Read Acts chapter 27
Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
Paul’s Mediterranean Cruise
Although he’s done nothing deserving imprisonment, Paul has spent the last two years in prison.
He could have been released but before King Agrippa heard his case, Paul had already appealed to Caesar in Rome, so, to Caesar he must go.
Now he’s delivered, along with some other prisoners, to a centurion named Julius. And they board a ship that’s setting sail along the coast of Asia, in the direction of their destination which is Italy. Paul finds favor with Julius, so much so that he’s even allowed to visit with friends in the port of Sidon not far from Israel.
But now it’s time to head out to more open sea and the winds were against them. It’s slow going but they make it to Lycia, which is on the Northern part of the Mediterranean, about halfway between Israel and Greece. There they switch to a ship with Italy as its destination.
They sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived “with difficulty” to a place called Cnidus. They didn’t make much headway.
From Cnidus, because the winds were against them, they had to sail under the lee of the island of Crete, “coasting along with difficulty,” until they put in at a spot on the South coast of Crete.
With the winds against them most of the way, so much time had passed that the season was changing and it was now dangerous to sail. Paul, perhaps under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, advised them to wait out the dangerous winter season. In so many words he said,
“Look, I know you want to keep moving, but if we go for it we’ll lose the ship, and the cargo, and maybe our lives.”
But they ignored his warning and decided to sail. Paul, a prisoner, had no choice but to sail with them.
At first it looked like the winds were in their favor. But it wasn’t long before a “tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down” upon them. They were driven hard off course until they managed “with difficulty” to position under the lee of a small island.
They used ropes to gird the boat to try to hold it together. Soon they were driven along again by the storm.
The next day it became so violent that they began to throw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship. Two days later the storm continued and they threw the ship’s tackle overboard. These were desperate actions. But the raging storm continued, and after many days they were not only lost, but they also lost hope of surviving at all. They were so distraught that they stopped eating.
But then Paul stood up and said, “Men, you should have listened and not have set sail from Crete. But even now, I encourage you to take heart, because there will be no loss of life among you, only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, because I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island.”
Finally, after 14 more days in the storm, it was as the angel said it would be. The ship wrecked off the coast of an island called Malta. It was broken into pieces. But those who couldn’t swim clung to those pieces of the ship, and those who could swim, swam to shore.
All 276 passengers on board were saved. Today there’s a place in Malta called Saint Paul’s Bay.
Storms And God’s Will
As I write this blog post Kathy’s making travel arrangements for us to visit my nephew Kassidy and his family in Las Vegas. Kathy’s a whiz at making travel arrangements. She finds bargains and always makes our trips as comfortable and as nice as possible.
Today she commented that she felt like our seats on the airplane aren’t great.
I have friend who went on a cruise once and they encountered some bad weather. He was feeling pretty bad about it.
Paul barely escaped with his skin.
To be alive today means that anyone with a climate controlled living space, a TV, and a smartphone has a higher standard of living than the kings and queens of old. Our environments are so fine tuned, and we like it that way. We expect it that way. And when it’s not that way, we complain. When the movie’s not available on a long flight, we complain. When the air conditioning goes out, I complain. When the fuel pump goes out on my car, I’m put out.
And those are little things. What we see happening here in Paul’s life speaks of a bigger thing and here’s what the bigger thing is:
I have a tendency to feel like I’m in God’s will when things are going smoothly, and I tend to feel I’m outside of God’s will when things are tempestuous. But that’s not true at all.
We see that God’s angel told Paul that
Even though he was beaten badly
Even though he was wrongly accused and incarcerated for two years,
Even though no one would listen to him when he told them not to sail during the dangerous part of the year,
Even though he was in cramped quarters with 275 people on a small ship (scholars tell us it was 100′ long at most) for weeks in a violent storm,
Even though he was shipwrecked,
Even though King Agrippa said he could have been released had he not appealed to Caesar,
He was inside of God’s will. Because, as the angel told Paul, it was God’s will that he stand before Caesar.
As you’re reading this right now, maybe you’re going through your own storm. Maybe you don’t have enough money to make it through the month. Or maybe the one you love died. Or maybe the one you love decided to leave. Or maybe you’re battling an injury or illness or depression or anxiety. If that’s you, I hope you can find encouragement in what I’m about to share.
The words “with difficulty” are used three times in the passage describing Paul’s journey, emphasizing the point that life inside God’s will is sometimes lived “with difficulty.” It’s not just Paul where we see this truth illustrated. We see it in the life of David when he was on the run from Saul and his army. We see it in the life of Job. We see it in the life of Joseph when his brothers sold him into slavery, and when he was wrongly accused of rape and imprisoned. We see it in the life of Jacob when God touched his hip.
We see it in the life of Jesus.
We see it over and over. But take hope, because there’s beauty in it.
C. S. Lewis once wrote: “I have seen great beauty of spirit in some who were great sufferers. I have seen men, for the most part, grow better not worse with advancing years, and I have seen the last illness produce treasures of fortitude and meekness from most unpromising subjects.”
And Lewis addressed depression and anxiety specifically when he wrote: “But some by heroism overcome even chronic mental pain. They often produce brilliant work and strengthen, harden, and sharpen their characters until they become like tempered steel.”
The truth is some of God’s greatest favorites were destined for some of life’s greatest storms.
I hope you can hold on to that when the tempest is violently careening you about. I hope you can hold on to that when you’re hurting. I hope you can take hope in that when you’re suffering.
Maybe you’re one of them.
Maybe you’re suffering because you’re one of God’s favorites.
This blog post was inspired by Chuck Bomar’s excellent teaching Acts: God’s Will In Hardship | 27:1-28:14 , March 31, 2019