Good morning! Welcome to worship! How is it going? Could be better, could be worse! One thing we know for sure, Thanksgiving is upon us, winter is here, the snow is on its way! That probably causes some of you to cheer and some of you to groan!
A king once asked his wise men for advice on maintaining his balance in both the good times and the bad. They brought him a plaque that read “This too will change.” That’s true isn’t it? The most meaningful wedding gift Grace and I received was a little needlepoint that still hangs on our wall. It reads, “Lord, help me through the changes of my life.”
Today we finish our study through the book of Acts. Paul is in the last 10 years of his life but there are still lots of changes and challenges ahead. After 2 years in protective custody in a jail cell in Caesarea, he has appealed his case to Caesar. The Lord appeared to him in a vision and told him that he would stand before the Supreme Court in Rome to testify to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How amazing!
Arrangements were made and Paul and Luke board a ship as a prisoner bound for Rome. The first half of the trip is pleasant and uneventful, but remember - things change.
Paul is no ordinary prisoner. He’s Jewish, but he’s also a Roman citizen. Though he boards chained to a guard as a criminal, he hasn’t been charged with anything. Though the other passengers dismiss him as a shriveled up old Jewish rabbi, he’s probably the smartest, most educated, experienced traveler on the ship.
1st point! Never judge a book by its cover!
Halfway through the voyage, they transfer to a much larger ship, a grain ship from Egypt, 180 feet long, 400 tons, 276 people on board. But the sailing season is over. Winter storms are coming. Paul warns against continuing their journey. He knows what he’s talking about.
In 2 Cor, long before this voyage, Paul writes that he’s already survived 3 shipwrecks and a day and a half in the open sea. But the owner of the ship and the pilot want to risk sailing to a better harbor before they settle in for the winter. They dismiss Paul’s warning.
At first, things go well, but then the wind changes and they are swept up by a hurricane. All they can do is survive. Luke writes, “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” Acts 27:20
2nd Point! Coming to the end of our hope doesn’t mean the story is over!
In fact, the end of our own resources might just be where the real story begins. Just when all seems lost and they have no clue what to do next, Paul goes to the captain and he says,
“Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me 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.” So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” Acts 27:24-26
Here is what I want you to see. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Lord uses Paul to take charge of the situation. How can this be? It’s not a mutiny. It’s the strength, wisdom, and leadership that come from the Holy Spirit living within him. Reminds me of Esther when her uncle Mordecai tells her, “Who knows but that the Lord has raised you up for such a time as this.”
3rd Point! God uses his people to bring a gift to the world that can’t be found anywhere else.
It’s not because we are smarter or stronger or better, it’s because the Holy Spirit is living within us. As Christians we often face ridicule for our faith. We are sometimes mocked, ignored, dismissed as fools, treated as weak and ignorant until we are in the grip of the storm.
Then all the things the world values so much, beauty, popularity, wealth, social position become useless. They are thrown overboard in the same way the crew threw the cargo overboard to keep the ship afloat. What matters then are the things only God can provide.
That’s when the gifts of God’s Word and his Holy Spirit become a priceless treasure.
4th Point! When Jesus comes into our lives, and the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we have an understanding of suffering, death, hope, and salvation that the world doesn’t have.
We have a courage, a strength, an assurance unknown outside of Jesus. We no longer fear sin, death and the devil. Paul writes in Philippians that when things become the most dire, Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit, have a joy and a peace that makes no worldly sense.
Let me give you another example: In 1348, a black rat entered the Italian port of Messina. On the rat was a flea with a gut full of the bacillus Yersinia pestis, the black plague. In less than three years, 1348 to 1350, the Black Death killed more than one-third of the entire population between Iceland and India.
People were terrified. They fled the cities. Some died within hours of their initial symptoms. The children were singing “Ring around the rosy” - the initial rash, “Pocket full of posy” - the flowers used to cover the stench of death. “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.” Death and cremation fires were everywhere. Many thought it was the end of the world.
Except for a group of Christians who refused to run away. They ministered to the sick, buried the dead and provided courage, hope, and fearless leadership that no one else seemed able to give. Where did it come from? It came from Jesus living in them.
300 years later. Late September 1620. The sailing season was over. The winter storms were coming, but the pilgrims were determined to make it to America. For 66 days they battled the North Atlantic. They were wet, sick, miserable, crashing through furious seas.
One night the backbone of the ship cracked. Together with the crew the pilgrims used a huge iron screw jack they brought with them to straighten and brace the main beam. They saved the ship. Interestingly, this screw jack was probably part of a printing press brought along to print Bibles for the Native Americans.
The sailors had ridiculed them, made fun of them, scorned their faith as weak and useless, then watched in awe as the Pilgrims prayed and worked and suffered without complaint. There was a strength, courage, faith, stamina, fearless sacrificial love at work within these people the sailors had never seen before. It was Jesus living in them!
The list of God’s heroes goes on and on even to the present day. In every storm and crisis, God raises up his people, filled with His Holy Spirit, feet firmly planted in his Word, to provide, hope, courage, wisdom, leadership, stamina that can’t be found anywhere else.
That’s why it’s so important for us as God’s people to be rooted in his Word, to understand the meaning of the cross, the nature of sin, the power of prayer so that when the storms come - and they will - we will stand even when the wisdom of the world is collapsing.
In the same way Jesus was physically present with the disciples during that terrifying storm on the Sea of Galilee, he was present through Paul and Luke in that storm in the Mediterranean. And God used them to save the 276 people on board that ancient ship.
We don’t know when or where we will be swept into these storms. But we know they are coming. And we know we don’t have to be afraid because the Lord is with us. He will use us to be the aroma of Christ in places that reek with the stench of death, fear, and seasickness.
I hope you’ll go back and read Acts 27 again this week. Following the shipwreck, Paul and Luke go on to set up a clinic on the island and many are healed. They share the Gospel with the governor of the island. When spring comes they continue their journey to Rome where Paul is set up in his own rented house waiting his trial.
For the next two years he is guarded 24/7 by the most elite soldiers in Caesar’s army. We learn in Philippians a number of these become Christians. Who would have believed it!
During this time in house arrest in Rome Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. He also met and converted a run-away slave named Onesimus who went on to become a famous bishop in the early church.
But Paul’s storms were not over. After 2 years, he was set free and again visited the churches in Galatia and Macedonia and probably Spain. He was finally arrested again by Nero and put in a terrible dungeon where he wrote Timothy and Titus. He was eventually beheaded by Nero. His last words were: “I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Tim 4:6-8
There will be times in our life when we will find ourselves in the grip of storms, terrifying storms. But the Lord promises to be with us and use us to bless others. He promises that nothing, not even death itself can ever snatch us out of his hand. My prayer is that when he calls us to stand up in the storm and provide hope, comfort, courage, even leadership for those around us who don’t know him and the power of his love - we will be ready.