STORM TOSSED? (ACTS 27)
When progress is slow and difficult (27:1-8)
And people are not listening to your wisdom (27:9-12)
And things go from bad to worse (27:12-20)
BUT GOD (27:21-26)
Calls us to exercise our faith in Him (27:27-44)
They cut away the life boats
They eat the last of the rations
They leave the prisoners unbound
Conclusion: God alone can save them now
This morning we continue our study through the book of Acts. As I’ve mentioned many times, Acts is historical theological narrative, that’s the genre or kind of literature the Holy Spirit chose to communicate God’s message through. A narrative, a story, which is ground in actual historical events which are recounted in order to teach us a theological truth. One of the main truths that Acts teaches us about is God’s commitment to the spread of the gospel.
You could call it the Acts of the Apostles because it describes the key role that the Apostles, particularly Peter and Paul played in the spread of the gospel. You could call it the Acts of the Holy Spirit, because it describes how the Holy Spirit empowered believers to be witnesses to Christ from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth. You could call it the Acts of the gospel because it shows how the gospel overcame every obstacle to its spread. The book of Acts traces the obstacles or opposition that came up against the gospel and how the gospel triumphed in each and every instance. So there are these regular summary statements
· Acts 2:42-26 Awe came upon every soul and many wonders and signs were being done through the Apostles….and the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved
· After the persecution of chapter 4: Acts 4:32-37 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord and great grace was upon them all.
· After the hypocrisy of Annanias and Saphira threatened the integrity of the church. Acts 5:11-16 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the Apostles…ad more than ever believers were added to the Lord.
· After the unity of the church was threatened in chapter 6, Acts 6:7 “And the word of God continued to increase and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem…”
· After the martyrdom of Stephen in chapter 7, Acts 8:4 “Those who were scattered went about preaching the word
· So the book of Acts traces the spread of the gospel, the relentless march of the gospel out from Jerusalem, overcoming every obstacle and all opposition. And that’s how the book of Acts ends – Acts 28 Paul is in prison in Rome – but the gospel continues to spread freely. “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” (Acts 28:30-31)
That is in line with Luke’s stated purpose for writing. He was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write a 2 volume series Luke-Acts in order to give an orderly account of the rise and spread of the gospel so that his readers would know what is the message of the true gospel and its divine power.
You could picture a documentary which traces boxer’s rise from the unknown ranks of amateur boxing to become the undeniable, undefeated heavy weight champion of the world. One bout at a time, one challenger at a time, the book of Acts traces how to gospel rises and spreads in power and influence until it becomes what it is still today – the most influential message in the world. This simple message has toppled empires, transformed countries, captivated cultures and arrested individuals from every walk of life. Acts 27 gives us another account, another bout, another challenge to spread of the gospel which is overcome by divine power.
So Acts 27 is our text. In the middle of his 3rd missionary journey Paul is arrested, falsely accused and imprisoned. The Jewish authorities hedge a plot to assassinate Paul and try silence his gospel witness and he faces one corrupt trial after another until eventually he appeals to Caesar as his final court of appeal. Our narrative traces that journey from Ceasarea to Rome. One night back in Acts 23:11, when Paul had been particularly discouraged, the Lord appeared to him, “The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”
So the resurrected Lord of the universe has determined the destination of this journey – you would think it would be smooth sailing wouldn’t you?... You would think that since victory is assured, since we know that the gospel will raise the winners trophy at the end – that its rise to power would be easy. But that’s exactly where we are wrong.
1: Progress is slow and difficult (27:1-8)
Up to vs 3 the narrative seems to be going as we would expect. Paul sets sail for Rome, God provides a ship, his travelling companions are allowed to accompany him. Note the “we” of vs 2 which suggests Luke and Aristachus were with Paul. God even gives Paul favour in the eyes of Julius and he is allowed to visit his friends while the ship restocked at Sidon. That’s how serving God and the gospel is supposed to go right?
But now they encounter head winds in vs 4 and they have to sail close to the island of Cyprus to try get a bit of shelter from these winds. Vs 7 says the sailed “slowly” and arrived with “difficulty” and basically were forced to stop at Cnidus because they just couldn’t keep sailing against these strong winds. Vs 8 tells us again, this journey was undertaken with difficulty.
Who controls the weather? If Jesus had planned and promised that Paul would testify to Him in Rome – why is this journey becoming so difficult? Have you ever wondered that sometimes?....
Progress is slow and difficult and people don’t listen
2: People don’t receive our wisdom (27:9-12)
Vs 9: Because progress had been so slow, they are running behind schedule and they are entering that season where it’s dangerous to sail. I’m sure the Van Zyl’s, who sailed around the world, will be able to enlighten us on this text. The description here gives credibility to the historical accuracy of the text because anyone who knows sailing knows that Luke is speaking sense here. You don’t sail anywhere you want anytime you want – if you want to arrive at your destination you need to work with the sea, with the weather, with the currents. Any sailor knows this, and Paul was a seasoned traveler as we know from the previous chapters of Acts. Paul had already travelled ## miles and taken many voyages. So he knows, humanly speaking what it takes to make this journey safely. In VS 10 Paul is speaking from his human wisdom, from his experience in sailing. He is concerned that if they leave now, at this time of the year, under these weather conditions – they are not going to make it to their destination. But nobody will listen to him. Vs 11. They have their own agenda, their own motivations. They don’t want to spend the next 3 months in this little harbour town, so Paul is outvoted.
You would think that when you are serving God’s purposes and when you are making sense and showing practical wisdom based on years of actual experience – that people would listen to you. Have you ever felt that way some times? In a marriage, or family, or local church or company – decisions are being made which are fueled more by personal agendas than logic and reason. And you are in this boat with them and your health and finances and job and reputation is also on the line and is going to be effected by this decision and you know for sure that this is going to end in a shipwreck – but nobody will listen and there is nothing you can do.
I hope this text encourages you the next time you are in that situation, that God is even in control of the mislaid plans of people.
So when progress is slow and difficult and nobody is listening to you – do you assume that what you are doing or trying to do is not God’s will. If Paul made decisions on the basis of feelings or circumstances then he would probably have jumped ship at this point. Maybe he wanted to, but God hadn’t given him that option, he was making this journey as a prisoner – helplessly carried along by the plans and selfish agendas of others and then things go from bad to worse.
3: Things go from bad to worse (13-20)
Read 27: 13:-20
It’s almost like God tricked them. In vs 13 there is, for a brief moment, this gentle wind blowing in exactly the right direction and it seems that God himself was opening up a window in the weather so that they could undertake this journey. But then as soon as they have left vs 14 a “tempestuous wind” comes up. It “struck” down from the land, it “caught the ship” in vs 15 and they just had to give way before it and be “driven along.” Again vs 17 they were “driven along” and vs 18 they were “violently storm tossed” and vs 20 they couldn’t see the sky and “no small tempest lay upon us.”
An unseen, irresistible force seized control of the rudder of their ship and carried them along in a direction they didn’t want to go, to a destination they didn’t want to reach. As far as they could determine, that destination was certain death. Along the way they are doing everything in their human power to keep the ship together, to save themselves from certain destruction. VS 20 says “many days” for days and days and days, a seeming eternity, they battled against all odds to save themselves from certain destruction until all hope was gone…
Have you been there? Have you seen others go through this? Three rounds of Chemo therapy and still the cancer is there….12 job interviews and 18 months later and still unemployed….4 miscarriages, nearing 40 and still childless….4 different marriage counselors over 4 years and still on the brink of divorce…and all hope is lost….
Is this God, is this Satan trying to stop Paul from bearing witness in Rome? Is this because in their foolishness and selfishness they forged ahead with this journey against godly counsel and practical wisdom? Is this just life, just the forces of nature at work in an arbitrary fashion and there’s nothing personal about it?....
The text makes no attempt to answer that question and in life we seldom know the answer. It’s often all of the above.
And we don’t find Paul rebuking the wind here, or anointing the ship, or performing some ritual to appease the ancestors, or making an offering to the storm god. We find him praying to God because whatever the cause of this problem – God is the solution. Whatever had gotten them into this mess, God alone can get them out.
So progress is slow and difficult and nobody is listening to you and things are going from bad to worse – but God.
4: BUT GOD (27:21-26)
After many days had past, when everyone had lost all hope, God sends a messenger with a message of hope – God’s plans will prevail. Vs 24 you must stand before Caesar. The promise of Acts 23:11 still holds true “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” Paul tells the soldiers in vs 22 the same thing the Lord had told him, take courage, take heart, don’t give up. The situation seems hopeless – but God. He tells them again in vs 25 “take heart” for I believe, I have faith in God’s word, I believe God’s promises, I know that God’ plans will prevail despite the circumstances. That is the essence of faith, to take God at His word, to believe what God says despite what the world, or our feelings, or our circumstances are saying.
There is something the text doesn’t say explicitly here, but we shouldn’t miss. Vs 24 “God has granted you.” God has given you something in answer to a request. And that tells us what Paul had been doing. He had been praying, he had been asking God to intervene. After the men had done everything they could to solve the problem – they had nothing more they could do. But Paul knew that where the work of men stops, the work of a Christian starts. As Christians our work is not done until we have done our work in prayer, we are not done struggling and striving against every obstacle and difficulty until we have struggled with God in prayer, until we have summoned the divine resources we need to deal with the God-sized problems we are facing.
And Paul was not just praying for himself, but praying for these men, these ignorant, foolish, stubborn men who had not listened to his advise in the first place- yet he pleads with God for them as only a Christian can plead, in the name of Christ and God grants his request.
So God has a plan and His plans prevail over satan and sin and death. And God intervenes and gives them a promise and calls them to exercise faith in His Word.
Exercising faith (27:27-44)
Here, for the first time, we find sailors doing what sailors don’t do. They are still doing what every sailor would do to battle this storm and try reach land and Luke tells us the practical measures they took. But for the first time we are told in vs 29 they prayed….
Just because God has made a promise and determined a certain outcome, doesn’t mean all human work and effort and planning becomes meaningless. But now they do these things and they pray God would help them, God we’ve done all that we can, please keep this ship together until daylight.
And God’s promise requires them to exercise their faith by not doing certain things. Vs 31 “unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” God requires them to exercise their faith, to trust Him to preserve them all as He had promised and not to craft a human plan to accomplish that outcome at the expense of others. At the start of this narrative Paul had offered human wisdom based on his own experience and because they had their own preferences and agendas they had ignored him. Now Paul is issuing a divine imperative based on special revelation given to him. This is how God wants to work your salvation – this way and no other way….So the centurion takes God at his word and makes the decision to cut away the ropes. Now there is no escaping the ship, no trusting in human plans and schemes. He literally cuts that option off for them all by cutting the ropes. Now its God’s way of salvation or no salvation at all.
Then they gather and give thanks and eat the last of their rations. Now its come down to God alone can save them, in this way, in this moment. They are giving themselves no other escape route, no provisions for the future, no alternatives and all they have to hang on to is the promise in vs 34 “not a hair of your head will perish of any of you.” God will work a comprehensive rescue for them all.
But one last test of their faith remains….
God doesn’t allow the ship to beach safely but instead it gets lodged on an offshore reef and the waves start breaking the ship to pieces. Now each individual has to jump into what must still have been violent seas and from vs 44 some couldn’t even swim and the soldiers were losing control of the situation and if they lost a prisoner their own lives were at stake – so the logical thing was to kill the prisoners and save themselves. But now the Centurion risks his own life and that of the other soldiers in order to rescue the life of one man, Paul, who was evidently a spokesman for the true and living God.
Up until this point, their lives were at risk anyway. Cutting away the ropes and eating the last of the rations were certainly acts of faith. But now, salvation is in sight, now they can surely rescue themselves by human means, by carrying out this human plan…And to trust God at this point and spare the lives of everyone, puts their own life at stake. Now, trusting in God’s way could cost them their lives and trusting in their own man-made way could spare their lives. Yet the centurion orders the soldiers not to kill the prisoners and by this act of faith – all are brought to safety in vs 44.
Faith in God doesn’t exclude human plans and practical wisdom and doing what we can. But those human plans should never run contrary to divine revelation. When God draws the boundaries in His word and says – thus far you will go and no further. You can’t steal, or bribe in order to provide for your family. You can’t lie in order to protect your job or reputation. You can’t engage in that activity in order to pursue your personal pleasure. Then exercising faith means we stay within the boundaries which God has provided. It means we do what we can and ask God to do what only He can. It means we do things God’s way, even if humanly speaking, it makes our lives more difficult and reduces our chances of success.
So what is the storyline?
When progress is slow and people are not listening to you and even when things go from bad to worse – remember that God is in control of everything and His plans and purposes are never thwarted and He is calling us to trust and obey what He has revealed to us about these plans and purposes.
From Acts, what is the focal point of God’s plans and purposes? The spread of the gospel to all places and all people through God empowered witnesses.
This narrative starts with Paul getting on a boat because the Jewish religious leaders had rejected his message and wanted to take his. The narrative ends with Paul getting off the boat because a Gentile leader believed his message and wanted to save his life even at personal cost.
Where is the gospel heading in the narrative? From Jerusalem to Rome, from Jew to Gentile, from rejection to reception. That’s where Acts is heading as a whole from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth by the power of God.
This narrative then summarizes the book of Acts as a whole. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. What Luke hopes we will begin to understand from this narrative is that Paul’s missionary journey’s didn’t end in Acts 21 when Paul stopped planning them. Because all along God had been planning Paul’s missionary journeys and sustaining him on them. From a human perspective, this chapter was a detour frought with difficulty. From a divine perspective is was an essential stop along the gospel’s mission. From a human perspective, Paul and everyone else in the narrative has lost control of the situation, yet God was in complete control providentially preserving His messenger and providing him with a platform to preach the message of the gospel.
This is how Paul explained it in 2 Cor 4:6-11
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
This narrative is calling us to trust God and join Him in His gospel mission amidst our weakness. Will you heed the call?