I was a freshman in college when I first heard a preacher named John Piper. I was piled into a van with some older students who had recruited me to go to a weekend men’s retreat with a college ministry. One of the guys played for us a message called “Doing Missions When Dying Is Gain.”
The reason I mention it is because that message was the first thing to come to mind when I received this topic for our few minutes together: “The Certain Triumph of the Gospel.” I had grown up in church, but up to that point, Matthew 24:14 had never really landed on me. It was the first verse that Piper quoted in that missions message. These are the words of Jesus:
This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)
As a 19-year-old, who wanted my little life to connect with God’s global, transhistorical purpose in the universe to glorify himself, that promise from Jesus, that his gospel would be proclaimed in every nation, awakened something deep in me. I wanted my life to count. And I didn’t want to risk it on something that would fail, or might fail. I wanted my life to line up with God’s great purposes and promises for all time and history, and it was thrilling to know that God’s global mission would not abort. He won’t fall short. He will accomplish his purposes.
To the Ends of the Earth
So, let me begin by saying what I mean by three key words when we talk about “the certain triumph of the gospel.”
When I say gospel, I’m talking about the good news, the declaration, that Jesus saves sinners. God himself came as man to give his own self that we rebels might be restored to him, through faith. We could tether it to 1 Corinthians 15:3–4: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, . . . he was buried, . . . he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
What, then, is the triumph of the gospel? What will it mean for this gospel to triumph? What will signal that? When will it be? We might answer that with two texts (in addition to Matthew 24:14). Jesus’s Great Commission to the church in Matthew 28:19: disciple all nations. And Revelation 5:9, where the lead worshipers in heaven say to the Lamb, “By your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” So, the triumph of the gospel is worshipers of King Jesus in every nation, among every people and tribe and language.
And what does it mean that this triumph of the gospel is certain? As surely as God is God, this is how history ends. The world does not end through global warming. Or the sun exploding. Or a massive meteor striking the earth. But history ends with the progress of the gospel to all nations.
But it’s not enough just to believe that it will happen. We need to know why. Why is it certain that the gospel of Jesus Christ will triumph?
Let me highlight one main reason, and then give three supporting truths, to bolster our assurance.
The main reason is that God is sovereign, and to see that in fresh light, let me take you to one specific place and give you a taste of how powerful and rich this truth is: the book of Daniel.
Five Regal Declarations
During lockdown, I’ve been locked in on the book of Daniel, and it has been an awesome place to be in uncertain times. Because the great message of the book, through a prophet in exile, is God reigns. “Heaven rules” is the theme of Daniel in two words and one verse (4:26). And in particular, something I had never noticed before is the repetition of what we might call “the regal declarations” at the end of chapters 2 and 3 and 4 and 6. God acts, whether to give (through Daniel) the king’s dream, or save from the fiery furnace, or humble and restore the king, or save from the lion’s den — and in response, the single most powerful human on the face of the earth at that time declares the greatness and sovereignty of Daniel’s God.
1. He Is Lord over All Kings
The first is at the end of chapter 2. King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream and wants his magicians to tell him both the dream and the meaning. Which, of course, they cannot do. But Daniel steps forward. God tells Daniel the dream, which Daniel tells to King Nebuchadnezzar, with its interpretation, and the king “fell upon his face” (verse 46) and said to Daniel,
Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery. (Daniel 2:47)
This is an amazing declaration of Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel had just declared (when he started the interpretation) that, humanly speaking, Nebuchadnezzar was the king of kings:
You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all — you are the head of gold. (Daniel 2:37–38)
Now Nebuchadnezzar himself, the king of kings, declares that Daniel’s God is “God of gods and Lord of kings.”
2. None Can Rescue Like Him
Then, chapter 3. This same Nebuchadnezzar throws Daniel’s three friends in the fiery furnace for refusing to bow down to his statue. And, as you know, God rescues them from the fire, and a fourth figure walks with them in the furnace. And then the regal declaration:
Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way. (Daniel 3:28–29)
We’ll see these regal declarations are building:
- Chapter 2: God of gods, Lord of kings.
- Chapter 3: no other god can rescue like him.
3. His Reign Will Not End
Then chapter 4 begins with another declaration from Nebuchadnezzar about Daniel’s God, even before we get the full story:
How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation. (Daniel 4:3)
Not only is he God of gods and able to rescue, but his kingdom is everlasting. We are getting a multidimensional view of the Most High God in the height and depth and extent of his sovereignty. Then we get the story about what happened. Nebuchadnezzar had another dream. Daniel interpreted it, and then it came to pass. The king lost his mind. He was driven from his kingdom, and he ate grass like an ox — that is, as God says to him, “until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:32; see also 4:17, 25; 5:18, 21). He is not “over all” and passive; he is active. He gives and takes away. Eventually the king learns his lesson, and regains his mind, and is restored as king.
4. None Can Stay His Hand
Then another regal declaration comes at the end of the chapter, and this one, the best yet. Remember this is Nebuchadnezzar talking about Daniel’s God:
His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34–35)
None can stay his hand. It’s not even a good fight with him. There’s no fight. He is God. He does as he pleases. He is sovereign. God of gods. Able to rescue as he chooses. And his power and reign will not expire. His kingdom is everlasting. None can hold him back. None can stay his hand.
Then, interestingly enough, there’s no regal declaration in chapter 5. That’s the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, Belshazzar, who sees the handwriting on the wall. He doesn’t get the point. He doesn’t humble himself. He doesn’t declare God’s praise as Lord of all, and he dies that night, and God takes his kingdom and gives it to a Mede named Darius.
5. Our God Is Sovereign
Then, finally, chapter 6: the lions’ den. Darius is now king, and when he discovers that Daniel is still alive after a night in the den with hungry lions, he, too, declares about Daniel’s God,
He is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions. (Daniel 6:26–27)
And not just the lions in the dens, but also the ones named Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius. We could go on to further sweeping statements about God’s sovereignty in chapter 7 (7:14, 27), but hopefully the picture is plain enough at this point: Daniel’s God — who is our God, through Jesus Christ — is sovereign. He reigns. Heaven rules, not earth. And one big reason we can be certain that the gospel will triumph is that the God of the gospel is sovereign. He does according to his will. None can stay his hand.
Three All-Encompassing Truths
But then, from this great fountain of God’s sovereignty, let’s quickly cascade three supporting truths, to bolster our assurance, as we close. Three further reasons we know our gospel will certainly triumph: God’s Son, God’s Spirit, and God’s saints.
1. The Sacrifice of Christ (Revelation 5:9–10)
The ransom for God’s people has already been paid by God’s Son, and God will not go back on his Son’s payment. Back to the praise of heaven in Revelation 5:9–10:
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.
2. The Spirit of Resurrection (Ephesians 1:19–21; 3:16)
Jesus, the Son of God, did not only die for our sins; he rose from the dead. He conquered death and defeated sin. And amazingly, that very power, the kind of power that can do what no mere human can, and no human kingdom can — raise the dead — that power is ours, through Christ, in his Spirit.
In Ephesians 1:19–21, Paul prays that God’s people, the church, might know
the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
And then he prays again in Ephesians 3:16 that God “may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.”
3. The Saints of the Church (Ephesians 3:10, 20–21)
Finally, then, it’s Ephesians 3 as well that shows us the stunning spotlight God puts on his church as the very focal point, alongside his Son, for his glory in the world. What Paul says about the church in Ephesians 3 is nothing short of astounding. In verse 10, he says that
through the church the manifold wisdom of God [will] now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
God is focusing his work in history on the church. He will show himself to be God through the great triumph over sin and Satan and death that he produces in and through his church. And in verses 20–21 he prays,
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
To God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus. The very glory of God is at stake in the triumph of the gospel among all nations, and God will see to it, as surely as he is God, that he will be glorified in his Son and in his church.
Our God Triumphs
So, brothers and sisters, most of whom are on the other side of the world from me, know that our God most certainly triumphs. His gospel and his global mission will triumph. He is sovereign. Lord over all kings. Lord over all history. Lord of all natural disasters. He is God over the global pandemic, using it toward his great purposes. He is God over every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, give your life to the progress of the gospel. Live on this gospel yourself. Do not be ashamed of this gospel. Identify with Jesus and tell others how they too can identify with him and what he has done for his people.
God will not go back on the payment of his Son. And he gives us, in Christ, the resurrection power of his Spirit, and he focuses his work in all of history, and among all the nations, on his church.
And so even in such days — even in a global pandemic — we say, as his people, grounded in our unstoppable gospel, “It is well with my soul.”