Until you know the story, Caesarea is little more than a collection of well-preserved ruins on the beautiful coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
It’s a beautiful setting, with a 2,000-year-old aqueduct still standing on the north side of the city, and a 3,000-seat stadium on the south side. In between, the rocks speak of buildings that once stood, horses that once raced, and people who once lived in the most modern city ancient Israel ever knew.
Some of those who lived in Caesarea were prisoners, and one of those prisoners was the Apostle Paul. He had done nothing wrong, but Paul spent two frustrating years in a prison there, nevertheless. Perhaps it was here that Paul started his habit of writing the letters from prison that became so much scripture in the New Testament.
Do you remember one of the most troubling verses he wrote? It’s the confounding message that, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).”
In all things?
I’ve been around long enough to know that some things aren’t good. Some things are evil. Some things hurt us, and some things crush us. Some are so devastating, we can hardly breathe.
Since this is the man who penned the words of Romans 8:28, wouldn’t you like to squat down, peer inside his tiny cell, and ask him, “Hey, Paul, Mr. ‘All-things-work-together-for-good,’ what’s so great about this?”
I’d have to assume Paul didn’t know how God was working things out for good, right at that moment. Perhaps he even died without knowing the purpose of two years of prison grub.
Standing on this side of the last 2,000 years, I can point to several things that happened for good while Paul was in prison in Caesarea. For instance, Paul shared his faith with dozens of prison guards during that time, and many of them became believers. Not long after Paul died, so many Roman soldiers were believers in Christ, they became a key factor in the conversion of the entire Roman empire.
And what of Paul’s friend Luke? They were traveling buddies, and Luke had come to Israel with Paul, only to find himself with nothing to do for two years. Perhaps those were the years when Luke turned into a reporter, touring Israel, interviewing eye-witnesses, and compiling his notes. Eventually, Luke would write both the Gospel of Luke, and the Book of Acts, the best record we have of the church’s early history.
Would Luke have done all of that, if Paul had been free to travel?
It struck me, in Caesarea, what had happened there. Paul decided to believe Romans 8:28 long before he wrote the words. Long before he would see the evidence that God was working for good, Paul make a conscious choice to believe that God was in control.
If life has thrown some difficult circumstances at you – perhaps some devastating circumstances, even – then realize that life has also given you one more thing. Life has given you the choice to believe that God is in control, before you see exactly what God has been doing. You might even die without knowing why suffering had to come your way.
If you dare to believe that God is still in control, you will have made the choice of faith. And some how, some way, you will have made the wisest choice of your life.