When we read Acts 27, the question often arises: How did the apostle Paul end up in this unscheduled stop on the island of Malta on his journey to Rome?
The easy answer is that his ship sank and he washed up on the beach. In this life “stuff like that just happens.”
But the Bible’s view of history is that nothing ever “just happens.” Things happen for a reason and they take place not simply within a nexus of cause and effect, but within a wider context of purpose and intelligent design.
If we were on-board with Paul that fateful night the ship hit the rocks, paddling with him toward shore, we might be tempted to question God, “Why in the world did this happen? Just moments ago, we were on our way to Rome to bear witness to Jesus in the world’s capitol, now here we are soaking wet, cold, starving, bleeding, near drowning, and washing up on some strange island with dangers all around. What kind of divine protection is this?”
These are good questions. We often expect that if we’re serving God, the least he can do is make sure that we don’t wash up on some distant shore.
But now think of what interesting things occurred after the whole party survived: A detachment of Roman soldiers experienced firsthand divine providence in a way they could never forget; the natives watching the event had their world view flipped upside down when Paul was unaffected by the snake bite (they believed in “trial by shipwreck”—a sort of Karma, or cosmic fate); the king of the island heard the Gospel for the first time and his father was healed of a serious illness. All this opened the door to the Gospel in that entire region.
Reading through Luke’s recorded accounts, we can conclude that it wasn’t just happenstance that brought them to Malta, but that they were there by divine appointment. They had to be there. Could there have been a better set-up for the “Apostle to the Gentiles” than this? It was made to order.
And how great is this story for us. Even a storm and a shipwreck are things that occur within the design of God, and they occur with meaning and purpose. Nothing ever happens to us outside God’s care and providence. Let me repeat that: Nothing ever happens to us outside God’s care and providence. He not only gives his permission for it, but he can even be said to bring it to pass. This is hard for some to accept, but he is our Sovereign, gracious God. The storm is always his storm.
This account in the Bible isn’t just about Paul, soldiers, islanders, and shipwrecks in the first century. It’s about you and me, about our families and friends, and about the same God who controlled history then is the God who oversees us now, and guides our craft to safe harbor.
The rough seas, the rude awakenings, the heartbreaks, the unceremonious departures or arrivals must be measured by the eternal purpose of our Creator.
Take heart, there’s a reason for your storm. God has not left you marooned on a deserted island. He knows the exact coordinates of where you are. So share in the same conviction the Psalmist had, “if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:9-10), and let the winds of the Spirit carry you to your intended destination.
What great reasons to praise our heavenly Father!