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Conquering Storms
Sermon Recap | Acts 27

In this passage, Paul makes four statements which provide gracious comfort for us during trials of faith (27:23-25). And you can be assured that the God of truth who inspired the narrative will fulfill all the promises he makes in Scripture.

I. Remember His Presence

First, Paul urges us to remember that God is always present with his children. However, to appreciate this promise we need to get the story clearly before us.

In the ancient world, every journey on a ship in the Mediterranean was dangerous; voyages were generally avoided unless absolutely necessary. However, this one was particularly dangerous because of the season of the year and the direction. In v.9 Luke mentions the “Fast” which would have been in October. The storm season began in November, so most sailing stopped for the winter. Generally, sailors did not even put their vessels in the water until the spring. Sailing in October also meant that the prevailing winds were from the west—the direction Paul was heading from Phoenicia. Using small boats, the crew crept along the coast to Myra on the southern edge of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). From there they took a larger Alexandrian ship, one capable of sailing in the open sea. However, the strong winds blew them to the south toward the isle of Crete. They struggled until they made it to a port called “Fair Havens” on the south shore of Crete. However, there was nothing “fair” about Fair Haven, just as there is little “green” about Greenland! These sailors wanted to get on to the nicer port at Phoenix. But the gentle south wind that gave them initial hope turned into a powerful storm which lasted fourteen days and obscured the sun and stars, making for a terrifying nautical experience. 

If there was ever a time Paul needed to know that God was with him it was now. Maybe you can identify with Paul’s experience. Though not in a literal storm, your current situation may seem so dark that it seems to block out all light of hope. The reference points you usually count on—friends, family, your own common sense, even the Bible—seem obscured by the bleakness of your plight. If you are God’s child you need to hear today not only that he is with you, but he stands beside you. 

Throughout the Bible, God calls his people to be strong and courageous. But he never does so without the accompanying promise, “I will be with you” (Joshua 1:5-9; 1 Chronicles 28:20; 2 Chronicles 32:7; Joshua 10:25; Isaiah 43:2; Exodus 33:14,15; 2 Peter 1:4; Genesis 39:23). But in this instance, God’s comfort is even more strongly communicated. God not only said he was with Paul, he “stood beside” (paratithemi) him. This was not the first time Paul experienced the Lord standing beside him. The Lord stood at his side in his trial before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:11). Perhaps this is the same occasion to which Paul refers in 2 Timothy 4:17, when he says that though everyone else deserted him, God stood by him. For what purpose did God stand beside Paul? To fight for him in order that the message of the gospel could go forward.

So what is promised to you in this passage? The promise is not that every time someone disagrees with you or opposes you that God will be on your side. He only stands by those advancing his gospel. He is not interested in your private agenda or your earth-bound initiatives. However, if you are striving to pursue your purpose in testifying to God’s grace on all occasions, you may be assured that he is with you and battles for you. 

II. Rest in His Possession 

Secondly, Paul confessed to his fellows on the ship that he was not his own, but belonged to Jesus. James Montgomery Boice used to relate that when a friend of his was in trouble he would say, “Help, Lord, your property is being attacked.” 

Perhaps you do not like the idea of being possessed by another. Donald Grey Barnhouse once preached a sermon on our text and said that we belong to the Lord in the same way a bride belongs to her husband, a child belongs to her parents, and a sheep belongs to the shepherd. As you think through each of those relationships, you must understand a bride, a child, and a sheep never belong to their husband, parent, or shepherd as an impersonal possession. Rather, the relationship is one of sacrificial and loving care. It is the husband’s highest honor to sacrifice his energies, financial resources, and life for his beloved bride. Parents deny indulgences, time alone, and their own well-being in order to give the best to their children. And the good shepherd risks his life to protect his sheep from marauders and predators.

We belong to Jesus not as chattel but as a bride, a child, and as sheep. And his love has been proven to us by his sacrifice in the past and his continual intercession for us now. There is a simple but beautiful hymn in the Trinity Hymnal which captures these thoughts:

I belong to Jesus; I am not my own;
All I have and all I am shall be his alone.
I belong to Jesus; He is Lord and King,
Reigning in my inmost heart over everything.
I belong to Jesus; He will keep my soul
When the deathly waters dark round about me roll.

If we belong to Jesus, we can no more be lost than he can.

III. Recommit to His Purpose

Next, Paul urges us to recommit to Christ’s purpose for our lives. He acknowledges not only that he belongs to Jesus, but that he serves Christ (cf. Ro. 1:9). So how could Paul be so calm on board a ship that is being ripped apart? He was not a naturally courageous person, but he knew he was where God wanted him. God had called him to go to Rome. He did not promise Paul that the process of getting there would be a smooth and comfortable one. Comforts outside of God’s will are tormenting to the soul, but not even persecution can dampen one’s spirits when he knows he is serving God. 

We need not worry that we have every single detail of God’s call on our lives absolutely perfect; that is not our burden to carry. Instead, we must search our hearts and ask if we are seeking our own personal agenda or God’s glory. If we are seeking God’s glory, even if we make mistakes of less significance, we can live in the assurance that the overall trend of our lives is in line with God’s calling for us. 

IV. Rely on His Precepts

Finally, Paul took comfort in God’s word. God had made a promise to him to preserve everyone’s life and get him to Rome. That was all Paul needed. Mike Hearon, who is a close friend and now the lead pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, has taught me much about claiming God’s promises. He is particularly fond of “getting a promise.” It’s something he has practiced throughout his ministry. 

What this means is to take your need or burden to the Lord and find the place in scripture where he promises to care for you and meet your needs. Claim that promise. Pray it to God. Hold on to it when you are anxious. The Puritans taught their people this principle by means of a practice they called “recompensing.” To teach their people that God could always be trusted to fulfill his Word, they urged them to keep records as in an accounting ledger of their prayers based on promises of God’s Word. Then, when the promise was fulfilled or the prayer answered, they urged their parishioners to record the “debt” as “paid.” Richard Sibbes wrote:

We should watch daily, continue instant in prayer; strengthen our supplications with arguments from God’s Word and promises; and mark how our prayers speed. When we shoot an arrow we look to its fall; when we send a ship to sea we look for its return; and when we sow we look for an harvest…It is atheism to pray and not to wait in hope. A sincere Christian will pray, wait, strengthen his heart with the promises, and never leave praying and looking up till God gives him a gracious answer.

In Paul’s case, he would mark God’s promise that he would testify for him in Rome and that no one on the ship would die. And when he reached Rome he would record in his journal, “God paid his debt in full.” 

In doing so you must be prepared for God always to fulfill his promise but not always answer as you anticipated. I am not sure Paul would have anticipated that God would fulfill his promise to get Paul to Rome by means of a shipwreck! Sometimes we think God has failed us because the fulfillment of his promise did not come the way we imagined it. But you must believe that all of God’s words are “trustworthy and true” (Re. 22:6). Therefore, when he makes a promise to you, you must keep your eyes wide open and expect to be surprised by the way he fulfills it.