Just when the apostle Paul intended a Spain-ward thrust of the gospel to evangelize Western Europe, he was detained in Jerusalem, then imprisoned two years in Caesarea. Finally appealing to the imperial court, he was hustled aboard ship for Rome. But a typhoon besieged the vessel; it sunk and Paul swam ashore — only to be bitten by a viper. Thus he found himself stranded on the island of Malta for three months.
But careful readers of Acts 27 and 28 are always impressed with Paul’s self-possession. He kept his head above water even when his ship was going down. He knew how to remain even-tempered, though all the elements of frustration were at hand. Paul’s missionary dreams were thwarted. He was imprisoned when he craved freedom and forced into inactivity when he desired action. He was eager to reach Rome, but the winds blew against him. He was a man of progress, making no headway. Wanting to redeem the time, he was beached on an obscure island.
He was stalled.
In due time the sea lanes reopened for the spring, and on February 8, 60, Paul boarded ship for the remainder of the trip to Rome.* As for being frustrated, there’s no sign of it. Paul’s life and ministry were so entrusted to the Lord that he took everything that befell him, both squalls and stalls, as from God. Experience had taught him to trust in the Lord’s providence and to lean on the Lord’s promises. During the height of the earlier tempest, he had summarized his philosophy for the terrified sailors: I belong to God, and I worship him. … Cheer up! I am sure that God will do exactly what he promised (Acts 27:23-25).
It was not in due time — but in divine time — that Paul reached Rome. His nerves held steady in the storm. His spirit remained patient in delay.
He knew how to wait on his God.
Three months later we sailed in a ship that had been docked at Malta for the winter. … We arrived in Syracuse and stayed for three days. From there we sailed to Rhegium. The next day a south wind began to blow, and two days later we arrived in Puteoli. There we found some of the Lord’s followers, who begged us to stay with them. A week later we left for the city of Rome. (Acts 28:11-14)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Feb. 8.
* F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1977). Bruce quotes Pliny the Elder, who says that navigation begins to be resumed when the west winds start to blow on February 8, and it was “probably about this date that the party set sail from Malta.”