It seems every so often the news reports tell about a cruise liner that ends up with its passengers stranded without power or food and water out on the open sea. Or, some safety issue ends up with the loss of someone’s life. You may remember the headline back in 2013 when one such ship was left adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. It read, “Carnival Cruise Passengers ‘Blessed’ to Finally Be Home After 5 Days Without Power” after being on a boat that some described as ‘a floating hell’. Such headlines are not meant to scare you if you’re thinking about a cruise. Those events are rare. However, on occasion, we do find ourselves in places and in situations we would rather not be.
In Acts 27, Paul is on his own “cruise ship” headed for Rome. There is a bit of irony here. Paul has had it in his heart all along to go there with the gospel (Rom.1.10-13), but until now had been prevented from doing so several times (Rom. 1.13, 15.22). He had shared those plans back in chapter 19 verses 21-22. Now, here in chapter 27, he IS going to Rome, but in a way he had not expected – as a prisoner. Because he had appealed to Caesar and was a Roman citizen, the authorities had no choice but to send him on to Rome for his trial. The story of this voyage is the subject of this chapter. Placed under the watchful guard of a Roman centurion, Paul is escorted via several connecting voyages to a final ship that would end up sailing into a violent storm. Now Paul’s plans are out of his hands. Verse 1 of chapter 27 even begins with the words, “And it was decided.” Paul is along for the ride, but it is in the ‘providence’ of God.
Providence. We don’t hear that word much. But it is an important term for us to understand the ways of God. It refers to the truth that God is governing and guiding all of our circumstances according to His will. That means “the universe is not governed by impersonal fate or luck, but by a personal God. Nothing “just happens—we should see God’s hand in [life’s] events…”(Wayne Grudem). Through divine providence, God accomplishes His will. It seems that some decisions we make end up carrying us, in God’s providence, into places we would rather not go. When that happens, we just hope to hold it together while we endure the journey. We need to hear that God is always with us. We can count on his presence in the most fearful storms.
One of the more helpful things we can learn with regard to living the Christian life is how to handle the trials that inevitably come our way. Paul himself reminds us how in Romans 8.28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” How do you know that, Paul? The answer is he had already seen this promise fulfilled in his own life. Notice, he doesn’t say “I feel” or “I hope” that all things work together for good. He says, “I know.” He likely wrote those words from Corinth, just after enduring the trials of his third missionary journey (likely Acts 20-21), but just before he would have to survive this trip recorded for us in Acts 27. Paul was ready. He knew any negative circumstance God would ultimately turn into good.
The storm brought Paul and the rest of his fellow passengers to their lowest point. “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.” But it was not without purpose. Following a dream, an angel tells Paul God had a plan and Paul would indeed “stand before Caesar” and if all would stay onboard, they would be saved. This is what we all need in those times and places when we don’t know why things are happening to us the way they are – just a ray of hope. But God does what he does in his own way and we have to trust him. “But we must run aground (v.26). The boat ends up being broken on the reef, and Paul and those with him were forced to swim to shore but they “all were brought safely to land.” God does the same with us. In his providential plan our lives may take many twists and turns and be full of fearful events, but we can trust that he will get us to where we ultimately want to be. And for those in Christ, it will be good in time.