If anyone believes that being a Christian exempts him from the difficult experiences of life, he is not acquainted with the life of St. Paul. The Apostle was beaten at Philippi, stoned in Lystra, imprisoned in Caesarea, unjustly accused in Jerusalem, and shipwrecked in the Mediterranean. All of this Paul endured while suffering poor health.
That is not all. Paul also suffered emotionally. He was sneered at in Athens, hated by the masses of his world, rejected by old friends in Jerusalem, and misrepresented by the religious rulers in the secular court. Paul knew what it was to encounter difficulties in life. He had sailed figuratively on the stormy seas of life, and today’s text presents the Apostle truly floating around on a plank in the stormy Mediterranean Sea.
How did Paul get into this predicament? The answer is clear. He preached Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. While his enemies tried to silence him, Paul refused to be quiet. As a result, Paul was brought to the courtroom of Governor Festus in Caesarea. The Jews asked that Paul be tried in Jerusalem, and the Governor asked if Paul would agree to their request. Paul replied, “If I am guilty of doing anything deserving of death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.”
Hearing Paul’s dogmatic statement, Festus replied, “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go.”
When all was ready, Paul and the other prisoners were loaded on a ship and set sail for Rome. It was during this journey that they were caught in a hurricane similar to what we have read about the past few weeks that caused millions of dollars worth of damage in Florida.
In the midst of the storm, the sailors panicked. They were convinced there was no chance for any of them to live. Sensing these men were terrified, Paul spoke these words: “Men, I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of God, whose I am and whom I serve, stood beside me and said, ÔDo not be afraid, Paul! You must stand trial before Caesar in Rome; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.”
Soon it was learned they were close to shore, and the ship could be thrown against the rocks. They set anchor and prayed for the dawn. When morning arrived, they were near a sandy beach on the island of Malta. They were safe and on their way to Rome.
This incident in the life of St. Paul reminds us that God never spares his children from the storms of life. Neither does He leave them comfortless. For as God once spoke to Paul in the Mediterranean, so the voice of God speaks to us in our storms.
There are many people who ask the question, If God does not spare his children from these earthly difficulties, why should we bother with him? One answer to that common question is abundantly clear from our text: When our lives are tossed to and fro on the sea of life, we need an anchor that will not fail us. We need a voice speaking in the storm, assuring us that all is well. That voice must have an authoritative note. Only the voice of God is adequate in the storms. Because God has spoken this promise to Paul, he could in turn speak authoritatively to those who felt they were perishing. It is this voice from God, uttered by Christian people, that our world needs to hear in every generation, including ours.
Life places us in some precarious situations. We find ourselves in dangerous and frightening circumstances. Let us think of some of these times.
About fifteen years ago I visited a close friend and member of our congregation. Hans was in the hospital to get relief from severe pain. It was an emotional visit for me as we shared Psalm 23. Later that day I wrote about this visit in my journal. We talked about walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Hans knew his death was close at hand. He wanted to live. There would be exciting times watching his family grow to adulthood and make great contributions to God’s Kingdom. One daughter is a physician, and she and her husband spent many years in Nepal ministering to the poor people who had so little medical care. How proud Hans would have been to learn of her accomplishments!
His grandchildren were outstanding athletes. I can see him now at one of those games cheering them on to victory. Yet he was going to have to leave all of this excitement. This had to be an emotional hurricane. Yet, in the midst of the storm, he quoted these words from the Bible: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” Then he said, and I have this in my notes, “Sometimes God lets us get close to the borderline where you simply cannot stand the temptation anymore.” Wouldn’t you have wondered, had you been Hans, why you had to suffer this severe pain and leave your family? Still, God’s Word was his anchor.
Here is another symbolical hurricane: Your son has enlisted in the Marine Corps and is about to be sent to Iraq. You have read that more than 1,000 young men and women from our country have died in this war. Thousands have been wounded. Could this be the fate of your son, whom you love so much? That is an emotional hurricane. You need an anchor, and that anchor is the promise of God’s Word. The Lord has not promised that your son would return home. However, He has said he would walk with him.
Life has its storms. Some of them are of our own making; others are the circumstances of life. The Old Testament Prophet, Jeremiah, knew God was his anchor when he wrote, “I remember my affliction and my wondering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ÔThe Lord is my portion; there I will wait for him.’ The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:19-26).
Trust Him! His voice speaks clearly in the storms of life.