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Distress and Deliverance on the Sea (Acts 27)

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Acts 27

Rev. Erik Veerman

11/21/2021

Distress and Deliverance on the Sea

I’ve always wanted to go on a Mediterranean cruise. Visit the places where Paul went. I’m waiting for someone to come up with a cruise called “Paul’s Shipwreck cruise.” Sign me up! By the way, if you did go on a Mediterranean cruise, you’d spend about $4-6K per person.

Paul, on the other hand, got an all-expenses-paid cruise from Caesarea to Rome. Can you imagine that? Not only that, but this cruise came with a free bodyguard.

This journey, however, was filled with difficulty and struggle and desperation… A constant battle against the weather. Human plans that went very wrong. The intensity of being lost at sea, blown and tossed by the wind and waves with no hope in sight.

Here’s a question for you: Why did God allow this? Maybe a better word is ordain. God planned this. Why? Paul was to appear before Caesar. Paul already knew that. We already know that. So why didn’t God work it out so that the largest ship in the Mediterranean would take Paul to Rome? With a south east wind all the way? By the way that would mean it was blowing north-west in the direction of Rome. Why wasn’t it clear sailing all the way? Why did God ordained the storms and the treacherous journey.

I’m really not asking about Paul. I’m asking about you. If you are a believer in Christ for salvation. If you belong to him. That’s the word Paul uses in verse 23. You are his. And you know your final destination. Heaven. Eternity in God’s presence. The question for you is why?

• Why isn’t your life smooth sailing all the way until you breathe your last?

• Why has God allowed pain and trouble and storms in your life. The trauma of a terrible accident. Emotional anguish because someone betrayed you. Excruciating physical pain that debilitates you. A disease that threatens permanent damage to your mind or body. The sudden death of a child or sibling or parent or friend. A miscarriage. Everyone here has or will experience these kinds of storms in life. We cry out to God, why?

• Why am I being battered left and right by waves that I feel may sink me? …and yet those people over there, who don’t even know you, seem to have smooth sailing?

When I was preparing for this morning’s worship service, I looked up verses in the Scriptures that deal with storms and waves, and I was struck by how many I found. Verse after verse speaking of the storms of life, and either how God sovereignly controls the wind and waves, or how God is our refuge and deliverer in the storms. Dozens and dozens in Scripture. The parallel is there between actual storms on the seas with devastating waves and wind and the crippling storms of life. And while you can’t tame a hurricane, you can find shelter. You can know to whom we belong. You can know and trust that God will deliver you and bring you to your final destination. And you can worship God in the middle of the storm.

Have that all in mind as we work through this journey.

And let me say, it’s quite detailed. Some have called this the most detailed ancient nautical account on the Mediterranean sea. One reason is that Paul has at least 2 companions with him. Aristarchus is mentioned in verse 2. He was one of Paul’s travelling companions on his third missionary journey. But also, did you notice that Luke is with Paul, too? 20 times in this chapter, Luke, the author of Acts, uses the pronouns “we” or “us.” This is the third time in Acts that Luke included himself in the narrative. Luke and Aristarchus could have asked to accompany Paul… or they could have paid their way. These were merchant ships, after all. That’s how even the Roman elite travelled.

Let’s take this in 2 parts. First we’ll consider the journey, the details of the storm. Then, next we’ll enter into to the emotional and spiritual components and application for us.

Part 1: The Journey and the Storm

They left from Caesarea in either late August or early September. Julius, the Roman centurion, was assigned to bring Paul and some other prisoners to Rome. Their first ship brought them north along the coast towards Asia minor where they followed the contour of the coast. This merchant vessel made various stops along the way and Paul was given some freedom.

Try to picture in your mind the Mediterranean sea. The coast from Israel up to Lebanon eventually curves west where modern day Turkey is. The big island southeast of Turkey is Cyprus. The wind was coming from the south west, so they sailed around the northeast side of Cyprus for protection from the wind. That’s what “under the lee of Cyprus” means in verse 4. By the way, travelling at this time of year was risky and they were in a smaller ship. The wind prevented them from taking a more direct route. It was slow going.

Eventually they arrived in the port of Myra. Myra was in the southwest corner of Turkey. From there, they boarded a larger vessel, one that could handle the open sea. Likely its cargo originated from Egypt. Rome relied on wheat, which is mentioned in verse 38, and other goods from the African coast. In this larger ship, they finished travelling along the coast of Asia minor and then headed into the Mediterranean towards the island of Crete. Crete is southeast of Greece. It’s a very long and skinny island.

And this is where the intensity picks up. The chapter from this point on crescendos in severity. More delays. The wind required them to sail around the eastern lee of Crete. This time they were sailing southwest, so that put them on the southern coast of Crete, where they stopped at a port named Fair Havens, verse 8. It was now mid to late October. Travel at this time was very risky. Starting in November, no ship travelled on the open Mediterranean. So, they had to decide whether to stop for the winter.

The problem was that Fair Havens was a small port. Either it had limited accommodations for the 276 passengers on board or they felt the port was somewhat unprotected, or the sailors and Roman soldiers didn’t like what the town offered. So, against Paul’s warning, they decided to try to get further along Crete to a port about 40 miles west. Remember, they were on the southern coast of Crete, there was nothing between them and the north shore of Africa. But good news! …so the sailors thought. A gentle wind began to blow from the south, verse 13. In other words, they thought they could sail and not worry about getting blown out into the Mediterranean. It would allow them to safely travel along the coast to the port of Phoenix, which was much larger and they could winter there.

So they made their way. And that’s when things escalated out of control. A northeaster hit. A storm coming from the northeast. The winds hit them hard. They tried to stay on the coast, but the storm pushed them out into the middle of the Mediterranean. And things got worse and worse.

Verses 13-20 describe all the measure they took to keep float.

• They tied ropes around the hull to try and keep the ship intact.

• They took down the sails to prevent the masts from snapping and from violent gusts.

• They lowered the anchors to drag in the water to keep the ship as steady as possible.

• As things got worse, and as water from the rain and waves filled the boat, the boat began to slowly sink! They had to start throwing off the cargo to keep the boat higher than the waves.

The storm battered them for 14 days. Clouds covered the skies at night and day. Imagine how pitch black it was at night and their lack of sleep. Without the stars and sun to navigate, they wouldn’t know where they were. They had been pushed westward in the Mediterranean for about a 1000 miles.

Hope was lost.

But the storm had driven them to a remote island. It was the middle of the night, but they sensed that land was close. Sailors have a keen sense. Sure enough, their soundings proved that. A sounding means they dropped a line to determine the depth. They had a new problem, though. As the sea floor got shallower, they feared they would hit rocks and break apart. The storm still was driving them along. So they dropped all four anchors. When morning came, some of the sailors tried to escape in their small rowboat. A dinghy of sorts, but Paul figured out their plan and so the soldiers cut the rope and let the small boat go. They next cast off their anchors, hoping to run ashore, however, the ship’s bow slammed into a reef and the rear of the ship started breaking apart in the thrashing waves. If that wasn’t enough, the soldiers then planned to kill the prisoners to prevent escape. But the centurion took charge. He ordered some to swim and others to float to shore holding pieces of wood. All were saved.

Part 2: Hope in the Storm

What a harrowing journey. In the middle of the storm, it’s no wonder Luke wrote in verse 20, “all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.” They’d been tossed to and fro, in desperation had tossed all the cargo and gear. Starving and exhausted, their hope had been lost.

At times, we feel that same despair… Don’t you? when it seems the grief, pain, loneliness, and heartbreak is unbearable. That there’s no way forward. We feel lost at sea. Drowning from the seemingly never-ending barrage of waves. We’ve lost all hope of reaching our final destination. Maybe even today you are feeling that.

Yet, for Paul, Luke, Aristarchus, the sailors, other prisoners, and the Roman soldiers there was hope. It seemed hope was gone. I think that even Paul had lost hope. When the angel appeared to him, verse 24, the angel said, “do not be afraid, Paul,” which indicates that Paul was afraid. The angel continued, “you must stand before Caesar.” God will fulfill his promises.

Really, through out these verses, we’re pointed to where and how to draw our hope. And it comes through Paul’s words in this chapter. Did you notice how over time, Paul became the stabilizing force on the ship? At first, the centurion and captain ignored him. In verse 10, Paul warned them of the coming calamity, but verse 11, they ignored Paul. In verse 21, Paul reminded them of that, “Men, you should have listened to me!” That’s like the best one-liner in here. “I told you so!” I know we all want to sometimes say that out loud. In reality, Paul wasn’t jabbing at them. Rather, he was saying, “you should have listened to me, and you need to listen to me.” And he proceeded to give the men hope.

The hope in these verses is centered on verses 24 and 34. They parallel one another. Verse 24 is part of Paul’s message at the climax of their despair. Paul pointed out to them God’s promise. That all who were sailing with him would live. And verse 34 is when Paul encouraged them to eat. He said to them “For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” Translated, “we will reach our destination. God will save us. He will keep his promise.”

In the middle of the storms of life, it’s so easy to be disoriented; to think that God has forgotten his promises; or to look at others and think that God has forgotten us or that we did something to deserve the trial and tribulation. I know we think that. We think that either God has left us or that God must be punishing us. Neither of which are true! Yes, there are some human consequences to sin, but God’s grace covers that all. And when we face cancer, or a painful loss, or struggles with visas, or the passing of a loved one, or the loss of a job, or whatever, God is still present and he is at work through the storms.

Our propensity is to think, “there’s my destination, let’s head straight to it.” I know that’s what I used to think. I’ve had to learn the hard way that God often takes us in an indirect route. Often difficult. At times we don’t listen, but yet God is still bringing us to his destination for us. Do you know where Malta is? Malta is the island where they landed? It’s just south of Sicily. Sicily is that big island that the boot of Italy is kicking.

In other words, God brought them closer to their destination through the storm. He used the storm to bring them 1000 miles closer to Rome. The storm accomplished God’s purpose. Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthian church, chapter 4… “for we do not lose heart.” Why? He writes “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” And sometimes, as one pastor I heard recently say, “those light momentary afflictions may last your whole life… but they are still light and momentary when compared to the eternal glory of God’s presence.”

The storms of life are preparing you. They’re refining you as in the refiner’s fire. And they are bringing you closer to your eternal destiny in Christ.

That’s not to say that it’s easy when you’re in the middle of a raging storm. No, it’s hard and trying and the weight sometimes feels overwhelming. And we cry out to God. And we should cry out to God as many of the Psalms do.

But you ask, how can I endure? Let me highlight three things from Acts 27, that will sustain you during life’s storms:

1. First, be reminded to whom you belong (repeat) Notice verse 23. Paul spoke to the men at their lowest point of despair. And who was his message from? He said, “the God to whom I belong and whom I worship.” If you are God’s in Christ – you’ve professed faith in him, then you belong to him. It’s what we sang earlier in the service, “What is our hope in life and death? Christ alone, Christ alone. What is our only confidence? That our souls to Him belong.” If he is yours, you are his. A child of the king. Jesus said of his sheep, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Some of the kids here will remember reading the Jesus Storybook Bible. Do you remember that phrase used over and over about God’s love for us in Christ? It’s God’s “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.” You belong to God even when the storms feel overwhelming.

2. Second, and I’m going to tie two things together. Nourish your faith through worship and the Word (repeat). Besides Paul highlighting the God to whom he belongs, he also says, “and whom I worship.” Again, verse 23. But also, jump down to verse 34. He says, “take some food, for it will give you strength.” That word “strength” in English doesn’t nearly capture the pregnant meaning in the Greek. That word is used many times throughout the New Testament and it means deliverance and salvation. In fact, most often it’s directly connected to the Gospel hope of Christ, the promised deliverance through the Messiah. Here, the basic meaning is that the food will give you strength to swim to shore and be delivered. But there’s also an underlying allusion to the bread of life, which comes from the Word of God, as embodied in Jesus. There’s a spiritual nourishment indicated, here. In the storms of life, we need the nourishment that comes through worship and the Word. Sometimes in the middle of the storm we pull back from the very thing that gives us strength. But those are the times we need those things the most. In our worship, we are exalting the Lord, to whom we belong… and through it, he nourishes our faith through his grace. And through the Word of God, we are also strengthened to persevere with joy in all our trials.

3. And the third thing here… the final one. Know from where your deliverance comes (repeat). It’s interesting, the boat here in Acts 27 is the thing that God used to save them. And in a similar way, Noah’s ark in Genesis 6, when the flood came, also pointed to God’s saving work. There’s a parallel. Back up in verse 24, God through the angel promised Paul this: “behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.” Just like Noah and the ark points to the saving work of Christ, so this ship and Paul points to the saving work of Christ. The sailors and soldiers didn’t deserve to be saved, but because of Paul they were saved. I’m saying this points to the salvation that comes from Christ and what he has done… God had promised that all 276 would be delivered because of Paul. And God promises that all who believe by faith in Christ will be delivered from the storms of life because of Christ.

So, know, beloved… know that you will reach your final destination through Christ. Through him, by faith. By faith and repentance in Christ which is necessary to reach the eternal destination. There’s no other way to be saved.

When the waves of life are crashing all around you. When all hope seems lost.

1. Be reminded to whom you belong

2. Nourish your faith through worship and the Word

and 3. Know from where your deliverance comes

You belong to God through Christ… the sustaining nourishment you need comes from God’s word and through worship of his name… and the storm will not sink your ship because your ship is the salvation that comes through the ministry of the resurrected Lord.

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