by Roger McCay
10 January 2021
Sermon Passage: Acts 27
Link to Audio Version
The story is told of “A little boy [who] was asked by his father to say grace at the table. While the rest of the family waited, the little guy eyed every dish of food his mother had prepared. After the examination, he bowed his head and honestly prayed, “Lord, I don’t like the looks of it, but thank you for it, and I’ll eat it anyway. Amen”
Sometimes life is like that. We’re faced with something we don’t like that’s out of our control. Perhaps the trouble comes about due to the whim of others; or bad decisions, leading to bad circumstances; or natural disasters and disease; or perhaps it’s just the way the cards fell. Whichever way, sometimes in life you find yourself helpless, carried along by events into a storm of painful trials. You don’t like the looks of it, but you’ve got to eat it anyway.
There is a sense of desperation that come upon us during the storms of life. It can become overwhelming, a formula for despair. But it doesn’t have to end up in despair.
What makes the difference is the anchors that keep us grounded: grounded in the Lord; grounded in the reality of God’s provision, in times of struggle. Anchored in God’s provision, we can endure. Indeed, no matter how bad the storm, in our Lord we can find peace and thanksgiving.
In our passage today, after a little over two years as a prisoner in Caesarea, Paul is being sent to Rome for a trial before Caesar. The event takes place in October, AD 59, with Paul finally arriving in Rome in AD 60. October was a bad time of year to be sailing west on the Mediterranean, and, typically, sailing had already ceased in September due to the bad weather and winds that would come up after that time.
However, there were some ships that braved the weather, for various reasons. The second ship Paul was on, out of Alexandria, was a grain ship, with its owner and captain willing to risk the weather for a tidy profit. Having stopped at Fair Havens, on the southside of Crete, due to the increasingly difficult and dangerous voyage, a decision had to be made to stay or to go. As it was, the owner, the captain and the centurion, along with a majority of folks on that ship, made the decision to chance the increasing danger and attempt to sail to a more favorable harbor for wintering than Fair Havens—the harbor of Phoenix.
Contrary to the majority opinion, Paul, sensing that staying there was the best option (perhaps prophetically with a nudge from the Lord, we aren’t sure) … Paul urged them to stay put at Fair Havens. They ignored him, however, not surprisingly, as he was a minority opinion and a prisoner, which proved to be a dire and terrible decision. This, of course, is an example of how the majority vote does not always mean something is best.
In what follows, we get a picture (with everything that happens) of how to stay anchored in the Lord and his provision when we encounter storms—not only storms at sea, but even in the storms of life. Not only did Paul find hope and encouragement in the Lord’s provision during the storm, he was able to pass that encouragement on to those around him, taking action that led to actions that saved them all.
First off, from Paul’s example, we see how we can take hope in light of God’s provision, which includes friends, identity, promise, assurance, and God’s provision of hope.
In the opening verses of Acts 27 (vv. 1-3), Luke emphasizes God’s provision of friends. Traveling with Paul there was, of course, Luke himself, whom we know was along for the journey in v. 1, when he says “that we should sail.” Another friend, one whom was a long-time companion was Aristarchus, the Macedonian from Thessalonica. In Acts we’ve seen his name mentioned several times. Plus, Paul mentions him in various epistles. Aristarchus was a solid, faithful friend. Then there are the friends encountered along the way, mentioned in v. 3, friends at Sidon (who were likely the Christians at the church at Sidon) sought out by Paul for a brief moment of fellowship. And another friend may have been Julius, the centurion. He certainly treated Paul kindly in v. 3, and then later, in v. 43, he saved Paul’s life.
Quality friends can have a grounding influence: both friends who are constants and friends whom we encounter for a brief time along our journey in life. There is a stabilizing effect to friends. They are anchors who provide accountability, encouragement, and fellowship—sometimes even a much-needed smile in common circumstances.
I’m sure we all have our stories. I’ll never forget laying on the floor of a latrine in Iraq with a fellow chaplain, a friend. We were being bombarded by rockets pounding around us, with the building shaking with each boom, anticipating one to come through the roof over our heads at any moment. In the midst of that storm, I remember, we both, at one point, looked at each other, and just started laughing.
Friends are critical to helping us get through hard times. There can be the temptation to push them away. Resist that selfish impulse, though. Let your friends do what, for you, God provided them to do, to be your loving friend. And note that having friends is a two-way street. Also, not having friends is typically not due to a lack of opportunity for friends.
Take a look at vv. 21-26.
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, ‘Do not 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 have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”
Another powerful provision of God is his provision of identity. In v. 23, Paul states his identity plainly. He was one who belonged to God. That was his identity.
When you know who you are in Christ, like Paul, you find yourself anchored in the Lord. Our identity is grounded in the Word that created the universe. Consider these truths:
– We are God’s chosen beloved. Eph 1:4-5:
“[God] chose us in him [Christ Jesus] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ.
– We are God’s children. 1 John 3:1:
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”
– We are God’s heirs with Christ. Rom. 8:17:
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”
– We are grounded in Christ. Gal. 2:20:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
– We are citizens of God’s Kingdom. Phil. 3:20:
“Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
– And we exist for a divine purpose. Eph. 2:10:
“We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
If you are a Christian, these truths are the anchors of your identity. Who you are is grounded in the Lord God himself—unshakeable, utterly certain. You know who you are.
Third, we possess God’s provision of promise. While the Lord might not send an angel to us, like he did for Paul to give a promise in a specific circumstance, we possess eternal promises that are always applicable.
– We have the promise of the Lord’s presence with us. Matt. 28:20:
“Behold I am with you always.”
– We have the promise of God’s eternal love. Rom. 5:8:
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
– We have the promise that no matter what, God is working towards our good. Rom. 8:28:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
– We have the promise of eternal life (1 John 5:13). And with eternal life before us we have the promise that there is no need to fear death. Phil. 1:21-23:
“If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”
With the promise of the Lord’s presence, his eternal love, his constant providential working of all things towards our good, eternal life before us, and no need to fear death, we are anchored soundly in the Lord.
All this, in addition to our identity in Christ and the loving fellowship of friends … Think about it. What could ever move us from the rock-solid foundation of the Lord?
Indeed, the Lord has given us the provision of assurance. Nothing is too great for our God. Ps. 93:4: “Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty!” He is our Rock. Ps. 31:3: “For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me.”
And so, in light of all the provisions above, we have God’s provision of hope. No matter what, God holds us in his hand, the safest place that can be. Daniel 4:34-35:
“His [the Most High’s] dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”
My friends, consider this inventory of God’s provision (friends, identity, promise, assurance, and hope). Let them be anchors for you. In the storms of life, let God’s provision be your solid ground. In the darkness of the night, let it be your light.
Not only do we find hope in light of God’s provision, we are to also encourage others in light of God’s provision. In Acts 27, we see this in how Paul didn’t just take a nap in the hold. Rather, he encouraged them all, based on God’s provision. Verse 22: “I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.” Verse 25, again, “take heart men, for I have faith in God.” Too, in v. 34: “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.” Steady encouragement throughout the ordeal. Can you imagine the effect if he’d been all pessimistic and negative? They’d have all died!
It is an interesting thing that in difficult times we find a particular provision of God—a provision of opportunity; opportunity to bless, in the Lord’s name. Col. 4:5: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” Gal. 6:10: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” For like Jesus said in John 9:4, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” Let us not waste opportunities my friends. Indeed, consider every storm an opportunity to glorify the Lord and bless others.
As believers, too, we have access to God’s wisdom through his Word and Spirit. So, we have God’s provision of wisdom, not only in spiritual matters, but in a way that is quite practical. Paul exhibited this truth with the wisdom of a calm head, resting in the hope of the Lord’s provision. He was not overcome by events. Rather, grounded in the Lord’s provision, he saw things clearly. Thus, he counseled for caution at Fair Haven, not concerned about the bleakness of the place. He later gave sound advice for the crew to eat (v. 34), for they needed their strength. Then he gave sound advice for the centurion to stop the sailors from abandoning ship (v. 31), for if the sailors left the ship, everyone who remained would die.
God further gives us the provision of truth, that we may shine the light in the darkness. Take a look at vv. 33-36:
33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have 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.
In the darkness, just before dawn, Paul broke bread before the crew (a clear symbol of God’s provision), and they ate together. He gave thanks to God before them, giving God the credit for his provision. And in the eating, and in the thanks, they were encouraged despite the fact they knew their ship was not going to last much longer in the terrible storm. Thus, in the darkness, Paul showed them the light of God’s truth of provision, to be capped by the dawn of the day.
Through the storm, Paul steadily demonstrated love to those with him, which, in turn, demonstrated God’s provision of love to them. Without Paul’s loving words and actions, they would have died in despair. Instead, they lived!
Sometimes, it is God’s love through us that can bring someone back from the brink of despair, like in this passage. We know God’s love. Eph. 2:4-5: “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” And we know to count on God’s love, confidently calling upon him. Ps. 109:26: “Help me, O Lord my God! Save me according to your steadfast love!”
This love of God, in which we are anchored, extends to our actions of loving our neighbor (Mark 12:31). Because we are loved by God, we are enabled to love. Indeed, my friends, as Christians, we are enabled to love with a supernatural love, as Christ’s love shines through us in word and deed. So, as we love, we love with a love that is not feigned; it is not forced; it is real. People can tell the difference. And people respond to true love.
Thus, in the anchors of God’s provision of opportunity, wisdom, truth, and love, we are given the grounds upon which to provide meaningful encouragement. Our encouragement is not based on platitudes, but is grounded in the truth of the Lord.
Not only do we find hope in light of God’s provision and are enabled to encourage others in light of God’s provision, we also act in light of God’s provision. In the context of the provisions we’ve considered, our actions matter. God has provided for us so that we might take action, and not just any action, but right action in harmony with God’s will. Indeed, the right action of believers can influence the actions of others, towards the good of all. We see this in Paul’s actions affecting the sailors’, soldiers’, and the centurion’s actions, which led to salvation from death at sea. To that end (among others), God has provided for us guidance, intelligence, experience, gifts, and abilities.
As for the provision of guidance, there is a doing that corresponds to listening. Paul didn’t just keep God’s encouragement to himself. He passed it on, encouraging those on the ship with him. Even more, when it comes to determining right action (Christian ethics), Romans 12:2 ensures us that we can absolutely know the right thing to do (how to be obedient to God’s will) in the face of various situations:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
God also provides us with intelligence and experience, that allows us to discern what is needed in the storm—acting practically. We see this in Paul’s using his brain, coupled with his extensive travelling experience, to guide those in the ship in ways that were necessary for their salvation. He took charge, providing the leadership that was lacking. We see this in his giving them God’s promise, speaking the right words to them at just the right time, breaking bread and giving thanks, and keeping the sailors from abandoning ship.
Thus, God provides us with gifts and abilities to act in a meaningful way in light of the discernment that comes from God’s provision of intelligence and experience. Paul exercised his gifts as prophet, leader, and minister, motivating everyone else to use their appropriate gifts. All this was necessary for their salvation from the storm and the sea. And that salvation was a provision of God.
My friends, these anchors of God’s provision (guidance, intelligence, experience, gifts, and abilities), these are grounds upon which to act with confidence. When it may seem that all is in doubt, foundations shaken, disaster ahead, trust in these provisions of the Lord. He expects you to act, not just sit on your hands (although there may be a time for that), and in the action he provides for the need.
I was much moved by Lloyd J. Ogilvie’s take on “what to do during the dark night of the soul,” in my reading this week. There he gives four anchors: Faith, Surrender, Hope, and Thanksgiving. He then asks what anchors the reader has. I think I’ve answered that question to some extent today.
Thus, when you or I experience storms, or that “dark night of the soul,” let us not despair. Rather, meditate on God’s provision and our utter reliance on him. God’s provision overwhelms any storm, and in the storm you will find peace.
How can one despair, no matter how dire the circumstances, when surrounded by God’s provisions? Remember God’s provisions, these anchors: friends, identity, promise, assurance, hope, opportunity, wisdom, truth, love, guidance, intelligence, experience, gifts, and abilities. Remember God’s provisions, and cast your anchors upon the solid rock that will hold you despite raging storms. Remind yourself of these things when the storm hits, and give thanks.
My friends, in light of God’s provision let us find hope, encourage others, and act, grounded upon the promises of God. He provides for us throughout all of life, and he doesn’t abandon us when times get hard. Since God’s promise stands in the midst of the storm, we should brave the storms of life in utter reliance upon him.
 Michael P. Green, ed., 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 375-376.
 Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Acts, vol. 28, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1983), 342–343.