I have often read these last few chapters of the book of Acts wondering why God included them in the canon of scripture. From Paul’s arrest in 21:33 to the end of Luke’s account, we have the story of Paul’s futile attempts to clear himself in the face of the accusations of the Jews from Jerusalem. One tragic event after another takes place and it seems that God has abandoned Paul.
The apostle is bounced around through the governors of Judea like an accused person in today’s American appeal system. The Jewish leaders of course find him guilty and want to kill him (21:31; 22:22). Felix, the governor of Judea hears his defense and finds him innocent. The next governor Festus also hears his case and finds for Paul. King Agrippa, a Jewish Roman leader, is not only sure of Paul’s innocence but is almost persuaded to become a Christian (26:28). But since Paul appealed to Rome he had to let him be taken to Rome to present his case.
On the way to Rome they experience a violent storm and shipwreck and fight for their lives in the sea. Earlier an angel appeared to Paul and assured them that there would be a terrible storm and the ship would be destroyed but they would all survive. The shipwreck happened and they swam ashore to the island of Malta. There Paul was able to lay hands on the father of the island’s leader and the man was healed. A poisonous snake came out of a fire and bit Paul but nothing happened. All of this happened on a journey ordered by God.
We know this because in Jerusalem after the Sanhedrin had tried to kill Paul the Lord appeared to him that night and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome” (23:11). The Holy Spirit had been telling Paul in every city that imprisonment and afflictions awaited him (20:23). Paul continued to Jerusalem anyway knowing that it was God’s will for him to go there and then Rome. God was in the midst of all of this working his will.
The Jewish plots against him, the trial before the Jewish leaders, the trials before the governors of Rome, the shipwreck and ministry on Malta—all were ordered by God as the means to get him to Jerusalem, onto the ship, to Malta and to Rome. In all of these places Paul testified of Christ. God chose this way during this time to direct the life of the apostle.
Do you see God’s sovereignty in all of this? We have adopted a brand of Christianity that does not allow for this kind of direction from God. When a negative thing happens you will hear someone say, “Well we must be out of the Lord’s will,” or “Satan must have gotten the upper hand.” Paul rested in God’s sovereignty knowing that He may very well use these terrible circumstances to get his messenger to where He wanted him to be.
Think of the irony of this. We in America squeal at the slightest interruption in our lives and here Paul is being told that all of this turmoil from the Jews and from Rome is being used by the Lord to give him opportunity to testify in Jerusalem and then to make it to Rome and testify there.
Often we will quote these words from James: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But let endurance have its complete effect, that you may be complete and whole, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). The gist of this passage is that we should not be surprised and get all disgruntled when the trials come but we should be joyful about them because it is clear that God uses such trials to teach us to persevere in the midst of testing.
Paul wrote to the Romans “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). The key word here is “all.” God works all things for good for those of us who love Him and who are called according to His purpose. God does not miss anything. He is not going to let negative things happen to us without using them for His purpose in us. He is not going to miss something because He is on a break or vacation. He is the eternal God and He is in control.
Can we then stop grumbling about every minute negative thing that happens to us? Is it not time to rest in the assurance that God is indeed God and that we are called to press forward despite the challenges that always arrive? God has a divine purpose and we are the instruments He is using to accomplish it. It’s about God, not us. That revelation will change your life.