Shipwrecked

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Acts 27:18-24, 33-44

Are you afraid of accidents or sickness? Do you worry about dying? I can’t guarantee your health and safety, but I can tell you a story that could take your fear away.

A famous 18th century preacher named George Whitefield once claimed that a person is immortal until his work is finished. What he meant was that God has a role for each human being – in particular for each Christian – to fulfill in their life. When the Lord calls people to become followers of Jesus Christ, he not only saves them from sin; he gives them work to do for his kingdom. And he will not allow any person to die until this work has been accomplished. So in that sense, nothing can stop us, nothing can kill us, as long as God still has some service he wants us to perform for him in the world. God is in control of everything in the whole universe, including everything in our lives and everything that could possibly affect us. Because of this, Christian believers may be sure that nothing can happen to them that will keep God from accomplishing his purpose in and through them. As a follower of Jesus, until God’s plan for my life is fulfilled, I can’t die. And when God’s plan for my life is fulfilled, I can’t be prevented from going home to live with him in heaven.

No one’s life was a better illustration of this truth than the apostle Paul’s.

VOYAGE TO ROME

If there is a more thrilling true-life adventure than the story in Acts 27 of Paul’s voyage to Rome, I’d like to read it. This is an account of courage and endurance, of hair’s breadth escapes from deadly peril, and above all, of unwavering faith in the protection and power of the Lord, all excitingly related by an eyewitness participant, Dr. Luke himself. Paul’s troubles in Jerusalem began with a plot by his enemies to assassinate him. Being taken into Roman custody saved Paul’s life then, but at the cost of two years of his freedom. Finally, unable to get a fair trial from the Roman governors in Caesarea, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen and appealed to Caesar to judge his case personally and grant him justice. Since that meant a trip to Rome, the apostle was transferred into the custody of a Roman soldier for the long, and, as it turned out, perilous, voyage to the capital.

Paul, under the guard of a Roman centurion and his company of soldiers, accompanied by his friend Luke, was taken aboard a ship that was sailing towards Rome. Their journey, creeping along the southern coast of Asia Minor, was agonizingly slow. The party transferred to another vessel that was making directly for Rome. At first it looked as if the trip would go faster. But then the wind turned against them, and by the time they struggled into a port named Fair Havens on the island of Crete, the summer sailing season was over. With every passing day the advancing autumn weather brought an ominous look to the sky and a decided uncertainty to their prospects for the rest of the voyage. Paul, veteran traveler that he was, counseled against trying to go any further. But the officers in charge wanted to find a better place to spend the winter, so they ignored his warning. They shouldn’t have.

Pressing on to the west, the little vessel was soon overtaken by a violent storm, and its crew lost all control. For two weeks, Luke reports, they were driven blindly south and west, crossing nearly half the Mediterranean as they ran before the hurricane. Then, in the predawn darkness, the sailors heard a sound more terrifying to their experienced ears than the pounding of the rain or the shrieking of the wind. It was the noise of surf crashing on some unseen shore. Their small ship, having survived the ravages of the storm to this point, now faced the danger of being driven onto the rocks and destroyed by the waves. In this moment of crisis the apostle Paul took control. His leadership showed calmness together with the practical wisdom to know what needed to be done, and a confidence in the power of the Lord to protect. Paul was even able to convey this calm to his fellow shipmates.

Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food – you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Altogether there were 276 of us on board. When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.

Acts 27:33-38, NIV

During the night the sailors had cast out every anchor on the ship – four of them – in an attempt to hold their vessel off the rocks. Then they themselves tried to abandon ship and leave the passengers to their fate, but Paul saw what the sailors were attempting. He warned the soldiers on board to stop them. If the passengers were to have any chance of surviving, they would need the skill of the crew to guide the ship closer to shore and attempt to run her aground within reach of the beach. So the Roman guards quickly cut away the lifeboat and prevented the sailors from leaving. Everyone on board would sink or swim together.

As dawn illumined the distant shore, the desperate voyagers, their storm-pounded ship sinking under them, saw their one chance of survival.

When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.

The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety.

Acts 27:33-44

So the ship was pounded to pieces by the angry sea, but every soul aboard reached land safely, just as God had promised Paul. The islanders-it turns out that they had reached the island of Malta, southwest of Italy-came out to assist the shipwreck victims. They built a fire on the shore to warm and dry them out. And while he was helping to gather firewood Paul himself was attacked and bitten by a deadly viper. But nothing happened to him. The Lord protected Paul from any ill effects of the poison. So he spent the winter there on Malta, taking advantage of this unexpected opportunity to share the gospel with still more unreached people. When spring came he passed on to Rome without further incident.

LESSONS IN PROVIDENCE

This exciting story of Paul’s voyage to Rome is more than just a tale of high adventure. It is also a vivid, unforgettable example of the providence of God. Christians believe in God’s providence. Providence refers to the care and oversight which he exercises in the lives of his people. As Christians, we believe that our lives are not governed by fate or luck. We do not live at the mercy of mindless forces or chance happenings. God is always in control, even when things appear otherwise. When Paul, Luke and the rest of their shipmates were caught in the midst of that terrible storm, it looked as if they were all doomed. You can just about hear the wind and taste the salt spray from Luke’s wonderful description.

We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day [the sailors] began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.

Acts 27:18-20

It almost feels like you’re there. You can feel their hopelessness. But then God reminded Paul that he had not forgotten him, and that the storm, terrible as it was, was no stronger than God’s power to save him.

After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men . . . keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’

Acts 27:21-24

Notice that providence is not the same thing as fate. It does not work automatically, independent of our actions. Though God protects and delivers us, we must also take responsibility for ourselves. Paul and the rest of those on board ship didn’t simply sit back and let whatever might be happen to them. No, even though he had an absolute promise from an angel of God that they would all be spared from death, yet in the moment of crisis Paul could also say that if the sailors were permitted to abandon the ship they would all perish. So they had to take responsibility for their own actions. Just because God had promised to save them did not mean they didn’t also need the skill and labor of those experienced seamen to help bring them to shore.

Then observe also the source of Paul’s faith and confidence. He speaks about “the God whose I am and whom I serve.” I don’t know anything more comforting, more encouraging, more strength-giving than the realization that if we have committed ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ, we belong to him, body and soul, in life and in death. Our lives are no longer our own; they are his. We are never alone. God is with us, and we are always being held in his hands.

Now that does not mean we never have to face danger. Just look at Paul. It doesn’t mean we’ll never find our faith tested or that we won’t ever experience pain or injury, or finally, death itself. No, the providence of God is not a magic shield that protects us from all harm and suffering. But it does mean that we don’t have to be afraid. The first thing the angel of the Lord said to Paul was, “Do not be afraid.” Obviously, despite his faith and trust in God, Paul must have been frightened. In that storm, anyone would have been. But Paul never panicked or despaired. He knew whose he was. Paul remembered that the hurricane that held him in its grip was itself held in the hands of the God who cared for him.

Paul was also reassured that God’s purpose for his life remained constant. He had been called to serve the Lord by spreading the gospel throughout the Roman world. “You must stand trial before Caesar,” the angel reminded Paul. Not because the Roman legal system demanded this, but because the purpose of God to save people demanded it. Paul’s presence in Rome was required by God’s plan to use Paul for the advance of the gospel. Everything that happened to him had a purpose, and the ultimate purpose of everything was to enable Paul to serve and glorify the Lord Jesus with his life. Nothing could alter or hinder that purpose from being fulfilled.

So what exactly was the reason behind Paul’s storm and shipwreck? We cannot say for sure, just as we may not be able to discover the exact reason behind the storms that come into our own lives. But one thing you can be sure of. If you belong to Christ, then no storm can destroy you, not really. And God can use any situation in your life for his glory, if you trust him. So do not be afraid. You will never be lost.