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Hope Restored

Date: Aug. 31, 2014

Author: Bob Henkins

Acts 27:1-44

Key Verse: Acts 27:25

“So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.”

A few weeks ago I decided to get rid of our cable TV and bought a new Roku system. When I got it installed the first thing I saw was the news of Robin Williams’ suicide. I was totally shocked and didn’t want to believe it because I really liked him as a comedian and actor. Sadly, he’s not alone. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Whitney Houston and Marilyn Monroe did the same. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, a person is more than twice as likely to kill themselves than be murdered. And suicide is the third leading cause of death for teenagers. This got me to wondering what goes through a person’s mind during the dark periods of life. Again TV gave me insight into this. In the battle of Blackwater, in the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” the city of Kings Landing is being attacked. They are overwhelmed and it looks like they are going to lose. Most of the city has given up hope and the queen believes they will be over run and tortured. In her hopelessness she resigns to her fate and retreats with her youngest son into the throne room where she plans to kill both her son and then herself with deadly poison. However at the last moment, in the nick of time, her father returns, defeats the assaulting army and saves her from her death. What do you do when you’ve run out of hope and your future appears dark? Hopelessness happens to almost everyone at some point in their lives. So what do you do when you encounter it? In today’s passage Paul runs into a hopeless situation. They’ve been in a hurricane for more than 2 weeks and all of them believe they are going to die. What is he going to do? Let’s find out.

From last week’s passage we saw how Festus had decided to send Paul to Rome. According to verse 1, he handed him over to a centurion named Julius that was serving in the imperial regiment. The term “imperial” was generally used for auxiliary forces drawn largely from the local population, and it is known that an auxiliary cohort was stationed in Caesarea during the time of Agrippa II. Maybe Julius belonged to it, or maybe he was a special officer representing the emperor that traveled throughout the empire doing escort and courier duties. Julius commanded a detail of about a dozen soldiers.

Paul was the only prisoner on board that had any status and he was permitted to take two attendants who were listed as his personal slaves. They were Aristarchus, who we first met when he was seized by an angry mob (Ac 19:29) and Luke, who was writing this all down. The other prisoners were most likely be convicted criminals who were on their grim way to Rome to be part of the “Roman holidays” in which they were forced to participate in the Gladiator games as lion feed, or if they were strong enough be trained as Gladiators. These prisoners were chained below deck but Paul and his attendants were permitted to move about freely, although they still had to wear loose chains as a reminder of who they were.

They left from the port in Caesarea during the last week of August of 59’ and I find it interesting that we’re in the last week of August of 2014, which means this event happened exactly 1955 years ago. So they set sail with a light wind behind them and the next day they landed at Sidon, where Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go ashore and meet the Christians there so they could help him out with anything that he may have needed for the long journey. The text gives you the impression that Paul was more like a passenger than a prisoner on this trip. This was God’s grace.

Normally, they would have taken a more direct route to their destination but because they were leaving kind of late in the season, already the winds were against them, forcing them to sail north of Cyprus, closer to the shore. They sailed for a couple of weeks across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, where they landed at Myra in Lycia. (v5) (Here’s a bit of trivia, does anyone know what Myra is famous for? I’ll give you a hint, it has to do with the Christian leader there named Nick. He was later to be sainted. In the Netherlands he was known as Sante Klaas. In America he became known as Santa Claus. Legend has it that he was concerned over the fate of 3 young daughters of a poor man, who lacked money for their dowries, so the father planned to sell the girls into slavery at a brothel. Nicholas raised some money for them and planned to sneak into their house and leave it. But when he found the doors & windows locked, he decided to drop the 3 bags down the chimney where they miraculously fell into the stockings that the girls had hung up to dry.)

In Myra, the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. (v6) Julius transferred his soldiers and prisoners. Since there were no other military officers aboard, and it is presumed this was a ship carrying grain for Rome, Roman practice in the corn fleet was that the centurion took precedence over the captain and the owner of the ship and thus would have the last word in case of emergency. They set sail around September 16th 59’ hoping to reach Rome sometime later that season. They moved along the coast with difficulty and around October 5th, the Jewish Day of Atonement, they came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea. (v8) The dangerous days when navigation was doable but risky were slipping away. And after November 11th all navigation would stop because it was considered suicidal to sail during that time of the year.

Julius, the centurion, called a conference to decide what their best plan of action would be. They were in a tough situation. They couldn’t stay at Fair Haven because they didn’t have a harbor they could dock at that would protect them from winter and they were close to the dangerous sailing season. So Julius invited Paul to hear his suggestion. “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.” (v9-12) Here Luke stresses the fact that the advice of a godly man was ignored and they followed the advice of worldly people. The decision was popular with most people, but it was the wrong decision. The owner and pilot represent the professional opinion. However, their judgment was clouded by their desires, Fair Haven was small and didn’t offer much, Phoenix was larger and offered a better night life. And if they stayed at Fair Haven, they probably would have to stay on board and the owner would have been responsible for the lives of those on board. Luke, the historian, notes that this was a majority decision. However the majority is not always right. When you think about it 50% of the population have below average intelligence, and people often don’t have the proper knowledge to make the best decision. For example, business leaders usually don’t make the best decisions on technology needs because often they are focused on cost instead of what’s needed technically, and they don’t usually have technology knowledge. And not long ago, we’ve seen how the majority works like lemmings with a mob mentality they attacked Paul. Therefore, I think that this is an important lesson for the democratically minded. Not only that, when you realize that the majority of the population will be going to hell, they may not have the best advice to follow. It is much better to listen to one man who stands on the truth of God’s word, than to listen to many counselors who are slaves of sin or have only their desires in mind. Therefore we need God’s word for discernment.

In verse 13, Luke notes that the winds have changed to a gentle south wind. However he disassociates himself from the crew and disapproves of their decision saying, “they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete.” (v13) A gentle south wind represents a favorable situation. Most people follow favorable situations, its human nature. However, when they lack the spiritual insight and moral courage to follow the truth, they only trust their senses, which can get them into trouble because the situation can change suddenly.

Look at verses 14-15. “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.” People want to live in the illusion that they rule their own destiny and can do whatever they want. But this is not true. The men in the ship were caught by the storm. They could not sail from Fair Havens to Phoenix though it was only 34 miles and should have taken only a couple of hours. Instead, they were caught up in what Luke describes as typhoon or hurricane like winds in which they were driven south. They had run into the dreaded “Northeaster” storm, you know it’s bad when they give storms names. People remember it, like hurricane Sandy that hit New Jersey. Even big ships can be tossed around like a cork in the open sea. Within a few minutes, the captain knew they could never keep the ship headed into the Northeaster, so they gave way and ran with it. As the storm gained intensity, they had to haul in their lifeboat and secure it. They even passed ropes under the ship in order to hold it together. These were seasoned sailors but fear flooded their hearts. They imagined running aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, so they lowered the sea anchor in the hope that would be enough to avoid it. It was cold and wet and the violent movement of the ship made getting around painful. And what little was eaten was probably thrown up by their seasickness caused by the heaving waves. At this point the prisoners would have been released from their chains and every able bodied person would take turns at the pumps to keep the ship from flooding. However on the second day, the water rose as the ship took a violent battering, to lighten the ship the crew began to throw the cargo overboard, fulfilling what Paul had warned them of. On the third day the crew began to throw the ship’s tackle overboard. The fact that Luke mentions “with their own hands” reveals the hopelessness of the situation, because this is something the crew would never do unless they had no other choice. Verse 20 indicates their despair and the seriousness of the situation, it reads, “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” They were being violently tossed around in complete darkness, without the sun, moon or stars to navigate. They have gone without sleep and food for days that within a relatively short time, that the pilot, owner, sailors and everyone aboard, including Paul, had reached their human limit. After doing everything they could, they despaired. Finally they gave up all hope. This is the destiny of man without God.

All kinds of people go in search of the American dream going through college hoping to land a good job upon graduation. After graduation, they are busy establishing their careers and building their families. Then one day, they wake up only to find they’re not young any more. Their pay never seems to be enough and their family relationships are generally shallow. The world that appeared so big and promising in their youth has turned out to be a place of unfulfilled dreams and broken promises. Many are left with the thought that they’ve worked hard for nothing. In their fear, they have a mid-life crisis. Such people are like the walking dead, as they ignore the advice of godly people. Their destiny is despair. And when the storms of life hit, they easily lose hope. For example, suicide rates climb exponentially with every 1% increase of unemployment rate as people lose hope. The suicide rates go up around the holidays as people are left with empty families and hearts. They need Jesus.

Those on board the ship went a long time without food. It wasn’t because they were having fasting prayer, but because despair and the constant suspense robbed their appetites. It is good to have suspense at the movies, which last about 2 hours but its not good to have constant suspense for 2 weeks straight. Finally 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.” (21-22). Paul rebuked them with the heart of a father concerned for his children. He was only a prisoner but he is becoming the leader even promising that not one of them would be lost. How could he do this? It was because God was with him.

Take a look at verses 23-24. “ Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong 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.’” The angel’s first words were, “Do not be afraid, Paul.” Even Paul was struggling with fear in the midst of the storm. As of first importance, the Lord helped Paul overcome the fear in his heart. To any person, overcoming fear is crucial. Fear is planted by the devil’s lying tongue. Fear paralyzes us until we become useless. And they couldn’t afford useless people aboard that ship. Also fearful people displease God, for the cowardly are first on the list of those who go to hell (Rev 21:8). Without overcoming fear, people can’t function normally. How then can we overcome fear? Let’s learn from this passage. Look at verse 24 again. When Paul heard God’s word, “Do not be afraid, Paul,” the Holy Spirit came to dwell in his soul. Paul wrote in Romans 8:15 says, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba,’ Father.” The Holy Spirit drove out fear and renewed the love of God in Paul’s heart. 1 John 4:18a says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear....” God’s love, expressed through the Holy Spirit, is the antidote to fear.

Look at verse 25. “So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.” Here we see that Paul combined the angel’s message with faith. Paul took hold of God’s promise. When God gives us his word of promise, we must accept it and begin to act on it. Paul’s faith in God’s promise was the power source that made him strong and courageous. During storms we must listen to God’s word and combine it with faith. Paul’s words of faith and courage brought hope to all on board except a few sailors who planned to abandon ship. It was a selfish and irresponsible plan. Men whose only desire is to save their lives in this world cannot be trusted in a crisis. Paul was alert to the problem. So he warned the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” This time, the centurion listened to Paul. The soldiers cut the ropes and let the lifeboat fall into the sea. Although a prisoner in chains, Paul was the true leader in the time of crisis. It was because of his faith. Paul saw what needed to be done. Paul also had a shepherd’s heart to think about the men. They had not eaten for a long time. They needed strength to swim ashore. So Paul encouraged them to eat and promised, “Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” This was the expression of Paul’s faith in God. Actually, it is an incredible promise. Even when we take a shower, we lose many hairs and yet Paul promised that even though they had to go through the waters not one hair from their heads would be lost. Paul’s faith in God’s promise was incredible.

Look at verse 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. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.” Paul’s act of thanksgiving to God was another expression of his faith. Paul gave thanks to God in front of all the other travelers. He was thankful for God’s word. He was thankful for God’s promise to save them. Even though he was still in the middle of the storm, he found something to be thankful to God for. Also he made it very clear to everyone that it was God who would deliver them from the storm. Verse 36 says, “They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.” After being encouraged, they could eat well for the first time in many days. When daylight came, they saw a bay with a sandy beach. They cut loose the anchors and made a run for it. But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. It was broken to pieces, just as Paul had foretold. The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent their escape, otherwise they had to forfeit their own lives. Thankfully the centurion stopped them in order to spare Paul. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard and get to land. The rest used planks and pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety. As Paul promised, they were all saved.

There were 276 people to keep track of, I have trouble keeping track of my 4 children let alone 276 people. Actually if they lost 1 out of 276 that wasn’t bad odds. Think of all the factors that were against them, some people can’t swim, some were trying to escape, soldiers wanted to kill them, the storm, ship breaking up, how could they not expect to lose even 1?

Paul absolutely trusted in God and it was contagious to the other men. Fear and faith are contagious. In the end, God proved to be true to his promise. This can give us hope when we encounter difficult times in our lives. God is the one who restores our hope. Satan is the one who destroys it. Don’t give Satan the victory, trust in the Lord.

Not long ago when I went looking for a new job, as I looked through the job ads, I became fearful thinking that I was not qualified for any of those jobs. I felt that my skills were out dated and I thought “I’m never going to get out and I’m going to die in this position” It made me want to give up and resign to my fate. …… No, I must remember Jesus who gave his promise of eternal life and hold on to it with all my heart. (Please listen to the end in the audio file)

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