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Lesson in the Storm

Acts  27

It's no great revelation to the average Christian that God sends adversity to those who sin. But what about those who are walking in God's will? Let's look at an example here. Paul, knowing that the Spirit has commanded and foretold that he will go to Rome, meets a lot of "natural difficulties" along the way:

(Acts 27 NIV) 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. {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. {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." {11} But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. {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. {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. {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. {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.' {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. {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." {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. {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.

Natural Difficulties

Hidden in this passage - a wonderful seafaring story in itself, with the obvious eyewitness account of Dr. Luke - is a great difficulty. It is clear from the text that Paul is doing precisely what God wants him to do: going to Rome. Now, the Almighty being in charge of these things, one might ask just why he has so much difficulty in getting there.

Indeed, many Christians have the same dilemma. "How is it," they ask, "that the righteous man, the one doing God's will, seems to meet with such troubles in this life? I can understand God's chastisement; I can see the hand of Satan - but this is clearly God's doing. Why?" Perhaps we can see some reasons here.

That others might see God through you

Notice, if you please, what respect Paul gets from the Centurion. The sailors want to slip away on the life boat; Paul says no, the Centurion acts. The Centurion wishes to spare Paul's life, and thus does not slaughter the prisoners (one must remember that a soldier who loses a prisoner replaces him in prison). Sometimes God sends adversity so that the Christian might prove to be the example of God.;

That we might be strengthened

Do you exercise? Is it in vain? No, you believe that by exercise you are strengthened. Spiritual exercise is often found in adversity. What better adversity than natural disaster? There is no one to hate; there is no evil to fight, just the problem at hand. The temptation is less and the opportunity just as great as any other.

That we might learn deliverance

Many of us are very confident of our own abilities. It is not a sin to know that you are talented. But once in a while we might just need a reminder of just who is our deliverance.[1] It is hard for the able to learn that they must trust in God, and sometimes natural calamity is the best teacher for this. Sometimes we need to learn deliverance from the receiving end.

That we might trust only in God

Many of us are greatly pleased with the arrangements we have made for our future. We have retirement funds, stocks and bonds, all kinds of things. Some have survival shelters, six months of food, a spare generator. Others of us have one flashlight. But whoever we are, we must learn to trust only in God. All these preparations may be wise, and there is good reason to make them. But sometimes God surprises us with something for which we are not prepared - just to remind us that he is God and we need to trust only in Him.

There are two examples of this here:

·         First, when do you throw the grain overboard? When do you decide that the things you have provided for financial security are now harmful and need to be disposed of? Does the money you have really do you any good, or should it be given away - to keep you from temptation and to benefit someone else?

·         Next, no matter how it appears, there is no security in this world. They appear close to safe harbor - and then run aground on a sand bar. Thomas à Kempis puts it this way:

IT IS good for us to have trials and troubles at times, for they often remind us that we are on probation and ought not to hope in any worldly thing. It is good for us sometimes to suffer contradiction, to be misjudged by men even though we do well and mean well. These things help us to be humble and shield us from vainglory. When to all outward appearances men give us no credit, when they do not think well of us, then we are more inclined to seek God Who sees our hearts. Therefore, a man ought to root himself so firmly in God that he will not need the consolations of men.

When a man of good will is afflicted, tempted, and tormented by evil thoughts, he realizes clearly that his greatest need is God, without Whom he can do no good. Saddened by his miseries and sufferings, he laments and prays. He wearies of living longer and wishes for death that he might be dissolved and be with Christ. Then he understands fully that perfect security and complete peace cannot be found on earth.

(The Imitation of Christ, I-12)

That God might comfort us - so that we will know him

Matters must have been pretty desperate for God to send an angel to Paul. Sometimes this is the whole purpose of calamity - that God might comfort us, and in so doing we might draw closer to Him.

All Things Work Together[2]

There is another difficulty for some Christians here. God has told Paul that he is going to Rome. The temptation is to kick back and enjoy the cruise. Paul does not do that. Why? Is God unable to deliver him without his help?

Breaking bread

Paul sets an example here. The men, crazed with fear, have not eaten in two weeks. This is not good. So he calmly sits down and eats, setting an example for them which encourages them. It is a practical thing. But remember: our Lord fed the five thousand. We are to be his imitators. He worked in this practical way, and we should too. We may not be able to solve world hunger - but we can feed the hungry man in front of us.

Some of us don't see that. We're so heavenly minded that we're no earthly good.[3]

The goodness of God

We see here the goodness of God - not only does he spare Paul and all his companions, but indeed grants him - as a favor - all the lives on board. Surely this is in answer to Paul's prayers! So we see that prayer changes things. But - there is that small voice in the back of the room - why did Paul tell the Centurion to cut the ropes to the lifeboat? Surely God could deliver without the sailors on board; why does Paul require them?

The answer is simple: God has pronounced his intention; Paul will work in that direction. All things are to work together - including us.

But - why "swiftly?"

Swift to cut the ropes

If there is anything which impresses me about the early Christians, it is their sense of urgency. We tend to think we have all the time in the world to do what God wills - when we get around to it is soon enough. But consider:

·         The ancient Hebrew, in taking the Passover (the predecessor of the Lord's Supper) was to eat it in haste, dressed for a journey. We often linger over communion; they were taught that action was to follow immediately. Moments with God are to provoke swift action.

·         We have only so much time on this earth - and that not known to us. We are, as the King James put it , to "redeem the time."[4] Get to work - for the night is coming.

Throughout this passage, we see that God encourages Paul during his difficulties - but does not prevent those difficulties. Paul reacts to this with one of the three great virtues: hope.


It is rare today to think of hope as a virtue - but the church has always held it to be one, from the earliest days. We need to consider it carefully.

The character of hope

First and foremost, hope must be unconditional - otherwise it's merely wishful thinking. No matter what happens, we must hope on:

(Job 13:15 NIV) Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face.

Is this hard for you? Perhaps this might help. Often we lose hope because we can't see how God is going to work things out. Because we cannot see, we do not hope. But is it necessary to see? Or is it merely necessary to know? Suppose you knew how God was going to work it out - suppose he told you. Would it make any difference to what you are supposed to do? Of course not; your duty is clear. Then do it, and hope in God for the deliverance to come.

The virtues of hope

There are two great virtues to a living hope:

·         First, it is a source of patience. As long as we hope, we persevere, and in perseverance we learn patience. Have you ever felt that your children would never grow up?

·         Next, it is a source of strength. Isaiah puts it this way:

(Isa 40:30-31 NIV) Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; {31} but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

The actions of hope

So then, what shall we do? It is all well and good to talk about hope - but how do I put it into practice daily? I am indebted to Bishop Jeremy Taylor (17th century) for this answer - five acts of hope:

1.    Rely on God's promises. If He promises it, act like it is certain - depend upon it in your daily life. Don't look for it - assume it.

2.    Whenever you encounter adversity, always think that it must be either God's chastisement for your correction, or an opportunity for you to grow closer to Him. Either way, He is your Father - correcting you or drawing you closer.

3.    Rejoice in hope - no matter what the misfortune.

4.    Desire, pray and long for the true hope of the Christian - the return of Jesus Christ. Do not let the day go by without "Even so, Lord Jesus, come!"

5.    And while you are waiting for the Resurrection, persevere in this life in the imitation of your Hope.

[1] Psalm 34:19

[2] Romans 8:28

[3] Barclay

[4] Ephesians 5:15-16

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