Acts chapter 27 records the journey of Paul from Caesarea to Rome to plead his case, and indeed, the status of Christianity before the Emperor Nero. It would appear that Paul’s determination to appeal directly to Caesar was not just an attempt to secure his own acquittal of charges, laid by the Jewish religious leaders, of profaning the temple in Jerusalem, but more importantly, to obtain official recognition of Christianity as a legal religion in the Roman Empire. Hence, Paul’s decision to exercise his right as a Roman citizen and appeal to the Emperor who alone had the power to decree Christianity a religio licita, and therefore eligible to enjoy the same kind of privileges and protection as Judaism.
The arduous voyage began at Adramyttium, a seaport of the Roman province of Asia (modern Turkey), and continued north of Cyprus to Myra, where Paul’s party, together with other prisoners and an armed escort under the command of the centurion Julius, transferred to an Alexandrian grain ship bound for Italy. Ignoring Paul’s warning of impending disaster, the helmsman and the owner of the ship decided to run the gauntlet of the deteriorating weather conditions and sail for Sicily. However, encountering near cyclonic conditions and with the ship threatening to capsize, ‘all hope of salvation was finally given up’. But in a remarkable display of spiritual and moral leadership, Paul the prisoner stood up and addressed his despairing companions:
“Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss. And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. However, we must run aground on a certain island.” (Acts 27.21-26)
According to the writer of Hebrews, angels are ‘spirits in the service of God, commissioned to serve the heirs of God’s salvation’ (Heb 1.14 Phillips). As spiritual beings, angels operate in a spiritual realm that transcends our physical senses. Thus like Jacob, we may be surrounded by angels and be oblivious to their presence (Gen 28.11-17). And like Elisha’s servant, we may need a special dispensation of grace in order to perceive their activity (2 Kings 6.15-17).
C. S. Lewis postulates in his highly acclaimed Space Trilogy that angelic beings vibrate at the speed of light; in order for our senses to perceive their presence they have to ‘slow down’ and calibrate at the same frequency as our molecular selves. Thus, angelic appearances are not, in fact, affectations of the retina, but rather, direct manipulations of the relevant parts of the brain, producing the kind of sensations we would experience if our eyes were capable of perceiving spiritual realities.
Whatever the case, we can be sure that the Lord is with us even in the midst of the storm! And furthermore, his presence with us is directly related to his purpose for us.
There is a ‘must’ in your life that you must fulfil
The angel said to Paul, “Do not be afraid, you must be brought before Caesar, and indeed, God has granted you all those who sail with you.” Paul’s destiny guaranteed his deliverance. The great revivalist preacher, George Whitefield, declared: “We are immortal until our work on earth is done.” But sometimes, when we are going through trials, we need to be reminded that we are ‘called according to his purpose’; that even the most difficult of circumstances can serve our greater good (Rom 8.28).
Sometimes we need heaven to break into our consciousness. Sometimes we need eternity to overlap the threshold of our awareness. Sometimes we need to hear, as it were, the cheers of the great cloud of witnesses, looking down from heaven and urging us to complete the race that is set before us (Heb 12.1). Sometimes, like the saintly Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, we need to hear a voice from heaven enjoining us to ‘be strong and play the man’.
On my desk I have a framed photograph of my father and me, taken just days before he went home to be with Jesus in December, 2006. He is sitting in a hospital chair and I am standing behind him with my arm around his shoulders. He is obviously very pale and weak; in contrast, I am full of energy and virility. However, when I look at the photo now, I have a strange feeling that the roles are somehow reversed. I feel like I am the one sitting in the chair – weak, tired, and not altogether certain about life. I feel like he is the one standing behind me – strong, full of life, and with a certainty that only comes from being ‘on the other side’ in the presence of the Lord. And I have to tell you, I have heard my father’s voice more than once, speaking to me from heaven, encouraging me to finish what he started.
There is a ‘must’ in your life that you must fulfil. There is a calling of God on your life that demands your all. There is a purpose in your life that’s worth living for, and if necessary, dying for. For Paul, it was to proclaim the gospel to the nations and their rulers (Acts 9.15; Acts 23.11; Rom 1.5; Eph 3.8). For you and me, it might be something quite different. But of this we can be confident: that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for a specific purpose which God prepared before the foundation of the world (Eph 2.10).
Walking with destiny
One of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century was British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. His colourful life and gregarious personality has been depicted in numerous books, films, and documentaries. Above all, he is remembered as the man who led Great Britain through her ‘darkest hour’, when she stood alone against the Nazi invasion of Western Europe. However, he did not always enjoy the celebrated status that history has posthumously conferred upon him. In fact, for two-thirds of his life he was viewed with suspicion, and at times derision; his opponents (of whom there were many), and even some of his supporters, considered him egocentric, emotionally unstable, and psychologically unpredictable — in short, a political risk not worth taking.
The mid 1930’s marked the nadir of Churchill’s career. Marginalised by the political establishment and haunted by the failure of the Dardanelles campaign, Churchill was reduced to painting English landscapes and writing military histories. Calling for active resistance rather than pacification, Churchill appeared to be finished. But within a few short years the world, and Churchill’s career, was turned upside down. On May 10th, 1940, Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister of Great Britain following the failure of his policy of appeasement and the outbreak of war with Germany. Later that same day, Churchill was summoned to meet the King at Buckingham Palace and asked to form a government of national unity.
Reflecting on this momentous event, Churchill said, “I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial. Eleven years in the political wilderness had freed me from ordinary party antagonisms. My warnings over the last six years had been so numerous, so detailed, and were now so terribly vindicated, that no one could gainsay me. I could not be reproached either for making the war or with want of preparation for it.”
Visiting Britain in October, 1940, American journalist Ralph Ingersoll observed that everywhere he went people admired Churchill’s energy, courage, and singleness of purpose. “People said they didn’t know what Britain would do without him. He was obviously respected. But no one felt he would be Prime Minister after the war. He was simply the right man in the right job at the right time. The time being the time of a desperate war with Britain’s enemies.”
You too have ‘come to the kingdom for such a time and such an occasion as this’ (Esther 4.14). You too have an appointment with destiny. Everything that has happened in your life up until now has been but a preparation for this day and this opportunity. By God’s grace you too will prove to be the right person in the right job at the right time. Do not fear or be dismayed — there is a ‘must’ in your life that you must fulfil!