THE ANCHOR HOLDS ACTS 27
On April 15, 1912, at approximately 2:20 A.M. the stern of the White Star liner Titanic swung slowly upward toward the stars. Her lights went out, flashed on again, and then went out for good. Only a single kerosene lantern flickered high in the after mast. As her stern reached higher, a steady roar thundered across the water as every movable thing aboard her broke loose. There has never been a mixture like it: 15,000 bottles of ale and stout, huge anchor chains (each link weighed 175 pounds), thirty cases of golf clubs, 30,000 fresh eggs, potted palms, five grand pianos, a cask of china from Tiffany’s, a case of gloves from Marshall Fields, and, most valuable of all, 1,500 passengers who had not been able to get off the great ship.
The great and the unknown tumbled together in a writhing heap as the bow eased deeper and the stern rose higher. The Titanic was now absolutely vertical, with her three dripping propellers glistening in the darkness. For nearly two minutes she stood poised as the noise finally stopped. Then she began sliding slowly under, until the sea closed over the flagstaff on her stern with an audible gulp.
A wreck of any kind is a terrifying experience, whether it is a train derailment, an automobile collision, or a crash of an airplane. But probably the most terrifying of all is a shipwreck, because of the prolonged agony that the passengers and crew endure. Well, probably one of the most famous shipwrecks ever told is found in the Scriptures. It was the shipwreck that Paul and his crew experienced while heading to Rome. Luke describes every detail of the shipwreck vividly so that we can imagine being on board that ship.
So I ask to take your Bibles and turn to the 27th chapter of the book of Acts, as we begin to slowly draw this great book to a close. I am not going to read the entire chapter for the sake of time, but I do want to read from verse 21 to 38. In this chapter, Luke recited this story for our benefit by dropping four anchors for us to hold on to when we find ourselves in the storms of life. R. Kent Hughes calls them: the anchor of God’s presence, the anchor of God’s ownership, the anchor of service for God, and the anchor of trust in God. I want to take these points to preach this passage to you.
But before we look at these anchors, I need to remind you how Paul, along with 275 passengers got themselves into this storm. Folks, I remind you that there are two ways in which we end up in the storms of life: one is by our own doing in disobeying God and the other is because God has put us there. In the passage, Paul is in this storm because of God’s sovereign hand. If you remember, in Acts 25, Paul makes an appeal to stand before Caesar.
So Paul was heading to Rome which he desired to do and preach the gospel there. I am sure he had no intentions of getting there in chains, but God has orchestrated the events of Paul’s life so that he can give the gospel to the most influential men in the world at that time in Israel and Rome. Luke, in verse 1, says that Festus turns Paul over to a Roman centurion by the name of Julius. And he boards Paul along with Luke and Aristarchus on a ship from Adramyttium (add rah MITT ee um).
In verse 3, while in Sidon, Paul was well treated and given an opportunity to visit some friends there before departing. Things were going well up to this point, but it was here that Luke began to record Paul’s storm. They leave Sidon sailing up and around Cyprus instead of heading west toward Italy because the winds were contrary. Finally, landing in Asia Minor, the centurion transferred Paul and the others to a large Egyptian grain ship. These grain freighters were 140 feet long and 36 feet wide and bore a 33 foot draught. They were sturdy ships for the high seas, but they had trouble sailing into the wind.
Travel was rough from Myra in Asia Minor until they reached Fair Haven, a small seaport on the island of Crete. Paul, an experienced traveler, warned the centurion in verse 9-10 about traveling the seas after Passover (mid October) because the voyage was dangerous due to fierce storms. But the pilot of the ship convinced the centurion to go on because Fair Haven was a boring little seaport. So they took their chances and set sail for Phoenix about forty miles away.
Beginning in verse 13 is where things get exciting for those on board the ship. Luke says, in verse 14, a northeaster struck from the land and the ship was caught in the middle of it. Some Bibles translate “the northeaster” as Euroclydon or Euraquilo. “Euraquilo” is literally translated euros (east wind) and aquilo (northeast). From the sailors point of view, Euroclydon, the terror of seaman, had been watching and waiting from the top of Mount Ida (the fable abode of Zeus) to drive them to destruction. So they were caught in this typhoon like wind and the battle was on to try to save their lives. They were in a mess.
In verse 16, they were able to secure the ship’s dinghy and they took ropes which they tossed around the hull of the boat to keep it together from the terrible waves. They jettisoned cargo and cut away any tangled gear that littered the deck. And for fourteen days they saw neither sun nor stars. They were hoping they would not be lost at sea.
God caused the ship to drift 476 miles from Cauda (Clauda) to the island of Malta. In the 19th century, an experienced Scottish yachtsman, James Smith, made a careful on-site study of this narrative. He asked experienced Mediterranean navigators what the mean drift of a ship of this kind would be in such a gale. He learned that it would drift about 36 miles in 24 hours. Even today, the soundings mentioned in verse 28 indicate that the ship was passing Koura, a point on the east coast of Malta, on her way into St. Paul’s Bay. Smith calculated that a ship leaving late in the evening from Clauda would, by midnight of the 14th day, be less than three miles from the entrance to St. Paul’s Bay. He also reported that no ship can enter St. Paul’s Bay without passing within a quarter of a mile from the point of Koura, where the sailors would have heard the breakers, thus surmising that they were nearing land, as Luke reports in verse 27 (cited by F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts [Eerdmans], pp. 514-515).
Remember earlier, in the sermon, I told you that there are two ways to get into the storms of life. One is by our own choosing in disobeying God and the other is by God’s own choosing. I have been studying the gospel of Mark for my quiet time and I am reminded of an incident in the life of the apostles after the feeding of the five thousand, when Jesus made (by force or persuasion) the disciples get into a boat and head to the other side of the sea. While at sea, Jesus knew a storm was coming but he put them there to show them he had authority over the storms of life. The storms of life do not necessarily mean that we are out of the will of God. The disciples were in the will of God because Jesus sent them out into that storm.
Folks, just because God promised Paul that he would bear witness in Rome did not mean it would be smooth sailing. And the same is true for all of us. As we serve Christ, there will be storms, hardships, high seas, breakdowns—but also peace, assurance, faithfulness, the sustaining presence of God. Those that claim that following Christ makes everything smooth sailing have either misunderstood or misrepresent God’s Word. F.B. Meyer wrote, “If I am told that I am to take a journey that is a dangerous trip, every jolt along the way will remind me that I am on the right road.” Isn’t that what Jesus said to the disciples by warning them that they will face trials, but they were to be assured that he was going to be with them.
Every Christian can have courage amidst life’s storms if he or she uses the proper anchors. So let us look at the anchors that Paul held on to in this passage. Again I want to remind you that these are not original with me, I read them in a commentary and they spoke to me so I am passing them on to you. First,
THE ANCHOR OF GOD’S PRESENCE – 23
So on deck of a sinking ship, Paul was anchored by the presence of God, which became an ongoing reality for him. Paul had experienced God’s presence before. While he was in Corinth, Jesus spoke to him in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (18:9-10). In Jerusalem, Jesus stood beside him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome” (23:11). In writing to Timothy, Paul wrote, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it” (2 Tim. 4:16-17). And even the writer of Hebrews (whom some believe to be Paul, wrote, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
So how do we become aware of God’s presence? R. Kent Hughes wrote, “Rarely through an audible voice, but rather through the still, gentle assurance of the Holy Spirit and through God’s Holy Word. Paul in two letters, I believe makes a connection for us of these two aspects of God’s presence. He tells the Ephesians “to be filled with the Spirit,” and the Colossians “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”. These things are essential for spiritual health and courage. C. S. Lewis said, “He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not hard to penetrate. The real labor is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”
When we are anchored to God’s presence, then we can show tremendous courage in the midst of the worse storms. And remember, when we are anchored we can sustain others just as Paul does with the 275 other passengers.
THE ANCHOR OF GOD’S OWNERSHIP – 23
Paul was able to master the storm because he knew to whom he belonged. In other words, he recognized that he was not his own, he was bought with a price. Therefore, he was the property of God. So how do we belong to Christ?
Like a bride belongs to a bridegroom. The Song of Solomon says, “My lover is mine and I am his” (2:16). The Bible often uses the intimacies of marriage to describe our relationship with the Lord. In fact, Paul in Eph. 5 concludes his instructions on marriage with this statement, “This is a profound mystery, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
Like sheep to a shepherd. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (John 10:14-15a).
Like a child belongs to his father. When Alan Redpath’s two daughters were younger, he heard his wife say, “Girls, go get your father for breakfast.” The oldest bounded up the steps, and by the time the youngest (who was considerably younger) made it to the room puffing from the race, her big sister said, “I have already told Daddy breakfast is ready, and besides I have all of Daddy.” The little one took that pronouncement hard, and a tear began to run down her cheek, so her father sat her on his knee. She put her head on his shoulder, then smiled big and said to her sister, “You might have all of Daddy, but Daddy has all of me.” Paul knew he was God’s possession and that permeated his entire being because he knew to whom he belonged.
So God’s ownership allowed Paul to stand tall in the deadly storm.
THE ANCHOR OF SERVICE FOR GOD – 23
Paul was able to have courage in the storm because he was on business for God. He knew nothing could harm him unless God allowed it. In another storm on the same sea centuries earlier, Jonah had no such anchored. He refused to serve God. In contrast to Paul’s witness to the Gentiles, Jonah was reproved by the ship’s crew. All those who are Christ’s, who consciously serve him as best they can, experience sustaining assurance. This is one of God’s gracious gifts to the committed, and Paul knew it to the fullest.
People on a plane and people on a pew have a lot in common. All are on a journey. Most are well-behaved and presentable. Some doze, and others gaze out the window. Most, if not all, are satisfied with a predictable experience. For many, the mark of a good flight and the mark of a good worship assembly are the same. “Nice,” we like to say. “It was a nice flight/It was a nice worship service.” We exit the same way we enter, and we’re happy to return next time.
A few, however, are not content with nice. They long for something more. The boy who just passed me did. I heard him before I saw him. I was already in my seat when he asked, “Will they really let me meet the pilot?” He was either lucky or shrewd because he made the request just as he entered the plane. The question floated into the cockpit, causing the pilot to lean out.
“Someone looking for me?” he asked.
The boy’s hand shot up like he was answering his second-grade teacher’s question. “I am!”
“Well, come on in.”
With a nod from his mom, the youngster entered the cockpit’s world of controls and gauges and emerged minutes later with eyes wide. “Wow!” he exclaimed. “I’m so glad to be on this plane!”
No one else’s face showed such wonder. I should know. I paid attention. The boy’s interest piqued mine, so I studied the faces of the other passengers but found no such enthusiasm. I mostly saw contentment: travelers content to be on the plane, content to be closer to their destination, content to be out of the airport, content to sit and stare and say little.
There were a few exceptions. The five or so mid-age women wearing straw hats and carrying beach bags weren’t content; they were exuberant. They giggled all the way down the aisle. My bet is they were moms-set-free-from-kitchens-and-kids. The fellow in the blue suit across the aisle wasn’t content; he was cranky. He opened his laptop and scowled at its screen the entire trip. Most of us, however, were happier than he and more contained than the ladies. Most of us were content. Content with a predictable, uneventful flight. Content with a “nice” flight.
And since that is what we sought, that is what we got. The boy, on the other hand, wanted more. He wanted to see the pilot. If asked to describe the flight, he wouldn’t say “nice.” He’d likely produce the plastic wings the pilot gave him and say, “I saw the man up front.”
Do you see why I say that people on a plane and people on a pew have a lot in common? Enter a church sanctuary and look at the faces. A few are giggly, a couple are cranky, but by and large we are content. Content to be there. Content to sit and look straight ahead and leave when the service is over. Content to enjoy an assembly with no surprises or turbulence. Content with a “nice” service. “Seek and you will find,” Jesus promised. And since a nice service is what we seek, a nice service is usually what we find.
A few, however, seek more. A few come with the childlike enthusiasm of the boy. And those few leave as he did, wide-eyed with the wonder of having stood in the presence of the pilot himself. (Max Lucado)
THE ANCHOR OF TRUST IN GOD – 24-25
Paul was able to display such courage in the midst of the storm because he believed God. Just trusting and resting in God’s omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience will enable us to be people of courage in the face of terrible storms. I can picture in my mind the seen as the storm raged that Paul stood on deck and shouted to these men these words of confidence in the Lord. Men, don’t be afraid I believe that God is going to help us through this horrible storm.
If we want to stand out in a time of trial from those who do not know the Lord, we’ve got to have a daily walk of seeking God before the trial hits. In Proverbs 1:24-29, wisdom personified warns us that if we refuse to seek her during normal times, she will laugh at us when our dread comes like a storm and when distress and anguish come upon us. But if we daily seek God and His wisdom during normal times, when a storm hits, we will be different than those in the world, because we know and trust our God.
Well, they make it to shore just as Paul predicted. Not one soul was lost and God’s name was wonderfully glorified that day. So why do we have storms? Storms, even though we may not like them are for our benefit. Oswald Sanders put it this way:
When God wants to drill a man and thrill a man and skill a man, when God wants to mold a man to play the noblest part; when he yearns with all his heart to create so great and bold a man that all the world should be amazed, watch his methods, watch his ways! How he ruthlessly perfects Whom he royally elects! How he hammers him and hurts him and with mighty blows converts him into trial shapes of clay which only God understands; While his tortured heart is crying and he lifts beseeching hands! How he bends but never breaks while his good he undertakes; How he uses whom he chooses and with every purpose fuses him; by every act induces him to try his splendor out God knows what he’s about!
What this poem says is that often times we are objective oriented, but God is process-oriented. In other words, we just want to get to Rome, but God is more interested in how we get there. Are you in a storm? Does it look like your ship is going to go under? If so, then you need anchors:
The anchor of God’s presence, the anchor of God’s ownership, the anchor that comes through serving God, and the anchor of faith. With anchor like these, God’s servant will stand strong and true.