Main Point: The Lord will accomplish all his will (Is 46:10).
In Acts 27 Luke, Aristarchus, and the Apostle Paul finally board a ship for Rome but end up caught in a hopeless storm at sea. Before we get into the details of Acts 27, I want to remind you of two other sea stories that help us think through the difficulties of our lives.
Think first of Jonah. Jonah gets caught in a terrible storm at sea to the extent that the sailors throw the cargo overboard thinking they are going to die. Now, what caused this storm? Jonah’s storm was caused by Jonah’s sin. God told Jonah to go preach repentance to Nineveh, but Jonah refused God and ran the opposite direction. Jonah’s storm was caused by Jonah’s sin.
The next sea story I want you to have in mind is Jesus sleeping in the boat. Matthew tells us, “And when Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marvelled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?” (Mt 8:23-27).
Now, what caused this storm? There was no sin to blame here. We live in a broken world where wind and rain, so necessary for crops to grow, are bent and broken and turn into destructive storms. The point of Jesus’ sea story is to live a life of faith. Maybe you’ve heard it said that the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will. Jesus knew this. He knew his time had not yet come to die; he was safe so he could sleep in the storm. The disciples needed to learn to live lives of faith knowing and trusting God. When Jesus woke up, stood up, and calmed the sea they grew in their knowledge of God.
Okay, those are two sea stories, one from Jonah and one from Jesus. Now let’s hear Paul’s sea story (read Acts 27:1-20).
I. The first part of the trip was not so bad
Jesus has promised Paul that just as Paul was a witness to Christ in Jerusalem, so he will also be a witness to Christ in Rome (23:11). The trial has devolved through the changing of governors and several assassination plots. To preserve his life and witness, Paul has appealed for a trial before Caesar. Caesar is in Rome so to Rome Paul will go. To chapter 27
- The fellowship of the Rome is formed (1-2)
Forgive the cheesy reference to the Fellowship of the Ring; I couldn’t resist!
Look at the details of verses 1 and 2. The “they” of verse one is governor Festus and king Agrippa. They decide that Paul should sail for Italy and ultimately Rome. Who is the “we” that is sailing for Italy? It is Paul, Aristarchus, and Luke. Aristarchus is a Macedonian from Thessalonica; Paul and Aristarchus have been making disciples and planting churches together since before Ephesus and the riot with the silversmiths. Luke is a physician who we haven’t heard from since chapter 21. It is assumed that Luke was gathering witnesses for his gospel during this 2 ½ years and later joins Paul who is in prison in Caesarea. Acts 27:1 and 2 adds some prisoners and a soldier, a commander of 100, to the fellowship.
The trip to Rome will take them all the way across the Mediterranean Sea. If you have a map in the back of your Bible covering the missionary journeys of Paul, this would be a good time to look at it. The plan is to sail up the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea then catch a grain ship coming from Alexandria heading for Italy.
Lord willing, we will spend more time later in Acts on the role of hospitality and friendships, today there is only a quick reference, but I don’t want to miss it. In the storms of life,
- Do not overlook the kindness of friends (2-3)
Aristarchus is anything but a fair-weather friend. A fair-weather friend is with you as long as you are winning but deserts you once you start losing. Aristarchus was with Paul through the trials and years in prison. He will go with Paul to Rome and deliver the letters from Paul in Rome to the Colossians and to Philemon. Aristarchus was a friend who stuck with Paul and this was a great kindness. It would be worth our time to figure out what makes a good friend. After we finish Acts, we will go to Proverbs and get some help there.
Look also at Acts 27:3, “The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for.” Who are Paul’s friends in Sidon? They are Christians who cared for Paul. They took him in for a while and provided what he needed for the trip to Rome. There is much to be said for faithful friends when we are going through storms. We need friends who care for us.
So far so good, but things begin to change in verse 4. To quote Gilligan’s Island
- The weather started getting rough (4-5)
The group is likely in a small coasting vessel not big enough for the deep rough water but able to move along the coast for trade. Verse 4 tells us they put out from Sidon and sailed around Cyprus because the winds were against us. Finally, they arrive in Myra in Lycia. Are you tracking on the map? They have traveled north from Caesarea, gone around Cyprus, and arrived in Myra; travel was tough but not too bad. That’s the end of the first part and it was not so bad.
II. The second part of the trip was terrible
For you history and geography people, it is interesting to note how
- The solider is following a trade route (6)
Egypt was the granary for Rome and merchants were given special protection as they shipped grain from Egypt to Italy. So, a ship would leave Alexandria, Egypt, head north to Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and then go west to Italy. Julius is banking on finding a ship following this course. Verse 6 tells us that Julius found what he was looking for and the fellowship of missionaries, soldiers, and prisoners boards the ship for Rome. Now,
- The weather started getting dangerous (7-9)
Luke writes this in verse 7, “We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone.” That makes no sense unless you look at a map. The fellowship is getting pushed off course. It is hard going.
Verse 8, “Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea. Verse 9 goes on to note how slowly they had traveled and how dangerous it was to continue. “The Fast” is a reference to the Day of Atonement. In AD 59 the day of Atonement fell on October 5. Commentators note that the wisdom of the day said sailing was dangerous after mid-September and should not be attempted from November to February.
It is believed the ship is travelling at a crawling pace of 2 miles an hour. Under favorable conditions the journey so far should take around 10 days and Darrell Bock predicts they have spent 45 days on this journey (Acts, 733). So,
- Paul offered his wisdom (10)
Verse 10, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” There is some debate here whether Paul is prophesying or making a general prediction based on wisdom. I believe it is a prediction based on wisdom for two reasons. First, Paul is wrong; no one dies. Second, the prophecy comes in a dream later (see 27:23-26).
Where did Paul get this wisdom? Listen to 2 Corinthians 11:25. Before this journey to Rome, Paul recounts, “Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and day I was adrift at sea.” Paul has been in this predicament three times already. He knows this will likely not turn out well. What happens?
- The soldier decides to seek a better harbor (11-12)
Fair Havens is not a harbor where the ship will be protected from the winter wind and waves. There is another harbor not far away in Phoenix. So, the captain, owner, and centurion decide to take the risk and press on to Phoenix.
Now, let’s not be too hard on Julius. If you are making decisions about when to sail and when not to sail who are you going to listen to? Are you going to listen to the imprisoned missionary or the captain and boat’s owner? They press on to Phoenix and
- The ship gets caught in a typhoon (13-20)
Look at verse 13 with me, “Now when the south wind blew gentle, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore.” Here is more of that good old fashioned open-door decision making. The option to do something is interpreted as the need to do something. But look how that open door gets kicked closed in their faces. Verse 14, “But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land.” This is worst case scenario for the ship and its passengers. Verse 18 tells us they were violently storm-tossed. This is a typhoon.
They fight against the wind because they do not want to be blown out into open water. They certainly do not want to be blown further south into the shallows and sandbars of the Syrtis. Many have gone in there and few have come out.
Back to verse 15, they give in to the wind and are pushed alone. They hug the small island of Clauda and get enough relief to pull the lifeboat on board; the ship’s boat is normally towed behind the ship, but the large waves would fill the lifeboat and sink it.
Verse 17, out of fear that the ship will break apart, the sailors run cables or ropes around the ship to add support. Out of fear of running aground, they lower the gear. The best explanation here is they lowered the anchor so that when the swell went down the anchor would drag the bottom and slow the ship. When the swell rose again, they ship would speed forward to the Syrtis. The wind and waves are pounding the ship now, so the crew starts throwing things overboard to help offset the water pouring into the ship. They get the go ahead from the owner and start throwing the cargo overboard. After three days of this, they throw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. The picture here is desperate.
Look at verse 20, “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.”
Over in verse 33, Paul says they have been fourteen days without food. Fourteen days of wave upon wave. Without food and with incredible seasickness, these men were done. They are thinking to themselves, maybe saying to one another, “This is it. We’re all going to die.” Verse 20 is rough, “all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.” They stopped hoping they would be saved. They gave up on rescue and relief. All hope was gone.
Let’s stop there and make some application
III. What do you do when all hope is lost?
Think back to our three sea stories with Jonah, Jesus, and Paul. Looking back at Jonah,
- Ask if sin is the cause of your suffering
We see this truth play out in Jonah’s life and we see it as we are read through the book of Jeremiah in our daily Bible reading. Jeremiah 40:3, death and destruction is coming upon Jerusalem. Here is why, “The Lord has brought it about and has done as he said. Because you sinned against the Lord and did not obey his voice, this thing has come upon you.” Now, we have to be careful and not say all difficulty is caused by sin. We wouldn’t say this about Jesus in the storm and we shouldn’t say this about every storm. However, it is wise to ask if sin is the cause of your suffering.
If I get drunk, take a drive, kill someone, and end up in prison I don’t have any right to be angry at God. My sin is the cause of my suffering. That is an obvious example. What about the less obvious difficulties we face at work? Maybe like the apostle Paul, you offered the wisdom of your experience, your boss rejected it, and the business is facing bankruptcy. What about the difficulties we all face in relationships at home and in the church? Here we need wisdom and humility.
The biblical way is to own your part of the problem, no matter the size. If through humility and in a discipleship relationship, you see that you are responsible for 5% of the problem then you must repent of that sin. If you are responsible for 25% or 55%, then you must repent. Hebrews 12:3-17 talks about the loving discipline of our heavenly Father. God disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. Sin leads to suffering and death while holiness leads to joy and life.
So, don’t make every difficulty the product of sin. Jesus’ life was full of difficulty, but he was completely free from sin. But also, don’t ignore the reality that your suffering may be caused by your sin. Consider the difficulty may be God turning you from sin and death to obedience and life.
When all hope is lost ask if sin is causing the suffering and
- Grow in your knowledge of the Father
I get this from Jesus’ sea story. Why was Jesus asleep in the boat? He was asleep because he was tired. Yes, but why was Jesus not fearful in the boat when his disciples had lost their heads? Jesus knew the loving care of his Father. This is Psalm 121. Our Father does not slumber nor sleep but he watches over us all the time. The word “keep” is repeated six times in six verses in Psalm 121.
Think about it this way, if God sleeps then you better be afraid. If God doesn’t see you then you better be afraid. If God loves you, but he can’t do anything then you better be afraid. A sovereign God who doesn’t love cannot be trusted to care for us. A loving God who is not in control of all things cannot care for us. Only those reconciled to God through Christ can lay down and sleep knowing the sovereign God is watching over us in love.
In the storm, grow in your knowledge of God. Before the storm, grow in your knowledge of God. Start keeping a journal so that during your daily Bible reading you can make a list of God’s qualities and attributes. Store them up, memorize them, and repeat them often. Read A.W. Tozer’s The Attributes of God.
Do you want some incentive to do the work of reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on God? Isaiah 26:3, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (See also Isaiah 30:15).
What do you do when all hope is lost? Consider if your sin is causing your difficulty, grow in your knowledge of God, and
- Seek out friends
Do you have an Aristarchus? Are you an Aristarchus type of friend? Read Romans 16 and notice the women there whom Paul is grateful for because they cared for him. Think of the care Lydia showed to the Christians in Acts 16. Paul was no Lone Ranger. Paul wasn’t Jason Bourne or Rambo out there wrecking shop for Jesus by himself. Aristarchus and Luke stick with him to help him.
Let’s state the obvious, the older we get the harder it is to build strong friendships. Why is that? Why are we not like a bunch of kindergartens on the playground of life? One reason is we don’t have time to play. We don’t have time to play because we’re doing important things like working a lot so we can buy stuff to impress our not-friends. We also do things by ourselves because it is easier and quicker. Angela and I talk about the differences between valuing stuff and valuing people. If you value stuff, you will eventually end up alone. If you value people, you probably won’t have great stuff, but you will have a few great people.
Build friendships. How do you do that? Come consistently to Sunday School and then take the risk of sharing something you enjoy with someone. Do you like to cook? Don’t just cook for someone, invite people over to cook with you and share your joy. Do you like to hunt or fish? Take someone with you. Build things, play disc golf, workout, listen to music, knit, go for walks, on and on. Sure, they will slow you down for a time but in the difficult days those friends will keep you together. Take the risk to build friendships. In difficult days, seek out friends and
- Keep doing what you can a.k.a. wait on the Lord
What were Luke, Paul, and Aristarchus doing during the storm? They were certainly not writing letters! In Acts 26:16, Luke writes, “we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat.” Here is Doctor Luke with blisters on his hands pulling in the lifeboat. Do what you can.
Waiting on the Lord is a common theme in the Bible, but it doesn’t mean sit there and do nothing. Wait on the Lord means continue in faithfulness while you wait on the Lord to act on your behalf. Keep doing the next right thing trusting the Lord sees you and is working all things for good. Are you struggling physically and praying for healing? Keep doing your breathing exercises while you wait on the Lord. Are things hard in your relationships? Keep doing what you can; be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. Keep caring for others. Keep loving your wife, keep respecting your husband, keep teaching your children, keep going to work, keep preaching the gospel. Keep doing what you can while you wait on the Lord to act.
We are going to try something new today. There is a question on the bottom of the notes and on the screen. Here is the question, “How should I respond to God’s Word?” You have heard the word of the Lord, what is he calling you to believe or do? Don’t fidget or fiddle with your bags. Take a moment and consider how you should respond to God’s word.