Following the Captain Through the Storms – Acts 27:1-28:15
British essayist Pico Iyer, reflecting on the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, says when the tsunami hit, the Japanese were far more accepting and calm than people in California. I think his point was that every other culture seems to have an accepted understanding of suffering, except Americans.
Dr. Paul Brand says, “it is because the meaning of life in the United States is the pursuit of pleasure and personal freedom that suffering is so traumatic for Americans.” Why do you think we are the most overmedicated society in history? We try to get eliminate of all threats to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is no room in the worldview of Americans for suffering. We hate it. We don’t find it meaningful and try to get rid of it any way possible.
To make it worse, we have the Prosperity Gospel, of course with its roots from America, now seeping into all churches teaching that God wants you to be healthy and wealthy. You can leverage material blessings from God if you have enough faith.
But the prosperity gospel is far deeper and pervasive than private jets and fur coats. David Jones in a recent blog entitled, “The Prosperity Gospel in my own heart,” says this:
The prosperity gospel resides in the heart of all men; the prosperity gospel is even in my own heart…maybe you don’t get that promotion at work, your child gets sick, or you’re unfairly criticized at church. The result? You get mad at God because you were overlooked, troubled, or disparaged. That’s the prosperity gospel.
The very thought that God owes us a relatively trouble-free life, and the anger we feel when God doesn’t act the way we believe he is supposed to act, betray a heart that expects God to prosper us because of our good works. That’s the prosperity gospel.
The prosperity gospel is in all of our hearts. It is not that the prosperity gospel has too much impact of our hearts, but that the true gospel has too little impact. We’re coming down to the last two messages in the book of Acts. The last eight chapters can be aptly titled, “The Sufferings of Paul.” It is hard to prove a prosperity theology from these last chapters detailing Paul’s life. It is even harder to believe a prosperity gospel when we follow a Savior who did everything right and followed God perfectly and ended up in His life penniless, friendless and naked on a cross. “If anyone ever deserved a good life on the basis of character and behavior,” Keller agrees, “Jesus did, but he did not get it.”
Even when you’re living on mission for God, storms come. Jesus pulls you in and pushes you out to storms! Either you are in a storm, just got out of a storm or about to go into another one. You are always in one of those three situations in life. So how do we understand the inevitable storms of life in such a way that we are not disillusioned when they come and then how do we know we won’t sink under them? To make it shorter, what does it mean for Jesus to be Captain of the storms of life? First of all:
I. As Captain, trust Him to arrive at the destination (27:1-20, 39-44, 28:1-6, 11-15)
Luke gives a lot of vivid detail of Paul’s trip to Rome and then in probably one of the most understated verses of the whole Bible, says in Acts 28:14b: “…And so we came to Rome.” He makes it sound like it was so easy. Remember Paul was beaten in Jerusalem then arrested, subjected to endless trails, threatened with assassination more than once, left in a prison for two years, nearly drowned in the Mediterranean, nearly killed by the soldiers and nearly poisoned by a snake. This is miracle! How is this possible? Paul’s life is not in Paul’s control. There is a Captain orchestrating all things.
Let’s look at this a little closer in Acts 27. Check out the map. It sounds so wonderful to take a trip to Italy. But remember Paul is a prisoner, so he’s being escorted by guards here. Julius is the commander in charge of 100 soldiers. We don’t know who and how many other prisoners were with Paul. Paul has his buddies Aristarchus and Luke at least to travel with him. Romans don’t have their own ships, they are pretty much hitchhiking all the way to Rome.
Notice some of the language here: v.4: “…the winds were against us.” They arrive in Myra and find a nice big probably grain ship headed towards Italy. Again in v.7: “…arrived with difficulty off Cnidus (180 mi from Myra) …the wind didn’t allow us to go father.” V.8: “…Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to Fair Havens.” V.9: “…the voyage was now dangerous.” Paul can’t catch a break here, and then he tells everyone that maybe they should camp out at Fair Havens since the time after the Day of Atonement (late Sept/early Oct) is hazardous time to travel. Paul actually says in 2 Cor. 11:5 that he’s been shipwrecked three times, so he knows from past experience (the word “perceive” means to perceive from past experience). 
No one listens to Paul and they set sail again. Look at vv.14-15: “But soon a tempestuous wind…struck down…could not face the wind…driven along.” This is some typhoon or hurricane.Look at v.16: “we managed…with difficulty.” Again in v.17: “…they were driven along.” Again in v.18: “we were violently storm-tossed.” They tried underneath in order to hold the timbers together and finally they throw things overboard. Neither sun nor stars mean that their GPS system died since this was “no small tempest.” Finally, “all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned” (vv.19-20).
Paul steps in to encourage them (more on this later) and they end up shipwrecked on an island (Acts 27:21-44). And just as they make a nice warm fire, a snake comes and bites Paul. People think this is some karma going on by the gods. God saves him miraculously from that and people start to worship him as a god (Acts 28:1-6).
They spend three months there (Acts 28:11) and Luke nonchalantly says, “and we came to Rome” (Acts 28:14b). The point? John Piper says it best, “Life is not a straight line leading from one blessing to the next and then finally to heaven. Life is a winding and troubled road. Switchback after switchback…God is for us in all these strange turns. God is not just showing up after the trouble and cleaning it up. He is plotting the course and managing the troubles with far-reaching purposes for our good and for the glory of Jesus Christ.”
There will be dark nights of life where we feel like we are storm-tossed, shipwrecked, captainless, driven along and a snake to bite you in the middle of it all. Bends in the road do not mean it is the end of the road. It just means it’s a bend in the road!
A few weeks ago a few of us were reminiscing about the top ten craziest times of Living Hope the past six years. I was thinking to myself that if someone had told me all of these good and bad things would happen, I am not sure if I would have taken this job! I mean times I was afraid for my family’s life, times we lost people than we added, times of failure, relationships that went bad, health issues, etc.
Then I realized that I don’t even know what the future will hold! What if it is crazier? But the one thing that keeps me going is that we didn’t walk this far. We were carried this far. I have long given up trying to be the capable pastor, the capable father and husband. I am not capable and I can control nothing. Yes be wise as we can, but in the end, we control nothing. The storms are rough, the circumstances too crazy. God is not looking for capable employees to do things for him. He is an Eagle looking for people to take refuge in His wings. The faster you surrender control, the quicker you repent of your delusions of strength, the faster you will experience the relaxing wind of being carried by Him through the storm. As John Newton says, “‘Twas grace that led me safe thus far and grace that will lead me home.” He’ll get you there. He’ll never tell you how or when, but He will. Secondly,
II. As Captain, trust him to navigate during the journey (27:9-12, 21, 27-32)
We will make it to the end somehow. But what about during the journey? We trust Him not only to bring us to the end, but to carry us in the beginning and middle too. What makes life’s storms even more difficult is that not only do you have uncontrollable circumstances, but you have uncontrollable people in your lives who make poor choices that bring storms at times on you or you yourself make bad choices that bring storms in your lives and into the lives of others. Think of the teenager who hangs with the wrong crowd keeping his parents up. The spouse who puts the family in debt.
Here Paul told everyone not to sail in 27:9-10, but no one pays attention and they end up in a storm. In 27:11 he says, “You should have listened to me.” Paul gets a word from an angel that everyone’s going to make it and tells everyone in 27:24: “God has granted all those who sail with you.” Later, they are about to crash into some rocks and look at what happens: “And the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship…” Paul then warns them not to leave. Nobody listens to Paul! But somehow they still make it!
The point here is that God works even through the good and bad choices of others for His glory and our good. Some of us sit here with regret. We are constantly thinking, “If only I had done this…” or “If only that person hadn’t done that or had done this,” etc. Choices were made. Things have happened. We can’t go back and change it, but trusting in Jesus as the Captain of our lives also means that we trust that even the tangled threads of other’s choices good and bad are going to be used by Him to weave something for His glory.
At the same time, I don’t know if you noticed how many times Paul got God’s fingerprints of grace along the way. Julius, the centurion, “treated Paul kindly” and let him hang out with his friends on the ship (27:3). An angel makes it on board with a word from the Lord (27:22-25—more on this in a second). The people of Malta “showed us an unusual kindness” (28:2). Publius in Malta, “entertained us hospitably for three days” (28:7). Paul gets to Rome and there is an entourage waiting for him (28:14-150. During the storm, look for His fingerprints. You will be surprised. You’re not abandoned or forsaken. That is the Father’s hand on your life. Everything is used for God’s glory and your good.
Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, says this about why his church exists. He says he’s a Presbyterian minister because of a “particular faculty member that came to my seminary my last semester and pushed me over the edge when it came to my theological understanding. I decided, “I think I need to be a Presbyterian.” That’s the reason I’m here today. Why did he come? The only reason he came that year was he was British and he was having a lot of trouble getting a passport to come and teach at my seminary in Massachusetts, but somebody pulled strings for him from real high up.
Well do you know who that was? It was a guy named Mike Ford. Mike Ford was the son of the president at the time. Mike Ford was the son of Gerald Ford. He was a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where I was. He found a way to get this particular faculty member to Gordon-Conwell because his father was the president.
Do you know why his father was president? Because of the Watergate scandal, Nixon had resigned and Gerald Ford was the president. That’s the reason Mike Ford had the clout to get this guy over there. That’s the reason why he was there. That’s the reason I became a Presbyterian. That’s the reason I’m talking to you right now. Why did Nixon fall? Because some stupid Watergate burglar left the door open one night, and some guard noticed the door was open. Now what if that guard hadn’t gone by that day? Maybe he went by that day because that morning he didn’t eat breakfast, and he got in a little bit early. Do you see? I wouldn’t be here if that guard hadn’t seen that door open. That’s the way everything in your life is.” Redeemer Presbyterian Church exists because someone forgot to close a door!
There are probably a gazillion other factors that led to this right? It is mind-boggling to think about. What would your story sound like? I bet you it sounds like it originated at the heart of God when you’re done. This is our security. Our choices matter, other people’s choices matter, there are consequences to them, so make wise and godly choices, but we rest knowing that our God will work through them. Rom. 8:28: “All things work together for the good of those who love God.” It doesn’t all things are good (like every cloud has a silver lining, think positive, etc). Lots of things are bad. But we have a God who works all things together for good. His idea of good, which he says in the next verse is being more like Him!
When Jesus is the Captain, we can trust Him with the destination, trust Him with the journey and lastly:
III. As Captain, see His presence on board (27:22-26, 33-38; 28:7-10)
The key turning point in this story is found in Acts 27:22-26. Apparently the Lord sent an angel to encourage Paul and guarantee that he will make it to Rome and stand in front of the Caesar, who would be Nero. For Paul, this was enough. God’s presence is far more powerful than His fixes. He realizes that there’s a captain on this ship who is greater than any storm. If He’s my captain, why bite my nails and pace around the deck? Four things Paul received or four results that we receive when we put our eyes on the size of the true Captain instead of the size of the storm:
a) Our identity is reaffirmed
Paul says, “the God to whom I belong.” This is covenantal language. Storms have a way to reveal where our true identities are. When I was unemployed and living with my in-laws, I assumed everyone was thinking, “This guy’s a loser.” The storm of unemployment revealed that I believed that who I am is what I do. When you see Jesus on board in the storm, you realize there was nothing you did to earn His presence. Usually storms reveal false gospels like, “I did my quiet time, why is this happening?” In other words, I lived a worthy life, so how come you don’t do you part? I am entitled to more. Or “I didn’t do my quiet time, this is why this is happening. I am being punished.”
But truly seeing this Captain of Grace reminds you that He went to great lengths to purchase you. You belong to Him. Did you see that Michael Jordan’s shoes that he wore in the infamous “flu game” was auctioned off for $100K? I too was sick this past week, but I don’t think I’ll get that much for my gym shoes. Why? It’s not the shoes, but whose shoes they are. It belongs to MJ! The value comes from the owner. How much more God’s children, bought with His Son’s precious blood! He didn’t save you to purchase you and drown you along the way!
b) Our worship is realigned
Paul says, “And whom I worship.” He’s evangelizing here. He wants everyone to worship this God too. When you see Jesus as Captain, your worship is realigned. Worship always realigns your priorities. Priority problems are always worship problems. All sin is disorder. It’s not that we love the wrong things, but we love them in the wrong order or the wrong amount. When storms hit, you think, “This is because I need to work on my marriage or my parenting” or “This is because I procrastinate” or “This is because so-and-so is selfish.” We’re fixing at the fruit level, not at the root level. See the Captain and worship. Worship goes to the root and will bring up the right fruit.
c) Our peace is restored
“Take heart” and “Do not be afraid.” Once your worship is realigned, your identity reaffirmed, peace is always the result. The storm is still there. Uncertainty is still there. Peace is not the absence of storms, but the presence of Christ.
d) Our serving is restarted
Paul, despite not being listened to and all that he himself has suffered, still serves. First by encouraging them with a word from the Lord (27:22-26), later he realizes people haven’t eaten and encourages them again, even after some of the men didn’t listen again (27:33-38). I would have not said anything! Later even in Malta, after people judged him as an evil guy because “the gods” allowed him to be bitten by a snake, he stills gets up and serves those people by praying for them and healing them (28:7-10).
If a Captain like this is on my ship and I belong to Him, who cares what people think of me? I am not a slave to their opinions, since I belong to Him. I worship Him, not their thoughts about me. I am free to serve others. Storms make people very self-absorbed. Augustine coined and was later expounded by Luther the idea of “Incurvatus In se,” that is, our self is “curved inward on itself.” Instead of becoming big hearted and eager to serve, all we see is how bad the storm is and how good other have their lives. It’s like you see them partying on a cruise ship, while you see floodwaters coming in your ship.
And when our eyes are off the Great Captain and what He has done for us, serving stops. We curve inwardly more and more and shrivel up in bitterness and resentment. We stop being with God’s people. We are not in small group. We isolate ourselves. Paul could have easily been like, “I’m not serving you. You didn’t listen to me. Look at how I’m not noticed and how badly I have it. Poor me. I must be terrible. I can’t serve. No one appreciates me. I must stink.” Or “I am God’s appointed missionary and I am called to be in Rome. I can’t serve in this storm anyway. When circumstances are better, I’ll serve since I’m too sexy for my shirt.”
Both are pride: self-glorification on one side and self-loathing on the other side. They share the same root. You are obsessed with yourself! But when you see the Captain, your worship realigned, your identity reaffirmed, your peace restored, the inward curving of your heart starts to unwind as He fills you, drowning out self-hate since your heart is melted by the depths of His love and drowning out self-glory since your heart is melted by the cost of His love and makes you self-forgetful. This is true humility as you serve without thinking about yourself at all.
We desperately need to see Him on board during the storms of our lives! But seeing Him also means seeing what He has done for you to survive the storm.
Do you remember when Jonah was on the boat and there was a storm? Remember what Jonah said? The only way to save yourselves is if you drown me (Jon. 1:12). Later when Jesus arrived, He said, “A greater than Jonah is here.” What was He saying? He’s saying there is a greater storm coming. And Jesus will take it on fully. In fact, He will be crushed by it. Keller adds, “In this ultimate storm, Jesus would be hurled into the deepest depths and be completely banished from his Father’s sight. When He cried out in agonizing dereliction and desperation, there was silence. It will be an ocean of wrath and justice. Everything that the human race deserves would come down upon Jesus. But Jesus’ sinking into this storm will be our salvation, if we believe in him.” Jesus sunk under the waters of God’s judgment so we can rise and float above it.
If He bowed His head and went fully into the storm of storms, you can lift your head and see Him as the Captain in your smaller storms. How can your storm be punishment for your sins when that storm already happened to Jesus? See your Captain in that storm. He went under alone, losing His Father’s hand, so you now can go over with His fingerprints of grace carrying you through.
Again in the words of John Newton:
Though dark be my way, since He is my Guide,
’Tis mine to obey, ’tis His to provide;
Though cisterns be broken, and creatures all fail,
The Word He has spoken shall surely prevail.
His love in time past forbids me to think
He’ll leave me at last in trouble to sink;
Begone unbelief, my Savior is near,
And for my relief will surely appear:
By prayer let me wrestle, and He wilt perform,
With Christ in the vessel, I smile at the storm.
Iyer, P. (2013, September 7). The Value of Suffering [Web log post]. The New York Times Sunday Review. Retrieved December 12, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/08/opinion/sunday/the-value-of suffering.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&
Keller, T.J. (2013). Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (22). New York, NY: Dutton.
Jones, D. W. (2013, December 6). The Prosperity Gospel in my own Heart. 9 Marks: Building Healthy Churches. Retrieved December 12, 2013, from http://www.9marks.org/blog/prosperity-gospel-my-own-heart
Keller, T. Ibid. (29).
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible Exposition Commentary (Vol. 1, p. 508). Wheaton, IL:
Polhill, J. B. (1995). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 518). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The Message of Acts: the Spirit, the Church & the World (p. 389).
Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Piper, J. (2010). A Sweet and Bitter Providence (101-102). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
Keller, T.J. From the sermon “Jesus as King: God’s Ultimate Plan” preached January 30, 1994. The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Retrieved December 13, 2013 from Logos Bible Software.
Augustine, B. (2014, December 12). Michael Jordan’s Flu Game shoes sell for $104,765 at auction. NY Daily News. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/basketball/jordan-flu-game-shoes-sell-104-765-auction-article-1.1545644
Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 25: Luther’s works, vol. 25 : Lectures on Romans (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Ro 16:27). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House
As quoted by Benjamin Toh in “Divine Judgment,” http://westloop-church.org/messages/old-testament/15-genesis/171-divine-judgment-genesis-65-13 retrieved October 20 2011.