Saturday, August 25, 2012

Preserved by God’s Power

Who is our keeper? Who has taken care of you up until now? Is it your parents? Is your effort? Many call themselves, ‘self-made’. Is it because of your education? Or is it fate? Are you a ‘son of fate’? Many think that fate is at work in their lives. Many people do not see the mighty hand of God at work in their lives and so they ascribe their being and success to one thing or another.
Here we see the divine intervention and power of God in accomplishing His purpose for Paul to proclaim the gospel in Rome.The Apostle shared in the perils of his companions in the sea. Through that we see his character in crisis that is so resolute and practical, so that he maintained the sanity of his mind when others were losing it.  We see him in the danger of sea and storm, the danger of being killed by the soldiers, the danger of hunger and the danger of being shipwrecked. But God preserves not only Paul but also even others on his account. He preserved him from death for a purpose. God used the circumstances to show His power in keeping His people because we are kept by His power through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1Peter 1:5).
God’s power in keeping and looking after His people is first of all by keeping them from destruction, by providing for their needs and by using them in the circumstances to show forth His goodness, love and mercy, so that sinners may come to Him.

1.     Preserved from destruction

Paul appealed to Caesar and he was handed over to a centurion of the Imperial guard to be taken to Caesar. This was to be done by sea for a good number of reasons: Paul could be taken together with other prisoners and it is difficult to escape in the sea. The centurion was also in charge of transporting grains and so he could combine the two. It was less tasking than land.Luke records this voyage to Rome in exceptional detail so that in it we have a taste of the maritimetransport in the ancient times. We see skillful navigation of the ship in the circumstances in trying to be away from the violent wind. After the first two weeks they managed to dock at Myra (South of Turkey). They changed ships to the one bound to Italy from Alexandria ferrying grains from Egypt because Rome depended on wheat, barley etc. from Egypt.
This becomes very difficult because of the season – it was now after the fast (the day of atonement), which means it was early October (AD. 59 had the day on 5th October.) They were getting to the winter season known for storms so that the many ports in the Mediterranean were closed from November to January. Paul himself, an experienced sailor warned them from carrying on with the journey but they did not listen to him so that there met storm after another so that they threw away the cargo and even the spare tackle!What destruction faced these 276 because they all sailed in the same ship? Paul’s warning shows a Christian full of faith in the sovereignty of God and yet responsible and prudent in giving them advise although it was not taken. It shows that God was still with him and was concerned for the others because later on God revealed that not one of them would lose even his hair. Let us remember that God, who foreordains whatever comes to pass, also foreordains the means through which His purposes are accomplished. The wise and sane application of human brain and senses is part of the means to achieve the end for which God ordains.
There is no question that from here we learn of the grace of God to preserve His people from disaster and in the process, common grace is extended to the rest of the world on the account of those who are saved. There is no doubt that this account presents us with the power of God to restrain the natural forces for the good of His people.
God by His power has kept us from destruction. It is because of His goodness and mercy that He has told us, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; and I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through riversthey shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you”. (Isa. 43:1b, 2)
God is the one who is our faithful keeper for He has promised “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to a man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1Cor. 10:13).
The encouragement is that, “…all were brought safely to land (v. 44). Therefore we should never give up or be discouraged or lose hope in whatever situation you are in. God is our keeper; He will keep us until the end. He will bring His purpose for us to pass and we should patiently look up to Him for in Him we have our being. At the same time those who are in Him, though enjoy much of His common grace now, it will soon be cut off when you remain as you are. As Paul approached Rome, it was for him to be vindicated but the rest of the prisoners were going to be condemned. What are you waiting for? Does it matter if you escape trials and problems of this life only to face the most severe and permanent problems?

2.     Preserved by His protection and provision

God made sufficient protection and provisions for Paul from the beginning in that among other things he was a Roman citizen.  He was handed to this particular influential centurion of the Augastan Cohort, i.e “His Imperial Majesty’s”. It was a title of honor and was given to those who served in close proximity to Caesar, and specifically in charge of the grain transportation to Rome, a very important task, given to those greatly trusted by Caesar. His name is given as Julius, which could be a possibility that as a result of his close association with Paul, he came to be a believer. When they landed at Sidon, Luke records of his kindness to Paul so that he allowed Paul to go to his friends to be catered for (v.3). His relationship with Paul became so obviously good that when he refused to heed Paul’s advise not to proceed from Fair Havens, Luke was surprised so that he took it so serious as to record it (v.11). But we see his favor to Paul in that he heeded his advise not to allow some of the ship crew to leave the ship (vv.31, 32) and he did not want to have the prisoners killed on the account of Paul (v. 43). In this account we learn how God uses even the wicked men for the benefit of His people and for the realization of His purposes that cannot be thwarted. You should not give up a situation because you do not know of a Christian to help you. Remember that God is able to use even donkeys to bring good for His people.
God also provided friends to cater for the needs of Paul in the ship (he had Luke the physician and Aristarchus (v.2). He also provided friends in Sidon (v.3), God gave Paul a sound and an intelligent mind throughout the journey as even to give sound advice and he was so responsible and practical. He gave the ability predict exactly what lay ahead of them (vv. 10, 21-26, 31, 33-35) God further sent an angel of God to encourage Paul (v. 23). There was sufficient food up until the last meal they took together before the ship was ultimately destroyed. Here is the faithfulness of God in meeting with our needs exceedingly and abundantly beyond our imagination, even in the midst of a disaster.
In this we see how God is gracious and will prove that God is genuinely concerned about meeting the needs of all His creation. He did not want any to perish. God has said in His Word that He does not delight in the death of a sinner but is patient towards you, not wishing any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2Peter 3:9). This then means that those who perish because of their obstinacy and lack of repentance so that they are overtaken by destruction having worn out the patience of God by counting it as slowness!
About God’s protection Paul said, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies (2Cor. 4:8-10) So that as servants of God, they could commend themselves by “great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger, purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, by truthful speech, and the power of God…” (2Cor. 6:4-7b).
About God’s provision he said, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”(Phil. 4:11-13). Brethren this is a call to strong, mature and abounding faith in this world – a faith that will not shrink, or fail or die.
God has made the ultimate provision for the salvation of people in giving His own Son to come on earth to meet the demands of His justice for sinners, whereby He paid the penalty for their sins. Moreover, He is willing to give His righteousness to all those who come fully trusting in Him. If you have gladly received the physical provision of food, clothing, parents, children etc. how can you reject the most important provision of God Christ who is the solution and answer to all human problems starting with the greatest problem of sin? The argument of Romans 8:32 is that because of God has given us His Son for us all, He will along with Him give us all things, implying that that the most important gift and provision of God in your sustenance is Christ. But on your part, all you want is all things apart from Christ! I beseech you by the mercies of God. You must not continue to reject this Gift of gifts all other gifts in One. Where it not for the giving of Christ, this world would have been destroyed.
For Christians, they have all things in Christ – because He is the richness of God’s glory being before all things, holding all things together… so that in everything He has preeminence, and in Him the all fullness of God dwells. Thus He has made permanent peace for us with God by His blood!  (Col. 1:17-20). So could we get any richer? We are made the heirs of the glory of God and this is why the prevailing situation is nothing for us because we know that we have Christ, the hope of glory!

3.     Preserved for His glory

In this account is a very simple line of thought. God is concerned for the gospel to spread to all the parts of the world, starting from Jerusalem going to the rest of the world. Rome was the universal headquarters, so to speak. The Apostle commissioned to take the gospel there has to go there and bring the gospel to the Emperor himself. The gospel has to get to the household of Caesar and this is what God has continued to confirm to Paul. When the angel of God came to him at night, he told Paul not to be afraid because, “… you must stand before Caesar” (v. 24). Standing before Caesar was not just for the trial, although it includes it. He was to stand before Caesar to expound and testify about the kingdom of God and so try to convince them about Jesus. He had to go to Rome to proclaim the kingdom of God, and teaching about Jesus Christ (28:23, 31)
Why did God undertake all He did for Paul and his companions? What was the motive for all this? Why was it so important for God that Paul goes to Rome? The number one motive and passion for God is His glory. Christians must never forget this truth that God created us for His glory and this we are to find our identity, passion and all the joy and excitement. We are to give little regard for the prevailing situation because when we are taken up by trials and challenges of life, we can very easily forget the glory of God and so lose our focus.
What credit can anyone ascribe to himself in those situations? Luke records that,  “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of being saved was at last abandoned (v. 20). We are talking of people who had nothing to glory of themselves. They were at the end of their tether and for them to starting claiming anything could be ridiculous. Yet God had revealed to Paul to have faith because He had granted to him “… all those who sail with you.”But at this point they have no hope, including Luke! This is what is needed, where you come to the end of yourself in despair so that you can lay no strength to your effort. You have to come to a point where you are completely helpless so that you can depend on Christ only. You have to come to this point and call for help from God. It is my prayer that the situation will not bring you to desperation as to give up on God, but rather that it will push you to come to God who is the present help in times of trouble.
The particular situation I have in mind is the sin. Sinners are saved when they come to a point of desperation and realize that there is no more help remaining as to bring about salvation. You have to stop depending on yourself to look to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. This way everything else in the ship an be thrown overboard for the salvation of the souls. The body itself like the ship can be destroyed to make sure that you see your need for the Lord because this is what God is of first importance concerned about – your soul.
If we were to look at the ship like Christ, Christ, Christ suffered all for your sake and praise be to His Name because He delivered us to a safe place – to the Father. Thankfully Christ was not totally destroyed because for Him, after three days He rose from the dead to bring to us the redemption by His resurrection.
This passage is also a call to make effort in working out your salvation, because the promise of God always comes with the means of realizing and fulfilling the promise. John Calvin said, “God certainly does not commend His power to the faithful in order that they may give themselves up to laziness and inactivity, with contempt for intervening means or rashly rush into danger, when there is a definite reason for taking care.” Surely God’s decree or promises do not mean that you do not engage any activity to extend your hand to receive the promise, rather faith is an expectant effort at receiving the promises of God.
God has provided you with a rational mind so that you may act rationally. In this passage urging men to eat and not to leave the ship because those were the means of their salvation. Those who call themselves Christians and refuse to use the means that God has given are only foolish – like those who refuse to use medicine and yet we know that God is the giver of every good and perfect gift. So in this passage we are encouraged to be integrated Christians who combine spirituality with sanity. We are encouraged to be people of faith and of action; of Spirit and common sense so that we may be of earthly use for Christ. This way God is glorified for we see His purposes being fulfilled in our lives in accordance to the means He has provided for us.

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