Storms and Shipwrecks

Acts 27:1 – 28:10

Intro: I will never forget the storm that rolled in unexpectedly…
Our imaginations are gripped by stories of sea voyages filled with storms and danger – Jonah fleeing from the Lord, the disciples afraid for their lives while the Savior sleeps through the storm.

Just as tumultuous and life-threatening as these storms of wind and rain and waves of the sea are the spiritual storms we face as life closes in around us and knocks us down with its own brand of wind and waves.

A lot of what passes for Christianity today bears little resemblance to the kind of lives early Christians lived. And the religion or the preacher who tells you that when you become a Christian your troubles evaporate, your wealth multiplies and you have smooth sailing ahead either isn’t playing with a full deck, or isn’t showing all his cards.

Sometimes the clouds move in quickly – the storm hits without warning. [Picture – storm cloud] Other times, we see the storm coming as ominously as a wall cloud hanging across a dark West Texas sky.
• The doctor says, “I have some bad news – it’s malignant and we need to start treatment immediately.”
• Your boss calls you in – “You know we’ve been trying to cut costs and make the company more efficient. I’m sorry but we’re going to have to let you go.”
• Your teen age daughter says, “Mom, dad, you’d better sit down.”
• You and your husband have grown distant in recent months, and suddenly, he has started working late nights and has several unscheduled out-of-town business trips.

The storms roll in and the waves slam against us and we feel our ship being torn apart and driven toward the rocks. The truth is, the storms aren’t any less severe for the Christian than for the worldly person. We face the same destructive winds, the same overwhelming forces. But there is a difference – and I believe that we see that difference this morning in Acts 27 in how Paul faces this storm on the sea.

It was October AD 59 – Paul was accompanied by two companions – Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica who was a close friend of Paul’s mentioned in his letters to Colossae and Philemon and described as a fellow prisoner for the Lord – and Luke – the author of the book of Acts, and here especially, gives us the eyewitness narrative of this disastrous voyage.

Luke wants us to hear this story and be gripped by the drama of the narrative before we attempt to glean any theological implications. Read Acts 27:1-12 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. 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. 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. From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. 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. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea. Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast. So Paul warned them, “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.” But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. 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.

It is a voyage that goes from bad to worse. They make it precariously from Caesarea along the Asian coast line and across to the island of Crete to a harbor called Fair Havens.

Luke tells us in vs. 9 “Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast.” – By September, ships have put into harbor for the winter on the Mediterranean – ancient navigational texts relate the dangers of sailing beyond that month, and here it is October (Luke marks it there in vs.9 by referring to “the Fast,” meaning Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement – generally in the first week of October.

But Julius the centurion guarding Paul is anxious to arrive in Rome and complete his duty. He finds an imperial grain ship bound for Italy, whose captain is willing to risk the dangers for extra profit.

Notice that Paul doesn’t remain quiet on the matter – vss.9-10 “So Paul warned them, “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.” But urgency and profit win out over prudence, and with a gentle south wind they set sail from Crete.

They have been deceived by the brief gentle wind and suddenly a nor’easter blows [Picture – storm] with hurricane force and drives the ship before it. Hundreds of ships’ wreckages dot the northern coast of Africa along a treacherous coastline called the sands of Syrtis – a graveyard of ships caught in the clutches of forces beyond their control. The crew believes this is to be their fate.

They attempt to do everything they can – they truss up the ship with ropes to hold it together, they drop a sea anchor to slow their drive, they throw cargo overboard, and on the third day they throw the ship’s tackle overboard. For days they saw neither sun nor stars – and finally all hope is gone.

It is at this point, when hope is gone, and disaster and death looms as their fate, that Paul stands, and with the conviction of one who has a word from God himself, places a beacon of hope to give them the courage to hold on – 27:21-25 “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to 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.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.”

The ship does wreck, and just as Paul had said, the entire ship’s contingent of 276 are saved, and on the island of Malta, Paul’s authority as a messenger of God is revealed as he escapes death from poisonous snake and then proceeds to bring healing to all who are sick on the island.
That’s the synopsis of ch. 27 -- We don’t have time to dwell on the details of this passage – I want to encourage you to read and contemplate the events which Luke relates about this incredible sea adventure.

Let’s back up and see some lessons about this storm that we can relate to the storms in our lives:

Lessons from the Storm:
Vss 1-12 – Bad decisions
Regardless of Paul’s warning – in spite of their knowledge of the risks of sailing, Julius and the captain chose to sail and put an entire ship and crew at risk.
We are not always the victims of circumstances – we often experience the consequences of our own bad decisions – our own selfishness and pride.

Vss. 13-16 – Losing direction
The storm finally hits and our lives are thrown into turmoil. Crisis seems to swallow up our lives and consume them 24 hours a day. Terror grips us and paralyzes us.
Our lives are disoriented and we lose our sense of direction. And some times in the midst of it, we do things that just don’t make sense – we start cutting anchors loose that give our lives stability. We isolate ourselves from our family and friends, we quit praying, we quit going to church, we try to face it alone. And we find ourselves in unfamiliar waters without knowing what to do or where to turn.

Vss. 17-20 – Salvage work
In the midst of the storm we start salvage work – we try to make deals with God, start going to church, beg for marriage counseling – we will try anything to make it through the storm.
But too often, when we have exhausted our resources – we lose hope and give up.

Vss. 27:27 – 28:10 – Shipwrecked
There are times, despite all we do, our lives shipwreck, they are shattered into a thousand pieces – despair and depression overwhelm us.
Unlike Paul’s shipwreck, ships are destroyed and lives are lost.

When everyone has given up hope, Paul steps forward again (as he so often does) with the sense of who is really in control – and he shares with his shipmates words that restore hope.
Like the anchors which the crew throw overboard to keep the ship from being dashed against the rocks, Paul gives us four anchors to stabilize our lives and set them back on course.

Presence of God – “An angel of God stood before me”
The first anchor is God’s presence – perfectly timed to arrive when all human resources have run out. That’s a lesson Paul had to learn over and over. As long as we are relying on our human strengths and resources to get us through, God can’t do much. It’s when we finally figure out we aren’t in control – that when we are weak that we are strong – that God is able to work powerfully.
The book of Acts is filled with this stabilizing anchor of God’s presence in the lives of his disciples. We see it in interchangeable terms describing his presence – the Lord, the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or an angelic messenger – God always has a way of interjecting his presence when it is needed the most – held secure by the unbreakable cables of his love and grace.

Peace – “Do not be afraid”
Nothing is more paralyzing than fear. And when fear has gripped us – as we worry about the past, the present, and the future – it can only be released by the peace that Jesus offers. It is a courage instilling word.
In another storm, Jesus stands and calls out “Peace be still” and the winds and waves grow quiet. Peace is Jesus’ constant anchor offered to his disciples to weather storms without and within.
This anchor holds even when the waves wash over our lives and no haven is in sight.

Purpose – “You must stand trial before Caesar”
It was the sense of purpose which the Lord gave Paul – that he still had work for Paul to do. He had something bigger to do than simply survive the storm at sea.
Purposelessness always causes a dangerous drift and aimless wandering and despair. But once we become sure of why we are alive, we can weather any storm.
When we reclaim our sense of purpose it wrestles our attention away from the present trouble and frees us to get back to essentials.
Felix – “I’ve never met a problem, only opportunities”
Life is more than solving problems – it is grasping opportunities that the Lord has made available. It is also being able to see what God is up to in the midst of the storm.

Illust – Missing the Point (Wright brothers – newspaper headline)

If all we see is a miraculous escape from a storm, we’ve missed the point. The headline that ought to scream out from the pages of Acts 27 and 28 is that God is in control and has a purpose for our lives.

Prayer – “They threw out four anchors and prayed for daylight”
There are times when there is nothing to do but remember God’s promises, focus upon his sustaining presence and pray for dawn to break.

Prayer doesn’t just give us a sense of peace, like a spiritual pacifier for a crying baby – it anchors our lives securely in the rock of God’s constant, careful attention. It doesn’t mean trials disappear – but it gives us the strength to sail through them.

Several years earlier, another storm raged on a hill outside of Jerusalem. The clouds of war rolled across the sky as heaven and hell waged battle. For six hours Jesus hung on the cross until at the last he cried out, “It is finished.” And Satan cried out in victory as the sky grew dark. For three days his disciples believed that all hope was lost – that their Lord was dead. Then on the morning of the third day, the stone was rolled back, Christ arose and the sun shone with the brilliance of a new morning.

Because he weathered that storm, we can weather any storm – knowing that he holds us close and carries us through. And because we believe that he lives – our faith is anchored to the rock that no storm can shake.

The real question of Acts is not “what do you believe?” but “what will you do with what you believe?” If your faith is merely a set of doctrines, instead of a way of life, you aren’t prepared for the storms ahead. Only as you give the control of your life over to God, letting him set the course and direction of your life, trusting that he will lead you where you need to go, that you can weather any storm that comes into your life.