Don’t give way to fear when the storms come
The big idea of our passage: Don’t give way to fear when the storms come. Easier said than done. How? Our passage provides us with two answers: 1. Believe God. 2. Take action.
Acts 27: 1-44 ESV Study Bible
Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Acts of the Apostles, by David Peterson
Exalting Jesus in Acts, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary, by Tony Merida
BACK TOGETHER AGAIN – SORT OF
Citylight, I have missed you. The Lord has taught and reminded me of countless things during these last six months, and one of them is that it is my eager joy to be your pastor and to see you again face-to-face. Words cannot express the joy I have to open the word of God with you again. In 1 Peter 5:2, the Apostle Peter commands elders to pastor their church willingly and eagerly.
What storms are swirling in your life these days? What trials, temptations, uncertainties, stresses, or setbacks are swirling like a storm around your life? Perhaps the most frightening thing about being caught in a storm is that the best thing to do often isn’t clear. Though Andrea and I have called Philadelphia home since 2011, we love to be in the mountains and been caught in our fair share of storms. In the mountains, the most frightening storms are whiteouts because you literally don’t know which way is up the mountain and which way is down. For many of us, that’s what this season or some aspect of our life is like these days. What do we do when the storms swirl?
In Acts 27, Paul is caught in a literal storm at sea in the midst of a season of his life that is a figurative storm. Back in Acts 20:24, Paul told a group of pastors in the city of Ephesus his life motto. He said that his life is worth nothing to him if only he may finish the race and complete the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. Paul’s purpose is clear, but in Acts 27 the clouds roll over and a whiteout sets in like Paul has never known. He’s adrift at sea on his way to Rome and all hope of survival is lost. What do you do when storms set in? In Acts 27:23-24, God tells Paul the answer: “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.’ That brings us to the big idea of our passage: Don’t give way to fear when the storms come. Easier said than done. How? Our passage provides us with two answers: 1. Believe God. 2. Take action.
When we read about Paul’s sea journey from Caesarea to Rome, it’s easy to picture the apostle on a leisurely cruise liner coasting through the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. In reality, Paul is packed onto a small cargo ship before the time of electricity or navigation systems. Traveling by sea was a necessary evil in the first century and it isn’t too long into the journey before Paul perceives by his own intuition and experience that they’re not going to make it to Rome alive. Acts 27:10 tells his companions, …“Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives” Verse 20 the utter hopelessness of the situation: When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. This is a storm for the ages and all hope is lost. Some of us can relate these days. But then God’s Word comes to Paul. Acts 27:22-25: 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. I want you to notice something that is incredibly important: Paul wasn’t sinning when he lost all hope of being saved. Paul told Paul to testify to the gospel, but God didn’t promise Paul that he would live long enough to see Rome. You can’t take heart in promises that God hasn’t made in the Bible. Rome was Paul’s gospel-ambition, not God’s promise. Paul uses wisdom, perception, and experience to conclude that he and his companions are going to die at sea and he’s not wrong to do that…until God’s word of promise comes and says otherwise. But when God does promise that Paul will stand before Caesar in Rome and, therefore, they will all surely survive the journey, Paul believes God. The life of faith is believing God and taking God at his word especially when his word contradicts our perceptions. It’s by believing God’s word about the future that Paul is able to take heart rather than give way to fear while the present storm rages.
Let’s begin to take this personally. What storms are swirling in your life these days? What trials, temptations, uncertainties, stresses, or setbacks are swirling like a storm around your life? The way to take heart rather than give way to fear is to believe God. Believe the promises that he’s made to you in in the midst of your storms. In Matthew 10:29-31 provides one of the sweetest promises you can ever receive in the storm, saying, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” No matter the storm, take heart and do not give way to fear because you’re bullet proof, you’re immortal until your Father says that your course is finished. Take heart, because the Bible promises that no storm will come to you apart from your Father who loves you (Matthew 10), no storm will separate you from the love of your Father in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:31-39), and every storm that comes is part of God’s plan to conform you to the likeness of Jesus for God’s glory and your greatest joy forever (Romans 8:28-30). And we can hold out the good news of Jesus to others in the midst of your storm because we know where our course ends. In Matthew 24:14 Jesus promises, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” No matter the storm, believe God, believe his word of promise, and you’ll be buoyant even as the storm buffets your boat. Let me give you an idea of how this buoyancy works…
Without a doubt or debate, the greatest football game to be played by anyone ever was Super Bowl 52, in which the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots 41-33. I watched the game with my son Soren and our neighbor Stich who is a retired union electrician and lifelong Philadelphian. At the end of the game, Stich told me, with tears in his eyes and a lump in his throat, that he could die happy. There are two reasons why Stich cried. The first is because he’d waited his whole long for the Eagles to win a Super Bowl and was overcome with joy. The second is because Stich was completely overwhelmed from watching the game. Literally every time Tom Brady completed a pass, Stich lost his mind and was sure it was the beginning of the end for the Eagles. Honestly, watching the game was a terrible experience for Stich until the last second ticked off the clock. But can you imagine how different the experience of watching the game would have been if Stich had known the outcome of the game ahead of time? He’d still experience the ups and downs of the game, but he wouldn’t be willing to throw in the towel at every sign of trouble. Friends, believing God, taking him at his word of promise doesn’t remove you from the storm or tell you exactly what to do in order to get out of it. Rather, believing God’s promises and taking him at His word makes you supernaturally buoyant in the midst of the storm. Very practically, believing God requires you to put in the time. To believe God’s word, you’ll need to put in the time to read his word regularly, to listen to his word preached, to use his word to give you language to pray, and to memorize his word so that it’s hidden in your heart and ready to bat back the lies that accompany life’s storms. I recommend memorizing one of God’s great promises in Romans 8 so that when the storms come you can use God’s word to battle unbelief at any time. Friends, don’t give way to fear when storms come, first, by believing God.
If you think about it, this point is a bit of a paradox. If God makes promises that can’t be broken and we believe him, why is action required? Remember what the word of the Lord guaranteed what would happen in Acts 27:23-25: 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. The God who preserves and governs his creation by his perfect providence has guaranteed that Paul and all who are with him will be survive the voyage. God has spoken and nothing can thwart his promise. But here is the paradox: human action is still required! In Acts 27:25-26, God says that everyone will survive, but the sailors must run aground on some island for everyone to survive. In Acts 27:29, God says that day will come, yet Paul and others pray that morning will come. Acts 27:30-32: 30, God says that everyone on the ship will be saved, but the sailors have to stay aboard the ship or the passengers cannot be saved. In Acts 27:34, God says that no one will perish on the journey, but the sailors need strength to survive the journey.
What do we make of this? We need to do some serious theology for a moment. I want to teach you a theological term that may be new to many of you: God’s decrees: The eternal plans of God whereby, before the creation of the world, he determined to bring about everything that happens (Wayne Grudem). Isaiah 46:10 says that God declares the end from the beginning. Here is where Acts 27 and Paul’s sea voyage comes in. Acts 27 completes our understanding of God’s decrees by reminding us that God’s providential oversight of all things involves the use of ordinary human means that are necessary. God ordains both the ends and the human actions that accomplish those ends such that those actions are necessary. Acts 27 provides a wonderful illustration for how God’s decrees and our actions relate to one another. Before God’s word of promise came, Paul and the sailor had lost all hope and ceased from all action. But when everyone learned through divine revelation that God had decreed their survival, they didn’t put their feet up on the deck. Rather, God’s decree caused them to take heart and then take action! A hearty belief in God’s providence is not a discouragement, but a spur to action (Grudem). They eat, pray, and sail because they know they will make it. They’re encouraged and invigorated because they know God’s promises can’t fail.
Let’s begin to take this personally. Do you remember the storms that are swirling in your life? How could you forget? Whatever the storm, in order to not give way to fear, believe God and take wise action. I say wise action because in you probably notice that Paul didn’t give the crew secret sailing knowledge. He simply encouraged them to do what wise sailors do. Friends, no matter the storm you’re facing, take God at his word, believe his sovereign promises, trust in his decreed plans, and take wise confident action because your actions are the means to his ends. If the storm you’re facing is that a dear friend or neighbor persists in not believing in Jesus, then believe that God can sovereignly save anyone, and then take action by praying for them, loving them, and speaking the gospel to them. If your storm is a big decision, then believe God’s promise that he works all decisions together for good for those who love him, and take action by reading the Bible, consulting godly counselors, praying for wisdom, and making a decision. God will be with you no matter the decision. If the storm is marital trouble, then believe that even this has come to you through the hands of a loving Father and take action by turning from selfishness, loving one another earnestly, and seeking help from a pastor or biblical counselor. If your storm is your own sin, then believe God that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and then, as Jesus says, do whatever it takes to cut off the hand of sin and put it to death. Whatever the storm you’re in, believe God, take action, and you may be afraid, but you won’t give way to fear and lose heart.
One last question: How can we know that God can use the storms and setbacks in our lives for his ultimate purpose? Does Christianity offer anything more than wishful, positive thinking to hold onto when you get passed up for the promotion, when you put in an offer on yet another house and get denied, etc.? Yes!
We can take heart when storms come because God has shown He can use the worst storms to accomplish His purpose. When Jesus died and was crucified, the disciples lost heart because they expected Jesus to overthrow the Roman government, etc. Even Peter, Jesus’ closest follower, denied him. But they did not know that God was going to use their biggest disappointment for the ultimate purpose of their salvation. Jesus’ death is the worst storm this earth has ever faced, and God used it to accomplish His promised plan of redemption. Take heart by believing that He will accomplish His purposes through your storm. And if you’re not yet a follower of Jesus, He took the greatest storm for you. Repent and believe.