Summary: For Lent and for Black History Month, with a focus on Africa: the purposes of God will be accomplished, though not without difficulties and sacrifice. Examples of African Christians to show this truth.
I cannot imagine how Paul did it. Here he is, in prison, chained to a soldier, and he is talking about hope and making plans for the future. How can anyone with half a brain do that? Does he not understand how perilous is his predicament? Chained! Awaiting trial! And yet he can say, “It is for the sake of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.”
It’s not fair, is it? You and I are sure that Paul’s imprisonment was an injustice, and, although the Bible does not report Paul’s death, tradition suggests that he was beheaded in Rome in the year 67 AD. It was, by our standards, a gross injustice.
And yet it is not only that Paul in chains speaks of hope; it is also that throughout his long ministry, a whole host of things happened that never should have happened at all. A chronicle of injustices. In one of his letters, he catalogs them for us: “Imprisonments … countless floggings, and often near death. Five times … the forty lashes minus one. Three times … beaten with rods. Once … a stoning. Three times … shipwrecked; for a night and a day … adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.”
Great day, what is this man? Is he stark raving mad? And still he persists after all of this. He puts himself into a position to be arrested once more, once more put into chains. And still he speaks of hope. Oh, let’s just go home; this cannot be someone worth listening to, can it?!
And as if all that were not enough, when the Book of Acts ends, Luke the historian says that Paul lived in Rome in chains, two years more, “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” Without hindrance? Chains are no hindrance? Prison is no hindrance? That Roman soldier with one hand on his sword is no hindrance? The injustice of the system is no hindrance? What is this all about, “without hindrance?”
I propose to you today that the purposes of God will be accomplished. No human barrier will stop the work of God. No chain will hold back His word. No oppression will forever shackle His people. And no injustice need keep His church from working without hindrance.
Yes, of course there will be setbacks. Yes, I well recognize that our failures will slow the pace. Yes, surely I do know that evil empires and malice aforethought will triumph for a little while. But I am committed to this one great truth: that the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever. Beyond the chains, past the injustice, despite whatever barriers may be thrown up in the way, His truth is marching on. And the purposes of our God will be accomplished.
That means that God’s church should rejoice in apparent hindrances. That means that when we feel held back, we shall look for ways to break the chains, because eventually there will be an answer, and the purposes of God will be accomplished. Not without blood, sweat, and tears, even sacrifice, to be sure. But God’s justice will be done, God’s victory will come. Without hindrance.
In this Black History Month, I have felt moved to illustrate and expand this theme by looking with you at Africa. Africa is torn by strife and oppression. Much of that is left over from the age of colonialism. Much of the terror that strikes that continent comes from the history of exploitation brought by Europeans and fostered by the American slave trade. The history is monstrous.
But not just the history; also the present day. We in this church heard Agnes Datoloum’s cry for the safety of her family, caught up in the conflict in Chad. We learned from Mark Deuser about the effects of tribal warfare on Pastor Olero’s ministry in Kenya. We, along with many others, have wondered why the world does not effectively intervene to stop the slaughter in Sudan. Injustice is everywhere and chains are still being forged for many of the peoples of Africa.
And yet nowhere on earth is it more wonderfully demonstrated that the purposes of God will be accomplished, despite the chains. Let me tell you a couple of stories.
Julius Mabey is a young Liberian who one day showed up at the church I served as pastor. He said he was looking for a few dollars and for a place to stay. As I listened to Julius, I found I was dealing with a homeless refugee. He had nothing to support himself other than the kindness of a Liberian family in our community, plus his own deep faith. I asked, “Julius, what about your family?” “All dead – killed in a raid on our village.” “Julius, how is it you escaped?” “I gathered up some children while the soldiers burned our houses, and we hid in a pile of brush.” “Julius, what about those children? Where are they?” “One of them started to cry, and the soldiers found us. We ran, but I am the only one who was not killed.” And then Julius said to me, “Pastor, I know that God spared me for a reason. I know that He wants me to preach the Gospel.”