|The Apostle Paul writing his epistles|
Friday, May 1, 2015
Storm, Shipwreck and a Snake: Have Faith in God’s Plan!
As we saw last week, the apostle Paul was no stranger to fearful storms, yet God allowed these storms to strengthen his faith and to give him unexpected blessings and opportunities to witness (Acts 27:1-24). With our limited earthly perspective, we view twists, turns, and delays on our journey as setbacks bringing discouragement. But God uses these to spare us from greater harm and to create Divine appointments for our ministry, testimony and witness.
Two weeks into the sea voyage to Rome, where Paul had prayed for an opportunity to witness to Caesar, he and his fellow companions began to draw close to shore. But the dark night kept them from knowing whether they were coming near a safe place to land the boat, or whether they would be smashed against the rocks. So they threw out anchors and waited (Acts 27-27-29). When we don’t have a clear sense of direction from God about what He wants us to do, it is best to be still (Psalm 46:10) and wait until He speaks to us (Isaiah 40:31).
Satan loves to distract us when we are waiting upon the Lord, for he knows that we can draw much power, wisdom, and strengthened faith from that experience. In this case, he used the sailors, who were ready to jump ship and save themselves, leaving the prisoners to die in the boat. But Paul warned them that they all had to stick together, stay on board, and follow God’s plan if they hoped to survive (Acts 27-30-32). Diving from God’s ark of protection into troubled seas is sheer madness inviting destruction (Genesis 7:23).
Paul was the voice of calm in the storm, as born-again believers should be by bringing the Good News of salvation by faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6). Paul promised the passengers that they would all survive, because God had told him they would. He encouraged them further by telling them to eat while they were waiting, for they had not eaten during the two-week voyage (Acts 27-33-34).
Our first priority as Christians should be to lead people to the Lord (Matthew 28:19-20), yet we should realize that they are far more likely to listen to our message if we have first loved them by attending to their physical needs (James 2:15-17). Some may belittle ministries giving food to the poor as an enticement for them to hear Gospel preaching, yet Jesus told us to provide for those in need (Mark 9:41), just as He did with the loaves and fishes (Matthew 14:14-21). As long as souls are saved to God’s glory, why should we object if their initial motive for hearing His Word was physical instead of spiritual?
Paul serving bread to the 275 other passengers was like a communion supper. He began with a promise from God; he broke the bread as Jesus did to symbolize His body that would be broken on the cross; and he gave thanks to God (Acts 27-35-37; 1 Corinthians 11:24). This reminds us to thank Him in all situations (Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:18), no matter how dismal or dangerous, for He alone can and will save us (Acts 4:12).
Once they had eaten, they still had to lighten the ship by throwing the remaining wheat overboard (Acts 27:38). This in itself was an act of faith that God will provide food day by day (Psalm 37:25; Matthew 6:11), just as He gave daily manna to His children as they wandered through the wilderness (Exodus 16:15).
The next day, God showed them a narrow creek appearing to lead to a safe landing on shore, reminding me of the narrow path that leads believers to Heaven (Matthew 7:13-14) by faith in Christ alone. They raised the anchors and set sail, landing the front part of the boat firmly on shore, but the waves crashing on the rear of the ship smashed it to pieces (Acts 27:39-41). Perhaps this is a reminder that not all who appear to be saved truly are (Luke 13:26-27), and that many church members will go to hell because they trust in their religious traditions instead of in the Savior (Mark 7:8-13).
Once again, Satan attempted to thwart God’s plan by using the soldiers, who wanted to kill the prisoners before they could swim to land and escape. But God always has a small but faithful remnant (Romans 11:5) to stand up for His cause, in this case the captain of the prison guard. He had believed in God through what Paul had said and wanted to keep him alive, so he ordered that everyone who could swim head for shore (Acts 27:42-43).
Even the passengers who couldn’t swim floated in on broken boards from the ship, and everyone got to land safely. God will always find a way to save us from the storms (Psalm 18:32), even if He has to destroy our former way of life to do it (Psalm 107:23-30). Had the ship not been wrecked, those who could not swim would have had no life preservers to float on to reach the shore of the island called Melita. (Acts 27:44-28:1)
But their problems were far from over – the island was inhabited by barbarians! Yet God even used the savages on the island to help Paul and his men, for they built a fire to keep the visitors warm (Acts 28:2). How often do we put God in a box, failing to realize He can use anyone and anything to accomplish His purposes and protect His children? (Isaiah 55:8-9)
A snake, that venomous symbol of Satan (Revelation 12:9; 20:2), came out of the fire and seized Paul’s hand. The barbarians were quick to judge and assumed that Paul must be so evil that even though he escaped the storm and shipwreck, he would now die by snakebite (Acts 28:3-4). When someone is in a serious trial, we should not assume,that God is punishing him. In fact, He may use the trial by bringing him victory, for his good and God’s glory (John 9:1-3).
With God, all things are possible! (Matthew 19:26) Paul simply shook the snake off his hand before it could bite him, and it landed in the fire before it could harm anyone else. God used this incident to show the people His great power. Initially the barbarians misunderstood and thought Paul was a god, but at least they now respected him and would listen to him as he preached the Gospel about God Himself (Acts 28:5-6).
Publius, the leader of the island, gave lodging to Paul and the others for three days. God used Paul to heal sick people on the island, including Publius’ father, by prayer and laying on of hands, to God’s glory. Grateful for the healing, the people of Melita helped Paul find a ship and gave provisions for the journey. Had Paul not been endangered by a deadly snake, the ensuing chain of events would not have led to this blessed outcome (Acts 28:7-10).
God continued to direct every step of their journey to Rome, giving Paul many opportunities to witness to different groups of people. Once in Rome, Paul was put under house arrest with only one soldier guarding him, so he could invite others to the house and tell them the good news about Jesus Christ (Acts 28:11-15).
Paul used this opportunity to witness to the Jewish leaders in Rome. He explained that he had committed no crime, yet God had allowed him to be captured and brought to Rome so that he would have this chance to tell them about Jesus. He showed them from the Scripture how Jesus fulfilled all the Old Testament prophesies about the chosen Messiah (Acts 28:11-16-23; Luke 24:27).
No doubt Paul was a Holy Spirit-inspired, brilliant, learned preacher, yet not all who heard him were converted (Acts 28:24). It is the mission of born-again believers to witness and share the Gospel, not to convert anyone, for only the Holy Spirit can change the hearts of those who hear us (John 3:5-8).
Some of the religious leaders left in anger after Paul quoted Isaiah, who prophesied that many of the Jews would be deaf, dumb and blind to the clear evidence that Jesus was the Son of God, the anointed Messiah (Isaiah 6:9; Acts 28:25-27). This should remind us not to be discouraged when those we witness to refuse to listen or even walk away, because God does not require that we be successful, but only that we be obedient.
We should not lose hope because the Holy Spirit may still be working in their hearts (Acts 28:29), and ultimately we will reap the benefit of the Word we have sowed. What a joy it will be in Heaven to meet all those to whom we witnessed, or even planted a seed of encouragement in their heart, who subsequently were saved and became part of our soulwinners’ crown! (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19)
God’s Word never returns to Him void (Isaiah 55:11). In Paul’s case, His preaching was preserved in the 14 books of the Bible he authored. While the seed he sowed may have fallen on thorny soil (Matthew 13:22) in terms of the Jews, it paved the way for salvation of the Gentiles. Because the Jews rejected Jesus as their King, His kingdom was delayed, and the Gospel of Grace allowed Gentiles to enter the family of God (Acts 28:28; 20:24).
Paul had two full years of house arrest to preach the Gospel to anyone who came to see him, and no one interfered with his preaching (Acts 28:30-31). God is so good! Only He could use a wrongful arrest, perilous voyage, shipwreck, near drowning, and attack by a lethal snake to work all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).
Not only did Paul survive with numerous opportunities to witness, but God used his plight to spread the Gospel not only to the Jews but to the Gentile nations, and to all believers who read the 15 books of the Bible he authored. May we have faith that setbacks along our journey are also blessings in disguise!
© 2015 Laurie Collett