Christianity has been divided since the time of John Calvin over the question of predestination and God’s sovereignty. I don’t believe that the first believers concerned themselves with this question because they were so motivated by the unfathomable transcendence of their God that they inherently knew that He was in total control of their lives. This confidence in God’s connection to their lives came out of their authentic devotion to Him and His revealing of Himself to them daily. They were not like us cerebral American Christians who question everything and try to figure everything out but rested in the hands of a God so big that He could be eternal and yet come into their temporal lives and reveal Himself. He was a God who could predestine their lives and yet somehow allow them to have a free will enabling them to make their own choices in life. He could permit the existence of His enemy Satan and yet somehow turn his evil into good for His purpose.
As we come to the last chapters of the Book of Acts we are given a glimpse into the workings of this eternal God in the life of the apostle Paul. Just as God took us behind the spiritual scenes in the story of Job, He now reveals His supernatural ability to be in complete control of the life of his servant while allowing and using the working of evil all around him. We should be encouraged to know that there is nothing that escapes the notice of our God and nothing that is too big for Him to handle.
As a cancer survivor I have come to know something about this on the personal level. Can a sovereign God take the evil of cancer and use it for His good? There are those who will tell you that we should never even consider the possibility that disease can be used by God for His glory—that it should be rebuked because it can only bring evil.
Can God be Jehovah Rapha, the Lord our Healer, and yet step aside as He did in the life of Job and allow evil to work His good? God can turn a sinking boat into a lesson about faith. He can turn a friend’s death into the victory of resurrection. He can turn a lack of food into a miracle of plenty. He can turn a crucifixion into salvation for all who believe. He is God and nothing can hold back His mighty hand.
So that brings us to this journey of Paul from Jerusalem to Rome (Acts 27, 28). Now If I were God, as I have finally discovered I am not, I would have first organized a campaign to provide the finances, travel arrangements and security for Paul’s final arrival in Jerusalem. Surely, that all makes good sense. We need to see the need and fill it. Right?
Wrong. God has His own way of doing things. He, after all, is the Almighty God of the universe. So He puts it in the heart of Paul to go to Jerusalem while at the same time continually saying to Him through the Spirit that in Jerusalem he would be bound and imprisoned (Acts 20:23;21:11). I can’t speak for you but if I received a word from a renowned prophet and many others that I was going to be arrested and imprisoned in Jerusalem I would probably alter my route and avoid the trouble. I would ask God for a change in travel plans.
But Paul was familiar with trouble. When he wrote to the Corinthian church from Macedonia a little over a year before his arrest in Jerusalem he related the troubles he had faced up to that point:
From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches (2 Cor. 11:23-28; NKJV).
These troubles did not include the coming imprisonments, arrests, shipwreck in a stormy sea, and eventually death in Rome. Yes Paul knew about trouble but nowhere do we see him grumbling about it or fading in his devotion to God because of it. His faith was not blunted by circumstances because he served a God bigger than all circumstances and He knew Him deeply.
In today’s religious climate we might ask why God could not control the seas better to prevent these three ship wrecks? Why does He let the people stone Paul to death? Can He not provide enough food for Paul to eat or clothing for Him to wear? Why could He not somehow intervene with the officials who beat Paul five times with thirty-nine stripes? Why does God allow all of this?
Something is wrong with this picture. It doesn’t match up with our modern ideas about how the Christian life is lived. Is it possible that our modern ideas are skewed by distorted tradition that does not align with the word of God? I have chosen to align myself to God’s word instead of human tradition. God’s word is forever whereas human tradition will only last a short time.
Today, we know religion, ideas, doctrines and programs but few of us really know the eternal God. Oh, I guess we’re saved and going to heaven but we rest in our religious satisfaction unconcerned that God is for real and He has an eternal purpose. Paul knew God and His eternal purpose and he was driven by that knowledge (Eph. 1). Today, those who are so driven will eventually meet the wall of engrained tradition continues to try to stifle the plan of God.
So Paul continues on his journey. He is almost killed by the Jews, arrested by the Romans three times. He defends himself before three Roman officials and no guilt is found. He is sent to Rome to appear before Nero, the Caesar at the time. On the way he experiences ship wreck for the fourth time in his ministry. He is bitten by a poisonous snake and God saves his life as a sign to the people on the island of Malta.
He just happens to be taken in by Publius, the leader of the island whose father just happens to be sick. Paul laid hands on him and prayed and he was healed (28:8). The other people on the island who had diseases came to Paul and were healed as well. All of this led to the whole island receiving Paul and his coworkers and treating them with great honor. They even provided for their needs for the rest of the journey (28:9). They stayed on Malta for three months enjoying the hospitality of the people while many of the people were coming to Christ.
All of this just happened to take place. Today we consider such things amazing coincidences. What if the coincidences are the out workings of an eternal God who has everything under control? We think God is just doing one thing when we encounter Him in our lives, when in fact he is doing many things at once and they all work together for good (Rom. 8:28). God can juggle a myriad of events in His eternal hands without any trouble at all. He is, after all, the Almighty God.
On the final leg of the journey they landed in Puteoli on the western shore of Italy south of Rome. There they just happened to find some believers and stayed with them for a week strengthening them and enjoying fellowship. Finally they arrived at Rome after a long exhausting trip completely controlled by the hand of God.
There in Rome Paul, because he had gained favor with his guard, was placed in his own private quarters under the care of the guard. From that place he was able to call for the Jewish leaders of the city and talk with them about Christ (28:17-28). Many of the Jews believed because of his boldness and during his stay in his own rented house (28:30) he was visited by many people to whom he freely preached Christ.
During this Roman imprisonment Paul writes the prison epistles of Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians and Philippians. Paul wrote his final letter, 2 Timothy during his second imprisonment in Rome shortly before his martyrdom. Imagine that! God gets Paul to Rome where he is able to share with the Jewish leaders and many others who come and he is able to write four of the most powerful books of the Bible. It’s almost as if God knows what He is doing.
And of course that is my point. God is in control. For those who love Him He causes all things to “work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28). The important thing is to love God and accept His will for our lives. There is a place of divine peace in the midst of great worldly turmoil. It is the eye of the storm that is swirling around us in these days of trouble. Above all things, stay close to God during these coming days. Let Him orchestrate the events of your life with His mighty hand as He did with our brother Paul. God bless you all.