We’re nearly finished with the Book of Acts of the Holy Spirit and the Apostles. Interestingly the only apostle we’ve really been seeing much of lately has been Paul. Luke, our narrator, now rejoins Paul as we can see from the “we” passage we resume today. Luke takes us on a personal journey—a sea-faring journey—that will take Paul from prison in Caesarea to prison in Rome. Because it’s such a good story and like that lady in Forrest Gump might say, “You tell it so well…” we’re going to let Luke tell us this story as an eye-witness.
The Bible doesn’t need to be boring or a dull read. And we can see today how it applies to life–to your life and mine! Some things are timeless. Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and Mary Chapin Carpenter both sing about a timeless truth.
Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. Yes, life is like that.
Sometimes the wind is at your back. Sometimes it’s in your face. Sometimes the wind and circumstances are with you and make your journey an absolute breeze. And sometimes in life, frankly, the winds are all against you and your life is a shipwreck waiting to happen. Such it is today with Paul.
Acts 27:1 When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. 2 We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us. 3 The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs.
This is one of those instances in which we see that even though Paul was a really smart guy his great learning did not make him insane despite what Festus said last week. Paul’s intellect did not keep him from having a great many friends who loved him. Everywhere Paul went, he made friends. The Gospel does that.
4 From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. 5 When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. 6 There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7 We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. 8 We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.
If you knew the wind was against you, wouldn’t you want to stop in a place called Fair Havens? Sounds like a good place to take a rest stop and wait out the bad weather. But it’s not a good place to do that. It cannot live up to its name and well, Luke wasn’t in charge. Neither was Paul. Things can go from bad to worse. And they often will.
9 Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast. So Paul warned them, 10 “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.”
Paul, being a prisoner, didn’t have much authority even if he was right about most of it, apart from an act of God. No one listened.
11 But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship.
After all, who was Paul compared to the owner and pilot of the ship? One can only wonder if their experience was clouded by their desire to be paid. Sometimes people make riskier decisions when it’s not their cargo aboard.
12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest. 13 When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thought they had obtained what they wanted; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. 14 Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the “northeaster,” swept down from the island. 15 The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along.
When the wind is against you there is sometimes little you can do but accept that it will carry you where you do not wish to go.
16 As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure. 17 When the men had hoisted it aboard, they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Fearing that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along.
Sounds like the Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald on Nov 10, 1975. Gordon Lightfoot was every bit the story teller that Luke is.
- The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
- as a wave broke over the railing
- And every man knew, as the captain did too,
- T’was the witch of November come stealin’
- The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
- When the gales of November came slashin’
- When afternoon came it was freezin’ rain
- In the face of a hurricane west wind
- When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck
- sayin’ Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya
- At seven pm a main hatchway caved in,
- he said Fellas, it’s been good t’know ya
- The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
- And the good ship and crew was in peril
- And later that night when his lights went outta sight
- Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
- Does anyone know where the love of God goes
- When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
- The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
- If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her
- They might have split up or they might have capsized
- They may have broke deep and took water
- And all that remains is the faces and the names
- Of the wives and the sons and the daughters
Here’s Luke telling of their journey, not with the sad ending of the Edmund Fitzgerald because why??? Paul was on board. And unlike the story of Jonah we heard in our Scripture reading this morning, Paul is not at fault. He’s not running from the Lord. He’s trusting. Oh, is he trusting!
18 We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. 19 On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.
But here is Paul. Trusting! Not so much saying I told you so. But with encouragement and practical solutions. Paul believed God and God would get them through it…together. Maybe not with their ship, but with the lives that mattered.
21 After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me 24 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.’
The lives of everyone mattered to God just as they had in the Jonah story. And how beautiful is it that God shares this encouragement with men who are scared out of their wits and fearing their end. Because Paul loves God and God loves Paul, here’s God’s encouragement spoken through an angel: God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.
25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” 27 On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. 28 They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. 29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight.
Do you ever feel that way? You don’t know what to do, where to turn, or what to think? Drop some anchors and pray for daylight? Praying that even though it’s darkest before the dawn somehow that you can have enough faith the dawn will come and it’ll be a new day?
Not everyone responds favorably to the encouragement. Some try to save themselves anyway…in spite of God’s gracious promise. Not that much different than the gift of salvation itself. Everyone with Paul would be spared, but some didn’t want to depend on someone else. It’s how, frankly, a lot of people will be regarding Jesus. They’ll want their own way, their own lifeboat, their own control, and to command their own destiny….all the way to their demise. If ya’ aren’t with Jesus, you aren’t saved. And in our passage today, if you’re not with Paul, you’re going down.
30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. 31 Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.”
There ya’ go. What a great pattern of deliverance! No one saves himself. It takes doing things God’s way. And God’s way was going to be deliverance through the stormy seas. “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.”
32 So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall away. 33 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. 34 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.” 35 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. 36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 Altogether there were 276 of us on board. 38 When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.
I’ve gotta believe that Paul’s encouragement, the angel’s words of encouragement, and ultimately God’s encouragement might have prompted a few to believe in God…to want to know this God whom Paul trusted with his very life. Testimony often happens best in the test.
39 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. 40 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. 41 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. 42 The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. 43 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. 44 The rest were to get there on planks or on pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety.
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how you get there. Jumping overboard, swimming and being the first to get to land. Some will be grasping planks, pieces of the ship, and being carried ashore by wind and wave. Everyone reached land in safety…because they did things God’s way.
So, today is the first Sunday of Advent. The world is in a world of trouble…not all that different from the turmoil that existed when Jesus arrived as a baby in a manger. For 33 years, He’d live among us, face the same world of trouble that we’d know, and yet, He knew the Cross was why He was sent. Apart from Jesus, we’re a shipwrecked people trying to lower our own lifeboats which would capsize and crash. But with Jesus, we may still be a shipwrecked people, but ones who can all reach the other side in safety. Because we’re with Him and God is faithful.
As you spend the next 4 weeks of Advent preparing your heart for the coming of the Christ Child, remind yourself that Jesus doesn’t care whether you come to Him by swimming or barely holding onto His Word in prayer with white knuckles and trembling knees. Just stick with Him. He’ll get you there. It’s why He came. Let’s pray.