Last we left the Apostle Paul he was in Caesarea where it was decided he would be sent for trial in the capital city of Rome, Italy. Today we’ll see what happens as he travels. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Trip
The action for this week’s sermon is found in Acts 27. It’s a travel log written by Luke who went on the journey with Paul:
When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, of the Imperial Regiment. After boarding a ship…which was going to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, we put out to sea. (27:1-2)
Julius is a new name for your Bible trivia knowledge. He is a Roman centurion in the Imperial Regiment. (Of course, whenever I hear the word “imperial”, I think of Star Wars. And here I begin to imagine Julius dressed in full storm trooper garb.
Unfortunately, this is only a long time ago and not in a galaxy far, far away.
Julius is dressed in full Roman soldier garb because he is put in charge of getting Paul and some other prisoners to Rome.
Next is some mapwork.
They start in Caesarea where Paul was located.
From there, they sail north to Sidon where Paul is visited by some friends.
Next, they head up the eastern side of Cyprus. This is because the wind is coming from the West and preventing them from skating across underneath the island.
They travelled west along the cost and finally landed at Myra.
There, they switched to an Alexandrian ship that was sailing for Italy. Alexandria was a part of Egypt, so this was very likely a trade ship on the midst of its trade route. The Roman centurion paid the traders some money and was able to buy passage on the ship for Paul and all the prisoners.
Then, the wind slowed their trip. It took them several days to travel to a place called Cnidus that was only about 100 miles from Myra.
Since the wind did not permit them to go father, they went south and sailed on the eastern, sheltered side of Crete.
Eventually they came to a place called Fair Havens, which sounds like some kind of Disney resort. (Although I doubt they played “It’s a Small World” as Paul stepped off the boat.)
It was at this point that Paul spoke up to warn the men about going any farther. He said, “It looks to me as if the voyage is going to end with disaster and great loss, not only for the cargo and the ship but also our lives’ (v.10)
Paul had previously been involved in 3 other shipwrecks. This is according to his own words in 2 Corinthians 11:25. Perhaps his past experience led Paul to be conservative here.
But Julius doesn’t listen to Paul, the prisoner.
Instead, he listens to the pilot and the owner of the ship, both who suggested they go on – at least to the next harbor about 50 miles down the coast called Phoenix.
When they received a gentle south wind, they cast off, thinking it would allow them the boost needed to go north around Crete.
They never made it.
Before long, a hurricane-like wind, called the “northeaster,” rushed down from the island. Since the ship was caught in it and could not head into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. (v.14-15)
You know a wind is impressive when it has its own name.
Just like hurricane Irene.
Or hurricane Hazel.
Or hurricane Ione.
The ship was caught in the storm and there’s nothing they could do about it.
They lost control.
Some things in life are beyond your CONTROL but nothing is beyond GOD’S.
Because, did you notice in that travel log how often the wind affected the boat’s travel plans?
In verse 4, they sailed south around Cyprus, because the winds were against us.
In verse 7, they sailed on the sheltered side of Crete since the wind did not permit us to go farther.
In verse 13, they took off from Fair Haven because a gentle wind began to blow.
In verse 14, they lost control because a hurricane-like wind…rushed down from the island.
There were so many things that were out of the sailors’ control.
More specifically, so many things that were out of Paul’s control.
Those same things were not out of God’s control.
Because God controls the winds.
God invented the winds.
If weather itself isn’t beyond God’s control, then nothing is beyond his control.
Just like right now. In 2020, a lot of things might be out of your control.
How much income you receive.
Whether you keep your job.
How schools reopen.
Whether the guy down the street wears a mask or not.
The Coronavirus itself.
Not even the internet speed you’re using to watch this sermon.
Lots of things are out of our control.
Nothing is beyond God’s control.
II. The Panic
But the sailors could do some things. They immediately began doing all the things they learned about back in Sailing School to keep the boat afloat.
First, they secured the skiff, a tiny little lifeboat that was dragged behind their bigger vessel. (v.15)
Next, they ran ropes around the ship to reinforce it. The hope was that the ropes would absorb the blows from the waves and hold the stern together. (v.16)
Then, fearing that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor. They might be bobbing up and down violently, but at least they wouldn’t be smashing into land. (v.17)
But it didn’t work.
The wind was harsh enough that they still were driven along.
The soldiers began to throw the cargo overboard. (v.18)
Gone are the suitcases.
Gone are the blankets.
Gone are the personal hygiene kits.
Gone is the iPad mini.
Still in trouble.
Next, they threw the ship’s gear overboard. (v.19)
The boom vangs.
All things that I don’t even know what they do.
But they were somewhat important.
But the sailors thought they were worthy tossing overboard in order to slow down the speed of the boat.
It didn’t work.
When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the violent storm kept pressing down on us, finally all hope that we would be saved was disappearing. (v.20)
Because they couldn’t move.
And they couldn’t navigate.
And they couldn’t do anything to save themselves.
They didn’t have any reason for hope.
But Paul did:
“I urge you to keep up your courage, because there will be no loss of life among you. Only the ship will be lost. In fact, last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand before Caesar. And surely God has graciously given you all those who are sailing with you.’.” (v.22-24)
Appears to tell Paul don’t worry.
Don’t you wish you had that kind of promise from God?
Don’t you wish you had that kind of encouragement from God?
Don’t you wish God would speak to you to tell you not to worry?
In the Bible.
When all hope is LOST, there’s hope in God’s PROMISES.
Because God had promised to Paul that he would make it to Rome.
Since he wasn’t in Rome yet, Paul figured he would survive the storm.
God might not have promised Rome to you.
God did make promises to you. He said:
He promised: “Surely I will be with you always to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:21)
He promised: “I will give them eternal life and no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)
He promised: “Whoever believes in me will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
He promised: “I will come back and take you to be with me where I am.” (John 14:3)
He promised: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:15)
If you feel like all hope is LOST, may I remind you…there’s hope in God’s PROMISES.
III. Time to Abandon Ship?
When the fourteenth night came, while we were being driven back and forth in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were approaching some land. They took soundings and found it to be one hundred twenty feet deep. After sailing a little farther, they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. (v.27-28)
Sounding was originally done by hand with a sounding pole or a weighted lead line. The pole or weighted lead line would be dropped into the water and when retrieved you could estimate the depth of the ocean by the length of wetness on your line. Usually the devices would be marked up every couple of meters in order to allow a quick approximation of depth.
The depth for these sailors was shrinking quickly.
Fearing that we would run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daybreak. The sailors tried to escape from the ship and had let down the skiff into the sea, pretending they were going to put out anchors from the bow. (v.29-30)
Because the lifeboat only had room for so many people.
Since the sailors knew that…
And since they knew that they would crash…
They tried to sneak off when no one was looking:
“Hey look isn’t that the Little Mermaid over there!?!”
Paul knew what they were doing.
And he reminded them what God had told them:
“If these men do not stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” (v.31)
Because God had said that Paul would survive.
And he had said that all who were sailing with Paul would survive. (v.24)
If these men weren’t going to sail with Paul…
They wouldn’t survive.
If you ABANDON God, you will be LOST.
Because you might think now is the time to stop worrying so much about God.
You might think now is the time to stop worrying about your church.
You might think now is the time to stop spending time in the Bible.
You might think now is the time to worry about you and stop worrying about your believing friends.
If you abandon God, you will be lost.
In fact, look at this passage from 1 Timothy. It was written by the Paul in this story to a fellow believer. He wrote:
My son, I am giving you this command… so that…you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. (1 Tim. 1:18-19)
Now is time of job loss.
Of a slumping economy.
Of an unprecedented pandemic.
Of social distancing.
Or blatant racism…
Those things are all rough!
If you think now is the time to abandon God?
If you think now is the time to abandon God,
Then you can add “SHIPWRECKING YOUR FAITH” to the list of the sad things to happen during 2020.
Don’t abandon God.
Don’t abandon God’s Word.
Don’t abandon your church family.
IV. A Strange time to Worship…
Instead of abandoning ship, Paul had a different idea for the crew:
Just before daybreak, Paul urged them all to eat some food. (v.33)
I like that.
In the midst of a storm, just eat some food.
Grab some beef jerky.
Fix up some Spaghetti-Os.
Slam a bag of Doritos.
You’ve gotta keep your strength up.
But seriously, it is important to be physically well during a storm.
It’s important to be physically well…
But also spiritually well.
It’s why Paul continues to feed them.
“This is the fourteenth day you have waited in suspense and have gone without food. You have eaten nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food because this is important for your rescue. In fact, not a hair from any of your heads will be lost.” After he said these things and had taken some bread, he gave thanks to God in front of them all. (v.34-35)
Did you catch it?
All the gear is lost.
Things look bleak.
Paul has them eat food.
Here’s the TRUTH:
In a storm, WORSHIP God.
Understand what I’m saying:
I’m not demanding that you attend in person worship.
You might not feel safe to be at in person worship- and that’s ok.
Maybe you feel safer in outside worship.
Maybe you feel safest at home doing online worship.
It’s OK to worship in a different way.
But…It’s not ok to NOT worship.
Because in worship we connect with God.
In worship, we sing his praises.
In worship, we give him thanks.
In worship, we connect with God.
In worship, we hear his promises.
In worship, God gives us HOPE.
Rather than spend less time with God over these next COVID months.
Spend more time with him.
V. Safe at Last
Suddenly, the sailors noticed there was some land up ahead.
They didn’t know what kind of land it was, but they were thrilled for a chance to get to shore.
It’s kinda like finding a rest stop after hours of driving on a highway without a rest stop.
You don’t recognize it.
But your kid needs the bathroom, so you stop.
Before they can run the boat aground, it hits a hidden sandbar and the boat stars tearing to pieces.
Immediately, people figure they won’t make it.
And the soldiers came up with an idea.
The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners so that no one would swim away and escape. (v.41)
As opposed to today, in the Roman world you are guilty until proven innocent. If word reached Caesar they had let the prisoners escape, the guards themselves would be killed.
But the Centurion remembered Paul’s warning.
They all had to stay together.
He ordered those who could swim to get out and swim.
And he ordered the rest to grab a plank of wood to float to land.
And so they did.
Some began the front crawl.
Some started the butterfly.
Others did the doggie paddle.
And some floated to shore.
In the end. Look at this:
All of them were brought safely onto land. (v.44)
All of them.
All the sailors.
All the soldiers.
All the prisoners.
All made it to shore.
Because God promised they would all make it to shore.
God FULFILLS his promises.
You’ll get through this pandemic.
You’ll get through that job loss.
You’ll get through that loss of money.
You’ll get through that relationship struggle.
You’ll get through whatever 2020 is throwing at you.
God promises to give you strength.
God promises to be with you.
God promises to take you home to heaven.
He will hold you his arms until you safely reach the shore.
That’s God’s promise.
Even when life’s like a shipwreck.