Acts 26:22-23, “Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles”
Our text – Acts 24:1 – 28:12
Our theme – “Even when treated unfairly, God’s servants must remain steadfast”
In Luke 9:62 Christ says, “no man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” In view of all that Christ has done for us, we are deeply obligated to “put our hand to the plow” and steadfastly follow him as the apostle Paul did. He writes “as ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: rooted and built-up in him, and established in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with Thanksgiving”. This epistle is written by the Apostle Paul, who besides being a fiery orator, was also a very capable writer. His letters make up the bulk of the epistles in the Bible. Because his writings were so treasured, they are among the most studied today. Paul’s thoughtfulness, gentleness and steadfastness infuse his letters and they also infuse the close adherents of his words today. Today’s study covers four chapters in the book of Acts and summarizes many events. These chapters will consider important people, perilous situations and will reveal the “unfair” treatment of the apostle Paul; however, it also shows his steadfastness in the face of such treatment. The apostle Paul remained sure of God’s sovereign care and leading in his life regardless of the treatment he received, and God’s protection of him during his trials and his shipwreck experience. Our study focuses on Paul’s two major speeches and his continual and faithful witness before famous men and in spite of perilous situations he encountered.
A. PAUL’S STEADFASTNESS AND IMPRISONMENT UNDER FELIX – (Acts 24:1-27 – A Life of Integrity)
Felix served as the governor of Judea (approximately AD 52-59). Many scholars believe Felix had been a bond slave and had later been freed by a woman named Antonia (the mother of Emperor Claudius). Felix ascended to power through his influential brother (Pallas), political connections, maneuvering, and several marriages. Throughout his life, he had three wives, one of whom was the granddaughter of Antony and Cleopatra. During Paul’s time he was married to Drusilla, the daughter of Herod Agrippa I, the king who killed James and imprisoned Peter (Acts 12) and who God punished through death. Felix was the first former slave to ascend to the position of governor of a Roman province. History remembers Felix as a harsh, cruel ruler, especially to the Jews. His mismanagement of Jewish and Gentile conflicts led to his removal as governor around AD 59.
1. The charges against Paul (Acts 24:1-9)
Ananias the high priest (a Sadducee), some elders (probably members of the Sanhedrin), and an “orator” (24:1), or attorney named Tertullus appeared as Paul’s accusers. Tertullus presents his shaky case against Paul. Nearly half of his speech consists of his obvious flattery toward Felix. It’s one thing to be polite towards the one in authority; Paul does that (24:10). However, Tertullus’ flattery goes so far beyond gullibility that probably Felix himself was thinking, “Come on! We all know that you’re lying. Get on with your case!” Tertullus promises to be brief, as if to say, “This case is a no-brainer! Just grant us what we ask by getting rid of this pesky fellow and we can all get on with more important matters. He brings three charges against the apostle Paul and found in (vs. 5-6). Although the Jewish leaders’ main gripe was religious, they knew that religious charges would not get far with the Roman governor. Rome took charges of political unrest seriously, and if Paul was guilty of sedition (treason, subversion and troublemaking), he could be executed. So they framed the first two charges in terms of political sedition:
Troublemaker throughout the empire (v. 5). The charge of troublemaker was serious, since Jewish uprisings disquieted the empire. The Romans had much more difficulty handling Jewish affairs than they did handling the affairs of most other ethnic groups. Jewish uprisings often led to the replacement of Roman officials who couldn’t keep the Jews quiet. So, Tertullus shrewdly brought this serious charge, knowing it would concern Felix.
Was a Ringleader of a new sect (v. 5). Next Tertullus portrayed Paul as a ringleader of the Nazarenes, a sect outside the scope of Judaism. Tertullus sought to identify all Christians as dangerous, radical revolutionaries. Thus, using misrepresentation, Tertullus sought to heighten prejudice against all Christianity.
Desecrater of the temple (v. 6). Tertullus also charged Paul with desecrating the temple. The Jews could use capital punishment when it involved temple desecration. So, this charge implied that Felix should put Paul to death.
2. Paul’s defense (Acts 24:10-21).
When we find a man whose life radiates integrity, we should pause and learn from him. The apostle Paul was such a man. In his defense before Felix to the charges that the Jewish leaders brought against, him, Paul proclaimed his integrity by saying, “I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men” (24:16). But he not only proclaimed his integrity; he lived it. The proof of Paul’s integrity is the great impact he has had on so many down through the centuries. Luke contrasts Paul’s integrity with the glaring lack of integrity of a certain lawyer, Tertullus, who was willing, for a fee, to take up the Jewish leaders’ slanderous accusations against Paul. And so we have here a man of integrity up against a lawyer, a group of Jewish leaders who had tried to assassinate him, and a governor who notoriously lacked integrity. Thus, Paul teaches us we can live with integrity by:
(a) Speaking the truth in every situation,
(b) Living in line with Scripture, and
(c) Keeping a blameless conscience before God and men.
Paul’s integrity enabled him to give a calm, straightforward reply to the accusations against him. He lived openly before God and men, and thus he didn’t have to weave a tale of half-truths or misleading statements to defend himself. He simply spoke the truth, refuting each of the charges in order as presented.
The apostle Paul addressed each charge that had been placed against him. To the charge of stirring up sedition, Paul pointed to the facts. It had only been 12 days since he went up to Jerusalem to worship. Although it is debated as to when the starting point was of Luke’s “after five days” (24:1), Paul’s irrefutable argument is that he simply had not had time to stir up sedition, as his accusers had charged. Furthermore, his purpose in going to Jerusalem was not to stir up the crowds, but to worship. Thus, he had not preached or even carried on a group discussion in the temple, nor in synagogues, nor anywhere in the city (24:12). His accusers could not prove their first charge. Regarding the second charge, of being the ringleader of a heretical sect, Paul did not deny his commitment to the Christian faith, which he calls “the Way,” but he denies that it is a heretical Jewish sect. He affirms his full belief in everything written in the Law and the Prophets (the entire Old Testament). He also affirms the Jewish hope (denied by the Sadducee wing of his accusers) “that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28).
Paul is saying that as a Christian, he was acting as a true Jew, in line with the Hebrew Scriptures. Felix would have missed it, but Paul is also taking a swipe at his Sadducee accusers, implying that it was they that were the Jewish heretics. In denying the resurrection, they denied their own Scriptures. Regarding the third charge, that he had desecrated the temple, Paul pointed out that his reason for coming to Jerusalem was to bring alms to his nation and to present offerings. “Offerings” may be a repetition of “alms,” referring to his gift that he had collected from the Gentiles for the poor Jewish believers. Or, it may refer to the offerings that he was about to offer in connection with the vows of the young men. But his point is that he had come to Jerusalem for noble purposes and had gone through the ritual purification. As he was going about his business, certain Jews from Asia who recognized him stirred up the crowd against him.
3. Felix’s Indecision and Paul’s Detention (Acts 24:22-27).
Felix delayed his judicial decision, hoping that Paul would provide money for his release (v. 26) and he knows that Paul is innocent and should be released. Notice that Felix had knowledge about Christianity (“that way,” v. 22), and he trembled as Paul discussed righteousness, temperance, and future judgment (v. 25). But he also knows that the Jews won’t be happy if he lets Paul go. He can’t afford any more unrest among his constituents. So, he does what many politicians do, He postpones the case with the excuse that he will decide it after he hears the testimony of Lysias, the commander. This gets the Jews off his back and out of town. Unfortunately Felix delayed not only his judicial decision but also an eternal decision. He soothes his guilty conscience by giving orders that Paul’s custody should be fairly comfortable and free. This shows us that we have no guarantee that everything will go well with us when we walk uprightly before God. Look at Joseph, he acted with godly integrity when he resisted the seductive moves of Potiphar’s wife, and it landed him in prison for several years. But the Lord was with him there, and it’s far better to have the Lord with you in prison than to have sinful pleasure without the Lord. It’s better to be in custody with a clear conscience, as Paul was, than to have power and money, but be alienated from God, as Felix was. So, devote yourself to living with integrity by speaking the truth in every situation; by living in line with God’s word; and, by keeping a blameless conscience before God and men.
B. IMPRISONMENT UNDER FETUS – (Acts 25:1-26:32).
God’s Delays – If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have experienced first-hand God’s delays. Waiting is especially difficult in light of the shortness of life. The older you get, the quicker life seems to fly by. Thus, because life is so short, it’s difficult when the Lord makes you wait. The apostle Paul must have struggled and he easily could have become frustrated while he remained in prison for two long silent years. God uses His delays to teach us to trust Him more fully and to submit more thoroughly to His lordship over our lives.
(1) Paul’s defense before Festus (Acts 25:1-12)
Felix’s successor Festus was a more upright ruler than Felix. He was a man of action and he had barely arrived in the capital of Caesarea before he went up to Jerusalem to familiarize himself with the situation there. Paul’s Jewish opponents took advantage of the governor’s newness on the job to present their case against Paul and urge that he be brought to Jerusalem for trial. Their real intent was to resurrect their foiled plans from two years before and murder him on the way. But Festus wasn’t going to let the Jews get the upper hand in telling him how to manage his affairs, so he told them they could come to Caesarea and present their case against Paul. When Paul found himself standing before the same angry accusers who had tried to get rid of him two years earlier, he easily could have become frustrated or impatient. Instead, he calmly defended himself before this same angry group of Jews and before the new governor. As the trial progressed, Festus saw a way that he could now gain some political capital with the Jews, and so he reversed his earlier decision and offered to move the trial to Jerusalem. Paul could see that he wouldn’t get a fair trial there, if he even got there alive, and so he was forced to appeal his case to Caesar. Through this, God sovereignty was working to get His apostle to Rome
(2) Paul’s case discussed (Acts 25:13-26:32).
When Festus granted Paul’s appeal to go to Caesar, he was probably relieved to get this sticky case out of his jurisdiction. But he also created a problem for himself, as he needed to know what charges he could write to the emperor. About that time King Agrippa and his sister Bernice, arrived at the capital to pay their respects to Festus. He was still perplexed over what to write to Caesar, and so he ran the case by Agrippa, who was somewhat an expert in Jewish matters, who wanted to hear this man who had stirred up such intense opposition among the Jewish leaders. Paul’s address before Agrippa is his longest defense in Acts, which centers on the gospel and Paul’s conversion. Paul placed little emphasis on the charges against him. Since he had already appealed to Caesar, he didn’t need to argue his legal case further. So, he took advantage of the opportunity and shared the gospel before the dignitaries. He stressed his own Jewishness and the promises of God in Scripture (Acts 26:6-7), his personal conversion testimony (vs. 8-22), and the resurrection from the dead (v. 23). At this point of the proceedings, after Paul had proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus, Festus had reached his limit. He blurted out loudly, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.” Paul calmly replied, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth” (26:24-25). Paul then proceeded to target his desire for King Agrippa, seeking to bring him to personal faith and repentance (vs. 28-29). This exchange, which puts Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice on one side, with all of their worldly pomp and show, and Paul the prisoner for Jesus Christ on the other side, makes us ponder the question, “Who is crazy?” Is Paul crazy to give up all that this world offers to follow Jesus Christ? Or, are those who live for all that this world offers – riches, fame, and pleasure – crazy, who die without repenting of their sins? The biblical answer is:
The crazy person lives for this present world, whereas the sane person obeys Jesus Christ and lives in light of eternity. Martin Luther said, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all. But the things I have placed in God’s hands, I still possess” and Jim Eliot, who was martyred at 28, wrote in his journal at age 22 this, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Life presents us with many temptations to compromise our commitment to Jesus Christ. If we will stand for Him, even if it means imprisonment or death, we can know that His protective hand is upon us and that He will use us for His glory according to His sovereign purpose.
C. PAUL’S STEADFASTNESS IN PERILOUS SITUATIONS – (Acts 27:1-28:12)
Voyage to Fair Haven (Acts 27:1-8) – As the journey to Rome began, the ship put into port at Sidon, and the centurion of the Augustus band, named Julius, allowed Paul to visit his friends and receive care (27:4). Paul departed with a centurion of the Augustus band, or cohort, named Julius. We often think of Paul as giving care to others, but he also needed to receive care. He taught that we all are part of the body of Christ, where each member both gives and receives from the other members in order to function properly (1 Corinthians 12:12-17). Eventually Paul arrived at Fair Haven (v. 8).
The storm at sea (Acts 27:9-26)
If you’ve ever been in a terrible storm at sea in a smaller vessel, you can identify with Luke’s description of the shipwreck in Acts 27. Some scholars have wondered why Luke goes to such lengths to describe the details of this event, since at first glance; it doesn’t seem to fit into his purpose. However, part of Luke’s reason may be that the details reveal just how traumatic this experience was. Against the human helplessness of this frightening adventure stands the sovereign hand of God, who had promised Paul that he would testify in Rome (23:11). Since an angel repeats that promise to Paul here in the midst of the storm (27:24), Luke’s main purpose is to show that God’s purpose cannot be prevented, even by such powerful forces of nature. Luke also shows Paul’s calm, practical leadership in the midst of this crisis. Even though he was a prisoner, Paul is the dominant figure in the chapter. Because of him, everyone on board the ship was saved from death. Paul’s testimony, both by his calm demeanor and words, would have had an unforgettable impact on the people on board. Even if you’ve never been in a storm at sea, you have been and will be in many storms in life. In some of them, you may despair of life itself, even as everyone on board did here (27:20). In this Chapter of Acts we can learn from the Apostle Paul on how to handle the circumstances that are beyond our control? Inside this story are some important lessons to survive the storms that come into our lives, such as:
(1) God is Sovereign over the Storms of Life.
The biblical doctrine of God’s sovereignty over all things is one of the most practical truths for us to apply in times of trial. When things are out of our control, they are never out of God’s control, no matter how humanly impossible the situation may seem. They were in the right place, on the wrong day; or so it would seem. The Dayspring Chorale, a traveling high school singing group, arrived at a nursing home for a Thursday concert. However, the folks at the home were expecting them on Friday. But they said if the group could get set up fast, they could sing for 20 minutes. Then they’d have to stop for a memorial service for one of the residents. The chorale hurriedly got ready and sang, and as they did, the son of the man who had died heard them. When they were done, he asked if they could sing at his dad’s service. They gladly agreed and ministered hope and truth to all who attended. God used these young people in a special way, all because of a secretarial error. But was it a mistake? We carefully make schedules so we can be where we think we should be. But we always need to keep in mind the words of Solomon, found in Proverbs 16:9, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” Do we seek ministry in life’s unplanned schedule changes? Do we turn detours into guided tours of what He wants to do through us? If we’re doing God’s will, we’ll be in the right place. Then, wherever we are, we can point people to Him. Every person responds in different ways to storms that come into their lives. Centuries ago, Job was hit by one wave of bad news after another. At one point his wife told him to curse God and die. Job’s response was profound, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10). So, when things are out of our control remember they are never out of God’s control, no matter how humanly impossible the situation is.
In Acts 27:15-20, the ship that was transporting the apostle Paul was out of control and at the mercy of this fearsome storm. The power of the wind and waves in such a storm is awesome! Even in a modern Navy ship, you realize very quickly that your control over the situation is minimal. I can relate to the fearsome storm the apostle Paul went through because I was in such a storm during my first year in the U. S. Navy. I was stationed aboard USS Rival (MSO 468); home ported at U. S. Naval Station, Charleston, South Carolina. During September 1967, the ship was in West Palm Beach, Florida for a much needed liberty port. Because a hurricane was approaching the Florida coast liberty was cancelled and the ship got underway for sea in hopes of missing the hurricane. We had been at sea for approximately two days when the winds and waves from the hurricane caught up with the ship. The storm lasted over 24 hours with 3/4 of the crew was sea sick and holding on with all their might while the 176 foot wooden minesweeper was taking 40 degree rolls as well as taking on water.
The Officer of the Deck is usually on the bridge of the ship for their watch, but because the waves were approximately 25 to 30 feet high, the Officer of the deck went below to the pilot house, where the helmsman steers the ship. SN Carrington was the helmsman that awful day and he remained on the helm for the entire time. I very clearly remember lying in my bunk holding on for dear life thinking the storm would never end and fearful of the ship going down as the apostle Paul’s ship did. The ship was battered by the crashing waves and tossed to and fro as a piece of driftwood. The ship’s topside took quite a beating from the waves during the storm and also water damage on the inside. The forecastle had a 40’ gun mount that was surrounded by a 3 inch curved steel barrier protecting the gun mount. Well, the force from the water bent the steel in as if it was a tin can. We were most fortunate and very thankful there wasn’t any injuries to any of the crew members except for sea sickness and the ship didn’t sink.
But in Paul’s day, they were completely out of control and helpless. They did everything they could to keep the ship from breaking apart (27:17), but beyond that, there was nothing else to do. They jettisoned a lot of the cargo and even the non-essential ship’s tackle. So, how does this incident regarding the ship Paul was one apply to us as believers today? We also need to get rid of unnecessary cargo we don’t need (Acts 27:18-19). Some of our “extra cargo” may be bad things we have accumulated: a compromising relationship, an obsession with money, a sinful habit—things we hang on to until a storm exposes how they’re sinking us. There is also good cargo that may have to be jettisoned. We tend to accumulate activities that can be helpful if taken separately. Nevertheless, taken together, they’re just too much for us. But after doing all that they could do, they were not in control, but God was in control! We can trust in God’s Word and when things in our lives are out of our control, they are never out of God’s control. Trust in the promises of His Word of truth!
(2) We aren’t necessarily out of God’s will when we get caught in a storm.
Sometimes when we find ourselves in the midst of a sudden storm in life, we wonder if we’re out of God’s will. We may be, especially if we got into the storm because of sin in our lives. But we may be exactly where God wants us to be. The Lord had told Paul that he would testify for Him in Rome (Acts 23:11, the following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome), but He had not bothered to mention the little detail of this storm and shipwreck! In Matthew 14:22 reports that immediately after feeding the 5,000 Jesus “made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away.” The word “made,” which means “to compel by force or persuasion,” shows that the disciples didn’t have much to say about what they were doing. These verses show that Jesus was deliberately sending them into a storm at sea! He knew that that storm was coming, but He wanted to teach them His power over storms by walking to them on the water. So even though they were in a fierce storm, they were precisely in the will of God for them at that moment.
(3) We aren’t ever out of God’s care when we get caught in a storm.
Even though the sailors didn’t know where they were and had no control over the situation, God knew exactly where they were. They never went off of His radar screen. And He cared for all of them, even for those that did not know that He exists, as seen by the fact that He spared all of their lives. So God’s sovereignty over everything that happens is a source of great comfort for the believer in the storms of life. But God’s sovereignty never negates our responsibility. To conclude that since God is sovereign, whatever will be will be, and thus to kick back and do nothing isn’t biblical.
Our responsibility in the storms of life is to trust openly in God’s care for us. Our study reveals some aspects of trusting God openly: Thus, to trust openly in God’s care:
(1) Is not opposed to using prudence and common sense.
Paul was a man of great faith, and he specifically testifies that he believes God in this trial (27:25). In verse 10 Paul advised the men in charge not to continue with the trip due to the lateness in the year. The “fast” (27:9) refers to the Day of Atonement, which was in early October of that year. Any time after September 14th was risky for sailing in the Mediterranean, and no one sailed after November 11th until the end of winter, because of the frequent storms. So, we need not assume that Paul had had a revelation from God warning him about the storm. Rather, he was just using common sense. After all, he had already been in three shipwrecks, including a night and a day spent drifting at sea (2 Corinthians 11:25). However, the pilot and ship owner didn’t like the harbor of Fair Haven for the winter, and along with the centurion decided to try to make the 40 miles to Phoenix. The moderate wind that came up fooled them into supposing they had gained their purpose, and so they launched off into what would shortly become a major disaster. But the point is there was nothing wrong with Paul’s using good judgment and common sense. Sometimes people imply that trusting in the Lord necessarily means casting reason to the wind and doing something absurd. Sometimes the Lord does expect us to do something by faith that those in the world consider foolish because they do not trust in God. But we had better be sure that the Lord is behind such things, or we end up looking awfully stupid in the world’s eyes! Trusting God and using your brain are not necessarily opposed to one another.
(2) Means that we will be different in the storm than those who do not know God.
Paul stands out above all others in this desperate situation because of his calm faith in God. The angel’s word to Paul, “Do not be afraid” (27:24), implies that he was afraid. After all, he was only human, and when we are overwhelmed by a catastrophe of this magnitude, even the strongest believers can momentarily falter. However, the angel reminded him of God’s earlier promise that he would bear witness in Rome, and he also promised Paul that all on board would be saved. Paul stood up and reminded them of his earlier warning so he could establish his credibility. Then he gave them all a word of encouragement concerning God’s promise. Later on, Paul encouraged them all to eat some food so that they would have the strength to get to shore (27:34). If we want to stand out in a time of trial from those who do not know the Lord, we’ve got to have a daily walk of seeking God before the trial hits. In Proverbs 1:24-29, wisdom personified warns us that if we refuse to seek her during normal times, she will laugh at us when our dread comes like a storm and when distress and anguish come upon us. But if we daily seek God and His wisdom during normal times, when a storm hits, we will be different than those in the world, because we know and trust our God.
(3) Is not opposed to using the means that God gives to get us out of the storm.
The angel promised Paul that everyone on board would be saved (27:24). But during the final night, the sailors were trying to escape from the ship in the dinghy, under the pretense of laying out anchors from the bow (27:3). Paul saw what was happening and realized that those on boards needed the sailors’ expertise to get to land in the morning. So he said to the centurion, “Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved” (27:31). It is very evident by now the centurion had come to respect Paul’s wisdom and so he ordered his soldiers to cut the lines to the ship’s boat, so the sailors couldn’t escape by themselves. Paul also realized that for everyone to be saved, they needed strength. No one had eaten anything for two weeks, due to seasickness and perhaps due to the difficulty of preparing food. So he took bread, gave thanks to God, and ate, encouraging all of them to eat also, telling them that the food was for their preservation (27:34-36).
When a strong disturbance batters our ship, our daily routines are usually the first things thrown overboard. However, when we start to miss sleep, meals, and time alone with God, we start sinking. Those healthy routines are what keep us strong on both sunny and stormy days. When God orders up storms in our lives, it is because a change is needed. Usually, the storm isn’t the real issue, not from God’s perspective. It’s an imbalance that has developed in our priorities, sometimes so subtle that we can’t see it until turmoil gets our attention. Although God promised that everyone would be preserved alive, Paul did not assume that it would happen apart from the use of proper means. The sailors could not escape, and everyone needed the strength that came from eating. In the same way, God has promised that some from every tribe and tongue and people and nation will be in heaven because Jesus purchased them with His blood (Revelation 5:9). But they won’t be there unless we labor through our prayers, our giving, and our sending some to go and tell them the gospel. God is sovereign to save His elect, but He does it through the means that He has appointed.
(4) Means that we will bear verbal witness as God gives opportunity.
When God encouraged Paul through the angel’s promise, Paul didn’t keep it to himself. Neither did he make everyone think that he was just a positive person, and that they all should keep a positive outlook as well. He used the situation to tell them about God, about his trust in God, and to promise that God would spare all of their lives through this ordeal. When he encouraged them all to eat some bread, Paul could have thought, “These are pagan men. Why ask God’s blessing on the food in front of such rough mean?” But rather, he openly gave thanks to God in the presence of all (27:35). In times of trial, people are especially open to spiritual things. When life is out of control, and nothing seems to be working, people are open to hear about a God who is in control. We should not hesitate to be bold to tell them about the true and living God and the eternal life that He offers them through His Son, Jesus Christ.
(5) God will use our trusting Him in the storm to bear witness to many.
As long as men can devise human ways of coping with the storms of life apart from God, they will do so. These sailors had heard Paul’s testimony that God would deliver them all, but they were going to use their own ingenuity to save themselves. But God only has one way of salvation, which is the Lord Jesus Christ. He won’t let people save themselves in their own ways, or add anything to the way that He has provided. Because Paul trusted God and bore witness to God’s promise of deliverance, the other 275 passengers on the ship heard about God. No doubt in the days and winter months to follow on Malta, Paul was able to give them the gospel more fully and clearly than he could do on board the ship during the storm. One man who trusts God in a storm of life can have a major impact on others who see the reality of God in his life. Maybe you’re going through a storm? If so, He wants you to trust Him. He is sovereign over your storm. If you trust Him openly, He will use you to bear witness to many who need to know the Savior, who alone can deliver us from the storm of God’s wrath that is sure to come on the whole earth.
D. PAUL’S MINISTRY AND GOD’S PROTECTION, PROVISION & POWER – (Acts 28:1-12)
Everyone on board survived as they floated or swam to the coast of Malta (vs. 42-44). Paul and his fellow shipmates discovered that they were ship-wrecked on Malta, a small island about 18 miles long and 8 miles wide and located about 60 miles south of Sicily. It was cold and rainy, and the men were wet from swimming ashore. The natives showed them extraordinary kindness by kindling a bonfire and eventually helping the men find lodging for the winter. Paul didn’t see himself above helping out in mundane tasks. As he was collecting sticks for the fire, he didn’t notice (perhaps due to his poor eyesight) that among the sticks was a viper, somewhat stiff from the cold. The warmth of the fire caused it to loosen up and it fastened on Paul’s hand. He calmly shook it off into the fire. The natives concluded that Paul must be a murderer, and that even though he escaped from the sea, justice had not allowed him to live. They waited and watched for him to swell up and fall down dead. But when nothing happened, they changed their minds and concluded that he was a god.
(1) God’s Protection
Luke tells this story to show how God miraculously protected Paul, because it was God’s purpose that Paul would bear witness in Rome (Acts 23:11). Nothing, whether shipwreck or poisonous snake, can prevent God’s purpose for His servants until their work is done. The construction of the Great Wall of China began in the third century BC. Often called the “eighth wonder of the world,” it is approximately 1,500 miles long, and was built to protect the people against raids by nomadic peoples and invasions by rival states. However, physical walls can be scaled or broken through, no matter how high or strong they are. But as God’s children, we have the best wall of protection anyone can ever have – God’s personal presence. Nothing can pass through to us without first passing through Him and His will. Thus, in Him we are safe and secure as was the apostle Paul.
(2) God’s Provision
God provided for His servants through the unusual hospitality of the natives on Malta. Publius, the leading man of the island, entertained all 276 men for three days, and then he apparently found them lodging for the winter. As the men departed, the islanders honored them with many gifts and supplies (28:10). God also provided for Paul through a week of fellowship with the believers in Puteoli, about 140 miles south of Rome. The centurion was especially kind to allow Paul to visit these saints. God further provided through the Christians who came out as far as the Market of Appius (44 miles from Rome) and Three Taverns (33 miles) to escort Paul into the city. Can you imagine what the rest of the travelers in Paul’s company thought when they saw these people welcoming this prisoner as an important dignitary! Paul thanked God and took courage when he saw these Christians whom he had longed to see for several years (Romans 15:23). God also provided for Paul by permitting him to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him, in rented quarters. Through the generous gifts of the Philippian church and others, Paul’s financial needs were met.
(3) God’s Power
One of many illustrations throughout the Scriptures can be found in Mark 4:35-41. In his book The Perfect Storm, author Sebastian Junger reports astonishing facts about the power of a hurricane. A mature hurricane is by far the most powerful event on earth; the combined nuclear arsenals of the United States and the former Soviet Union don’t contain enough energy to keep a hurricane going for one day. A typical hurricane … could provide all the electric power needed by the United States for three or four years.” Seafarers encounter diverse weather conditions. However, those who experience a severe storm have one emotion in common and that is fear. Mark 4:35-41 records a gale that threatened the boat carrying Jesus and His disciples on the Sea of Galilee. In a panic, the disciples awakened Jesus. He calmly rebuked the wind and sea by saying, “Peace, be still!” (Literally hush) as if He were quieting an agitated child (v. 39). Immediately, the gale stopped and the water became inexplicably placid. The disciples asked, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (v. 41). Maybe today or this past week you were feeling as if your life’s circumstances was a mighty storm? If so, look to the God-man Jesus Christ, who has authority over heaven and earth. My brethren, He will give you the strength to survive the storm until He ultimately calms it.
What would you think of a baseball player who played seven seasons without hitting the ball in fair territory? Mickey Mantle did the equivalent of that. His walks and strikeouts added up to more than 3,400 trips to the plate – seven seasons’ worth. Or what would you think of an inventor who failed hundreds of times in his experiments? Thomas Edison, perhaps the greatest inventor in American history, spent many long months failing before he found a filament that would stay lit in his incandescent light. My friend and brethren, the lesson behind these experiences is very clear. We have to look beyond failures and keep persevering. In other words we need to be steadfast no matter what happens! I can’t think of a better example of someone who was steadfast despite apparent failure than the apostle Paul. His list of failures would lead most of us to quit, such as:
(1) People in a church he founded in Corinth stumbled badly.
(2) He went to prison numerous times.
(3) Throw in the shipwrecks, beatings, and betrayals (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
You could have a picture of defeat and question God’s purpose for one’s life. Yet, through all this the Apostle Paul’s ministry is remembered for its unmistakable success, because of his steadfastness in finishing the race that was set before him and especially the faithfulness of God his Creator. Although we sometimes falter in our faith and question God’s love for us, He remains faithful. Even when we doubt His promises, or don’t feel so close to Him, or we choose to sin, His faithfulness still “reaches to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5). My brethren, we can be sure God will do all He said He would do (1 Thessalonians 5:24; 2 Thessalonians 3:3). His promises are backed up by His flawless character. Always remember in those times when you don’t feel close to God, remind yourself that His feelings for you haven’t changed. It’s not a matter of how you feel at the moment, but the fact of the rock-solid faithfulness of God our Creator.
Our God is God – He does not change;
His truth and love remain the same.
He’s faithful to His matchless name,
For God is God – He does not change.
Trusting God’s faithfulness dispels our fearfulness.