Let Your Lifeboat Go is a sermon that goes back to the very first years when I started preaching.
Little did I understand that God would have me wash up on many a shore.
I so look forward to that final shore when having finally lost this world I will be granted mercy to be in a place where nothing impure, nor anyone impure will reside.
LET YOUR LIFEBOAT GO
This sermon is about letting your lifeboat go. In Acts chapter twenty-seven, Paul was being taken to Rome to stand trial, so they set out on their course.
When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us. (Acts 27:1–2)
We set out on our journeys and begin the process of what we want to do with our lives. Everything looks like it’s going well, everything looks pretty organized, and people put a lot of thought into what they are going to do.
The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. (Acts 27:3)
Everything looks so well planned out and progresses so well that even the world, so to speak, “smiles” on us. There was no reason for Paul to suspect that disaster was just around the corner. There was no reason for the centurion to think that trouble lay ahead. In fact, he had such a good relationship with Paul that he let Paul go to take care of his needs and then come back.
Likewise, we have plans and goals in mind, so we set a course that we want to take. Everything looks fine and well planned out, but the Lord has something else in mind, as always.
From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. (Acts 27:4)
The winds begin to blow a little bit against us. The sad truth is most men do not take warning. Not only do they not take warning, but they do not see the danger that lies ahead. Even when the warning gets stronger, they do not stop the course they are taking or even bother to ask, “God, is this Your will? Is this the direction I am supposed to take?” Your course was so well planned out and everything was going so much according to how you had prayed or thought, that this little wind that came up surely couldn’t mean anything, so you just keep pressing on.
When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. (Acts 27:5–7)
Everywhere they went, trouble began to brew. The warning signs were a little bit stronger each time. It didn’t come all at once. Nevertheless, the warnings were there. You know, you begin to feel a little bit of guilt in your heart. At first, they are quiet warnings where the wind just kind of blows against you, but nothing major or strong happens at this point, so you just pass it off. You find a different ship or a different message. You pray about things in a new direction. Isn’t that what was happening here? They couldn’t make it one way, so they tried another way. People in the world do the same thing. If one particular direction does not work, or their ship breaks down, they just change and go another direction. The exact same thing begins to happen to us, and we do not pay attention to what the Lord is trying to tell us.
We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea. (Acts 27:8)
Notice that they were moving along the coast so no doubt they thought, “Anytime we really get in bad danger we can sail to the shore and stop for a moment.” So, we have these certain safeguards and ways to bail out. We have plans and schemes that we come up with which allow us to come safely out of the trouble. As yet, we do not really think that God is against us or that anything really disastrous will take place.
Much time had been lost… (Acts 27:9)
Now they were getting a little more anxious, because they couldn’t get on with where they needed to go. We do the same thing. We have plans, but the winds are against us and we’ve lost a lot of time, so our anxiety begins to increase. People in the world are
the same way. They become a little more desperate about the direction that they plan to go.
Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast. So Paul warned them… (Acts 27:9)
But who was Paul? Was Paul a sailor or did he own a ship? Paul was nobody that could make any type of judgment or evaluation about this circumstance. They only knew him as a tentmaker and a criminal of some sort. At best, he was some kind of weird missionary preaching the gospel. He didn’t know anything about sailing a ship.
Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also. (Acts 27:10)
How could Paul make this kind of judgment when he knew nothing at all about sailing?
But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. (Acts 27:11)
Go to the experts. Go to the people who supposedly know what they are talking about. Ask the owner of the ship if you should keep pressing on. Paul said they were going to lose the ship and cargo. The centurion checks it out but gives the opposite advice of Paul.
Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on… (Acts 27:12)
So, when all else fails, get the experts’ advice and then check with the majority of the people to find out what they think. Christians do the same thing. Somebody spiritual gives them advice, but it doesn’t agree with what they want to hear, so they check with the experts. Then they check with opinion of the majority. “I checked with this church here, and I asked by brothers and sisters and everyone says this is what I should do.” But they are wrong.
The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment. (1 Corinthians 2:15)
There isn’t anything that a spiritual man can’t make judgments about if God gives him the wisdom. Who owns the oceans? Who knows what lies ahead? God. Who knows which way the wind will blow? Who knows what will happen in a man’s life but God? Paul merely relayed what he heard from God. He was an expert because he knew Him who is the expert. The expert they failed to check with was God. Why? They did not want to hear what Paul had to say. Certainly, the world has the same attitude. Who am
I to tell someone that his or her life will end in a certain way? Who am I to tell someone that a particular psychological teaching will not work, or their course of action will end in disaster? So many times, people say, “You are not in my shoes, so you don’t know what you are talking about.” When I was a young pastor people would often say, “When you get older you will understand.” Of course the problem is I never get older than them, so I am never old enough. When all else fails, worldly people just do what verse 12 says, check with the majority. If they all say it will work, then there’s no real danger; don’t worry about it and everything will be fine. But the spiritual man can see beyond that. He can make judgments about all things.
When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thought they had obtained what they wanted; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. (Acts 27:13)
Of course, a gentle south wind comes. Of course, everything looks like it will work out. If you warn someone about a sin in their life and tell them something bad will happen, but they set out to disobey God, a gentle wind will begin to blow. Isn’t that the way Satan works? You try to warn them that they are not hearing the voice of God, but just merely doing what they want to do. You plead with them to seek after God, yet they don’t. So, when they set out to do what they want to do, everything seems to fall right into place. It all seems to work. Nothing goes bad at all, and it goes on the course they thought they wanted. It’s a gentle south wind. It’s warm and cozy. It moves you along slowly and smoothly. Everything seems like it’s just going to fall right into place. Paul must have been wrong. He didn’t know what he was talking about. Surely God isn’t against me, because look at this.
When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thought they had obtained what they wanted; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. (Acts 27:13)
You warn people about their Christianity and their doctrine, yet they refuse to change. They check with the experts and the majority and a wind comes along to show everything is fine. There’s no need to worry. The guilt disappears. There is no disaster on the horizon at all. “So they weighed anchor and sailed along the shores of Crete.” These guys were taking their time and enjoying the journey. Paul looked like he was one hundred percent incorrect. Now they were laughing inside if nothing else. They were saying, “No wonder this Paul is a prisoner in chains. He’s a crazy man.” Not only was Paul wrong, it appears he was REALLY wrong. There wasn’t even a little bit of wind or rain against them. Instead, everything was moving their direction. Paul looked like he had totally lost his mind and didn’t know what he was talking about at all.
So it is in this world. When you preach the gospel and share with other people in different kinds of religions—everything seems to work out fine.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 14:12)
Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the “northeaster,” swept down from the island. (Acts 27:14)
Now things are not only against them, they are one hundred percent against them. It comes in one day. First the gentle south wind and everything seems to be fine, and then a hurricane force wind begins to blow. I can remember when we lived on Guam and typhoons would hit. The houses were made of solid cement. The roofs were flat, and the walls were very thick. The windows were made of metal louvers. They were cranked shut and everybody went home. A hurricane type force was blowing against them.
The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. (Acts 27:15)
Isn’t that what happens with people’s sin? They just can’t stop sinning. They didn’t pay attention to the quiet warnings or look at the gentle winds against them. They didn’t pay attention to the voice of God telling them to stop what they were doing. Now a hurricane force has come along, and the only thing they can do at this point is give in to it. But the day before you could have asked them, “Are you convicted about sin?” and the response would have been, “No, I think I’m doing pretty good.” When you go to the world and tell them they are in sin and need to repent they will say, “No, everything is going fine. I just prayed about it yesterday and everything seems to be working out.” Then a hurricane force hits and they are driven along with no way to stop. Even if they wanted to turn around, it’s past that point. How many of us have played and flirted around with sin until we got to a point where we were driven along by it, and we couldn’t stop when we wanted to? Why? We didn’t pay attention to all the ways God warned us and tried to plead with us to stop taking the wrong course.
As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure. (Acts 27:16)
They have one last thing to put their faith in. They have one thing they are trusting in. If they can just hold onto the lifeboat, they can at least escape. The world has its one final goal. It has one final plan to get out of the trouble. Even Christians say, “I’ve blown it this far, but the blood of Jesus is still there. Somehow, I can bail out of this situation,” and they try to hold things together. All of their effort, planning, and goals are in effect to escape the coming disaster. They think they can always pray, fast, or ask someone for help to get them out of the situations they find themselves in. They have a lifeboat to hold on to.
When the men had hoisted it aboard, they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. (Acts 27:17)
The ship that they were on was going down. It was creaking and breaking apart. They were passing ropes under the ship to keep it together. They were not crying out to God or pleading and confessing their sin. They were not asking God to stop the storm. They had their lifeboat, so they were not going to give up and give themselves to God yet. They could still get out of the situation if they had to. So, it is with us. Sure, the ship creaks a little and things begin to fall apart, but we still have ropes that will hold us together. Let’s pass a rope around the ship to keep it from falling apart. Men do it with psychology, and the church does it will the current religious fad. Whatever the fad is, you pass the ropes around hold everything together. Each church has its own philosophy, flavor, or certain ropes to pass around which they’ve relied on for years to hold them together.
…Fearing that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. (Acts 27:17)
There’s no real course or direction at this point. They are just going to hold together until it passes. How many times have we done that when God has brought things in our life? “If I just grit my teeth and hold on, it will pass by and I will survive.” We never let God teach us the lesson of losing everything and so learning to trust Him. We hold ourselves together, “put this boat together,” and we are not going to let God tear us apart. A lot of you have that attitude about making it into heaven. “If I can just grit my teeth through all the different disciplines that God puts me through, I will make it to heaven.”
We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. (Acts 27:18)
Ah, now they are getting a little more desperate about this situation and starting to let go of a few more things. You still have your lifeboat, still have the ropes holding it together, but you can say, “I don’t really need this, so I’ll let go of it.” You begin to bargain with God, “Okay, God, I will toss this out and maybe that will get me through the storm.” You’ve been putting off dealing with certain sins for years but as the storm begins to increase you say, “Okay, I will give it up now, God. You can stop the storm.” Or people in the world say, “Okay, I’ll come to God and give this up. I will lay this aside. You’re right, maybe this will not work, and I may need to toss it aside.”
We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. (Acts 27:18)
So, you give up a few things, so what! You get a little more desperate in the storm. To everybody else it looks like you are sacrificing some things. If somebody comes to you and says, “You really need to repent,” you say, “Hey, I’ve thrown this overboard. What are you talking about?”
On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. (Acts 27:19)
Of course, this happens on the third day. They are a little more desperate and more dramatic. The tackle to catch the fish to survive was thrown over with their own hands. People get more desperate about what they throw overboard and will put forth some effort at this point. They put forth a lot of energy to get rid of the things they are holding on to, but it’s still not enough. They still do not cry out to God. They do not yet go Paul to tell him he’s right. They are still not ready for repentance. As we preach the gospel to people in the world we often think they are ready for repentance and baptism as we watch them throw things away. We never weigh what’s in the heart and their motivation. Even in your own lives you throw very important things over board and with your own hands you put forth effort. Nobody has to ask you to do it. Before everybody had been asking you, but now you put forth the effort with your own hands to do what you know you’ve needed to do for a long time.
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)
They may be getting ready at this point to understand something. When you finally reach a point where you realize there’s no hope of being saved; when you look at your own heart and God’s Spirit has broken your heart; when you realize there is nothing in you that would require God to save you, then you are getting yourself in a beginning position for the grace of God. This is not the ending position; this is the beginning position. The lesson is not learned here. They are just in a position to learn the lesson. Do you under- stand the difference? In preaching the gospel to the world, people give up lots of things and we think they have repented at this point. No, they are just now ready to learn the lesson of what they need to do. The same thing applies to us. We have all these things we hold on to and we think because we confessed certain things and reached a point of no hope that the storm will cease. We think it’s over with. We expect to get up off our knees and say, “Okay, God, thank You for showing me this in my heart. Thank You for lowering me. Now You can stop the storm.” No, you are just now in a position to listen to what God has to say about everything else. If you had started here every day of your life, you wouldn’t have had to go through all the preliminaries.
After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss.” (Acts 27:21)
With some of us it would probably be arrogance with which we would say this to others. But Paul was beginning to teach them a lesson. He was trying to show them that the spiritual man makes judgments about all things. He was trying to tell them the gospel. He was not being arrogant or lording it over them. He was not proud of the fact that this had taken place. It was his opportunity to say, “Okay, guys, are you ready to listen?” They gave up all hope and then they went without food. He was then in a position to say, “Okay, guys here are the lessons God wants to teach us.”
But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. (Acts 27:22)
At this point so many people lose their whole life and go to hell. To lose the ship is too much. They will go through the whole process of the storm, God opposing them, and throwing things overboard. They will go through all that and finally come to a place where they will listen to what Paul has to say, but then what he says is just too much. “What do you mean I have to lose the ship? What do you mean I have to give up the world? Isn’t the world a sinking ship? Isn’t it going down? What do you mean I have to give up more? I already threw the tackle and cargo overboard. I have to give up more?” You have to give up all. For most people giving up the ship is just too much. They would rather go down with the ship and count on the fact that they fasted and did all kinds of religious things. You will never enter heaven until you give up the ship. Until you give up everything including the lifeboat you’ve been hanging onto.
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.” (Acts 27:23)
They didn’t count it as grace. Is it grace to lose everything and only be stuck with your life? Most people say, “What kind of life is that?” Not only that, look at why God is sparing Paul — so he can go to Rome and stand trial before Caesar and for all he knows be killed there. Most people do not count that as grace. To most people Christianity is not a religion where God saves them so they can go die. Everybody wants to be saved from the storm, especially people who claim to be Christians. Everybody wants God to bless them and work things out, but not so they can go die somewhere. Doesn’t Romans say we are considered sheep to be slaughtered? God blesses us or moves us in a certain direction so we can go die and glorify His name. You must lose your life even more. So fine, you have lost the ship and in your heart, you could care less about the cargo. Paul just wanted to live long enough to get to Rome to die. So, when you ask God for a blessing or ask Him to work, what are you asking for and what is your goal? Your own comfort or rest or so you can get to Rome to die?
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 27:25)
Paul was still walking by faith, wasn’t he? He didn’t know which island or how God was going to work it all out. All he knew was that God had told him this. How many of us want God to lay out in fine little details which island, which rock we will hit, and which direction we need to go? We want to know who exactly is going to survive. Are we going to be maimed? Exactly how are we going to wind up on shore? All God said was, “Your life will be spared, their lives will be spared, but you will lose everything else.” So, Paul knew that he would wash up on some island. It was still a life of faith and trust. He believed that through it all he would still survive.
“Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. (Acts 27:26)
It didn’t come immediately, did it? God’s salvation and the rescue of their lives didn’t happen overnight, it took fourteen nights. I don’t know if it was fourteen days from the day God told him, but it didn’t just take place right away. It was a slow process. As we read on, I want you to notice how slow this whole thing takes place. It doesn’t happen overnight. Why? Because much flesh needs to be crucified. So much of us must be put to death and our faith that must grow. God wants us to depend on Him, so He drags situations out in order to teach us a lesson.
I love the way it says in verse twenty-seven, “the sailors sensed they were approaching land.” I don’t know how, but somehow deep inside man knows he’s headed for trouble. He may not be able to verbalize it or support it with facts, but inside he has those pangs of guilt and he knows something is not right. Something is wrong, and he is running aground. He may not even know specifically what’s wrong. He may not know specifically where his life is, but he senses something is not right. Oh, that we would pay attention to that and come before God!
They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. (Acts 27:28)
Now they begin to look for facts. They begin to search their hearts and try to figure out why they are heading toward ground. What is taking place? They willingly examine and check things out, because they sense something is wrong. Let’s pray for God to wake up all men to take soundings and check their hearts and lives. Again, notice how Paul was leading them through and teaching them. They were not interested in the gospel, were they? They will be interested by the end, but not in the beginning. You might be presenting the gospel to people and it seems as though they are not paying attention to anything you say, but you are laying the groundwork for when the storm hits. So, preach to people who don’t seem to be interested as well as those who do. You never know when the storm will come.
Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. (Acts 27:29)
Isn’t that like most of us? God already told them how they would be saved, but that’s not really how they wanted it to happen. They hoped God had something else in mind, or maybe He would change His mind. They have four anchors. It’s like foolish Christians who lay down anchors, or hold on to promises that never materialize. They pray for daylight, not for God to be glorified. They did not say, “Paul, I know you need to get to Rome. Let’s pray that we all survive and make it. And purify my heart because I am a little on the selfish side wanting all this.” They lay the anchors, which can be written promises, a certain dream they had, or when God answered previously. Whatever it represents, they put the anchor down and pray for daylight. They did not pray for God’s name to be glorified or a shipwreck to happen according to God’s plan. They knew God’s will, didn’t they? Paul told them God’s will. They did not want it yet, so they pray for something else.
People will say, “At least now I’m praying.” I don’t care if you are praying about it, you are praying in the wrong direction. You are praying for the wrong thing. You know God’s will, it’s written right here. He spoke it to your heart and showed it to you. But instead of us praying in line with what He wants to work (It’s disastrous. You are going to lose your cargo, your ship, and wash up on shore), we want something else. We want to salvage something. We still think we can get something for self out of the deal. We can pray for God to bring daylight, but we are still asking for God to give us something out of it. That’s what has got to go. He wants to purify and deliver us so that when we pray, we do not get anything out of the deal.
In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. (Acts 27:30)
Now we try a little deception. We prayed about it and we didn’t get any daylight, but we still have this lifeboat. So, we lower it over but pretend to do something else. We lie to ourselves and tell everyone else that we are not really lowering the lifeboat but are doing something more noble. They forgot they had Paul on board, the very guy who told them about the trouble. But they still thought they could pull it off. How many of us, whether we lie to God, ourselves, or our brothers and sisters, still have this lifeboat? We have an activity that we are doing that we have been told specifically not to do. It will not work, God has not called us to do it, we didn’t hear His voice, but we do it anyway. Think about the people in the world that you’ve told the gospel to who do all the things you’ve told them not to, yet they think they can cloud it over and you will not know what’s going on. We have to begin to be bold and speak up by telling people that their plans will not work.
Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 27:31)
We can compare this to Christians who want to escape this world. It’s going down. They talk about Armageddon and the end times, and they try to escape it. They store things in their house so they can survive it. Everybody talks about surviving Armageddon or the last days. Books on finances say that God will cause His people to prosper to glorify His name when the whole economy collapses. The motive in their hearts is to hang on to something. “Unless you stay with the ship…” In other words, unless you stay with something that is going to sink and tear apart, you cannot be saved. You have to stand on that which you know will not survive. It’s like Corrie ten Boom who went into a prison camp. Unless you go where God wants you to go, you cannot survive, even though the ship will sink.
So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall away. (Acts 27:32)
Can you imagine? The thing they had been holding on to for so long, the thing they wanted, they finally cut loose and let it drift away. That’s a life of faith. Why do you think people say, “God didn’t call everybody to sell everything and give it away”? Because they want to keep their lifeboat. God calls everybody to let everything go. You have to cut it loose and watch it drift away. Your knees will shake, and you will tremble. This is a life of faith. There’s nothing sure about it. You stand on a ship that’s rocking back and forth. You can hear it creaking and falling apart. You’re already hungry and in fear, and yet you go out in faith to cut the lifeboat away. That’s a life a faith. Anything else is merely a sham, a put-on, and a lie. It’s not an easy thing to live a life of faith, yet we walk around saying, “Well, I’m just trusting God.” Since when did it get all that easy for man to reach a place where he let his lifeboat go? Days or weeks, after giving up all hope of being saved, they let it go. You would think that would have been the hardest part to give up all hope of being saved, and yet still have the lifeboat. They had to cut it loose. They had to do it. It wasn’t talk. It wasn’t just saying, “Yeah, I agree to it. I understand what you’re saying.” There was action. They had to finally do it. Now I want you to note who did the cutting. The soldiers. There are soldiers in Christ who know what you need to cut. You’re sitting there trying to hold on to your boat, but there are soldiers who can cut the ropes and help you watch it float away. Are we soldiers enough to be able to cut it and show people the direction they need to take? Are we enough like Paul to come and say, “You’ve got to let it loose or we all are going to drown”? The same faith required for me is the same faith for everybody. You’re not lucky enough to get a special kind of deal where you get to sail the Caribbean cruise. Everyone is on the same ship, with the same situation, and needs the same faith. Everyone must cut the same lifeboat loose. I’m hard on you because I get the same situation. If I don’t get any special deals, you don’t get any special deals. If I have to cut my lifeboat loose, you have to cut yours loose, too. The same gospel call applies to everybody and nobody is exempt. Everybody has to go through this in his life. It is true that many people stop short before they even do this. They are not Christians and don’t belong to Jesus Christ. They will not make it to heaven.
Just before dawn, Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last 14 days you have been in distress. 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.” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. (Acts 27:33–35)
Isn’t this the Christian life? If you let go of the lifeboat, then you can take the Lord’s Supper. After the lifeboat has been let loose, everything else can be done. But not until we reach this kind of finality is the Lord’s Supper really the Lord’s Supper. This isn’t all dignified where everyone passes a little cup around and performs all the traditions. The ship is going down, and they’re so scared that they have to be encouraged to eat the Lord’s Supper. When they are encouraged to do so they take it and eat it. I want you to notice Paul’s faith. He’s at peace. He’s able to present the gospel and say, “Take and eat. Have faith, trust God, do this, and you will be sanctified. You need this in order to survive.” Of course, you need the Lord’s Supper to survive. You think he’s just talking about food? Couldn’t God just fill their bellies miraculously?
A lot of Christians cut the lifeboats, think they’ve done everything and stop there. “I gave it all away. I cut the lifeboat. I’m saved.” They’ve cut the lifeboat. The promise is there. But in order for the promise to be fulfilled in their lives, they’ve got to keep being obedient. Strange concept I know, but you must be obedient to the Lord all the way down. And so, they took in the Lord’s Supper and it strengthened them. It gave them the grace to survive to go through the whole ordeal that God was going to put them through. This is the Lord’s Supper. This is what it means to break bread. When we drink the little cup and take the bread, we’re admitting, “We’re on a sinking ship. We’re terrified that the ship is going down and have given up all hope of being saved.” We’re in this condition, but we will take courage. We will trust God that He’ll do the work and we will be an obedient people.
After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. (Acts 27:35)
He gave thanks to God in this situation, in this circumstance? The First Church of the Sinking Ship. Isn’t that what we’re all on? When you invite people to become Christians, what are you saying? “Come join our sinking ship. We’re going down and losing it all. God is tearing it all apart. We don’t get anything out of the deal. We’re picking up a cross. We’re going to lose it all and He’s a grand God.” This is what we’re telling people when we eat the Lord’s Supper and invite them on board. We rejoice before the Lord. We give thanks before Him. “This is good stuff, but my flesh hates it. His Holy Spirit really crucifies me. It’s a tough gospel call to live. I’ve got to stay on this ship while my lifeboat floats all the way out there. I don’t know what to do, but I’m going to trust God.”
They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. (Acts 27:36)
One person with a life of faith can encourage other people to trust God. Most of us are such whiners and complainers thinking we will not survive. First of all, who cares if you make it anyway? But do you see what a life of faith and a life of speaking and doing can do? It can encourage other people to do the same. I don’t mean mockery where people live their nice little middle-class lives and they have these little problems like “I’ve got a cold today, but I’m trusting God.” We’re talking about a sinking ship here. We’re not worried about runny noses. We worried about glorifying God and everything being torn apart. Buffering is not going to take away the pain you will feel at this point.
They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. (Acts 27:36)
At this point they can eat and get strength from the Lord. Everybody has to get to this point. Keep in mind, you go through all of this just to get to Rome where you can suffer more, not to say, “Man I’m glad that is over with. I hope there is nothing more.”
Altogether there were 276 of us on board. When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea. (Acts 27:37–38)
The bread of life that they had eaten they now thrown out to the world. They had broken bread. They had eaten what they wanted and now they threw out the food of life. Even as we’re sinking and even as we’re going down, we’re throwing it out for everyone else to partake. We don’t keep and hoard it all. Yet that’s what most people do. They eat and have their fill and think, “I haven’t eaten in so long, I’m going to keep it on board until the very last plank breaks apart, and I’ll put some in my pocket.” But the men on the ship with Paul ate what they wanted, and they got their fill. They were filled up in God and what does the strength of God cause them to do? It causes them to throw it out. So, everybody prays that God will bless them with a house, a car, and all the things that they want. God gives them all those things, but they don’t turn around and throw it out. Taking the Lord’s Supper does not lead to self-sacrifice, giving away, or pouring out of their lives. They keep it in their pocket. Yet in this situation with Paul, the sailors take the Lord’s Supper and then dump the grain into the sea. That’s what the grace of God should produce. That’s what the Lord’s Supper is supposed to do.
When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea. (Acts 27:38)
So as God provides you with all that you need, the purpose is so you can throw every- thing out. You can lighten your ship and give life to other people so they might have the bread of life. That’s the whole purpose.
When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. (Acts 27:39)
Yes, they did decide for themselves. Self doesn’t die very easily, does it? They still had a plan. They just couldn’t give up making their plans. God says, “We’re going to move here and go there.” The beach was there, but they still felt they had to get help along the way. So, they decided to run it aground if they could.
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. (Acts 27:40)
We’re going to get to the beach if we let go of everything to get there. Some of you get rebuked time and time again, yet you’ve still got your same plans. So, don’t be surprised when God comes along and says, “This isn’t going to work.” You have gone through all of this stuff and pat yourself on the back. You’ve got all these scars all over your body. Just because you’ve suffered, prayed, fasted, and done all these things doesn’t mean that you don’t have plans that aren’t His will. Do you think because you went through so much that you’re now holy? Self is a very difficult thing to remove from us.
But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. (Acts 27:41)
God put something in the way. You couldn’t succeed with your plans. You are stuck. You can’t go backwards, and you can’t go forward. You are just there. That’s exactly where God wants you to be, in His hands. You can’t move in any direction, one way or another. So much discovering of God’s will is just being stuck on the sandbar. You just can’t go anywhere else. You just can’t do anything else. You’re just there and whatever He wants to do He can do. Scripture says, “He hems me in before and hems me in behind.” You just can’t go anywhere else. You learn to quit fighting, so you don’t have to go through such a rough process to get there.
The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf. (Acts 27:41)
Did you notice that the process is slow? These guys have gone through all of this and they’re heading for the beach. God doesn’t tear it apart immediately. They think after the Lord’s Supper they will be transported miraculously on to the ground. Instead the ship remains stuck and the surf comes in pounding slowly. They’re on this ship watching it slowly break apart, unable to do anything about it. As the pounding takes place, they get to search their hearts. In the Psalms it says, “Your waves pour over me, O Lord.” One after another, one after another, and when you think it’s going to quit, it continues coming because God is still breaking, still humbling, and still purifying. He’s still giving us time to think. He’s still doing that cleansing. You feel like it’s one wave after another wave. By the time that you’re settled from the first wave, there are three more already on top of you.
The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. (Acts 27:42)
They still have self in mind. They will be the ones in trouble if the prisoners get away.
Don’t think selflessness just comes overnight. Self has to go first. It’s a slow process.
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. (Acts 27:43)
I want you to notice that because of Paul’s life, other lives were spared. In your own life, as the world sinks, your life can bless other people’s lives. The way that you conduct yourself at work can be a benefit for other people. Because of a Christian’s hard work, a boss that would not normally be inclined to give everyone a raise does so anyway because of the Christian’s example. We can be a blessing to other people just in a general way. The biggest way, of course, brings salvation. Because of Paul’s life, others are saved. The centurion respected Paul. People in the neighborhood could be blessed because of your life. God blesses you and other people are blessed around you whether they care anything about God or not. Whether they will learn the lesson or not doesn’t matter.
The rest were to get there on planks or on pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety. (Acts 27:44)
One way or another they made it. God fulfilled His promise.
Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. (Acts 28:1–2)
The grace of God remains after the ordeal. Much kindness comes because of His provision and the way He works. It says in Scripture that after you have suffered for some time, God will make you steadfast. After you have suffered and He has done the work, then you will be made steadfast in God. The grace will be there. The food will be waiting. It’s all there because God does everything in His plan and timing. Most of us do not get to this point. We give up long before this happens.
Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. (Acts 28:3–5)
So, you have gone through all this turmoil, you finally get on shore and what do you get? A snake on your hand. This is the Christian life. You gather the brushwood, you build the fire, it drives out the snake (the Pharisee), and he latches on to you to destroy you and put his poison in you. But you shake him off. Most of us will not build a fire strong enough. We sit back and enjoy the fact that someone else built the fire. Paul went and got the brushwood. Paul was doing the work. After all this ordeal, he was laboring by getting brushwood; he brought it to the fire; he put it in; and out came the Pharisees everywhere. The snakes with their poison.
We are so afraid of these snakes and the poison that we do not bother to get the wood. We are too busy basking and feeding our flesh by enjoying the flame that we made. We sit back and say, “God, I’ve learned my lesson. That was great.” We think the work is over with and it’s time for us to be in a hospital. Paul was still laboring and working. Only this kind of self-sacrifice drives out the Pharisees, but when they bite you it will not do anything. Anybody else just sitting by the flame not laboring for Jesus Christ will just sit there and die, but the man that gets the firewood and has his Scriptures ready will build a fire. Scripture says to fan into flame the spirit that is in you. A man who stirs that up will bring the snakes and Pharisees out, but will shake it off if his fire burns hot enough. If the labor is deep enough, and the Scriptures are firm enough in his heart the poison will have no effect. None! Not one single bad thing happened to Paul from this except that he took the Pharisee (the snake) and threw it into the fire. May we all enter glory shaking off these snakes into the fires of hell and quit being so timid as we deal with Pharisees. May we be people dealing with the snakes by the Spirit and sending them to hell as we enter in. But it takes a flame and a zeal to do that. Instead of sitting by the fire, soaking up the heat, eating the food, and taking it easy, so afraid of what’s out there, you should lay hold of these people. I don’t care if they fasten to you or not, you will shake them off as if they are nothing. So many of us are so afraid and so the poison kills us.
The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. (Acts 28:6)
These folks go from one extreme to the other. Our enemies expected our small church to die a long time ago. I had people seven years ago say, “I don’t know why you continue on.” Of course, the implication being that someday I will quit. Somewhere along the line they expect me to die. Nobody has told me I’m a god yet, and I don’t look for that. But I do hope someday they will say, “You were of God.” In order for that to happen I have to build a fire, in front of everybody. Hopefully my courage to speak in this situation causes people to say, “God really is there. Every Pharisee and every vile thing that came their way they shook off into the fire of God’s wrath.”
There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. (Acts 28:7–8)
Wherever Paul went he brought blessings.
When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. They honored us in many ways and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed. (Acts 28:9–10)
After all that ordeal, Paul gets to preach the gospel. Some of us want to preach the gospel when we first get on ship, or when we first come to God. We do not go through any lessons or learn anything. Only when you get to this place, and have gone through these things, and let your lifeboat go, are you in a position to tell somebody about the life that’s in Jesus Christ. At the very best you invite them on ship and say, “This is what’s going to happen. I hope you are ready. I haven’t been through this myself, I am just in the process of getting there, but you are sure welcome to come.” Everyone must take this trip; it’s not an illusion.
After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island. It was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. (Acts 28:11)
It doesn’t matter how God has you travel. He may have you go where the twin gods are. Don’t be insulted, this is not Caribbean cruise time. It’s time to get out where the pagans are and preach the gospel to them. This is really quite humorous. Paul just went through this whole ordeal where God delivered him and then he wound up on a ship with twin gods. As if those gods could do anything for him anyway. Everybody that went through the ordeal with Paul surely had to laugh at the foolishness. No telling who became a Christian later and said, “Let me tell you what we went through. Those two gods can’t do anything.”
I wish all of us could reach a place in our lives where we turn to other people in the world or even people who claim to be Christians and say, “Those twin gods you trust will not do you a bit of good. I know. Not because I’ve been told or heard it in a sermon, but because I have been through it myself.” I am not taken in by Christian psychologists or the philosophies of this world because I know it doesn’t work. Even if it does work, I have something that works better. I will not trade it for something that just barely works. If you know the living God, you don’t have to be intellectually convinced, you know that it works. “So, you are going to tell me these twin gods have gotten you through all these things, well, let me tell you what I’ve been through. Let me tell you how He cleansed my heart and the purification He accomplished. Let me tell you how He’s blessed other people.”
There’s no question whether Paul would ever worship twin gods. He wouldn’t even be tempted in that direction. Would the thought, “Well, I may leave the Lord,” even cross his mind? It wouldn’t even enter his mind because he knew the living God. The two wooden gods on the ship were no big deal. But it takes going through this type of situation to have such confidence. You can sail on any ship, yet no matter how many gods there are or what they can do, it will not move you because you know Him who is alive. Ironically, the new ship makes it in safely to port. They do not lose the ship, nor do they lose any cargo. So, the people on the ship will turn to you and say, “We didn’t lose any cargo. We didn’t hit a bad storm. We didn’t lose everything we own. Look at you. Sure, you saved your life, but my goodness, look what it cost you.”
You see, ours is the kind of God most people do not want. They would rather have the twin idols that will help them to keep their cargo, their life, and their safety rather than serve a living God who will take it all away and leave you with nothing. Most people live the “twin god” type of Christianity. They do not want a God who comes with a cross and says you must give it all up. You must surrender everything you have and all that you are. They will boast to you that ever since they left your God, their god works. “Ever since I got out of your church everything goes fine.” Your ship is going down and you worship a God who will take it all away if it’s not going down. Why would you expect the cross to be anything different than this? These storms that come from God are blessing and grace, and I wouldn’t trade them for all the smooth sailing in the world that comes from other gods.
We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli. There we found some brothers who invited us to spend a week with them. And so we came to Rome. (Acts 28:12–14)
Along the way brothers share sweet fellowship. Granted, brothers are not everywhere along the journey. A lot of times you’ll be alone and will not have fellowship. Nobody wants to go outside the camp and bear the disgrace He bore. A lot of times when you are alone no one can give you the words or the answers. Nobody can tell you this is what you ought to say. But times of fellowship also exists and it’s sweet when it happens.
The brothers there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged. (Acts 28:15)
Now this is fellowship, and only the people who know this kind of God can offer me any kind of fellowship. Anything else is just the pathetic socializing that goes on at ice cream socials. Nobody is encouraged when they see one another at an ice cream social. They are encouraged when they see the ice cream. Paul went through all of this. He was a man who was losing his life. No wonder fellowship to him was so sweet because he had nothing in this world that give him any kind of joy. He cut lifeboats away and it was no big deal. He knows in every circumstance which God has him in, the goal is to cut the lifeboat loose, though it be a million lifeboats or just one.
When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. (Acts 28:16)
I love the twist here. They guard Paul to make sure he stays in his place because he’s a prisoner. Yet being under arrest allows him to preach the gospel securely.
Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: “My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans.” (Acts 28:17)
Most people would count that to be a terrible thing, but we are prisoners for Jesus Christ. We all are locked away and chained doing His will. For some people, it’s the most torturous thing to go through, but for Paul it was the thing that was life to him.
“They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—not that I had any charge to bring against my own people. For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.” They replied, “We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of the brothers who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.” (Acts 28:18–22)
Everywhere people talk about it but can’t find any facts. “Do you want to tell us something about this sect? We can’t put our finger on it, but we know something is wrong somewhere.”
They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. (Acts 28:23)
When you are chained, all you have time to do is preach the gospel. If you consider yourself chained up for Jesus Christ, you will not be busy running around doing all the other things people do. The only thing you can do is preach the gospel because God has you chained in. Most of us consider that a torturous thing to go through. We want to be out there watching the fireworks, not preaching the gospel.
Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet: ‘Go to this people and say, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (Acts 28:24–29)
Verse 30 tells us that these chains bring life to Paul.
For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 28:30–31)
They put him under guard thinking he would hate it, but the guard protected him from everyone who opposed him. Boldly and without hindrance, he was able to preach the gospel in Rome. But he had to go through the other ordeal in order to get to Rome. What a blessing he would have missed had he given up hope as he went through that experience. Let’s let our lifeboats go and get on to Rome so we can preach the gospel.
Father we do thank You for Your Word and for who You are. We pray, O Lord, that You would strengthen us with Your mighty hand. That You would find within our hearts a willingness to go through these things and rejoice and eat the Lord’s supper through it all. As the ship goes down and it begins to sink, may we encourage everyone to cut loose their lifeboats that they might know a living God. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen
The following transcript was a sermon preached by Timothy Williams.
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