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"So, as they disagreed among themselves, they departed, after Paul had made one statement, The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: Go to this people, and say, You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them. Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.' And he lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered."
These verses conclude the book of Acts and are recorded at the end of two chapters that narrate a sea voyage undertaken by the Apostle Paul. This voyage was to take him from Jerusalem to Rome and would result in his entering a very hostile environment with a message of freedom for people in bondage. Since Paul had been delegated by God for this mission, it was to be expected that evil forces would seek to undermine his plans. However, the story related in the final two chapters of Acts reports that, despite everything that could have resulted in the mission being terminated, Paul arrived safely at his destination and, for two years, engaged in that which God had called him to do (Acts 28:17-28). The reason for this is made clear: God was in charge of the mission. The challenge to the readers of the book is whether they will hear this truth and respond accordingly by committing their lives to the same sovereign Lord who actively directed the destiny of Paul.
Luke deliberately takes a long time detailing the events of the voyage. Indeed, the voyage appears to be more important than other information which he chooses not to record. Thus, he does not record whether Paul met the emperor, whether churches were established by Paul, what happened to Paul during those two years in Rome that are referred to, whether he returned to Antioch or whether he died in Rome. What Luke does record in great detail is the sea voyage from the eastern Mediterranean to Rome; this is done for a singular purpose, to demonstrate the sovereignty of God who directs the destinies of God's people, ensuring that God's divine will is achieved through them despite every obstacle in the way.
Thus Luke records the problems encountered on the voyage (27:7-28:6), including the slowness and difficulty in sailing caused by the wind, the indecision and unwise actions of the captain, the fierce storm and darkness, the danger of starvation, the potential of the crew abandoning the ship, the shipwreck, the possibility of their being killed by the soldiers and Paul's snakebite. These were all obstacles to be overcome, but none of them was sufficient to disturb God's plans for Paul. The reason is recorded in Acts 27:24 (also 23:11) where Paul states that God had determined that he would stand before Caesar. Therefore, Paul encourages everyone else not to fear because of the trustworthy nature of his God.
This story is particularly significant in its first-century context. The danger of the Mediterranean Sea to the ancients must not be overlooked. The contemporary cruise liners and ferries that sail with modern and accurate maritime aids are very different to the primitive and dangerous conditions of first-century sailing. Another reason for remembering the original context of Paul's voyage relates to the fact that two of the main books used in the schools of the era were the Odyssey (traditionally viewed as being authored by Homer) and Virgil's Aenead. Each was used as a textbook to be read, memorized and dramatized by pupils. In particular, they identified principles of life and conduct, desirable to teach children how to become model citizens. These stories recounted the lives of heroes battling against the odds to cross the Greek (Mediterranean) Sea, overcoming the strategies of various gods, storms and natural enemies along the way, resulting in their achieving their objective. In the Aenead, the prize is viewed as Rome, settled in by Aeneas and his Trojan companions. The supremacy of the gods supporting these heroes is proven by their ability to support their protégés against all the obstacles facing them.
Luke wrote the book of Acts for mainly Gentile, as well as Jewish, readers. The former were familiar with such epics and the messages they presented. In his account of Paul's sea voyage, Luke demonstrates that the God who protects Paul is superior to all other gods because Paul's God shields him as he crosses the hazardous Greek sea from Israel to Rome. Christian readers can take heart that the God who protected Paul is covenanted to protect them also. At the same time, those whose trust is not in God are encouraged to transfer their allegiance to the one whose authority is supreme. The last verse of the book of Acts emphasizes this unprecedented authority in that Paul is recorded as preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ "boldly and without hindrance". The final word in the original Greek is translated "unhindered". Luke's last word on the life of Paul reminds the readers that the one who reigns in supreme power is supervising Paul's destiny and nothing can obstruct God's purpose.
God overshadowed Paul, guiding him and controlling his destiny even in the most unfriendly of circumstances. The same God controls the lives of every other believer. We may not always feel that we have a hold on God, but he always has a hold on us. Christ has ascended, but he is not absent.
When things go wrong, God is still in charge; things do not necessarily go wrong because we have sinned or stepped away from God's will; it is not necessarily that the devil has caused things to go wrong. Often, things go wrong because we are part of a world that has not been right since sin slid into the Garden of Eden. Whatever the cause of our problems, God is not absent from us. The most evil act in history was the crucifixion of Jesus. There, it appeared that God was not in control but that wicked people, operating their own selfish agenda, were directing the destiny of Jesus. In reality, as Acts 2:23-24 declares, God was still in control. Answers to many of life's problems and traumas are not easily understood. Nevertheless, in the absence of answers, that which is certain is that God is still in charge.
Safety and security are not found in the absence of danger but in the presence of God. The earliest days of the church saw a devastating catalogue of natural calamities including famines, earthquakes and plagues as well as verbal and physical attacks on Christians resulting in countless martyrdoms. Christians were not safeguarded from the events of that era. What they had to learn was that these events did not separate them from God. The perception of the majority of the people of the day was that the gods were not interested in the situations of people, let alone bothered to involve themselves in their lives. The message of the Bible is that God is so interested in this world that God the Son came into this world in the person of Jesus to demonstrate God's desire to infuse us with the divine, loving presence and all the resources we require. God's purpose is to make a difference to our lives and to the situations in which we find ourselves.
God holds our future destiny secure, whatever it might be, be it life or death, a pension or martyrdom. God is in control and never out of control. There's never a panic in heaven. God is in control even when it feels as if no one is in control. God is looking after us even though it feels that no one is looking after us. God is determined to provide for us that which is best for us and to fulfil the divine will in our lives. God's authority determines that, as the Psalmist declares, "The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth" (135:6). Paul affirms that God is committed to ensuring the completion of that which has been started in our lives (Phil 1:6) while Peter confirms, "You are kept by the power of God" (1 Pet. 1:5).
The challenge for believers is not only to impress these truths in our own minds but also to present them to an unbelieving world in ways that will enable others to adopt them, as well as accepting the God who makes all things possible as their own guide in life.
In what ways does the following blank verse clarify the role of God in the direction of our lives?
One day it did: tired of holding, it let go
and prepared to flutter down
to the dirt below where it knew it would die.
But the wind that had gently plucked it from the tree tucked it under its arm
and took it high: far higher than ever it had dreamed it could go.
Once it was tied to the tree
but now it was free on the breeze.
"Lord, I wish I was that leaf: I wish I could trust you that
completely: to know you hold me - and sense your peace.
But, I'm afraid Lord: afraid to let go: I fear the future:
where I might go: what if I fail: what will letting go entail,
"Son: Trust in My Spirit; the Breeze.
His love for you is what sets you free.
He says that He'll change you - but love is His mould.
He promises to hold you - but tight in His fold.
He promises to use you - but it's all in His love.
You'll fly - but remember your teacher's a dove.
And together you'll fly in peace on the breeze.
His love for you is what gives you peace.
For my will for you is neither a sigh nor a rod;
it's a song ... to take you high, to me, your God.
My Spirit in you is all you need
to know I love you
for all eternity.
All I ask of you
is to surrender your fears to Me."
When or where do you find it easiest to listen to God?
How do you listen for God to speak to you?
Share an example or experience of your receiving God's guidance.
What guidance would you give to a new believer in how to listen for/to God?
How would you help an enquiring unbeliever to recognize that God desires to have a positive influence on the direction of his or her life?
|©2005 World Council of Churches|