We started going through the books of Acts in April 2012. And this is now the 54th time we’ve studied it together. This book is, of course, known as the Acts of the Apostles because it tells us about the things the Apostles did after the Lord’s ascension to heaven and how they went to from place to place to tell people everywhere about the Lord Jesus Christ.
However, from time to time people suggest this book should be known as the Acts of the Holy Spirit, because the book begins with the Day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the believers. And then the Spirit is the one who enabled the Apostles to preach the word powerfully and to perform signs and wonders to confirm that they really had been sent from God. So, this book is known as the Acts of the Apostles, but it’s also regarded by some as the Acts of the Holy Spirit.
It one sense, though, it could be called the Acts of the Lord Jesus Christ. Right at the beginning of the book, Luke explains that in his former book — in other words in the Gospel of Luke — he wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven. And be referring to the things the Lord began to do, Luke is implying that his second book — the book of Acts — deals with what the Lord Jesus continued to do now that he’s been taken up to heaven. So, from his throne in heaven — where he rules over all these things — the Lord Jesus guided and directed his people on the earth to accomplish his purposes. And so, on the Day of Pentecost, the emphasis of Peter’s sermon is not so much on the Holy Spirit. Instead the emphasis is on the Lord Jesus who died and rose again and who has poured out his Spirit upon his people. And he poured out his Spirit on his people to enable the Apostles to go to the ends of the world to testify about him. The Risen Lord Jesus was going to work through their preaching to call sinners to repentance and faith in order to build his church on the earth.
And we’ve seen how this work was focussed in the city of Jerusalem at first. The apostles preached the good news in and around the temple and many Jews were converted and added to the church. The Jewish authorities tried to oppose them, but the Lord gave his apostles great boldness and courage so that they persevered despite the threats.
But then, following the death of Stephen, a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem and the believers were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. And wherever they went, they preached the good news about Jesus Christ. And so, we read how the gospel was taken to the Samaritans, those half-Jews and half-Gentiles. And some of them who heard the good news believed what they heard and they too were added to the church. And then the gospel was taken to the Gentiles. Remember there was Cornelius, the Roman centurion, as well as all those who had gathered in his home. And they listened to the Apostle Peter who told they about the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. And these Gentiles also believed the good news and were added to the church.
And then, once Paul was converted and sent out as an apostle, we read how he went from place to place, preaching the good news to Jews and to Gentiles alike. And we’ve seen how many of those who heard did not believe. And many of the Jews who did not believe reacted violently to Paul and persecuted him. But, still, many who heard did believe and little churches were formed in all the cities we read about: cities like Iconium and Lystra and Derbe and Philippi and Thessalonica and Athens and Corinth and so on. Little churches were formed, made up of Jewish and Gentile believers.
In chapter 20 we read how Paul returned to Jerusalem. And in Jerusalem some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul in the temple and they stirred up the crowd against him, so that Paul’s life was put in danger. They were trying to kill him. The Roman commander saw that the city was in an uproar, and so he sent his men to stop the crowd from beating Paul. But still, he assumed that Paul must have done something wrong; and so he had Paul arrested. Well, in due course, the commander sent Paul to Felix, the Roman governor in Caesarea. And Felix left Paul in prison for a further two years. And at the end of that two years, a new governor was appointed. His name was Festus. The Jews went to him and asked him to do something about Paul. Even though Paul had been in prison for two years, they still hated him and wanted rid of him. But when Paul was brought before Felix to be tried, it became clear that he wouldn’t receive a fair hearing. And so he appealed to Caesar which meant he would have to be sent to Rome to stand trial before the Roman Emperor. And that’s where we got to last week.
Chapter 27 is another of the ‘we’ passages in the book of Acts. For most of the book of Acts, Luke has been writing about events which happened to other people and he’s been writing down what others have reported to him. But from time to time, it’s clear that he was present and he’s giving a first-hand, eye-witness account of what was going on. And that’s the case here. So, look at verse 1:
When it was decided that we would sail for Italy….
And then verse 2:
We boarded a ship….
And so on. Luke was accompanying Paul to Rome. And in the course of this chapter he gives us a fairly detailed account of the course of the journey and the places where they stopped along the way and what happened to them. Well, the chapter itself can be divided into the following sections: Verses 1 to 12 The journey from Caesarea to Crete. Verses 13 to 20 The storm at sea. Verses 21 to 38 Trusting God’s word. Verses 39 to 44 Experiencing God’s deliverance.
Verses 1 to 12
The first section runs from verse 1 to verse 12. And in verse 1 we read that Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to Julius, a Roman centurion. With Paul, there’s Luke and another believer named Aristarchus. One of the commentators suggest that Luke and Aristarchus, because they wanted to travel with Paul, may have had to book their own passage on this ship. Well, with these passengers and prisoners on board, the ship set off off from Adramyttium, a port near Caesarea. And so we read of the slow and difficult journey to Fair Havens in Crete. At this point, Paul — who was an experienced traveller — warned them that the journey would only become more difficult. Do you see that in verse 10? It was going to end in disaster, he said.
Why did he say this? Well, according to verse 9, the Fast was already over. That’s a reference to the Day of Atonement which took place the end of September and the beginning of October. And that time of year was apparently a bad time to undertake long sea journeys. Paul understood this and so he warned them that they should wait in Fair Havens. But look at verse 11: Instead of listening to Paul, the centurion listened to the pilot and the owner of the ship who wanted to sail on to Phoenix — which was a little further down the southern coast of Crete — and spend the winter there.
Verses 13 to 20
But in the second section, verses 13 to 20, we learn that they should have listened to Paul, because the gentle wind that was blowing soon became a a wind of hurricane force and they were swept down from the island and into the open sea. And so, Luke describes the violent battering the ship suffered and how they gave up all hope of being saved.
Verses 21 to 38
But then we come to the third section, verses 21 to 38 which are about trusting God’s word. In verse 21 Paul reminds them of the advice he had given them before, but which they had ignored. And the point he seems to be making is that, though they didn’t listen to him before, they should listen to him now. And he went on to explain to them that an angel of the Lord appeared to him the night before to re-assure him and to promise him that he would indeed stand trial before Caesar. In other words, Paul would definitely reach Rome and not drown in the sea. And not only will Paul be saved, but all who are in the ship with him will be saved as well. So, verse 25:
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.
According to Paul, they will be shipwrecked; however, their lives will be spared.
Look at verse 30. The sailors were afraid. And instead of trusting God’s word to Paul, they tried to escape from the ship and make their own way to shore using the lifeboat. Now, isn’t that what happens to us? We become afraid. And so we begin to doubt God’s word and all his promises to us. Yes, God has promised never to leave us or forsake us. Yes, he’s promised to provide for us. Yes, he’s promised to help us. But we get afraid. And instead of trusting God’s word we doubt his word and we distrust his promises. And we try to fix things ourselves. Isn’t that right? Instead of relying on the Lord and his word, we rely on ourselves.
Or think of the story of Abraham and Sarah. God had promised that Abraham would have many descendants. But many years passed and still there was no sign of even one descendant let alone many. And so Abraham and Sarah decided to take matters into their own hands. Instead of relying on the Lord and his word, they relied on themselves and their own ingenuity: Abraham could have a son by Hagar. Instead of trusting God to keep his word, they decided to fix things themselves. We do it all the time. We’re afraid and we begin to doubt God’s promises. And instead of relying on him, we rely on ourselves.
But look at verses 31 and 32: The sailors may not believe God’s word to Paul, but the centurion and his soldiers are willing to listen to him now and they prevented the sailors from getting away.
And then look at verses 33 to 35 because they show us how calm Paul was. Here’s a man who trusted God’s word completely. The wind was howling around him. The ship was being tossed about. This has been going on for two weeks. But Paul was not afraid, because he was trusting that God will do what he said he would do. How do we know that he was calm and not afraid? Well, when we’re anxious we cannot eat. We don’t feel like eating when we’re afraid. But Paul took some bread, and gave thanks to God for it. And then, he broke it and began to eat. This shows us how calm and relaxed he was at that moment. And he was calm and relaxed because he was trusting in the Lord to do what he had promised.
And look at verse 36: His calmness seems to have rubbed off on the others, because they were encouraged by his example and ate some food as well.
Verses 39 to 44
Well, fortified by the food, they prepared to land the ship. They cut loose the anchors and untied the ropes that help the rudders. They hoisted the sail and they made for the beach. And though the ship ran aground, and broke apart, nevertheless not one of them was lost. Look at verse 44:
everyone reached land in safety.
Notice three things before we close. And they relate to God’s providence by which I mean God’s holy and wise and powerful preservation and control of all that he has made. Back in Acts 23:11, when Paul was in prison in Jerusalem, the Lord appeared to Paul and told him to take courage, because just as he had testified about the Lord in Jerusalem, so he must also testify about him in Rome. And you see, the Lord was working through all that happened in Paul’s life in order to bring him to Rome. So, even though the Jews had plotted together how to kill Paul, the Lord kept him alive. And he helped him to stand firm when he faced Felix. And he helped him to stand firm against Felix. And he helped him through this whole journey to Rome. Even though the wind blew hard, and even though the others were afraid that the ship would come apart, even though it seemed that they would perish at sea, the Lord kept Paul and his companions safe. And he kept Paul safe because it was the will of the Lord to bring him to Rome.
So, the three things we learn are these: First of all, nothing can stop the Lord from working out and fulfilling his purposes. Neither the Jews in Jerusalem nor a storm in the Mediterranean Sea were going to prevent the Lord from bringing Paul to Rome. And so, we ought to remember and believe that there is nothing in our life which can prevent the Lord from working out his purposes for us and for his church. As he overcame the Jews and the storms which stood in Paul’s way, so he’s able to overcome every obstacle in our life.
And secondly, in the midst of the storm, Paul could so easily have despaired. He could have thought that the Lord had forgotten him because of all the things he had to endure. And when we’re faced with difficult and trying circumstances in our life, we can be tempted to despair and to think the Lord has forgotten us: ‘Why has God allowed this to happen to me?’ But the Lord hadn’t forgotten Paul. He was helping him every step of the way. And just as he was able to help Paul, so he’s able to help us as well.
And thirdly, Paul was kept from despair because of the word the Lord had given to him. And though the Lord does not speak to us by angels today, nevertheless he still speaks to us in the pages of the Bible. And so we have his word to comfort us and his promises to keep us from despair.