providence.”
So, here is the ninth glorious life-changing benefit of believing in the all-embracing providence of God. It shows us that evangelism and world missions — finishing the Great Commission, against all human odds, these human activities — are absolutely essential for people to be converted to Christ and for the nations to be reached, and they will be successful. These essential human activities of evangelism and world missions will be successful precisely because of God’s all-embracing providence that has the right and the power to convert sinners to himself. That’s the ninth glorious, life-changing benefit: being confident of that double reality.
Blessing or Problem?
In other words, the reality of God’s providence guarantees the sending and going of missionaries and evangelists and witnesses to the neighborhoods and nations of the world. And it guarantees that through these human means, conversions to Christ will happen, and the church of Christ will be built in all the places and among all the peoples that God intends for it to be.
The objection to evangelism and world missions that I am turning upside down into a blessing — the blessing of providence, rather than a problem for providence — is this: the objectors say, when they consider this view of providence that I’m asking you to take so seriously, “Well, there’s no point in evangelism and missions since God has planned already, even from eternity, who will be saved.”
How Blind Eyes Are Opened
Now again, just like with prayer, which we saw last time, a glance at the Bible will reveal that God’s plan to save people is through the word. Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word.” And his plan is that this saving word be preached by human beings. The Bible is plain: no one believes and is saved without hearing the gospel. The new birth comes through the living and abiding word, the gospel.
First Peter 1:23, 25 goes like this: “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. . . . And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” The gospel is not written in the clouds; it is entrusted to Christians who become witnesses and missionaries. If there were no human witnesses, there would be no salvation. Listen to Romans 10:14–17.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
When Jesus commissioned Paul to the Gentiles, he said to do what only God can do. Listen to these words; these are the words of Jesus to Paul:
I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. (Acts 26:17–18)
Open blind eyes — really? Liberate from Satan — really? I mean, he’s just a mere human being, right? That was Paul’s mission, and it is ours. Jesus gives it to us — namely, to become the human means of what only God can do: open the eyes of the blind, the spiritually dead; raise them up to life. How do the blind see? How are the enslaved set free? Answer: by evangelism, by missions, by words — speaking the words. Faith comes by hearing — hearing by human words, speaking the word of God. We are the instruments. We become, in the hands of providence, the means of the miracle of the conversion of sinners to Christ everywhere.
But evangelism and world missions are even more amazing in the hands of providence. The obedient senders and goers in missions are not just the means of the miracle of conversion; they are themselves a miracle — the miracle of obedience. God’s providence is miraculously at work in us for obedience before he uses us for the work of the conversion of others. We are a miracle before we work miracles in the providence of God. From start to finish, evangelism and world missions is a gracious work of providence.
When we go or send in obedience to Christ, God has triumphed over our selfishness and our provincial limitations of his good news. And then, when we speak thus obediently to unbelievers, the Lord works the second miracle, according to Acts 16:14. Paul opens his mouth. He is now the obedient spokesman. And what happens? “The Lord opened [Lydia’s] heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” The providence-created obedience of Paul speaking to Lydia is followed by the providence-created belief in the heart of Lydia. Glory.
As in the case of prayer, the unthwartable providence of God is not a problem for evangelism and missions; it is their only hope of success. The obstacles to missions around the world today are insurmountable but for one thing: that the providence of God is unstoppable.
“The obstacles to missions today are insurmountable but for one thing: the providence of God is unstoppable.”
It cannot be stopped by closed countries. It cannot be stopped by hostile religions. It cannot be stopped by difficult languages and cultures. It cannot be stopped by the ultimate self-determination of the fallen human soul — not the self-determination of the Muslim soul, or the self-determination of the Hindu soul, or the self-determination of the Buddhist soul, or the self-determination of the Jewish soul, or the purely secular soul, because in the world of God’s providence, there is no such thing as the ultimate self-determination of the human will. It does not exist. Only God is ultimately sovereignly self-determining.
Jesus Will Build His Church
We may — indeed, we must — build our lives and our mission on this confidence: “I will build my church,” says the Lord Jesus, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). That is a statement of sovereign, purposeful providence. And to that end, Matthew 24:14 says, “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed . . .” That’s a statement of sovereign providence. “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
One of my most urgent prayers for this book on providence is that God will use it to catapult thousands of new missionaries into God’s harvest with undaunted confidence in God’s unstoppable providence.