Dangerous Journey, Faithful Servant, Sovereign God
Topic: Suffering & Sufficient Grace Passage: Acts 27:1–27:44, 2 Corinthians 11:23–12:10
It’s been a month since we’ve been in Acts. The risen Jesus is advancing his kingdom through his Spirit-empowered people. They’re spreading the gospel to all nations. It began in Jerusalem. It spread to Judea and Samaria. And since chapter 13, we’ve watched the gospel spreading to the ends of the earth.
All that’s left now is Paul somehow getting to Rome. He appealed to Caesar. So they stick Paul on a ship with a bunch of other prisoners. A storm sweeps them off course. Then, after a half month lost at sea, they shipwreck on some island. The story excites, it exposes, and it encourages. The story excites because who doesn’t like a dangerous, suspense-filled journey at sea? Think of all the adventures recorded that include a storm-tossed ship or a shipwreck on some island. It’s exciting.
But this story is also exposing. It’s full of danger, uncertainty, hardship—yet Paul gives thanks, encourages, serves; he works to save others. It’s exposing because would we respond the same way when life fills with uncertainty and hardships? But the story also encourages. Through it all we see our sovereign God who is gracious to sustain his servants and display his power in our weakness. Let’s read Acts 27 all the way through, and then return to some of these themes. Verse 1…
1 When it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius. 2 And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. 3 The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for. 4 And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee* of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. 5 And when we had sailed across the open sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. 6 There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7 We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. 8 Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea. 9 Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast* was already over, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there. 13 Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. 14 But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. 15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. 17 After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. 18 Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. 19 And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. 21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I’ve been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.” 27 When the fourteenth night had come, as we were being driven across the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. 28 So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms. 29 And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. 30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go. 33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you’ve continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) 38 And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea. 39 Now when it was day, they didn’t recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned if possible to run the ship ashore. 40 So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that tied the rudders. Then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach. 41 But striking a reef, they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf. 42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. 43 But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, 44 and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.
That’s a good story. It’s different from what we’ve read prior. We’re used to obstacles like unbelief, persecution, demonic influence, doctrinal confusion, pagan misunderstandings. But here we get a storm, a shipwreck. What’s the take-away? How does a story like this help us follow Jesus? Consider first the dangerous journey.
They didn’t board an ocean liner. Think large wooden vessel crammed with 276 people. This hurricane-like wind pounds the ship off course. There’s constant fear. The storm doesn’t last one night; we’re at fourteen nights by verse 27. No Coastguard. No Pete Delkus weather updates. No GoogleMaps. All they have is the sun by day and the stars by night. But verse 20 says “neither sun nor stars appeared for many days.”
They’re lost. They can’t control the ship. They jettison the cargo. They chunk the tackle. They abandon all hope. In verse 30, even the sailors try to escape. You know it’s bad when the professionals check out. This is awful. It’s dangerous. It’s uncertain. It’s scary. From a human perspective, it’s hopeless.
Listen, faithfulness doesn’t mean a mission without difficulty. Compare this to Jonah. Jonah runs from the Lord and the Lord sends a storm to get the prophet to Nineveh. We shouldn’t take from Jonah, “Obey and you won’t get a storm.” No. Paul does everything right—he means to go to Rome just as Jesus said. He’s obedient all along the way. He’s ready to give his life for Christ.
Faithfulness doesn’t mean everything is smooth sailing. Faithfulness doesn’t mean a mission without difficulty. Faithfulness doesn’t force God into a position where he must now protect you from all problems. I’m not even talking persecution problems. We expect persecution; the world hates Christ. But here Paul is caught in a violent storm on a ship. He suffers great difficulty simply from living in a fallen world riddled with futility—hurricanes, ship captains that make unwise choices.
We could add floods, earthquakes, fires, cancer, car accidents, miscarriages, estranged spouses—problems none of us would ask for or wish upon anybody. Yet in his wisdom, God designs for us to walk through many hardships. In a minute, we’ll talk more about why he has us walk through them and how he enables us to walk through them.
But for now just consider the fact that we will face difficulty in the mission. In the path of obedience to Jesus, you may face imprisonment or cancer; you may face disownment from family or a life-altering car accident. Whether it’s due to fallen people or to the fallen creation, even those who are faithful will face difficulties, dangers, and seemingly hopeless situations.
The question is what we do with them, beloved. We who belong to Christ know that hardships can’t mean the Lord has forsaken us or that his love has decreased. As Wes reminded us last week, those who are justified by faith in Christ have peace with God—and that’s not going away because Jesus died for our sins and was raised for our justification. We can rest assured that even our sufferings will produce in us those things that lead to more and more hope in the glory of God (Rom 5:1-5).
How, then, should we respond in difficulty? Luke offers a great example in Paul. Paul faces a dangerous journey, but he’s a faithful servant in that journey. That’s not to say Paul didn’t need help. He certainly did. What happens in verse 3? Paul looks for his friends. He needs their care: their embrace, their prayers, their presence, their words. How instrumental their care must’ve been before facing this danger. But as he faces it, we find him faithful.
He doesn’t know yet that God will spare their lives, but he offers wise counsel in verse 10. “I perceive the voyage will be with much injury and much loss…” On that he was proven right. In verse 21 he gets in a little “I told you so.” But to his surprise the Lord promises that nobody will lose their lives. An angel appears to him. The God to whom he belongs and whom he worships sends a message: “Don’t be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold God has granted you all those who sail with you.”
Nearly the same promise came from Jesus in 23:11. Only here we see how that promise ends up benefitting everybody on the ship. So what does Paul do? He brings encouragement to the people based on God’s revelation: “take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I’ve been told. But we must run aground on some island.”
Sure enough, that’s what happens. A major part of Luke’s apologetic is to vindicate God’s messenger. It’s to show how God’s hand is on Paul. When Paul speaks on God’s behalf, he’s not lying. He’s speaking truth. His God isn’t like the capricious and unpredictable gods of paganism. His God is trustworthy.
What a platform that creates for the gospel! Paul says, “My God told me this.” Then it happens exactly as he said. Conclusion? “We should listen to this man! We should trust in his God! What more has your God promised?” Enter the gospel and the promise of salvation from judgment for all who trust in Jesus.
So we see Paul’s faithfulness to offer wise counsel. We see his faithfulness to encourage others based on God’s revelation. We also see his faithfulness to save the lives of those on the ship. Verse 31, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” Does that warning contradict God’s promise? Is Paul doubting what God said before? No. The warning is the means by which God fulfills his promise. The warning of conceivable consequences—not probable consequences but conceivable consequences: “Hey! You can’t be saved if you do that!” God inspires those warnings as a means to fulfill his promises. They all stay. Their life gets spared, just as God promised.
Finally, we also see Paul’s faithfulness in the way he’s able to give thanks to God. In verse 33 he encourages those on the ship to take some food. He reassures them of God’s promise once more. Then verse 35 says, “He took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat.”
Storm-tossed, frightened, weak, at their wits end. But here’s Paul serving his neighbors, encouraging them with God’s word, giving thanks to God in their presence. He’s not sulking. He’s not throwing a self-pity party. He’s not complaining. He practices what he preaches in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
Paul may be a prisoner stuck in a storm. But his confidence in God’s word leads him to serve and save others while pointing them to his gracious Father. That sounds a whole lot like the risen Lord Jesus to whom Paul belongs. As a man, Jesus remained confident in God’s word. That confidence led him not only to overcome Satan’s temptations. It drove him to serve and save others even to death on a cross, while pointing his gracious Father who sent him. By sketching in Paul’s faithfulness, Luke ends up portraying the risen Jesus to whom Paul belongs. He’s coming to Rome as a prisoner. But he spreads the aroma of Christ on that ship.
In this way, Paul’s faithfulness really becomes a window through which we see our sovereign, gracious God at work. When we look through that window of Paul’s faithfulness, we witness several things about his God. For instance, we see that God’s word is trustworthy. Verse 24, “‘You must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart…for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island.” End of verse 34, “And so it was that all were brought safely to land.”
God did exactly what he told Paul he would do. And he will do exactly what he tells you that he will do. Hear the promises, beloved: “I will remember [your] sins and [your] lawless deeds no more” (Heb 10:17); “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Heb 13:5); “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [you] from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39); “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16:20); “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion for the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6).
Stake your life on God’s revelation to you. Take his promises to the bank, because he is trustworthy. Trust in God that it will be exactly as he has told you. Then share those promises with others. Encourage believer and unbeliever alike with what you know to be true from God’s revelation in Scripture. His word is trustworthy.
We also see that God’s purpose is unstoppable. Several years earlier, the Holy Spirit constrained Paul to go to Rome—19:21. How many obstacles does he face? A riot in Ephesus, Jewish persecution, a couple plots to kill him, Roman imprisonment, two governors and a king try him, now a storm and shipwreck. Yet all along the way Luke reminds us that God’s sovereign purpose isn’t thwarted. Whether it’s fallen people or the fallen creation, nothing will hinder God from accomplishing his purpose.
Rather, God designs everything together to serve his purpose. The events may not make sense to us. The circumstances may feel like God is absent or like God’s purpose just can’t succeed. They may even drive you—just like they drove everybody on the ship—to feel like all hope is lost. But again and again the Bible confirms that God orchestrates all things according to his will. He works everything to finish the work of flooding the earth with a knowledge of his glory.
If he wants his messenger to testify in Rome, he’ll get him to Rome and he will testify. In the midst of chaos, rest yourself in the sovereignty of God to work all things together for your good and his glory. You may be uncertain, weary, lost, wondering if the clouds will ever part, but if you belong to Jesus, you can break that bread today and give thanks for his words to you. You can thank him for the Son he gave for you. You can thank him for his Spirit given to you. You can thank him that “no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
This isn’t pretending the hardships aren’t awful. It’s not the power of “positive thinking,” where we reinterpret the events to be something other than what they are. No. This is acknowledging the hardships for what they really are, and then resting in God’s sovereign, gracious care through it. It’s not “I’m stronger than this.” It’s “God is stronger.” Which brings us to another observation…
Looking through the window of Paul’s faithfulness, we also see that God’s grace is sufficient. Everything he needs to be faithful, God gives him. I want to point you to the way Paul himself views shipwrecks in 2 Corinthians 11-12. So turn to 2 Corinthians 11:23. Keep in mind that Paul wrote 2 Corinthians prior to this experience. But the letter provides insight to the way he views circumstances like these.
Paul is defending his ministry. False apostles have duped the Corinthian church. Apparently, they’re boasting in the flesh about their Jewishness. So Paul embarks on a bit a “foolish” boasting himself to prove the genuineness of his apostleship versus theirs. If it’s Jewishness the church values, Paul has these intruders beat by a mile. But that’s not really what the church should be looking at.
The church ought to be assessing the genuineness of these teachers by how much their lives glorify Christ. So Paul starts boasting in those “weaknesses” of his that bring glory to Jesus. He just rattles them off in verse 23:
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure…
Then he concludes the list in verse 30 like this: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” Now skip over to 12:9-10. He goes on to speak about a heavenly experience. He could boast in that. But God puts a thorn in his flesh to keep him from becoming arrogant. He doesn’t remove the thorn.
Instead, God answers Paul’s prayer this way: “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I’m content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Now, keeping chapters 11-12 in mind, what does Paul mean by weaknesses? He does not mean sin or imperfections. He means the circumstances that often expose us as weak people. In chapter 11 it was things like shipwreck, adrift at sea, danger at sea, sleepless nights, hunger. Here its insult, hardship, persecution, calamity—things happening to us outside our control in the path of obedience.
He gladly boasts in these weaknesses, because they showcase God’s grace and power. When we cling to Jesus through weakness, the world won’t say, “You’re so strong.” They can only say, “God’s grace is sufficient! Look at God’s power sustaining his servant! Listen to her finding ways to give thanks when she’s just so weak.”
Linda Huffman, Rachel, and I got the privilege visiting Jenifer during the Easter service last week. We sang songs from the worship guide. We followed the readings. We opened God’s word together. But no more than five minutes into Romans 5, Jenifer was just too physically and mentally weak to keep going. The cancer has been so hard on her the last year and half. She started crying. She wanted to be encouraged, but she was just so discouraged that she didn’t have the strength comprehend anything more. So we stopped and prayed for her. We asked the Lord to strengthen her heart. Linda prayed the Lord would bring to her remembrance the truths he had taught her.
Not too long after that, some of their neighbors stopped by to check on Jenifer. And all of a sudden, Jenifer starts recounting God’s faithfulness to her in this battle with cancer. She said she was in the midst of so much worry a while back. She cried for the Lord to tell her what he promised her. Then she quoted Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Jenifer then went on another 10 minute discourse about how she knew that no matter what came to her, no matter how hard the circumstances got—she knew that God would protect her from fear and care for her. That she didn’t need to know all the details about what has happened or what will happen, because the Lord hadn’t given that to her to know. Talking to us she says, “You don’t need to know all the details of what’s coming in order to trust the Lord through hardship. No! All we need to know is him and that he’s faithful!” What happened after that?
We all glorified God! He answered Linda’s prayer. He strengthened Jenifer in her weakness. In this dangerous journey of cancer, he empowered his servant to encourage others with God’s revelation. He put his power on display. We were amazed by his grace. Jenifer was amazed by his grace. She was exhausted after that: She says, “Oh! I’m exhausted.” I said, “Yeah, you just preached a sermon.” She said, “No, it was the Lord.” God received all the glory through her weakness. The circumstances outside her control exposed her as weak; yet the Lord is using Jenifer to display his power in that weakness and prove his grace is sufficient in Christ.
Brothers and sisters, the Lord saved you and brings you through difficulty to do the same. When you belong to Christ, your life becomes a theatre wherein God displays his power in your weakness. When you endure hardship, when you walk through trial, when you face seemingly hopeless situations, remember that God’s word is trustworthy; God’s purpose is unstoppable; God’s grace is sufficient. When we stand on him as our unshakable Rock, our constant supply, your life will become a window through which people will see our sovereign, gracious God at work. Even more, your life will show the way of the cross, where God’s power was truly perfected in weakness. To the world it looks like weakness and foolishness. But to us who are being saved, the cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God.