My church began a Sunday school series on the history of the Protestant Reformation. In the first class, the teacher gave a 45-minute whirlwind tour of the 1500 years that led up to the Reformation. He covered the eventual decline of the Roman Empire, the threats and attacks from neighboring tribes, and the political instability that ensued. Christianity went from severe persecution to Constantine's blending of church and state, setting the stage for the rise of the papacy. Sadly the church-at-large became a political entity in its own right with all the associated corruption and power grabs.
But amidst the decline, God was setting the stage. The Pax Romana and the system of roads were a means to spread the gospel and expand the early church. Even though Palestine suffered multiple invasions, manuscripts of the New Testament were preserved by the conquerors. These documents became the basis for Erasmus' translation of the New Testament into Latin which in turn was used by Martin Luther and William Tyndale to translate the Bible into the language of the common people
To my limited understanding, these inauspicious circumstances were not very conducive for launching the Great Commission or the Reformation, let alone living a "peaceful and quiet life." But church history bears witness to the fact that God's ways and thoughts are far above mine. Trying to fathom how He has woven the events of the past to bring about His purpose is mind boggling. But this is nothing for an infinite God who is all wise and all powerful and works all things according to the counsel of His will. (Eph. 1:11)
If I jump forward in time from before the Reformation to today, outwardly the situation seems equally inauspicious for the ongoing work of the Great Commission. But which lens am I using? My extremely limited and fallible human perspective or the point of view of an infinite God? If He set the stage for the coming of the Messiah, the completion of Jesus' redemptive work, the birth of the early church, and the Reformation, this is the same God who is still at work. While it is easy to point to the "big" events in history, let's bring it home. What did God do to set the stage so we would come to faith in Jesus Christ? Did you "just happen" to be born into a Christian family where you heard the good news? Or did you come to Christ because someone "just happened" to share the gospel or give you a tract or a Bible? What is He weaving together so that all who are called to eternal life will be brought into His kingdom?
I hope this encourages your heart as it does mine, and it does my heart good to rest in God's all-wise control over human history. Current events are still what they were the last time I listened to the news, but the Great Commission isn't at the mercy of the Holy Roman Empire or whoever will be the next president. Salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb, and He is setting the stage to bring that about.
(Thanks to Neil Harding's Sunday school class and Pastor Ryan Davidson's sermon on Acts 1:1-11 for giving me food for thought for this post.)