The Light Shines in RomePastor Lutzer | September 6, 2009
God’s will and the storms in our lives.
Selected highlights from this sermon
How did the Gospel end up in Rome? Paul was put in chains,thrown on a ship, and ended up in a storm.
We face many storms in life as well, and sometimes they come even when we’re in the will of God. We need to remember that God’s plan for us isn’t inconvenienced or thwarted when we find ourselves in a storm—and we might be there to learn something new about God.
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This is the last in a series of messages entitled Light Shining in Darkness (How the Gospel Impacts Culture), and today we’re going to discover how the Gospel got to Rome as we end this series. And as we stop to think of all that has happened, keep in mind that we’re going to be talking about Paul on his journey to Rome, and the storm that he was in.
If you are here and you are in a crisis, you have come to the right place. You are either in a crisis, you’ve just come out of a crisis, or God is preparing you for a crisis, and that’s why you are here today. And we, of course, join not only with all those here at The Moody Church but the hundreds and perhaps thousands of people who have joined us today by way of the Internet. We have heard from about eighty different countries, and we welcome you as well.
All of us go through storms, and today we’re going to learn how Paul did it, and how we can do it too, but first of all let me give you a little bit of background. The Apostle Paul was there in Jerusalem and he was accused of starting a riot and he was accused of desecrating the Temple. Both charges were bogus, but as a result, however, to save his life he was taken to Caesarea, and it is there that he stood before men such as Felix, Festus, and King Agrippa, and if you’ve been with us in this series of messages you know that we discussed Paul’s defense in the midst of these people of power.
Jesus had told the Apostle Paul that, “you are to bear witness to me both in Jerusalem and in Rome,” and so the Apostle Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship and he said that he wanted to go to Rome, and to Rome Paul did go. The Bible tells us that he left the beautiful harbor of Caesarea, and now we are actually in Acts 27. Turn with me there if you would, and follow along with me. It says in verse 1 of Acts 27, “And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion named Julius.” We’re not going to read this whole chapter by any means. It is absolutely loaded with nautical terms–probably 15 or 20, many of which I did not know what they were even referring to, but if you are a person who is interested in boating, it would be interesting for you to study this passage almost word for word as the book of Acts explains what happens as Luke tells us the story.
On board the ship there is Luke and there is Paul and there is Aristarchus, as well as other prisoners, and of course, many sailors. And then the Bible tells us that they go past Cyprus, and then they come to a place called Lycia. We’re now in the last part of verse 5, and it is there that the centurion found the ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy and put them on board, because remember Luke is with Paul. Alexandria was the breadbasket of the world and we can understand that this ship, which was loaded with wheat, was on its way to Italy.
Now the Bible tells us that they came to a place called Fair Havens, which is just off the coast of Crete. It says in verse 8, “Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.”
Now I must read and then we’re going to put it all in context. “Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast was already over (That is a reference to the Day of Atonement. We’re talking about October. It was already over.), Paul advised them, saying, ‘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.’ But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix (which was about 40 miles away), a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there. Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along.” Let’s read just that far.
Paul is going to encounter a storm and this passage of Scripture tells us something about storms, and it really does apply also to the storms in our lives. When you read it you almost get seasick because of the experience that the Apostle Paul and his friends and the sailors and the soldiers who were aboard had. We’re talking here about a ship that is about 140 feet long and about 40 feet wide with about 276 people, we discover, and on the way they go.
What I’d like for us to do now is to look at some lessons that we can learn from Paul’s experience on the way to Italy–on the way to Rome.
First of all, notice carefully that storms often come to us when we are doing God’s will. Now there are some storms that we bring into our lives, and they are our fault. Take Jonah’s storm, for example. The reason Jonah went through his experience was because he was a disobedient prophet. He was running from God, and sometimes we blame the pagans for our storms when really the purpose of the storm and the reason for it might be some disobedient Christian who is bringing this storm upon himself. But there are some storms that we are involved in that are not our fault, that are brought upon us by others, and that’s what the Apostle Paul was experiencing here.
Remember I read a moment ago that he was talking to the people and he said, “Let us not go because we are going to encounter a tremendous storm and destruction,” and so Paul counseled them to spend the winter in Fair Havens, but of course, the man who loaned the ship and the other people thought they could take the risk of going at least as far as Phoenix, another 40 miles away because this harbor evidently was not very good to winter in, but even so it turns out that they are going to wish that they took the Apostle Paul’s advice. They are going to regret very much that they didn’t.
But now Paul is going to be in a predicament on the same ship with people who made a decision for him, and there’s no way that he can get out of it because he’s going to the same place that they are going to, just like you and I sometimes do in our storms.
Maybe you are here today and you are in a storm that was caused by someone else. Some of you parents are in a storm that was caused by a child or your children. Some of you spouses are here and you are in a storm that was caused by your spouse. I think, for example, of a woman who became party to dishonesty because she signed an income tax form that was dishonestly filled out by her husband, so she’s in a storm not of her own doing exactly but a storm that is brought upon her by others.
Now what is really encouraging is for us to realize that whether you are in a storm today that is entirely your fault, or whether you are in a storm that was brought upon you because of someone else (some friend or some member of your family), either way, please keep in mind that God is there to help you. He’s there to help us in the storms that we create and the storms that others create for us.
There’s a second lesson that we must learn and that is that storms cannot hide the face of God. Now in order to explain this we need to go back to the text to look at exactly how bad things were when they set sail. You’ll notice it says starting in verse 14, “A tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along.” Skipping on a few verses, notice it says in verse 18, “Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 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.” Wow! What an experience they were having, and you can just imagine now that all of their cargo is going to go. They are going to save some wheat, but later on they throw it into the sea as well as we shall learn, but for now they are keeping back at least enough for food, even though the 276 people on board did not eat for 14 days, the text tells us. Now it’s not because they did not have something on the ship that they could eat, but if you know anything about being storm-tossed and seasick you know that your appetite tends to go away, and that’s the kind of experience that these men on this ship were having. And so the sun was dark and the moon wasn’t there. The stars were not giving light for two full weeks. For 14 days these men were on the ship.
Now in the midst of this Paul has a good word. You’ll notice it says in verse 21, “Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, ‘Men, you should have listened to me.’” Is there a parent who is listening to me today who has not said this to his child? “‘Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 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.”’” And so the Apostle Paul receives a vision. There are six visions recorded in the book of Acts and this is the last one. An angel of the Lord comes and the Apostle Paul has this special revelation that lets him know that God is going to take care of him because he’s got to get to Rome. It’s very important that he get there according to the will of God.
So, everything now is jettisoned. You will notice that the cargo has gone into the sea, and all that the sailors and those aboard care about now is their own lives. That’s what is important to them. You know, we have friends like that. Rebecca and I have someone who is not at all connected with Moody Church, and he’s about to lose everything. His home is overleveraged. It almost is certain that he is going to be losing his house, and his car. He is without a job. Everything is going to go, and in this experience that they are having as well, everything is going to be gone except their own lives. God is going to spare their lives, and maybe there is somebody who is listening to me today and you are that person. It seems as if everything around you is being taken from you. Maybe you’ll be able to go on but you don’t know where you are going to live, or what you are going to do because everything is lost. That’s the experience of these 276 people on board.
But now I have to ask you a question: Where is God in the midst of this? You can’t look to the sun for perspective. You can’t look to the stars for guidance. Does the storm hide God’s face? The answer is, of course, no, it doesn’t.
God was there in this experience. God knew the longitude and the latitude of that little boat long before the GPS was invented. God knew exactly where that little boat (or that ship) was. God knew exactly the depth of the water, the speed of the wind, and the height of the waves. God knew all that. His knowledge is so complete that He even knew exactly how much every one of those boards on that ship could handle. God knew all that, and He could see them even when they couldn’t see Him. And you know there are times when there are storms in our life when we can’t see God. We just can’t see Him.
Three years ago I told you about the death of my close friend, Mark, with whom I played tennis for 20 years, and how he told me that he walked into the room as he was struggling with cancer in all of his pain in the middle of the night and didn’t want to awaken his wife, and he just sat there. And he said it was as if all the faith just drained from his soul. What about all the verses of Scripture? What about all the promises of God? Listen, there are times when you can’t see God, but when push comes to shove, as it often does in life, I need to emphasize that it is more important that God can see us than that we can see God, and God is there even at times that we cannot see Him. You see, that’s why we sing, “When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest upon his unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.” God is with you today even when you can’t see Him. Storms are encountered in the will of God. That’s the first lesson.
Why was the Apostle Paul in the predicament he was in? He was simply doing God’s will. God says, “Go to Rome.” He’s on his way to Rome and this is what he gets. He’s in the middle of a storm but storms cannot hide the face of God.
And there’s a third lesson and that is that storms cannot hinder the purpose of God. God had a purpose. There was a reason why that boat had to go to Rome, a very important reason, and you’ll notice that God in His purpose comes and speaks to the Apostle Paul by the means of an angel, and you know in verse 24 the angel says, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar.” I love that little word must.
About ten years ago I preached an entire message just on some of the “musts” of the Bible. God says, “You have to go there because that’s my purpose for you,” so there was no chance in the world that the Apostle Paul was going to drown. God had a plan for him, and the storm was not going to thwart that plan.
It’s interesting to see how the other sailors reacted to all that was happening. You’ll notice it says in verse 30, “And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, ‘Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.’” You see, what the sailors were going to do was to escape secretly. When you are not a person of faith, what you are looking for is an escape hatch. “What’s the first thing that I can possibly do to get out of this predicament and save myself? I don’t care what happens to my family. I don’t care what happens to my church because I’m number one.” That’s what was happening here with these sailors.
Look at the response of the soldiers. And here we are going to read how the whole story ended. I’m picking it up in verse 41. “But striking a reef, they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf. The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape.” They wanted to save their own necks too, and of course, if you let a prisoner escape, your own life was in jeopardy, but what the soldiers were planning to do, again, was to “save myself even if I have to kill you.”
“But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.”
That’s after all of the wheat was thrown into the sea. You’ll notice that it says in verse 38 that that’s what took place. The Apostle Paul gathered them together after 14 days. We didn’t read it there but it is in verse 33. He says, “Today is the fourteenth day that you haven’t eaten. Let’s eat together,” and after they eat, everything else goes into the sea and the ship arrives, of course, totally broken up. Nothing is saved except their lives, but you see, the purpose of God was not thereby hindered because of that little word must. “You must go to Rome to stand before Caesar.”
Now what was on that ship? Why was it so important that Paul make it? Well, the book of Ephesians was on that ship. If Paul had drowned, we wouldn’t have that book in the New Testament. The book of Philippians was on that ship. How could we live without the books of Philippians and Ephesians? The book of Colossians was on that ship, because it is generally believed that the Apostle Paul wrote those books after he got to Rome. The book of Luke was on that ship. Luke hadn’t yet written his own book. He hadn’t written the book of Acts. Can you imagine if Luke and Paul had drowned at that point and they never had an opportunity to do the writings that are part of Scripture today? Think of how impoverished we would be, so God says, “You must go to Rome and the storm will not hinder you. You are going to make it, because it is my will and my purpose.”
Yes, we encounter storms when we are doing the will of God. I need to emphasize that some of you who are going through a storm today are in the middle of God’s will. A storm does not mean that you are out of God’s will, and the storms do not hide the face of God. He is there. He is watching. He is caring, and certainly the storms do not hinder the purpose of God. What God proposes to do He will accomplish, despite the storms that you and I encounter.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, if I had had a vision like the Apostle Paul, and if an angel had come to me at night and told me how the end is going to happen, then I could have confidence.” Well, you know I’ve never had a vision like that and you probably have never had a vision like that, but do we really need one? You know, it’s very interesting that in Romans 9:6 the Apostle Paul is asking the question as to whether or not God failed with regard to the Jewish nation, because you see, the whole thing was Jesus Christ came to the Jewish nation and for the most part they rejected im, and so Paul is dealing with that in Romans, and in verse 6 he says this. He says, “It is not as if the word of God has failed.” That’s the way translators translate it, but the actual Greek word is this. It is not as if the word of God is off course.
I’m speaking to you today if you feel as if your life is off course. You are being wind-blown and tossed and it appears as if you have no control over where you are going, and you say to yourself, “Where can I find stability?” Well, the Bible says it is not as if the Word of God is off course. You might be, but God’s word stands and there are plenty of promises, aren’t there? “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” “Fear not, for I am with thee. I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” “There is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ, even famine and sword (and a lost house, or even health issues).” Nothing can separate us, and it is on the basis of those promises that we continue on in our storms, and it is important for us to realize that God is with us in the process.
I’d like to nail this down for us so that we never forget it and so that our lives are changed as a result of what we’ve seen here in the text today.
First of all, storms are intended to get us to go where God wants us to be. You see, God wanted the Apostle Paul in Rome, and by the way, after the ship wrecked, they discovered that they were in Malta, and they spent the winter there in Malta, and then the next spring they went to Rome and the Apostle Paul was there in house arrest, and eventually he was put to death under Nero, so that was his experience. But you see, God wanted Paul to get there, and he used a storm to bring it about.
Now, it’s possible God could have caused very warm and very tranquil waters, but God knows that storms do something good to people. You see, there are some of you here who are in a storm today, and let me explain to you exactly why you are in a storm. God wants your attention because you’ve never received Jesus Christ as your Savior. And your destination that God wants for you is to accept Christ as Savior, to receive Him into your life. And the only way He can really get your attention is to put you through a storm. When you are in a storm you should always ask God what it is He wants to teach you while you are there.
Some of us go through storms because God wants to develop our faith. Sometimes storms might be discipline in our lives. They have many different purposes, but all of those purposes always converge and they become a part of God building us and transforming us and helping us to understand what our value should really be and showing us the nature of what’s important and what isn’t. Storms alone can do that, so let us remember that storms are God’s way of getting us from point A to point B.
Storms also should never be encountered alone. The Apostle Paul, as we pointed out, was on a ship with other people, and they were in this together. Somebody else made a bad decision and Paul had to live with it. Now God intended that when we go through a storm we always have the support of others. You see, first of all, your family is in a storm if you are in a storm. In fact, your whole family might be in a storm and so you are in this boat together, and you can’t walk away from it, because after all you are connected.
Then there’s also the Church of Jesus Christ that should be a part of your life, so that you don’t have to walk through this storm alone. That’s one of the reasons why we stress so much connecting here at The Moody Church, and even our equipping classes, which are beginning very shortly, are very, very important. The information is important but connecting with one another is exceedingly important, and we want you to feel at home in the body of Jesus Christ because ultimately when you are going through a storm, we want to walk with you in that storm because we are in the same boat together–and even as a church we are in a boat together. And thank you so much for your support as we think about our financial need that you have generously met.
So let us keep in mind that storms should always be confronted-not alone, but with others who are with you on the ship.
Finally, I think it is important to realize that all of us are going to come to an ultimate storm, and that is death. The Apostle Paul goes to Rome. For two years he is under house arrest, and most scholars believe that he may have even been free for some time, but then he is put into prison and he dies under the emperor Nero. So you see, the ship that took him there to Rome not only took him there to witness and to write, but also took him there to die, and eventually that will be the storm that all of us take. And it’s important to realize that we need to be ready for that final storm, and God is going to use it. It may be an accident or it may be a health issue. There are many, many creative ways to die. All that you need to do is to go into a funeral home and sometimes it’s surprising the ages of the people who are there, and how they died. We don’t know exactly how our death will come, but this much we do know–that God is going to safely take us from this life to the next despite the storms, despite the heartaches, despite the times when we can see neither sun nor stars, God will bring us safely to the shore, and we will be there.
Some of you know Tony Evans and his great ministry. He’s a personal friend of mine, and he and I have been together a number of times, and he tells a very interesting story. He says that he and his wife Lois were on a cruise, and it came over the intercom that the ship was headed for a storm, and so the captain basically told the people to buckle down and do whatever they had to do because it was going to be very, very rough for the next couple of hours. His wife Lois didn’t like that news and so she phoned the captain, or tried to, and she spoke to his assistant. She said to him, “Why is it that we are going into the storm? If you know that the storm is out there why don’t we just stay here and ride it out rather than go into it?” The assistant said, “I’ll speak to the captain and I’ll call you back.” A few moments later he called her back and said two things. First of all (and I’m sure the first thing was said very diplomatically), in effect he said, “You know, the captain is in charge of the ship and you are not (just remember that),” and then he said these words that I never want you to forget. How many of you promise that you will never forget the words that I’m going to tell you? All right? The captain said, “Tell her that this ship was built with this storm in mind.”
When you trust Jesus who died and proved that He had the power over death by being raised from the dead, you’ve trusted someone who has your storm in mind, and He will take you all the way on your journey to your heavenly home. “Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come. ‘Tis grace that led me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
When you are on that ship, my friend, it was built with your storm in mind.
Let us pray.
Father, we do ask in the name of Jesus that You might help us to see that you are bigger than our storms. You see us in our storms, and Your grace is poured out upon us in our need. For those who have never trusted Christ as Savior, we pray that they might do that.
In fact, right now, if you have never trusted Christ, you can believe on Him where you are seated. Say, “Jesus, I want to trust You. I want to believe You. I want to accept Your death on my behalf.” Do that, oh Father God, we pray. And as we now continue to worship You, and as we remember Your death, make this a transforming time for each of us as we worship You acceptably through Jesus Christ, our Lord, we pray. Amen.