HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
We are surprised that Dr. Luke devotes an entire chapter to a description of a storm and a shipwreck. This is perhaps the most dramatic chapter in the entire Book of Acts, but it is more than exciting history: it carries some valuable lessons for us as Christians.
We often picture life as a journey or a voyage.
John Bunyan did this in Pilgrim’s Progress; life is a pilgrimage from the City of Destruction to the City of God.
Homer followed the same idea in The Odyssey, using the image of a voyage. Melville did it in Moby Dick. We sometimes use terms like “sink or swim” or “make shipwreck” or “the storms of life”—all of which illustrate the fact that we think of life as a journey or a voyage.
Now, this does not mean that Acts 27 is an allegory. Far from it! To make the ship a picture of the Church is to deviate from what Luke is trying to tell us. I cannot believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is going to fall apart and that all that will remain will be the boards. No, Luke is not writing an allegory; he is writing history, and he is asking us to learn from Paul’s experience some basic lessons that will help us face the storms of life. In this chapter, there are three such lessons.
1. Storms cannot harm the child of God.
All of us go through storms at one time or another. Have you ever asked, “What causes these storms?”
Sometimes we cause the storms ourselves.
Jonah is a case in point. God commanded him to go to Nineveh, but he rebelled and left for Tarshish. His disobedience invited the discipline of God, and the result was a terrifying storm. When Jonah admitted his sin and dealt with it, the storm ceased.
Yes, there are some storms that we cause ourselves.
But there are storms that God Himself causes. I am thinking of that event in Matthew chapter 14 when Jesus sent His disciples across the Sea of Galilee after He had fed the 5,000. Jesus knew that a storm was coming, but He deliberately sent the men out to face the storm. Why? To teach them some valuable lessons about faith and obedience.
Not all storms come because of disobedience; some come because we obey the Lord.
Often storms come because of the mistakes of others.
This is the case in Acts 27. Paul warned the centurion not to have the ship leave port, but he refused to listen to the Word of God. You will notice in,
verses 9–13 Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them,10 And said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives. 11 Nevertheless the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken by Paul. 12 And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised to depart thence also, if by any means they might attain to Phenice, and there to winter; which is an haven of Crete, and lieth toward the south west and north west. 13 And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete.
The reasons why the men turned a deaf ear to Paul and decided to leave The Fair Havens.
To begin with, they were impatient (verse 9). They had wasted a lot of time going a short distance and they wanted to hurry on their way to Rome. Unbelief is usually impatient.
“Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” (Isaiah 28:16).
Then, they depended on expert advice (verse 11). After all, the owner and the pilot of the ship knew more about navigation than did Paul. Sad to say, the wisdom of men often leads to storms (James 3:13–18). A third reason was discomfort (verse 12); the haven was not an easy place to stay for the winter. Beware when you are uncomfortable and looking for an easier place!
At this point, the centurion decided to take a vote (verse 12). After all, the majority cannot be wrong—or can it? Out of 276 passengers, only three voted “No!”—Paul, Dr. Luke, and Aristarchus. The majority said, “Let’s get out of here!” And then “the south wind” began to blow softly, and it looked as though all was well.
Beware of majority rule and perfect circumstances: they may lead you into a storm.
The storm did come—and what a storm it was! They lost the cargo; they lost the ship, and they would have lost their lives had it not been for Paul. (I wonder if this storm-tossed world of ours realizes that God is keeping things together only for the sake of His children?) Paul did not cause the storm, but he had to endure it. Yet God protected him and provided for him because the storms cannot harm the child of God. If anything, they give us the opportunity to trust God more and be a loving testimony to those around us.
2. Storms cannot hide the face of God.
A storm does not make a man; it reveals what the man is made of.
As you read Acts 27, you see different people responding to the crisis in different ways. Some people, when the storms come, just drift (verse 15) because they have no inner resources to sustain them. Others try hard without God (verse 16–19). I do not criticize them for doing all that was possible, because that is better than doing nothing; but apart from God, it was useless. Some people wish for the day (verse 29), but wishing will never accomplish very much. Sad to say, there are some people who try to run away (verse 30–32), and think nothing of others.
Yes, the storms of life have a way of revealing what a person is made of.
The storms also hide the things that people trust. They could not see the sun or stars (verse 20), and this means they could not navigate. What a mess they were in. And all because they failed to believe the simple Word of God.
But Paul was not afraid. Archbishop Adrian says that Paul started the voyage as a prisoner, but ended it as the captain. The angel of the Lord appeared to Paul in the darkness of the storm and gave him a message of hope: “Be of good courage!”
No storm can hide the face of God.
We have His Word to encourage us and direct us.
But Paul did not keep this good news to himself: he shared it with the others on the ship. What an example for us to follow. We have the only good news in the world, and people need to hear it: “Christ died for your sins! Be of good cheer—He will forgive you if you trust Him.”
The storms cannot harm the child of God, nor can they hide the face of God.
There is a third lesson we must learn.
3. Storms cannot hinder the will of God.
God had a purpose for Paul to fulfil in Rome, and the mistakes of men could not hinder him from that purpose. God had promised Paul,
“And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” (Acts 23:11),
and He would keep that promise. What an encouragement this is in the storms of life—to know that “all things are working together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Just a few years before, Paul had written his epistle to the Romans; and in it, he wrote,
“Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:” (Romans 9:6).
That verb “taken none effect” is a nautical term; it means “a ship going out of course.” It is used three times in Acts 27—verses 17, 26, and 19. That Roman grain ship might have been going out of course.
Storms cannot hinder the will of God.
Where He cannot rule, He will overrule and accomplish His purposes.
God had a purpose for Paul as a witness on that ship. I wonder how many of those prisoners he led to faith in Christ? And God had a purpose for Paul in Rome—and Paul would get there! When the child of God is in the will of God, nothing can hinder him or keep him from his divinely-appointed ministry. There may be disappointments, there may be storms, but the storms cannot hinder the will of God.
I trust that none of us will deliberately go into a storm because of disobedience, the way Jonah did. But if we find ourselves in the storm, let’s remember these three lessons:
- The storm cannot harm the child of God.
- It cannot hide the face of God.
- It cannot hinder the will of God.
“Therefore,” says Paul, “Be of good courage—for I believe God!”
I want to thank God for the courage, love and mercy for bringing us to this place after the storm.