Acts 27:27-44 25.10.20
Is the true cause of Jesus going anywhere? Does it have a future? Is there a future in any of us standing for Jesus?
Surprisingly, there is a great answer in the final chapters of the book of Acts … in the middle of what reads like someone’s boring holiday story “My Mediterranean cruise: Adramyytium, Sidon, Myra, Fair Havens and so on – the ports mentioned in chapter 27.
It’s a surprise because so much of the story is ugly. Arrests, trials, imprisonments followed by the story of two weeks on a slow boat to China caught in a miserable stomach-churning, life-threatening angry storm. “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay upon us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.” (verse 20)
I’m thinking that this boat is more like a Filipino ferry than a cruise ship. Pigs, chickens and sacks of rice on the lower deck, with those who can afford only 3rd class fares where there are no seats. Ordinary people sprawled on rubber stretchers on the 2nd class middle deck. And rich people on the top deck who can pay the $5 fare.
One of these ferries might also carry about 276 people. I have counted. Before I have counted how many life-jackets there are. Usually one number is about 100 less than the other one.
These ferries are mostly old and small, and have no chance in any real storm. Which is why, I guess hundreds of passengers lose their lives every year in Philippine waters.
This story has reality and danger and alarm written all over it.
But is that all this is? An unhappy travel diary? No. It’s a story of the wonderful and certain progress of the gospel of Jesus. It tells us at least 2 things:
Paul is not alone on this storm-belted ferry. It’s likely there were some fare-paying passengers. There is a Roman centurion (about the lowest rank of officer in the Roman army) and his soldiers who are with him. There are the ship’s crew. And a bunch of prisoners, of whom Paul is only one.
If this ferry goes down, at least some of them are going to drown. If not all of them. Like one very large Philippine ferry that sank with the loss of all 4,386 people on board.
But God has a different plan which he has revealed to Paul through an angel who came and spoke to him. “Do not be afraid Paul; you must stand before Caesar (in Rome). And behold God has granted you all those who sail with you.” (vv24)
“All those who sail with you”. Why not just Paul? Because blessings come in all kinds of ways to people in this world because of Jesus.
The sailors don’t believe that. They know a sinking ship when they see one. Better to lower the dinghy and get away. But Paul puts a stop to that, and has the Roman officer order his men to cut the ropes before the sailors can even get into the dinghy.
Why? Because they will be safe only if they stay where Paul is. The best blessings are always where God’s people are.
But they can hear the breakers on a reef that will surely break up the ferry, even if they cannot see it in the pitch black of night. 4 anchors out the back may hold them for now, but how are they ever going to cross the reef, and make it to the nearby beach?
It’s been all-hands on deck for 14 long days, and no one has had the stomach to eat. But, ever practical, Paul insists that they eat before daybreak. It might be days before they see food again.
At daybreak, they cut the ropes to the anchors, and run onto the reef. It’s chaos. Before the prisoners on board can escape, the soldiers plan to kill them. “But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan.” (verse 43). Rebels, murderers, rapists and crooks live because of Paul. The best place is near Paul.
Indeed, every last one of the 276 on board live because of Paul. They all make it to the beach, on timbers from the ship, or by swimming or maybe on the backs of others.
Luke is not writing this to tell us that all 275 were converted to Jesus. But at the most ordinary level, they all get through this, and live, because of Paul. Because of God’s plan for his gospel.
It’s always been like this. Wherever God’s gospel goes, and God’s gospel people go, there is an overflow of all kinds of blessings for people at the most ordinary levels.
Could the city of Sodom have been saved? God said “Yes, if there were only 10 righteous people in it”. Are a husband and children blessed if a woman alone is a believer? Yes, says Paul in 1 Corinthians 7.
Can your neighbours be blessed because he lives next door to you, a believer? Or your workplace because you work there? Or your wider family because you are part of it? Yes.
I am not saying that everyone recognises this. The fact is that unbelief denies this, and tries to eliminate all evidence of it.
This month 100 Chinese special police demolished the graveyard where 20 Swedish missionaries were buried 100 years ago. And along with the graveyard, the building which had been the hospital where they cared for tens of thousands of Chinese free of charge. There are not too many hospitals built by atheists where love is at the core.
How many children worldwide have been clothed and fed and educated because of the overflow of the gospel? Orphans housed, sick people healed and women saved from slavery? Thousands? Millions? Hundreds of millions! In this world wonderful blessings come with the Gospel.
The overflow of the gospel is into the very nature of what our culture is, and the values it loves: freedom of speech and conscience, the fact that we are all equal, that life is sacred, that work is valuable, that justice matters and that service is noble.
Where did all that come from? Tom Holland is an English historian whose area of speciality is Ancient Greece or Rome. Despite the common line that these values arose in those ancient cultures, Tom Holland says in his 2019 book “Dominion” that they did not. They came, he says, from Jesus, his gospel, and his apostle, Paul.
Tom Holland, is not a Christian. But he knows that when the gospel came, blessings overflowed – deeply, and everywhere.
I am not saying that these blessings mean that people are necessarily made Christians by these blessings. There is no record of any of these other 275 people converting to Jesus. But their lives here and now were sweetened and preserved because they were with Paul, and because of the overflow of gospel blessings.
Is there a future for the cause of Jesus? Should we pull our heads in, and retreat to a cave in this secular world of ours? No!!
If you know anything about Paul, you know that he will have been thrilled that 275 people live. Whether they are sailors deserting, soldiers who are cruel or prisoners who are crooks.
But you will also know that something mattered even more to him than that. Another world that is front and centre in Jesus’ plan to spread the gospel to Rome and to the ends of the earth.
It is a world that is so different from this world. It’s a world where there are angels. For, he says, in the middle of a fierce storm where no one in his right mind is on a ferry, “there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship” (v23).
Paul’s God owns him. Paul’s God asks Paul to bow before him. Paul’s God sends angels. Paul’s God speaks. He is a real God.
When it is time to eat before they all have to swim for it, Paul does what? We read in verse 35 that “he gave thanks”. To whom? To the God who gave them their food. The food was no more their creation, than their safety on the beach was of their making.
Why speak so openly about an angel and words from God? And give thanks among a crowd of pagans – they don’t come more pagan than sailors, soldiers and crooks? Why wouldn’t he when Jesus is so real, and the world out there so wonderful?
Shouldn’t they all bow down to Jesus? Shouldn’t they all give thanks to him and convert to him? Should the centurion who gave orders to the others acknowledge Jesus as Lord? And the crooks with the bad records find mercy in Jesus? And the sailors who know there is a different godlet in every port? Yes, all of them.
Should they all listen when God speaks – whether through an angel, a prophet, an apostle or his Word? Of course they should – every last one of them.
I am not saying all 275 will listen to him, and turn to Jesus. I am asking whether they should. And if the arrival of all 276 on the beach without the loss of even one life does not wake them up to do that, it can only be because of blindness of heart, can’t it?
This is not written so we will say grace before a meal with unbelievers. Though when it’s a meal in your home, or a meal where you take the lead, why wouldn’t you? It’s likely that people who see you do that in a restaurant don’t know there is another world. Or do not know anyone who takes that world seriously enough to say thank you.
But it is written to encourage us to find any way we can to show and tell those around us that there is another world because there is a Living God who speaks, and rescues and feeds.
Paul is not ramming anything down anyone’s throat or forcing people to do what he does. But he is finding ways to show that there is another world – the most real world of all.
What are we saying and telling in a coronavirus world? In an interview two weeks back Tom Holland, the unbeliever, saw things that many of us have not seen. He gave us a good serve.
“I think over the course of this year the churches have been a letdown.” He said that the message from churches was much like what you get on a government help line. “I felt that the response of churches was a kind of pallid echo of public health announcements. That’s what public health officials are for. I kind of think that churches are there to situate our happening. … I’ve heard almost nothing about why this is happening … what does the Bible have to say about plagues? This seems to me to be an incredibly important source.”
Has God spoken into this world? Has he said, in general terms, why plagues come? He has. Do we know what a right and truly healthy response to any plague is? We do. Do we know what frees people from fear of death? We do. Do we know what the future holds for plagues and everything else? Yes, we do.
Then we can say so much more than “wash your hands, keep your distance”. Personally and as a church. Why do you think we go quiet on that front in a uniquely God-given moment?
Yes, it is dark and feels desperate during a 14 day storm. But the outcome is absolutely sure. Just as Paul WILL get to Rome, so Jesus SHALL be made known to the ends of the earth.
Paul said to the people soon to be swimming for their lives “I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.” (v22)
Brothers and sisters, when our lives are planted in Jesus, people around us in this world, are blessed in a million ways, just by being within the orbit of real churches and real Christians.
What a privilege to say there is another world – more wonderful and so much fuller of mercy than even this one. “I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.” (v22)
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