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Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Ultimate Destination

Acts 27

This week we continue our journey with Paul. Last week we followed him to Jerusalem, to which he continued going even knowing of his imprisonment and persecution. Many people heard from the Holy Spirit that Paul would be ill-treated, but he chose to continue on his journey to Jerusalem. He had heard from the Holy Spirit in Acts 19:21 that he was to go to Jerusalem. He did not allow the pleadings of other believers, evangelists, and prophets to keep him from this appointed journey. This week we jump into the middle of Paul’s last journey.
In Acts 25 and 26, Paul defended himself against the Pharisees charges. They became violent and began to beat and stone him. Twice the Roman cohort (guard) intervened and carried him out of the fray to the safety of the barracks. Because Paul was insistent, the second Roman governor of the region, Festus, agreed to send him to Rome to meet with the emperor. This is where we arrive in the story in Acts 27.

Chapter 27 begins, “it was decided that we would sail for Italy.” The garrison captain at Caesarea gave charge of Paul and other prisoners to a centurion named Julius. The left on an Adramyttian ship. This Adramyttian region is encompassed by the city of Mysia. Mysia was a province of Asia Minor on the shore of the Aegean Sea, between Lydia and Popontis. It included the cities of Pergamos, Troas, and Assos. The prisoners, Paul, and Julius joined this ship and sailed to Sidon, a Phoenician city on the east coast of the Mediterranean near Tyre and above Caesarea. The commandant gave Paul freedom to visit friends and receive care with them. They next sailed between Cyprus and Asia to keep northeaster winds from buffeting them. Northeaster winds are strongest during winter. The ship continued to sail along the coast of Asia and landed at Myra. Julius found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy, upon which they next traveled. They sailed along Asia but experienced difficulty with the winds and decided to sail south of Crete letting the island be a wind barrier for them.

At this point, the journey became treacherous and Paul “admonished them” (vs. 9). He spoke as one who had many years lived and traveled in the vicinity. He said, “Men, I perceive that the voyage will certainly be with damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also of our lives.” After the pilot and ship’s captain persuaded the Roman centurion, they continued their journey. At this point we must stop and consider a couple of things. The captain and pilot of the ship left Lycia and passed Cnidus knowing that the weather at this time of year was deadly. Their possible greed for one last trip to markets surpassed their common sense and experience. They chose money over the value of lives, cargo, and ship. Julius the centurion followed bad advice and judged incorrectly between Paul and the captain. Both these men had ulterior reasons for continuing on the journey. Paul wanted to get to Rome. Going to Rome had been his dream for years. Yet he chose more than that to follow the leadings of God and God told him the current journey would end in lost cargo and lives. However, the journey had to go forward because of the captain of the ship. Bad choices and bad judgments can lead us astray but not out of God’s hands.

The captain decided to continue and they left the Fair Havens harbor. (Aptly named don’t you think?) The ship headed for a more stable harbor at Phoenix to shelter from the winter winds. In verse 13, the crew and captain felt they had a sign from a god to go ahead with the journey and left the Fair Havens harbor. Before they arrived at Phoenix, a violent wind caught the ship and drove it hard. The boat ran under the shelter of Clauda and the crew barely got it under control. They girded the ship’s hull with ropes to strengthen it, lowered the sea anchor, and allowed the wind to drive them along the sea. The next day they were so violently storm-tossed that they jettisoned the cargo and later threw the ship’s tackle overboard. For fourteen days they did not see sun, moon, or stars nor had they eaten during this time. The outlook was bleak. Once again Paul spoke. He 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. 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. For this very night and angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.” Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. But, we must run aground on a certain island. (Acts 27:21-26 [NASB])

Even though men, in their bad decisions and judgment, appear to thwart God’s plan, God remains in control.

 After this, the men listened to Paul and what the Lord said to him. They continued to be driven around the Adriatic Sea and noticed they were approaching land. The crew feared they would run aground and, under the premise of cutting the anchor, they lowered the ship’s boat. Paul noticed and told the centurion, “Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved” (vs. 31). The soldiers were listening to Paul now. They realized Paul spoke up before the journey and was right. The captain of the ship led them astray and into harm’s way and death’s door, they realized. The men may have thought, “What do we have to lose by listening to Paul now.” Alternatively, they may have thought they should have listened to Paul from the beginning. Either way, they chose to heed Paul and cut the ship’s boat away so no one could leave the ship. After this, Paul encouraged them and told them to eat, for it had been fourteen days since they had last eaten. He said, “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” (vs. 34). He took the bread and thanked God in front of them. Encouraged, they ate, and then threw the remaining wheat overboard. God continues to care for His creation, people, and wants them to survive, thrive, and be encouraged as they go through live. Paul became the ambassador of God for the crew, soldiers, and prisoners.

When day broke, they saw land but did not recognize it. Next they resolved to drive the ship onto the island. They cut the anchors away, hoisted the foresail, and headed for the beach. Before they arrived at the beach, the prow (forward hull) stuck hard in the reef. The stern splintered by the force of the waves outside the reef. The soldiers fretted over prisoners getting away and not meeting their judgment in Rome. They wanted to kill the prisoners. Julius wanted to fulfill his duty and take Paul to the emperor. He kept the soldiers from killing the prisoners and arrived at a plan to get everyone to the island. Those who could swim would and those who could not would hold onto ship planks and other floating debris to get to the island. The 276 people arrived on the beach alive.

What I saw in this story is not just a storm-tossed and broken ship with survivors, but God’s hand. Men - the captain, pilot, and Julius - made bad decisions or judgments about the journey. Their greed or drive to do their duty surpassed their good sense about nature and the time of the year. They chose not to listen to Paul, God’s anointed servant, because he was just a man who was a prisoner. As we journey with them on this tumultuous ride, we find that God’s hand does not leave Paul or the boat. In the end, the crew, captain, and Julius decide to listen to Paul. Possibly they decided it could not get any worse without them dying, so why not. Maybe they decided they should give it a try since their knowledge was not getting them out of their mess alive. Either way, the crew gave control of their lives and their ship to God.

God’s plans are never thwarted. In the end, His will prevails. We know from the book of Revelations that God is the victor over Satan and his demons. Jesus Christ won the battle when He rose from the grave on the third day. He proved His power over death and Satan. God has a plan for each of us. His ultimate plan is that we turn to Him, accept His gift of salvation, and have a personal relationship with Him throughout eternity. Sometimes, though, we make bad decisions and judgments and our paths skew away from God. If we are Christians, we will ultimately be with God in heaven for eternity. We can never be removed from God’s hand. We can walk our own ways, fall into pits, and make bad decisions, but God is always God and will bring us through because of His love over our lives. On the other hand, if a person is not a Christian, until they have given their lives to God through Jesus Christ, when they make bad decisions, their ultimate end is not assured to be in God’s hand. The only assurance that person has is that they will face judgment and to determine if they are one of God’s sheep or one who is to be put into hell forever. That is our choice. We each get to choose who we want to be lord of our lives – God or ourselves. That is the ultimate decision we make and it determines our ultimate end in this life and forever.

Paul was God’s servant. He knew God told him he would go to Rome. He had confidence in this and knew He would survive to get there, because God had a plan for him there. No matter what decisions or judgments the crew or Julius made, God’s plan was not be thwarted. Yes, they made bad decisions and went through very hair-raising times on the ship, but God continued to speak to Paul and encourage him. God encouraged the other 275 people onboard the ship through Paul.

Our lives often mirror that ship’s journey. When we choose to follow God’s path, be it smooth or stormy, we know we will, in the end, be in God’s hand and arrive at His purposed destination for us. The purpose of our lives, remember, is to be in relationship with God and to tell others about Him. (Read Genesis to understand that.) Choosing to follow that path means we give our lives into His care. When we choose not to follow God’s path, it will be stormy or smooth at times, but we do not have God’s hand steadying us and encouraging us on our journey. We may even perish from this life and eternal life because of our refusal to follow His Son, Jesus Christ. This may seem like a grand plan to scare everyone into following God, but it is not. God chooses each of us because He loves us. He provided salvation from our sinful earthly selves through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. This love is not a grand plan to punish people or coerce them into having to follow Him. No, God gives us free will. What we choose is up to each individual person. God offers salvation and eternal life. The alternative is your choice. By not choosing God, you choose eternal punishment, for that is what sin deserves, punishment. Any loving parent disciplines their child. God made a way for the discipline to come to an end, through the sacrifice of His Son as the atoning sacrifice for all sins. It is up to us to choose to accept this free gift of His sacrifice.

Life can be like a boat on a stormy sea, but we can have the assurance Paul had. God had a plan for him in his immediate physical life and in his eternal life. Paul rested peacefully in that knowledge. He trusted God’s hand would not leave him or be thwarted by the bad decisions or judgments of men. God saved Paul and 275 other men that night. In the next three weeks, while they waited out winter, God healed and saved many other people through His servant Paul. God’s purpose was not thwarted. Many were saved on that ship and many more were saved on the island of Malta during the ensuing weeks of their stay.

God has a plan for you and for me. We each get to choose what we want to do; that is a gift God gave us when He created us.

You get to choose who will be the lord of your life – yourself or God.

With this decision, you get to choose your ultimate destination – heaven or hell – life and love or death.

The decision is yours.