Text: Acts 27
Proposition: Shipwreck faith does not just believe in God, it believes God. It experiences the push of the storm and yet believes in the promise of a haven.
Introduction: Today we are going to look at one of the most detailed accounts of what it was like to travel by ship in the 1st century. From shipping routes, the wisdom of the day on ocean navigation we see the details of a disaster, a shipwreck that almost killed 276 people. But that is just the background, the framework that carries the main story of the way that God moves His people and their testimony of the gospel of Christ by the path of a storm. It all begins when Paul the apostle appeals his court case in order to avert fabricated charges against him by the high priest in Jerusalem. The appeal means he must be taken to Rome where he will be heard by Caesar Nero. It was September, AD 59. This would typically be a trip that took about a month to reach Rome but it was pushing the calendar. The Mediterranean was considered dangerous to sail on from mid October and then impossible from November to the end of February. Little did they know that it would be six months before they ever saw the shores of Rome. The shipwreck is an incredible story not only because of its detail and the series of choices that eventually lead to it but also because of way God used it. Behind this historical account is the theme of faith in the midst of crisis, a faith that can only be referred to as Shipwreck Faith. Have a look at Acts 27.
I. When God Sends You Out, He Gives You Shipmates.
Sometimes the shipmates are Christian and sometimes they aren’t, but both are there by God’s choosing. He knows who you need and He knows who they need. So when this journey begins we see Julius the centurion, Aristarchus the Macedonian and Luke the Physician as Paul’s three most significant shipmates. All three of these will find their lives at risk, all three will have to make decisions and all three will sail together into a shipwreck. It’s a simple truth, God gives you shipmates. He does that because you are going to need them, you may be used of God to save their lives and God may use them to save yours. Never underestimate the importance of shipmates, despite how different they may be from you in rank or nationality. Paul once alluded to this same principle when he talked about how the people in a church are all connected to each other, members of the same body even though each has a different appearance and function. When God send you out…and He has, He gives you ship mates, you’ll need them as God uses the shared experience of shipmates to build a platform for the gospel.
II. When God Sends the Wind and the Waves He Gives You a Way Through.
Paul’s ship makes its way up the coast and eventually comes a sea port on the coast of modern day Turkey called Myra. It’s here that the grain freighters from Egypt would come as they prepared to make the run to Greece and Rome. They change ships and board a freighter, about 180 feet in length, loaded with grain headed for Italy. By the time they boarded this ship about two weeks have passed and the winds of late September are beginning to pick up. They leave Myra and set sail for Crete to avoid the headwinds. In 27:7 Luke writes, “When we had sailed slowly many days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, the wind not permitting us to proceed, we sailed under the shelter of Crete off Salmone.” The westerly winds are now shifting to be more north westerly so they sail close the southern coast of Crete and eventually land at a harbor called Fair Havens. When you read verses 9-12 you see that they spent quite awhile waiting for the weather to shift but time was running out. The Fast for the Atonement in that year was on October 5th, it was now past that time. The window to make it to Rome had closed, they would have to lay over for at least the next 4 months.
So let’s ask a rather obvious question here, ‘If God wanted Paul to appear before Caesar in Rome and if God is the One who has sovereign control over the wind and the waves, why does he make it so hard for the ship to proceed?’ The specifics to that answer we may never know but what we can know is that God has as much concern for the journey as He does for the destination. The lives that would be touched and transformed by the gospel will need a storm and maybe even a shipwreck to reach them. The choices that God puts right in front of us He expects us to make wisely. The motives of your thoughts and the skills of your hands He will use and He expects you to move with discernment and wisdom. Paul had been ship wrecked three times before (2 Cor.11:25), he knew the risks of sea travel from failure. Godly voices are supposed to speak up when ruin is on the horizon so Paul speaks from a place of personal opinion, he advises them to stay put in Fair Havens. He knew that they just wanted to find a better harbor but if they ventured forwards, even though it was only a matter of less than thirty miles by sea to the harbor at Phoenix, it meant risking everything. They would have to sail four miles out and around Cape Matala and then head north for 15 miles to make it to the safety of Phoenix. He cautions them not to go. But when a light south wind begins to blow they choose to leave Fair Havens for the sake of time, property and comfort. They make it just past the Cape and are headed north when what they had dreaded occurs. In verse 14 Luke says, “But not long after, a tempestuous head wind arose, called Euroclydon.” The wind has swung from the north to west to south to east, that’s counter clockwise. It’s a cyclone coming out of the North East creating not only a head wind but blowing them away from the shore with an impossible force. 3 They have passed the point of no return, now they have risked and they have lost and storm has them in its grip.
III. Shipwreck Faith Doesn’t Believe in God, It Believes God.
Luke tells us that once the ship has been caught in the storm they turned and let the storm drive them. They pulled the skiff that typically trailed out behind and lifted it up securing it to the ship. They ran ropes under the hull and used them to reinforce the planks. After three days of relentless blast they threw the ships tackle overboard, likely meaning that they dissembled the main mast and sail and threw it out to act as a drag in the water slowing their drift. In verse 20 Luke writes, “Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up.” It’s when all hope of being able to pull yourself out has been exhausted that God enters with a word of hope. Paul stands up and shouts out to all in the darkness of the night and storm that there is hope. God has used an angel to tell Paul how this will all end, Paul will stand before Caesar and not one life of all those onboard will be lost. Then Paul says this, “Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me.”It’s not belief in the existence of God that brings courage, it’s believing God, believing what God has told you. It’s belief in the directions of God that saves them, it’s belief in the assurance that these directions are sound and are the only way to be saved. That belief in God that Paul affirmed that night is the same belief that God uses to save people not just from the storm but from the ultimate destruction of hell. Believe God that He has a way and that way is Jesus Christ. Our faith in Christ is our anchor, it keeps our soul steadfast and sure because Jesus Christ is able to do above and beyond what we need. He is our Savior so believe God when He makes that clear to you. But look at the text, look at verse 27. Days pass, the storm continues and then the fourteenth night comes, and they are still in the storm even though they believe God. Believing God doesn’t mean the storm ends, it means there is a way through the storm. At the break of dawn Paul implores the men to eat, to plan to live, to act as survivors, to strengthen themselves for life. Publicly he takes bread and gives thanks to God as the ship pitches and the wind shrieks. He speaks assurance to them that if they will believe God, if they will obey God they will be saved and 276 people ate some bread and hoped for life that night.
As you read the rest of the account you see how there are some who won’t believe God. Sailors who are willing to let others die to save themselves, soldiers who will actually kill others in order to avoid the military reprisal of death for an escaped prisoner. They were even going to kill Paul until Julius, Paul’s ship mate stood up for him. They ship’s bow gets stuck in the muddy shoal, the breakers tear apart the stern and everybody abandons the ship. Shipwreck faith doesn’t just believe in the existence of God, that kind of belief is useless, it will leave you wondering and worrying and lost. Ship wreck faith believes God right through the storm and right to the shore. Believe God, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved!