“Take Heart and Believe!”
Series: The Church on Fire
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
First Baptist Church Henderson, KY
- Take God’s Word and open to Acts, Chapter 27.
We have been making our way through the book of Acts, verse-by-verse, as we’ve been reading about the early church—how the church got started in Jerusalem and how it spread far and wide in fulfillment of our Lord’s Commission for His believers to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
In these latter chapters of Acts the focus has been on the imprisonment of the Apostle Paul. He has been falsely accused of many things and is now being taken to appear before Caesar in Rome. So we’re going to be reading this morning about Paul’s journey to Rome. The time is around AD 59. Luke is doing the writing here in the book of Acts. So let’s read the first few verses and pray and then we’ll make our way through the entire chapter this morning.
- Stand in honor of the reading of the Word.
1 And when it was decided that we should sail to Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to one named Julius, a centurion of the Augustan Regiment.
2 So, entering a ship of Adramyttium, we put to sea, meaning to sail along the coasts of Asia. Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, was with us.
3 And the next day we landed at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him liberty to go to his friends and receive care.
4 When we had put to sea from there, we sailed under the shelter of Cyprus, because the winds were contrary.
5 And when we had sailed over the sea which is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia.
6 There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing to Italy, and he put us on board.
7 When we had sailed slowly many days, and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, the wind not permitting us to proceed, we sailed under the shelter of Crete off Salmone.
8 Passing it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea.
Now our writer, Luke, could easily have summarized this entire chapter 27 into one or two sentences. He could have just written, “Then we sailed to Rome. It was a bit difficult, but we made it and here’s what happened next.” But I am so glad Luke didn’t summarize the chapter like that! He gives us details and tells us, as we’ll see in a moment, about how Paul and the others shipwrecked on the island of Malta following a terrible storm.
And I think that’s just perfect storms are often used by you and me as a metaphor of life. We often speak often of “the storms of life” or we say, “This was a stormy situation,” or, “My, how the winds blew during that point in my life,” and so forth.
And so I want to study this chapter with you as we are together reminded of how it is we can trust God to guide us through the stormy times in our lives, how we can “take heart and believe.” Because it may very well that some of you are even now swirling around in stormy conditions at work or in your health or in your finances or in your marriage, or you’re worried about something or another. And if there is no storm this morning, and the sun is shining in your life and the winds are calm, just remember the old adage: “We’ve all just been through a storm, we’re in a storm now, or we’re getting ready to enter another storm.”
Now before we dive back into the text, let’s take a look at the entire journey as displayed on this map here (Pic 1). I’m not sure how well you can see this. Paul is put on a ship at Caesarea and they travel north to Sidon, then Seleucia, then West to Myra and Cnidus, then down to Crete. In ancient sea travel, ships clung to the Mediterranean Coast, avoiding travel in the wide, open sea. Now what you see on this graphic is after they leave Crete they encounter a storm and then they will shipwreck on the island of Malta. Here’s a black and white map that may be a little easier to see (Pic 2).
Okay so that’s where we’re going this morning. Let’s strap-on our life preservers and get on-board with the Apostle Paul and let’s learn about trusting God to guide us this morning. If you’re taking notes, here’s the first main point:
I. Trust God to Guide through times of Difficulty (1-12)
Verse one tells us that Paul is sailing with some “other prisoners.” Many scholars believe these were prisoners already condemned to death who will die in the Roman Arena as gladiators. How many of you guys saw the movie with Russell Crowe, “Gladiator?” Awesome movie, right?! So you’ve got these prisoners with Paul and then you’ve got, verse one says, a Roman centurion on the ship named, “Julius.” I kind of like this guy. He comes across as a pretty decent guy to Paul, giving Paul some freedom during the journey. Also on board is Aristarchus, someone who new Paul from Ephesus.
So we read how they are going from one point to the next and then it is in Myra, verses 5 and 6 tell us, where Paul is placed an Alexandrian ship on its way to Italy. Ships often traveled from Alexandria in Egypt, carrying grain to Rome. Why were they carrying grain to Rome? Well, those of you familiar with Roman history know how important “bread and circuses” were to the people in the Roman Coliseum. So here was a grain ship on its way to Italy and the centurion gets Paul and the others on this larger ship.
Now, we left off with the ship at the island of Crete. Verses 7 and 8 tell us that the winds begin to blow and they are encountering some difficulty. There was some difficulty in travel and that they stop at the harbor known as “Fair Havens” there in Crete. Let’s pick it up now at verse 9:
9 Now when much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over, Paul advised them,
There’s an interesting little note here in verse 9. It says “the Fast was already over.” That’s a reference to the Jewish Day of Atonement, a day that occurred in late September or early October. This day had already past and Luke’s point is, “We’re getting into the latter months when wise people don’t sail anymore.” Sea travel was considered dangerous after mid-September and folks stayed off the seas during the winter months. So Luke’s saying, “We’re into the danger months right now and need to find a harbor where we can spend the winter.” So Paul advised the folks on the ship, verse 10:
10 saying, “Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives.”
Those are the words of an experienced man at sea. In 2 Corinthians 11:25 Paul says he was shipwrecked three times. He knows what he’s talking about! So he’s like, “I think we need to winter here, men. Let’s stay here in Fair Havens.” I’ve got a picture of this, too. Here’s a picture of Fair Havens (Pic 3). Looks pretty nice, doesn’t it? Here’s another shot of it (Pic 4). So Paul’s like, “Let’s just spend the winter months right here.” Verse 11:
11 Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul.
12 And because the harbor was not suitable to winter in (looked pretty good to us, didn’t it?!), the majority advised to set sail from there also, if by any means they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete opening toward the southwest and northwest, and winter there.
Okay, so the majority of the folks on the ship are like, “Whatever, Paul. We’re going to sail a little further along the coast of Crete until we read Phoenix,” which was about another 40-50 miles further West.
Now we’re talking about trusting God to guide through times of difficulty. The story here reminds us that we do, indeed, go through times of difficulty. Whatever “smooth sailing” we enjoy in life does not last forever and before long we find our ship beginning to encounter some strong winds and we’re seeking refuge somewhere in a peaceful harbor. All I want to do at this point is remind you that every one of us goes through times of difficulty. Troubled waters take-on various forms in our lives, but each one of us faces these times and we must trust God to guide us through them. He is always there. We must remember that. He knows what we are going through. And sometimes it gets worse, before it gets better. That’s what we see next. Here’s the second point. Not only must we trust God to guide through times of difficulty but, number two:
II. Trust God to Guide through times of Despair (13-26)
13 When the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their desire, putting out to sea, they sailed close by Crete.
It looks like all will be well. The south wind “blew softly,” a nice gentle breeze. And, “supposing that they had obtained their desire,” they put out to sea. Maybe some of them looked over at Paul and smiled at him, saying, “Looks like you were wrong and we were right!”
14 But not long after, a tempestuous head wind arose, called Euroclydon.
That’s the word for the strong gales that came down from the northern mountains. The word “tempestuous” there in verse 14 is the translation of the original Greek word from which we get the English word, “typhoon.” So much for smooth sailing! Verse 15:
15 So when the ship was caught, and could not head into the wind, we let her drive.
16 And running under the shelter of an island called Clauda, we secured the skiff with difficulty.
The skiff was the small boat that was normally towed behind the ship. During troubled waters it would be secured so that it didn’t bang around or get lost.
17 When they had taken it on board, they used cables to undergird the ship (the nautical term is “frapping,” tying long cables around the hull to keep it together); and fearing lest they should run aground on the Syrtis Sands, they struck sail and so were driven.
That place in verse 17 known as “Syris Sands” was a place of shoals and quicksand, something of a ship graveyard in those days. It was sort of like the “Bermuda Triangle” of the first century.
18 And because we were exceedingly tempest-tossed, the next day they lightened the ship. 19 On the third day we threw the ship’s tackle overboard with our own hands.
20 Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up.
You see how quickly things turned? Verse 20 says they didn’t even know where they were anymore. “Neither sun nor stars appeared for many days.” That’s how sailors determined where they were sailing, back then. They used an instrument called a sextant to help them navigate, but that instrument depended upon the sun by day and the moon and stars by night and they had neither. So Luke writes in verse 20, “all hope that we would be saved was finally given up.” Now look at verses 21-26:
21 But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss.
22 “And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. (How does he know that? Verse 23…)
23 “For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve,
24 “saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ (that is, “You’ll be saved Paul, and all those with you, too)
25 “Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me.
26 “However, we must run aground on a certain island.”
So while the sailors were unable to get guidance from the light of the sun and the moon, Paul receives guidance from the light of God’s Word. An angel of God appeared to him and said, “Do not be afraid.” That means that Paul must have been afraid. Even Paul was afraid. Even Paul reached a point of despair. But just in the nick of time, God sends His word to encourage him so Paul shares that word of encouragement with others. Look again at verse 25:
“Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me.” That verse is a sermon unto itself! Underline that verse in your Bible. Underline that verse in your neighbor’s Bible! Underline it somewhere. “Take heart, for I believe it will be just as it was told me.”
Some of you this morning need to “Take heart and believe.” God has given you His Word, the Holy Bible. That’s primarily how He speaks to us today. And you and I need to “take heart and believe that things will be just as it is told us” in His Word.
When you’re worried about how you’re going to get through your marital situation, take heart and believe Luke 1:37, “For with God, nothing shall be impossible.”
When you’re worried about how you’re going to get through that surgery, take heart and believe Hebrews 13:5 that “God will never leave us nor forsake us.”
When you’re worried about how you’re going to manage this year in school, take heart and believe Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
When you’re worried about how you’re going to make ends meet, take heart and believe Philippians 4:19: “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
Trust God to guide through times of difficulty and trust God to guide through times of despair. Take heart and believe! Here’s the third point:
III. Trust God to Guide through times of Danger (27-44)
God gives us the promise of His Word and then we use that promise when we go through the storm. We use that promise even when our ship wrecks.
27 Now when the fourteenth night had come, as we were driven up and down in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors sensed that they were drawing near some land. (probably from the noise of the breakers, waves breaking upon the land)
28 And they took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and when they had gone a little farther, they took soundings again and found it to be fifteen fathoms.
A fathom was 6 feet. So they took these ropes with weights on the end and they dropped them into the water. So they’re like, “20 fathoms, 15 fathoms,” or, “120 feet, 90 feet.” They know they’re getting close to land.
29 Then, fearing lest we should run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern, and prayed for day to come. (Have you ever been there, just “praying for day to come?!”)
30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, when they had let down the skiff into the sea, under pretense of putting out anchors from the prow,
I think that’s kind of funny. There are these sailors seeking to escape from the ship. By the way, if sailors are trying to escape from the ship, how bad is the storm?! So they’re letting down the skiff, the little dinghy, or boat, and they’re whistling, “We’re just letting down this anchor.”
31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.”
Paul is like, “God’s Word, His promise to save, is conditioned upon our obedience to believe Him.”
32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the skiff and let it fall off.
33 And as day was about to dawn, Paul implored them all to take food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day you have waited and continued without food, and eaten nothing.
34 “Therefore I urge you to take nourishment, for this is for your survival, since not a hair will fall from the head of any of you.”
The sailors have not been eating because of the wildness of the storm and they had no appetite. So Paul’s like, “Remember what I said? Take heart and believe.” Then Paul sets the example:
35 And when he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat.
By the way, that’s a good model for us. I hope you pray in public. I hope you “give thanks to God in the presence of (others).” He sets the example for them both in thanking God and believing God. The men on the ship are encouraged by Paul’s faith.
36 Then they were all encouraged, and also took food themselves.
37 And in all we were two hundred and seventy-six persons on the ship.
38 So when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship and threw out the wheat into the sea.
What a difference one person can make! There were 276 men on the ship including Paul. So you’ve got Paul and 275 others. What a difference one man can make before hundreds of people at the workplace! What a difference one woman can make before hundreds in the community! What a difference one little boy or girl can make before hundreds at school! Take heart and believe and others will take heart and believe, too. Here’s God guiding through danger:
39 When it was day, they did not recognize the land; but they observed a bay with a beach, onto which they planned to run the ship if possible.
40 And they let go the anchors and left them in the sea, meanwhile loosing the rudder ropes; and they hoisted the mainsail to the wind and made for shore.
41 But striking a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the violence of the waves.
42 And the soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim away and escape.
43 But the centurion, wanting to save Paul, kept them from their purpose, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land,
44 and the rest, some on boards and some on parts of the ship. And so it was that they all escaped safely to land.
Now they don’t know it yet, but the place where they land is the island of Malta. Here’s a picture of Malta today (Pic 5). Pretty nice, huh? Verse 39 describes one particular “bay with a beach.” That place today is called, “St. Paul’s Bay.” Do you want to see a picture of it? Here it is (Pic 6). It’s a beautiful place with perfect climate. And that’s where they are shipwrecked. Pretty good place to be shipwrecked!
Do you know what I though of as I was reading these latter verses as we read how God guided through times of danger? I thought of the song, “Amazing Grace.” I thought of that wonderful third verse: “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come. “Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” Do you know that verse? Is it real to you? Take heart and believe. Sing it with me:
“Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come, “Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
- Stand for prayer.
COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: The text contained in this sermon is solely owned by its author. The reproduction, or distribution of this message, or any portion of it, should include the author’s name. The author intends to provide free resources in order to inspire believers and to assist preachers and teachers in Kingdom work.