The Trials of the Apostle Paul - Part 4

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

“God helps those who help themselves” is an assertion often attributed to the Bible, yet the saying is most certainly not found in the pages of Scripture. Not to mention the claim is inconsistent with what the Bible teaches.

Everyone has experienced situations where they felt powerless to help themselves. If the Lord God only helps those who help themselves, then everyone would be in great trouble and without hope of divine assistance. Helplessness is endemic to the human experience.

The feeling of helplessness can arise from professional or financial impediments, due to company layoff or plunges in the stock market. Feelings of despondency can also arise from a sudden or chronic illness. It can come from an aggressive computer attack that steals one’s information or erases one’s work. Prior to using Apple Macs, I still vividly remember the days of staring at a Blue Screen of Death (a fatal system error) and feeling utterly despondent.

The feeling of helplessness begins at birth and normally precedes death. Given enough time, everyone will experience the emotion, yet all people do not know how to recover from times of despondency and vulnerability. The fundamental spiritual lesson in Acts 27—28 is the recognition that one’s life is entirely dependent upon God.

Life on earth is wrought with times of helpless struggles, and without God, one can become hopeless. Jesus already told Paul, “‘Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also’” (Acts 23:11). Now in Acts 27, in the midst of life-threatening circumstances, Paul received a reaffirmation of that promise. Many struggles, and countless decisions one must make may result in feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. In those situations, one can trust in God’s sovereignty and in the Lord’s providence to provide whatever rescue is needed.

HOPE AND PROMISE
(Acts 27:1-44) Acts 27 indicates how difficult travel was in ancient times, and demonstrates how Paul emerged as the leader of the journey, even as a prisoner on his way to stand trial before Caesar in Rome. Once more, it is evident that God is controlling the circumstances, to bring Paul to his next ministry in Rome. Regardless of the conditions in which he found himself, Paul’s witness was exemplary. The biblical account proves how God will supply all needs (Phil 4:19), rescue one from danger (Ps 40, 69, 80; 2 Cor 1:10), and provide an opportunity for evangelism (Acts 27:21-26, 33-36). God’s people can endure hardship, and yet transform every difficulty into an advantage for Christ.

The first eight verses of Acts 27 recount the voyage by sea from Caesarea to a harbor named Fair Havens, not far from the city of Lasea. Paul took the role of a prophet, warning the officers and sailors that disaster was certain (because of the wintry weather) if they sailed any further (vv. 9-10). Paul was a Jewish tentmaker; thus, it seemed more reasonable for the centurion to heed the advice of the experts (v. 11) and the majority (v. 12).

When one is impatient (v. 7) and uncomfortable (v. 12), and a golden opportunity appears (v. 13), beware that a storm may suddenly arise (vv. 14-20). What may seem right may be horribly wrong. Proverbs 14:12 admonishes, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” If something is contrary to the Word of God, the Holy Bible, it is always the wrong direction to take.

Initially, all looked good, “but before very long there rushed down from the land a violent wind” and the ship was “driven along” by it (vv. 14-15).  Once several days of desperate measures had passed (vv. 16-19), “all hope . . . was gradually abandoned” (v. 20). Paul reminded his shipmates that they should have listened to him sooner (v. 21), and then advised them concerning future plans (vv. 22-26). The crew had an opportunity to heed the word of the Lord. In the midst of disaster, when there is no hope, trust in the promises of God. The blessings of association with a believer are evident (v. 24; cf. 1 Cor 7:14). God is gracious to others for the sake of those who belong to Him. In the case of Jonah, the prophet was the cause of the storm; however, in Paul’s situation, the missionary brought salvation.

“Approaching some land,” the sailors decided to abandon ship, but Paul warned the centurion to “remain in the ship.” This time they listened to him (vv. 27-32). Paul publicly “gave thanks to God,” which encouraged everybody (vv. 33-38). “When day came,” all 276 persons finally managed to reach land, just as Paul predicted (vv. 39-44). While everything appeared to be against a favorable outcome, God is sovereign to accomplish His purposes. Until he finished his course (cf. 2 Tim 4:7), nothing could stop Paul, which is true of every Christian. Whatever purposes God has for His people will be accomplished, and (in that sense) the believer is indestructible until then. God, by His grace and through Paul’s leadership, saved all the passengers. Search your own life as to how your faith in God will allow you to overcome obstacles, and perhaps even for others to depend upon you for help in their lives.

HOPE AND BOLDNESS
(Acts 28:1-31) The passengers from the ship discovered that the island on which they landed was Malta (v. 1). Though superstitious, the natives were unusually kind to the weather-beaten, drenched passengers (v. 2). Paul helped with the fire, and while doing so, a viper “fastened itself on his hand,” so the natives concluded he was a murderer. The viper incident proves that Paul was sailing every nautical mile of his journey to Rome under God’s protection. When he shook the viper “off into the fire” without any harm, they believed Paul was a god (vv. 3-6). The fickleness of the pagans is how many today make decisions. The moment something bad occurs, people believe some power is working against them, and quickly change their minds when good occurs. God’s people must be cautious not to think like pagans, by recognizing that the Lord’s providence often brings circumstances without any explanation.

Publius, “the leading man of the island,” entertained the 276 guests for three days (v. 7). Living with Publius was his father, who was “afflicted with recurrent fever and dysentery.” So Paul prayed, “laid his hands on him and healed him” (v. 8). Paul (as an apostle) healed more islanders, while Luke as a physician assisted (v. 9). The natives honored their guests and provided them with all they needed to resume their journey (v. 10), which was likely in gratitude for Paul and Luke’s services. Paul is a remarkable example of how Christians should be a blessing.

The journey to Rome began again “at the end of three months . . . on an Alexandrian ship” (v. 11), with a favorable south wind bringing everyone to the final port (vv. 12-13). At the port of Puteoli, Paul and his companions were able to fellowship with some Christians, who entertained them for a week; thereafter, they went to Rome (v. 14). Upon hearing that Paul was arriving, believers from Rome went to meet him and to escort the apostle into the city. Paul welcomed the encouragement (v. 15). Note the respect given to a leader who has accomplished much for the cause of Christ.

Paul had much freedom when he reached Rome (v. 16). Once he was settled, he sent for “the leading men of the Jews” to explain why he “was delivered as a prisoner,” making it unmistakable that everything was “for the sake of the hope of Israel” (vv. 17-20). Paul challenged his listeners to consider the good news of God’s grace—being received through faith in Jesus Christ—within the history of Israel.

Paul did not have a martyr complex for death; that was not the reason he arrived in Rome. Acts 23:11 was to be fulfilled, and thereafter (as the final chapters of Acts indicate; cf. Philem 22), Paul expected release from his imprisonment. His present ministry focused upon “the hope of Israel,” which meant the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies to Israel (cf. Acts 26:6-7). Paul rightly believed that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, and He is coming again to establish Himself as the King of Israel and Lord of the nations (cf. 1:6).

The Jewish leaders in Rome had heard nothing concerning Paul (v. 21), yet had heard much regarding Christianity and wanted to learn more (v. 22). Thus, they set a date for Paul to speak to large numbers. Paul expounded the Scriptures in great detail to those assembled, in order to convince them of the truth concerning Jesus (v. 23). He proclaimed the truth regarding Jesus from the Old Testament. His belief of the coming kingdom concerned the first advent, death, burial, resurrection, and second advent of the Lord Jesus. Some were persuaded, while “others would not believe” (vv. 24, 29). In response, Paul quoted Isaiah, where the Holy Spirit rightly spoke through the prophet, saying they would have closed eyes, ears, and hearts (vv. 25-27). The gospel message went to the Jews first, and now would be “sent to the Gentiles,” who would “also listen” (v. 28).

Paul “stayed two full years in his own rented quarters,” welcoming all who came to visit and preached unhindered to great numbers of people concerning “the kingdom of God” and “the Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 30-31). When a person knows he or she is doing as God wills, that person can speak “with all openness.” The boldness mentioned at the close of the book of Acts is the result of divine providence at work in the course of human events. The gospel message will proceed unimpeded throughout the world, regardless of what occurs to God’s courageous and faithful messengers. Be certain to know the reality of biblical truth, to then speak boldly and effectively from the Word of the sovereign Lord.

Midnight Call - 04/2019

ContactAbout UsPrivacy and Safety