From: All God’s Angels
We were being pounded by the storm so violently that on the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard, and on the third day with their own hands they threw the ship’s tackle overboard. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.
Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul then stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss. I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.” So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. (Acts 27:18-25)
Just as some angels are entrusted with the care of individual souls, some are charged with the protection of the church – God’s chief messenger of the gospel. One third-century pastor and theologian, Hippolytus of Rome, likened these angels to sailors who stand on both sides of a sailing ship, watching for and defending against all harm. Perhaps at no time was this aid needed more than when, in her infancy, the church was first beginning to speak to the world.
The Bible’s record of the church’s fledgling growth, the Acts of the Apostles, recounts numerous occasions when angels are sent to assist and to direct the first Christian. From time-to-time, these Heavenly warriors dispatched enemies of the church, as with Herod in Luke 12:21-24, thereby allowing the Word of God to, as Luke puts it, grow and multiply. More often, their assignment is far less violent, though no less vital: opening prison doors so the apostles can preach (Acts 5:17-25); giving Philip his next assignment (8:26); telling Cornelius the centurion to send for Simon Peter (10:1-8); releasing Peter from prison (12:6-11); calling Paul to preach in Macedonia (16:9); and finally here, near the end of the record, encouraging Paul in the face of danger.
Though under arrest, Paul knows God’s purpose is being fulfilled through his difficult circumstances. By not being miraculously freed, Paul will be taken to Rome as a prisoner. There he will be allowed to preach and teach, “with all boldness and without hindrance,” as the final verse of Acts tells us (28:31). With the angels as our protectors, we must not think mistakenly that harm should never come to us. God’s purposes, which are always motivated by love, will sometimes include suffering. Then the angels will come not to save but to support – as they did Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane – and to encourage us in the midst of our pain.
Shortly after his arrest, Paul heard the Lord say that, eventually and inevitably, he would bear witness to Christ in the city of Rome, just as he had been doing in Jerusalem (Acts 23:11). Two years later, lost at sea in the middle of the night, an angel came to Paul, reminding him that God’s plan had not changed. Neither the foolishness of the crew nor the power of the storm would drive God’s intention for Paul off course. With that reminder came the assurance that, though the ship and all the cargo would be lost, every soul on board would be saved – souls for whom the apostle had been praying. In the darkness of that stormy night – or any other kind of night for that matter – it is the angel’s job to shed fresh light on promises that might otherwise be lost in life’s turbulent seas.