Summary: This continues my series through the book of Acts.
“God in the Storm”
August 17, 2008
The opportunities are many and the temptation is strong for a preacher to take this passage and approach it from an allegorical perspective. Some pastors have done just this and posted their messages online, with titles like, “Four Anchors that Will Hold”; “Anchors for Life’s Storms”; “Never Give up the Ship”, and the like…despite the fact that in this graphic story, they ended up throwing the anchors overboard and had to ultimately “give up the ship”! The task of the Bible expositor is always to read the text in its context, interpret it according to sound rules of Biblical hermeneutics, and then to convey the text in a way that is faithful to the intent of the author, clear to the listeners, and of value in pointing people to Christ. We have to take care not to find in the text or in its application truths that even God is not aware are there! And so I’m going to try to avoid the temptation to “spiritualize” this passage today, and not avail myself of the opportunities to do so, and instead try to explain what was happening here, and what God intended for us to understand about it, so that we can more faithfully love and follow Jesus. Let’s read the text together!
Today’s message is an epic story of survival against overwhelming odds, of life-and-death struggle, of despair and hopelessness turned to hope, and of a God in control. Let’s begin with
What’s the scariest experience you’ve ever had? Have you ever been in the position of wondering if you’d survive a situation? Talk about it.
Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over. The problems began when Chippie’s owner decided to clean Chippie’s cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She’d barely said "hello" when "sssopp!" Chippie got sucked in.
The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chippie -- still alive, but stunned. Since the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do . . . she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air.
Poor Chippie never knew what hit him.
A few days after the trauma, the reporter who’d initially written about the event contacted Chippie’s owner to see how the bird was recovering. "Well," she replied, "Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore -- he just sits and stares."
Sometimes that’s the way we feel in life: sucked in, washed up, and blown over. I’m pretty sure that similar feelings attended the people in today’s story. We’ll take a bird’s eye view of it, and then consider some of the ways God was at work in that storm, ways in which He works in the difficult times—the storms—of our lives. For a little added fun, we’ll set today’s outline in a 60’s theme…
I. A Three-Hour Tour (sort of) - :1-8
With apologies to our friends on Gilligan’s Island, this was the beginning of what I’m sure all hoped would be a relatively event-free trip to Rome. But like the Professor and Mary Ann and all the rest, it was to be anything but…
Julius is the name of the military officer in command, a centurion, which ordinarily suggested an officer in charge of 100 soldiers. Finding a ship on its way east, in the direction of Rome, Julius, his men, Paul, and others set sail. Understand, of course, that in Paul’s day, such ships were at the mercy of the elements, sailing with the breeze in their sails instead of under power from any engines onboard. Keeping a schedule was not something in the minds of the sailors; arriving safely as the “gods” determined was foremost in their thinking, and their knowledge of winds, weather, and currents was their chief ally.
Luke is back on the scene here: “we”. It’s likely that Luke, as well as Aristarchus, to whom we’re introduced, and whom Paul mentions in both Colossians and Philemon, served as servants to Paul, traveling with the status of “slave” even; this would have explained a bit better the deference shown to Paul by the centurion Julius, had Julius considered Paul to be a man of means, with people waiting on his needs. And the text is all the more vivid because of the fact that Luke was on board, that he’d undergone the tumult and trial along with Paul instead of just hearing Paul recount it over dinner somewhere. We asked earlier if you’d ever been in a situation where you wondered if you’d live or die, to describe a harrowing experience. Luke wasn’t Superman any more than was Paul, and undoubtedly on the voyage he describes here there were times when he honestly wondered if he’d make it!