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Acts 27:21-28:6 by Robert Dean
How long does it take you to panic and have a brain freeze when devastating events swirl around you? Listen to this spellbinding account of how the Apostle Paul steps up to take charge in the midst of chaos and explains his confidence in God to the pagans with their false beliefs. Learn the meaning of blessing by association. See God's sovereign control over the life of Paul and how Paul uses the opportunity to wisely exercise his free will. Apply these lessons to the things that happen in your own life and continue to trust God through all the changing circumstances.
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:59 mins 13 secs

Paul's Roman Cruise, Part 2
Acts 27:21–28:6

We left them last time as they basically lost control and had to go with the wind wherever it took them. Our point of application: Sometimes in our life that is what we feel like. God is directing us but we don't have a clue where His sovereignty is taking us. Things are happening in terms of circumstances that are beyond our control and they are not at all what we expected. But what we have to do is learn to adjust our thinking to the plan of God, and to relax and let God be in charge, and to trust Him. As Proverbs 3:4, 5 says, He will make our paths straight. This is exactly what happens with the apostle Paul, and because of that he is in a crisis situation where everyone on board thinks that this is the end and they are going to lose their life and there is nothing they can do about it. Paul is the only one who doesn't lose his head, the only one who isn't panicking, and he is the only one therefore who can think clearly, calmly and objectively. He is the one who can give proper guidance, and that is what we are going to see.

In Acts chapter 9 God promised that Paul would be a witness before Gentiles, before kings and before the children of Israel. This is expanded later on in Acts 23:11 which is the promise that is in the background to these events in chapters 24-28. The Lord told him that he would testify and be a witness for Him in Rome. This is certain. And so Paul, unlike those of us who are in this room, has a specific promise regarding his destiny. But there is no time factor there. In the meantime Paul has to wait day by day, trusting the Lord to provide for him. Because even though he knows of the end game and that he is going to end up in Rome, he doesn't know what will happen in between. But he does know that in life-threatening situations his life is not going to be lost, God is going to protect him.

We know that God has a destiny for us. It may include death; we don't know. But we know the same principle that Paul was trusting in, that God is in control, and so we have to relax in whatever the circumstances are at the moment so that we can be an effective witness for Him. And we can't be an effective witness if we have a brain seizure, where we have a spiritual seizure where we just quit trusting the Lord and start operating on our sin nature and start panicking and letting fear and anxiety take over. So we have to learn to relax. 

One of the things we note in this chapter is that there is a tremendous amount of detail given. The human author of Acts is Luke the physician. And Luke we know has joined Paul on this journey because in Acts 27:1 we started seeing the first person plural pronoun used and Luke began to write about "we". So he is now traveling with the apostle Paul along with another young man from Thessalonica, Aristarcus. Luke is giving a lot of detail because he is building to a climax, a lot of tension into the story related to all the storms, all the disasters that are taking place, creating a sense of tension in the reader and leaving him wondering if Paul is actually going to get to Rome, and asking, how is God going to protect him and get him out of this mess?    

One of the other aspects that we see is the detail that Luke gives which indicates that he had a good understanding of the workings of an ancient ship. He was there. It gives the whole story that sense of authenticity.

We ended up last time as the ship had come off of the southern coast of Crete and headed around an island 23 miles off the coats of Crete. It did not have any harbor, there was no place for them to have any shelter from the wind but there was enough shelter for them to take the dinghy that the ship had, bring it on board and attach it more securely to the ship itself. Then they were blown off course down to the south and narrowly avoided being blown too far south to be caught in an area of quicksands and shoals off the coast of Libya.

At this point Paul speaks for the second time. And this is where Paul really begins to challenge them with his own testimony and faith in God.    

Acts 27:21 NASB "When they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst and said, 'Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss…' He moves into a leadership role. Believers have doctrine in their soul because they can trust the Lord, because they understand the plan of God, they can move into leadership positions where everybody else is falling apart. Paul reminds them and says they should have listened to him. Back when they were coming around Crete and seeking harbor at Fair Havens everybody wanted to keep going Paul warned them that of they kept going they would risk everything and probably lose everything. He was speaking from his own experience and background, not from revelation. Nobody had listened to him and now disaster was upon them. He is speaking about the fact that now they had had to dump the wheat into the ocean and were losing the investment in the ship and their fear was that they might even lose their own lives.   

Now he challenges them twice—vv. 22, 25. Acts 27:22 NASB "{Yet} now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but {only} of the ship." Those who heard him would be wondering how in the world he could say that. It is a dogmatic announcement that comes as a result of revelation from the Lord, which he begins to explain in the next verse.

Acts 27:23 NASB "For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me" He talks about the fact that there is a real angel, he hasn't just had a dream. The term "angel" means a messenger. The initial function of angels was to serve as messengers of God and to carry out various functions in the universe long before God ever created the human race. Regarding the term "angel of God" he doesn't say an angel of the Lord, which would be a more technical term, which in the Old Testament was a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is used a couple of time in the New Testament but only as an angel, not the angel of the Lord. Here it is simply an angel of not God, or not just the God, not the Lord God but, he says, the God to whom I belong and whom I serve. That tells us something about the context of Paul's listeners. He knows he is speaking to pagans, most of whom did not believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But he knows that they believe in any number of different Roman or Greek deities, if they believe in any at all, and so he is making a contrast between the God whom he serves and worships and their gods and goddesses. He doesn't want to let his talk about God get sucked into their frame of reference.

This is always what happens with human viewpoint. It always seeks to wrap itself around and envelop any kind of divine viewpoint ideas and to reshape it into its own image. This is part of the methodology of suppressing the truth in unrighteousness in Romans 1:18. Unbelievers do it and believers do it. Often we hear a truth of Scripture and our sin nature says: I don't want it quite that way because that is really emphasizing the authority of God; I want it my way. So we seek to redefine it. Paul is not going to allow that kind of redefinition to occur, he is going to use a generic term for God. theos would be the Greek word that is translated here. He wants to give specific definition to the God he is speaking about and distinguish Him from all the other gods that are worshiped by those that are listening. That is something that we should learn when we are witnessing. When we use terms like God and Jesus often we are so familiar with those terms that we kind of expect people to understand that. There are really way too many people, even church-goers, who really don't understand God or Jesus. Many people have no clue who Jesus is at all. And if we just start talking about God without defining who this God is we are talking about then we open the door to a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding, because they will just read into the term God whatever their frame of reference is. So we have to stop that at the very beginning.  

Paul is making it clear here that this God he is mentioning is the one to whom he belongs and whom he serves, and He sent an angel. This God is a God who interferes in human history and directs human history. He sent an angel to direct Paul and to give him a specific promise.

Acts 27:24 NASB "saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.'"

It is clear here that God is promising that Paul is indeed going to make it to Rome. But it is the way the angel says it. He says, "You must be brought". This is a Greek word that indicates absolute necessity, so it is not something optional in the plan of God. Then he reiterates this: "God has granted you all those who are sailing with you." Not only will Paul survive but everyone who was sailing with him.

Then he draws an and drives it home, again encouraging the men.

Acts 27:25 NASB "Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told." He is very confident in the promise of God. When you are in a leadership position and you take a position of confidence that is something that is catching. Other people will depend upon you and rely upon your confidence, and that will give them confidence.  

Acts 27:26 NASB "But we must run aground on a certain island." What he is saying is that if this is going to work out then we must run aground. That is not an option; we will lose the ship. But we will all survive. That is his promise. This is a remarkable announcement because Paul shows that he is confident in this. It is the truth. He treats the angelic appearance as an objective reality. But then we learn that this is really the foundation of everything else that happens in this episode until they arrive in Rome. This is exactly what will take place. The ship will wreck; they will survive; they will all make it to Rome. So Paul's encouragement to them captures their imagination. They are willing to follow his leadership, which is something we see in the rest of the story. Paul's faith, his trust in God, gave him confidence and hope, which in turn became a foundation for confidence and hope in the people. 

Note that Paul doesn't encourage them by saying the storm is going to let up; it is not going to be that bad. He doesn't promise that somehow the hardships will go away. He doesn't say that there won't be any loss. He says that they will survive. This goes against how many Christians today are taught about hardship and difficulty. Paul doesn't say he is just going to trust God for a miracle. That is not the normal way in which God operates in this generation, in this church age. We don't expect God to bail us out through some sort of supernatural intervention, but we are going to trust God through His promises to sustain us no matter what happens and no matter what comes up. 

There is another aspect that comes up, and that is that in the last part of the promise (v. 24) the angel says that God has granted Paul all those still with him. This is blessing by association. Where we learn about blessing by association initially in the Scriptures is in the Old Testament. In Genesis 18 we have the prelude to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorah where God brought judgment upon the homosexual perversity. The background is that God has come, along with these two angels, to Abraham at his encampment at Mamre, which is near Hebron. They have had a meal with Abraham who has provided for them, and then the Lord says, Genesis 18:17 NASB "The LORD said, 'Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, [18] since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed?"

In other words, if Abraham is going have this position of rulership in the future then I should start training him now for that future position. So God is going to talk to Abraham in light of what His plans are and see how Abraham handles it—a sort of test case here.

Genesis 18:20 NASB "And the LORD said, 'The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. [21] I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.'"

Notice that God's opinion of homosexuality is that it is a sin. It doesn't mean they are going to go to hell because they are homosexuals any more than anybody else is going to go to hell because of a particular sin. It is because all sin has social consequences and some sins have more devastating social consequences than others sins. Because of that the sin has to be dealt with.

Genesis 18:22 NASB "Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the LORD." These two angels are sent on a reconnaissance of Sodom and Gomorrah.  [23] "Abraham came near and said, 'Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?'" His nephew Lot and his family are living in Sodom. 

Gen 18:24 "Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep {it} away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? [25] 'Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are {treated} alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?' [26] So the LORD said, 'If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.'" That is his point: God will do the right thing. This is not righteous to slay the righteous with the wicked.

Genesis 18:28 NASB "Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?" And He said, "I will not destroy {it} if I find forty-five there." In other words, even though all the rest of the city is wicked and evil and deserving of punishment they are going to be blessed by being associated with the few righteous that were there. In verse 32 the Lord said He would not destroy it for the sake of ten. What is going to happen is that God is going to move the few that are left (Lot and his family) and then no righteous will be left in Sodom and God can bring judgment upon it. That is the principle laid down in the earliest episode like that that we have. That tells us that God is going to bless the unrighteous by the presence of the righteous. And that is what we see here with Paul.   

Acts 27:27 NASB "But when the fourteenth night came [after they had left Crete], as we were being driven about in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors {began} to surmise that they were approaching some land." They are driven towards Malta and are starting to take soundings.  [28] "They took soundings and found {it to be} twenty fathoms; and a little farther on they took another sounding and found {it to be} fifteen fathoms [90 feet]." At this point they recognize that they are getting close to land. [29] Fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak."

Acts 27:30 NASB "But as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship and had let down the {ship's} boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow.." They panicked and were not going to pay attention to anything on the ship. They had taken the dinghy they had put on the ship and let it down into the water. While they were putting out the anchors they had been trying to protect themselves, and at this time Paul addresses the centurion. 

Acts 27:31 NASB "Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, 'Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved.'" If they bail out there won't be any sailors left and we won't survive. This is a great illustration of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. On the one hand God has made a promise, a promise that is certain and cannot be changed. But on the other hand there is a problem with human volition, and it is still working. These men have panicked and want to jump ship. Paul, rather than just throwing up his hands in some sort of fatalism and thinks that no matter what happens God made a promise, he goes to the centurion exercising leadership and responsibility, and having them take action to make sure that the sailors are not going to be able to jump ship. We see the balance between the sovereignty of God and how He allows and works together with the free will of man. The free will of man is real but it operates within the way that God determines compatibility with His own will. We also note that Paul, because of his confidence in God, is able to provide leadership for everyone.

Acts 27:32 NASB "Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the {ship's} boat and let it fall away. [33] "Until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, 'Today is the fourteenth day that you have been constantly watching and going without eating, having taken nothing.'" After two weeks they are weak and tired and Paul understands the need for nourishment. He makes the promise that this is the day where it is all going to end.  [34] "Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation, for not a hair from the head of any of you will perish." This is an idiom, a figure of speech related to God's protection of them. He will not let the least little thing harm them.

Acts 27:35 NASB "Having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all, and he broke it and began to eat." This is what we should do whenever we eat. What we are doing, according to Acts here, is giving 5thanks for the food; in 1 Timothy 4:3, 4 we are asking God to sanctify or set apart the food for the nourishment of our bodies. This is what Paul does. He is not having a communion service on the deck of the ship while it is being tossed about in the storm. There are some people who suggest that! 

Acts 27:36 NASB "All of them were encouraged and they themselves also took food. [37] All of us in the ship were two hundred and seventy-six persons."

Acts 27:38 NASB "When they had eaten enough, they {began} to lighten the ship by throwing out the wheat into the sea."

Acts 27:39 NASB "When day came, they could not recognize the land; but they did observe a bay with a beach, and they resolved to drive the ship onto it if they could. [40] And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea while at the same time they were loosening the ropes of the rudders; and hoisting the foresail to the wind, they were heading for the beach." But what they didn't count on was that there was a place where two opposing currents came together, coming from around the island, which created a sand bar going into the bay. At that point they were still too heavy, the ship ran aground and the bow stuck fast and remained unmovable, and then boat was then broken up by the violence of the waves.   

Acts 27:42 NASB "The soldiers' plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none {of them} would swim away and escape; [43] but the centurion, wanting to bring Paul safely through, kept them from their intention, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land, [44] and the rest {should follow,} some on planks, and others on various things from the ship. And so it happened that they all were brought safely to land."

Again we see the centurion. He likes Paul, he is a hero and he has respect for him and he wants to save Paul. So he stops them from killing the prisoners.

What we see here as we conclude chapter twenty-seven is an example of God's sovereign control, not only over the ship and over the lives of those on the ship, but on a broader picture His sovereignty over the life of Paul. But even in terms of the sovereignty over the life of Paul we see how He is able to protect Paul. He is able to bring Paul to his ultimate destination. And even in the midst of that Paul has freedom to exercise responsibility towards God and make decisions all along the way. We see a great picture of how the sovereignty of God and the free will of man work together. We also see a parallel to events in the life of Jesus where He was in control of the winds and the waves on the Sea of Galilee, and how He used the storms to teach about the power and authority that He had over the storms.

So we come to chapter twenty-eight.   

Acts 28:1 NASB "When they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was called Malta." The meaning of Malta meant refuge. Luke doesn't make anything out of that etymology but that is how it had been named at some time in the past. Malta is 58-miles south of Sicily; it is 180-miles north of Africa. It has a length of 18 miles and a width of eight miles, so it is not very large at all. The natives who lived there were Phoenician in origin. Luke refers to them as Barbarians, from the Greek word barbaroi. The Greeks thought that anybody who couldn't speak Greek and were speaking some other language it was as though they were saying, Bar, bar, bar, bar, bar… i.e. gibberish.    

Acts 28:2 NASB "The natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all. [3] But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand." This is a fulfillment of the end of Mark chapter sixteen which says that people will pick up serpents. This is not telling people to pick up serpents. The Bible merely predicted that there would be various miracles that would take place to authenticate the ministry of the apostles as they went about their ministry. 

Acts 28:4 NASB "When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they {began} saying to one another, 'Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.' [5] However he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm." God was miraculously protecting Paul. Nothing was going to prevent him because he must make it to Rome.

Acts 28:6 NASB "But they were expecting that he was about to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and {began} to say that he was a god."