June 21, 2010 David Balzer

Acts 27-28: On a Mission From God!

In the movie, “Blues Brothers”, Jake and Elwood are on A MISSION FROM GOD.  They’re released from jail, and visit the Catholic orphanage they were raised in. Their old teacher, Sister Mary Stigmata tells them the orphanage will be shut unless $5000 in back taxes is paid.  They offer to help by re-forming their old band to raise the money. It’s Jake who says they’re ON A MISSION FROM GOD.

The problem is they’re really just a of ex-cons who make more enemies than money as the movie progresses.  Their mission takes them to a black African-American church were James Brown is preaching a wild sermon. It makes them enemies of a neo-Nazi gang, as well as a country and western band called the Good ol’ boys.  Before long, they’re also wanted by the Police. They drive through a shopping centre, and destroy hundreds of cars along Chicago freeways,  All the while, being pursued by a crazy ex-wife who’s trying to kill them.  And they end up in a Country and Western bar playing “Rawhide” and “Stand by your man” to the worst audience in history.

To cut a long story short. The band reforms, they play the big concert, earn their money, and make it to the Tax Department just in time. Despite the best efforts of the SWAT Emergency Response squad.

Their MISSION FROM GOD is famously summed up by Elroy’s comment as they speed away from another disaster. “It’s a 106 miles to Chicago. We got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

On a mission from God

And the Apostle Paul’s very-own MISSION FROM GOD is NO LESS EXCITING. It’s the finale of the book of Acts. There’s just as much action. Just as much suspense. And even though he’s got a bit more GRACE than Jake and Elroy, he seems to make just as many enemies.

But despite the struggles, the point that’s made over and over again is that this REALLY IS a mission from God. Paul’s going EXACTLY WHERE God wants him. Doing exactly WHAT God wants him to do.

Travelling to ROME. And telling people about Christ Jesus his Lord.

It wasn’t happening the way Paul HOPED it would. He’s going AS A PRISONER. And he’s wasted a fair bit more TIME than he’d have liked stuck in one place or another. He’s changed from one ship to another. And now, despite his advice, they’re sailed right into the teeth of a life-threatening storm. But look at the message God sends Paul. In the middle of a huge gale. Ch 27 v24.

‘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.’

Which is really the point of these chapters. Whatever the twists and turns in the sea story, we KNOW where it will finish. We KNOW that God’s in control. And that HIS PURPOSES will come about. Even when it doesn’t LOOK like it.

Things start out alright though. Paul, Luke and Aristarchus begin their journey. You can tell Luke’s there because of that small word WE. The guy who writes the story was there for every twist and turn.

They’re on a ship bound for Myra (that’s number 7 on the map). And they’re supervised by a Centurion called Julius, who turns out to be level-headed and compassionate.

Then, in v6, it’s onto ANOTHER ship from Egypt that’s headed for Italy. They make it as far as the island of Crete. To a place called Fair Havens. (That’s number 10 on the map).

It’s tough going because the winds are against them. And the sailing season’s nearly over. There was an old Roman saying. “Sailing in September is STUPID. Sailing in November is ”.

But have a look at the note in verse 9. Sailing’s getting dangerous, because it’s after the Fast, the Day of Atonement. First week of October. Which makes it somewhere between STUPID and .

So Paul warns them, v10. “This is going to be DISASTROUS. Let’s stay here”. But they don’t listen. They press on. They get a nice gentle breeze, so they head off, thinking they can make it a bit further up the coast to a better harbour. To Phoenix (That’s number 11).

But verse 14, a hurricane force wind hits them. The Northeaster. Sweeping down across Crete and driving them right off course. Verse 16, hardly able to tie down the lifeboat. Trying to hold the ship together by lashing it with ropes. Dropping the sea anchor so they won’t run aground.

Verse 18, throwing the cargo overboard; then the ship’s tackle. Anything to lighten the load and keep them off the sandbars. And the storm goes on for day after day after day. Until they’ve given up all hope of getting out alive. V20

Until in verse 27 on the fourteenth night, being driven across the Adriatic, the sailors hear breakers. And realise they’re going to be dashed on the rocks. Forget about the Captain going down with the ship. THE WHOLE CREW heads for the lifeboats.

And they do it in secret. Pretending they’re lowering more anchors, but they’re really lowering their getaway boat. Until Paul sees what’s going on. And has them stopped. Because without the sailors, the ship won’t make it to land, and they’ll all drown.

And when daylight finally comes in verse 39, they see a bay. And realise their only hope is to run aground. They hoist the for’sail, the ship picks up speed heading for shore. But the bow jams into a sandbar and verse 41, the stern is smashed to pieces by the pounding of the surf.

They’ve made landfall. But the danger’s not over yet. The soldiers draw their swords. Policy is, you kill prisoners at a time like this to make sure they don’t escape. But the centurion stops them in the nick of time. And it’s abandon ship. And 276 souls on board swim for their lives.

And if you think they’re safe when you read the first verse of chapter 28, think again. Luke says, once safely on shore we found out the island was called Malta. And there’s an unusually warm welcome. They build a fire, serve up hot cocoa because it’s rainy and cold.

Paul, being the helpful sort of guy he is, is gathering a pile of brushwood for the fire… and as he drops it in the flames, a viper latches on to his hand.

If it’s not super storms, and slippery sailors, and shattering shipwrecks, it’s soldiers with slicing swords, swimming through the surf, and slippery snakes!

The Maltese who are watching reckon Paul must be GUILTY – that fate’s finally caught up with him. He’s escaped the SEA, but now justice has claimed her captive. And they expect him to swell up and die.

But Paul just shakes the snake off. And nothing happens to him. BECAUSE the point of it is/ PAUL’S A MAN/ ON A MISSION FROM GOD. And God’s not finished with him yet.

Remember back in Ch 27? In spite of the fact he’s the prisoner, Paul’s cheering up everyone else. V22. He says,

“But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost. Only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul… you must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.”

Which is just repeating, in essence, what Jesus had told him as well, back in chapter 23.

Take courage. As you’ve testified about me in Jerusalem, so you MUST also testify in Rome.

Lesson 1: Providence

And that’s the first lesson we can learn from this sea story. The first of three. And they all start with P. About GOD’S PROVIDENCE. (fill that in) His care and control of his world.

God WANTS Paul in Rome. To proclaim Jesus to the highest authorities/ in the most influential city in the world. And so, Paul will MAKE it to Rome. Because God’s will is ALWAYS done. His purposes are ALWAYS fulfilled.

And Jewish zealots can’t stop him. Or Roman imprisonment. Or rigged trials. Or corrupt politicians looking for bribes.

God wants Paul in Rome. And seasons and storms and shipwrecks can’t stop him. Or sailors or soldiers or swords or snakes.

God’s PROVIDENCE. One of the questions in the Westminster Shorter Catechism looked at it a few weeks ago. Here’s what you said.

Q. 11. What is God’s providence?

A. God’s providence is His completely holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing every creature and every action.

God is the Boss. He’s in control. And everything he PLANS, COMES TO PASS.

Which is COMFORTING at the same time as being SCARY. Because it’s not US who’s in control. It’s God. It makes us feel SAFE to know where in the middle of his purposes. But a little fearful because they’re not OUR purposes. But that’s what LEARNING to TRUST is all about.

And so Paul finally arrives in Rome. (That’s v14). Just where God wants him. It’s THREE YEARS since he first arrived in Jerusalem back in Ch 21. And Paul’s set up in a house he rents, with a soldier to guard him (v16).

Paul KNEW he’d make it. We did too. We were let in on the secret early. So we knew how it was all going to turn out. But that’s not how it NORMALLY works, is it?

In YOUR life, tough times happen. It might be sickness, or unemployment, or persecution for being a Christian. It might be a rebellious child, or marriage breakdown, or financial disaster. The storms of life are tossing you around. And you wonder where on earth God is. And whether he knows, or cares, or can DO anything.

But somehow you make it through. You still may be none the wiser about WHY God’s caused things to happen that way. Or where it is you’ve arrived. A strange looking wind-swept beach.

But when you LOOK BACK. You can see God’s hand. You can see his guidance and purposes, and care and love. You can see how you’ve GROWN as a result. Learned to TRUST him more. How OTHERS have been encouraged.

And it’s that perspective we see here as we follow Paul’s travels. Because God’s purposes always DO come to pass. HOWEVER BAD/ things might APPEAR. He always works in the lives of his children.

How can we be so sure? The same way PAUL was.

Perhaps the best-known verse showing God’s providence is Romans 8.28. Romans was written by Paul on his way to Jerusalem before his arrest. An arrest he KNEW was coming. Even back THEN. And here’s what it says.

28 And we know that in ALL things God works for the GOOD of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

How does Paul KNOW? How can he be so sure that God works for good? Listen to his reason. Down in v31.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 HE WHO DID NOT SPARE HIS OWN SON, BUT GAVE HIM UP FOR US ALL-HOW WILL HE NOT ALSO, ALONG WITH HIM, GRACIOUSLY GIVE US ALL THINGS?

Do you follow his logic? When you’re about to drown in the storms of life. And you start to doubt that God knows or cares or can DO anything. JUST LOOK TO THE CROSS. Remember the sacrifice of Jesus. Offered up by God himself. To satisfy his own wrath.

If God has given you HIS SON, then OF COURSE he’ll work EVERYTHING ELSE in your life for good.

That’s the FIRST lesson we can learn from these chapters. Providence.

Lesson two: PATH

The SECOND lesson is about THE PATH we have to follow. Because Paul’s arrived in Rome, just like he wanted. And just like God PLANNED. But he’s arrived as a PRISONER. There’s the threat of hanging over his head. It’ll only take a bad case of indigestion, a grumpy Caesar, and Paul’s lost his head.

He might be preaching, but he’s preaching with a chain around his ankle. Housebound. With a guard looking over his shoulder.

What’s God got in mind? What sort of a PATH is it that Christians are following?

It’s nothing less than the path that Jesus himself walked. And it’s JUST WHAT his FOLLOWERS should expect to walk TOO. Jesus warned his disciples of exactly that. John 15:18-20

18 “If the world s you, keep in mind that it d me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world s you. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.

It turned out that way for JESUS. It turned out that way for PAUL. And we shouldn’t be surprised if it turns out like that for US TOO. Because you DON’T fit in. People DON’T understand you. And so they LAUGH. S behind your back. Conversations stop when you walk into the room. Everyone’s invited out for drinks except for you. After all, you’ll just make everyone feel guilty.

Or they’re constantly waiting for you to trip up. To stumble. So they can rub your nose in it as a hypocrite.

Or you’re dismissed as a fanatic. Or an arrogant, insensitive, judgmental bigot.

Jesus DOESN’T promise you a bed of roses. But he DOES promise you TRIALS. But stick it out. BECAUSE JESUS HAS CHOSEN YOU. Which is WHY it’s tough!

That’s lesson number two we can learn from Paul. The PATH of a follower of Jesus will be tough. We shouldn’t be surprised. They d Jesus, so they’ll us too.

Picture

And the third lesson we can learn is to do with the BIG PICTURE. As we look at how these chapters fit into ACTS AS A WHOLE.

The big picture of Acts is about how God uses Paul, and others, to further the gospel. To take it to the world. And how he PROVIDENTIALLY uses the path of Paul being a PRISONER to do it. It’s a lesson that COMBINES providence and path.

Have a think about the BIG PICTURE. Acts BEGAN with Jesus commissioning the disciples. Acts 1:8

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

And the rest of Acts shows how that command’s carried out. Ch 1-7 is Jerusalem. Ch 8 is Judea and Samaria. And Chapters 9-28 is to the ends of the earth. Which brings us to Paul. In Rome. The CENTRE of the Gentile world.

EVEN THOUGH he’s still in chains. And EVEN THOUGH he’s stuck in the one house for ANOTHER TWO YEARS.

But he’s preaching UNHINDERED to Jews and Gentiles. That’s what it says in the very last verse. Paul’s a CHAINED MESSENGER. But his message is UNCHAINED. The gospel WILL, and DOES, go out.

God actually USES Paul’s chains to advance the gospel. That’s the big picture. Think about it. It’s unlikely Paul would have preached to Caesar himself unless he was a prisoner. Or King Agrippa. Or countless Roman soldiers.

And even though it must have driven Paul MAD, those four years of prison weren’t wasted. Two years in Caesarea, two in Rome. It’s thought he wrote Ephesians and Philippians and Colossians during those years. Letters that are RICH with the Lordship of Christ. That Jesus is KING – whatever our circumstances. And that he demands our obedience and service.

Rich with the perspective of someone who’s WRESTLED with handing everything over to him. Who’s had four years of thinking time. Four years to think about God’s providence. And the path he wanted for Paul.

Here’s some examples of that type of thinking. Phil 1:12;

12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has REALLY SERVED TO ADVANCE THE GOSPEL. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

Or Phil 3:7-11

7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, …. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the FELLOWSHIP OF SHARING IN HIS SUFFERINGS, becoming like him in his , 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the .

Or into Ch 4. Phil 4:11-13

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

And finally, Col 1:24. It sums up everything Paul learned about himself, and his mission, and his sufferings, and the gospel, and his audience.

24 Now I REJOICE in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me TO PRESENT TO YOU THE WORD OF GOD IN ITS FULLNESS- 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29 To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

Is that YOUR lesson? That the gospel matters more than any individual circumstance. That wherever God has put you at the moment, however big the storms, or however tight the chains. It’s the glorious riches of Christ that matter. The goal of presenting people perfect in Christ that’s more important than personal comfort or success or achievement or satisfaction.

THAT’S the Big picture of Acts. It’s the even BIGGER picture of OUR LIFE TODAY. We are on our very OWN mission from God – and it’s no different from Paul. And may our declaration be no different from Paul’s.

28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29 To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

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