The Shipwreck

Audio Player

Dean Karnazes is an ultra marathon runner. He once ran 350 miles (560 km) in 80 hours and 44 minutes without sleep. He is the winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon (135 miles (217 km) across Death Valley in 120 °F (49 °C) temperatures). When he is on a training run he often orders a large takeaway pizza to be delivered to him en route to gain sufficient calories to keep going.

But what about us? What do we a Christians need to keep us going? What do we need to endure? That's what we're going to be looking at in this second half of Acts 27 tonight. Our big idea is:

Endure by acting in faith and by hoping in God's deliverance

27 On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land.  28 They took soundings and found that the water was one hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep.29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight.

After a further eleven days at the sea Paul's boat finally approaches land. However, it's the middle of the night and the storm is driving them towards an unfamiliar shore. So the sailors drop anchor and, interestingly, pray for daylight. Their faith doesn't last long though. By v30 the sailors have forgotten God's promise to save all on the ship and are trying to sneak  off in the lifeboat. The soldiers respond by cutting the ropes to the lifeboat, verse 33:

33 Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. "For the last fourteen days," he said, "you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food--you haven't eaten anything. 34 Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head."

Paul urges the men to eat, reminding them that their cause is not lost; not one of them will lose a single hair from his head. Paul gives thanks and they all eat before in v39 taking up Paul's previous suggestion to try and run aground, verse 40f:

40 Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. 41 But the ship struck a sand-bar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf. 42 The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. 43 But the centurion wanted to spare Paul's life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to get there on planks or on pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety.

Paul is now on the shores of Malta and whilst there are still a few twists to come his journey to Rome is now fairly straightforward. So what do these verses have to tell us other than - 'If you ever sailing round Crete in September/October time it's probably best to hole up in Fair Havens'?

1. Take action under God's sovereignty

All of these events take place under the heading of v23-26:

23 Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me 24 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.'

God reminds Paul of his promise to him, which we first heard in 23.11 - that he will go to Rome to stand before Caesar and testify of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, Paul doesn't take God's promise of a coming rescue (now extended to all on the boat) as reason to sit back and do nothing. Rather, Paul urges the men to take action in light of the promises God has made, v25:

25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island."

Paul now advises the sailors to attempt to run the ship aground, trusting that God would enable them to do so in such a way that they would all be saved. Taking a look at the map this was quite a remarkable promise to believe [Slide 2]. Malta was the only place (given the Northeastern hurricane wind that was blowing them of course) that they could possibly run aground on. The other options were being driven south onto the sand bar of Sytris which from v17 we already know they were worried about or if they went further West they would hit Tunisia after a further 200 miles. Malta, an island only 17 miles by 8 miles across was there only hope. Nevertheless Paul says they must plan to run aground on such an island.

Strikingly, as we join our passage on day fourteen of the voyage it has been 11 days since Paul was assured of survival. Eleven days still at sea, still being driven by this hurricane wind, still being unable to eat we read either for fear that they will be at sea much longer and save it or because the second half of Rich's joke last week has come upon them: What's the first stage of sea sickness: You think you're going to die. What's the second stage of sea sickness: You wish you could die.

In reality the conditions would have been no laughing matter and the possibility of death wasn't a punchline but a realistic prospect. And yet Paul is still acting with this promised rescue in mind. Paul is still choosing to trust in God's ability to deliver the rescue that he has promised and is acting under that:

So in v28 the sailors take soundings, in v31 Paul reminds the soldiers that God has promised that everyone will survive so the soldiers cut the lifeboat adrift preventing the sailors from attempting to save themselves. In v32 -34 Paul encourages the men to eat on the proviso that they will need their strength in order to survive. They then lighten the boat by casting the remaining grain overboard trusting that their future needs will be provided for. Finally they head for land; cutting loose the anchors, untying the rudders, hoisting the foresail and splicing the main brace (just checking).

In short they take action, lots of in fact. They take reasonable, rational and human ie non-supernatural action in the light of God's promises and in the light of his sovereignty - his ability to control the situation. They do this even though the situation looks hopeless, impossible perhaps.

God wants people to act, especially his people and to so under his sovereign rule, trusting in his promises. This is the pattern right back in Genesis  2 where God invites Adam to name the animals with him and where he gives him the commission to fill the earth and subdue it. It's the pattern to when Jesus after his resurrection returns to heaven he says to his disciples in Matthew 28:

19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit , 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'

Go and do this... disciple, baptise, teach to obey, because.... I will be with you. Act under my sovereignty because of my promises. We live in light of what God has said is true, in light of what he has promised will be true for us and then we act in line with that reality. In fact it's a model for the whole Christian life; beginning to end:

So we come to God in the first place trusting in and acting upon his promise in Romans 10.9 that: If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved.

And we endure by doing the same. We put aside anxiety by trusting as it says in Matthew 6 that our heavenly father knows our needs, cares for us and will provide for our needs. We put that into action by, for example, giving to our church rather than feathering our investments.

Taking action under God's sovereignty, trusting in his promises is how we come to faith and how we keep going in it.

Think of a football team trained by the manager/coach/director of football during the week. Conditioned by work they've done in the gym. When they step on the pitch they don't just agree that a 4-3-3 formation will work or that purring a man on the post during corners is a good idea they do it.

That's not always easy, it couldn't have been easy for Paul during those 11 days being pushed further and further away from safety to trust in God's promise and yet it was vital that they did. They needed to takes soundings, lighten the ship, cut the anchors - that was the means by which God would [spoiler alert] save them.

I've got three suggestions for us:

1. If you've never trusted and acted on that first promise that: If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. Then sort that out first.

2. If we are going to act under God's sovereignty and trust in his promises we're going to need to know what they are. Fortunately they're not a mystery. God's promises, his sovereign will is revealed to us in his book - the Bible. So next time you read it look out for those promises, look out for where God's will is made clear, mark them down, memorise them so they are close at hand when you are cast adrift.

3. Encourage one another. Sometimes our problem is ignorance - we don't know what God's promises are so we fail to trust in them. More often, I'd argue our problem is faithlessness/disobedience - we know what God's promises but we fail to trust in and act upon them. Sometimes it's because we are prideful and trust in our own abilities, sometimes we just struggle to see the God who is working all things together for the good of those who love him. In either case having others who can speak, as it were, from the shoreline and remind us of the truthfulness of God's promises, of the reality of his sovereign kindness. Let's not be afraid to remind each other of God's promises to us.

That's point one; Endure by taking action under God's sovereignty. Point two; Endure by remembering God will deliver.

2. God will deliver

Our passage ends; 'In this way everyone reached land in safety', it's a remarkable sentence. All 267 men who were with Paul have been rescued. They have hit the only land mass, Malta, they could have hoped to have hit and survived. Despite being driven by the storm for days and despite the ship's stern being broken every soul aboard has survived; not a hair on their heads has been harmed. God has saved them.

Let's be clear it isn't the sailors skill or even Paul's courageous speech that saves these men it is God. We get a hint of that in v29 when the sailors 'pray for daylight' they recognise that the situation is beyond their control. Furthermore this bay that they are washed up against isn't somewhere the sailors have planned to make an emergency stop at. When daylight comes v39 they did not recognise the land. Malta was likely unknown to them but even if they had been they were not approaching Valletta the usual harbour that would have been used.

No God is in charge of every part of this rescue and that extends to ensuring that even Paul's prisoners are saved. Look at v42:

42 The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. 43 But the centurion wanted to spare Paul's life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to get there on planks or on pieces of the ship.

Even the prisoners, even those who could not swim will all be saved - as v22 said not one of them would be lost and as Paul reminded them in v34 not one of you will lose a single hair from your head. God saves through the actions of the sailors and the soldiers but deliverance is not dependent upon them. Their actions are important but not sufficient. In fact God has been working to save, in particular Paul, well before this ship set sail and he will continue to work as they move through Malta and up to Rome.

God has been working to deliver Paul to Rome throughout these past few chapters of Acts. And yet I think there might be a picture of something even more remarkable than God delivering Paul to Rome. I think this is a picture of how God saves more generally. How he rescues people not just from storms but from sin and death. There's something about the way that Luke records Paul's instruction to eat the bread in v34-36 that sounds almost like this is a communion meal. Now we need to remember that we don't know that these sailors have put their trust in Jesus yet and there is no mention of wine. But it feels like Luke wants to give a nod to the fact that God is a rescuing God more broadly. God saves - that's who he is. That salvation is certain, God's promises are certain they are true, they are reliable, we can trust in them. We read earlier from John 6.37-38:

37All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.

If we come to Jesus then he will save us and will raise us up at the last day. Our deliverance from sin and death  is just as certain as Paul's deliverance from the sea was here. We haven't had the specific promise that Paul had nor have we had an angel come and remind us of that promise but we do have something even more certain to cling on to. We have Jesus, Jesus who dies and who is alive again and who lives in us by his Spirit. He is our hope, he is where all God's promises find their sure 'Yes' and 'Amen'. One day you and I are going to be raised with him, one day he is going to come again to judge the world with justice and his resurrection is proof of all that.

In 1 Thessalonians Paul talks about the endurance that comes from hope. Surely Paul and the sailors hoped for land whilst they were cast adrift. Like a marathon runner imagining the finishing line as they battle the fatigue, the lactic acid, the dehydration. We hope in Jesus, we hope in his promises, in his transforming power.

We're about to celebrate communion. A meal which remembers God's promises to us in Jesus until he comes again - looks forward to the day when God's final rescue will be complete. Let's pray...

Back to top