(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

It amazes me that some commentators question why Luke took so long to tell the story of the great storm. They do not consider it adds anything to the theological content of the book. It is worth a lot more than an arid theological treatise! I spent an hour last evening surfing the web for information on the providence of God. I found dozens of theological considerations of the subject but virtually no personal testimonies to God's providential care. Luke in recounting the story of the storm gives a wonderful example of: the outworking of God's providence, a Christian's character shining like a beacon in adversity and, above all, the triumph of faith.

(B) Human Ingenuity.

During the voyage from Syria towards Rome we see man at his most resourceful in:

    (1) Overcoming difficulties.
    The direct sea route from Adramyttium in Syria to Rome was from East to West. The prevailing winds in September, when in all probability they set sail, was from West to East. To make progress the captain of the square-sailed craft made clever use of land and sea breezes by sailing in the lee of Cyprus and Crete.

    There is no doubt that some men and women are remarkably resourceful. Last week 91 year old Sid, who attends our chapel, had a problem. The drainage pipe that took storm water away from his house was blocked. Somehow, he discovered where the blockage occurred. Then he spent a morning digging a four-foot trench to uncover the concrete pipe. It was in three-foot sections. He removed one entire section and dragged from it a tree root the size of his arm. Then Sid went home and had some dinner before returning in the afternoon to fill up the hole. All sorted!! It is a pity we cannot show such resourcefulness in solving problems that occur in church!

    (2) Taking advantage of a window of opportunity.
    After much difficulty the large grain carrier on which Paul and his companions travelled arrived at Fair Havens on the south coast of Crete. The Day of Atonement had passed and it is thought that the date was early October. Storms were a very real risk in October and Paul warned that to proceed would bring disaster. However, Fair Havens was a poor harbour to winter in and the captain and owner of the ship persuaded Julius, the centurion in charge, that it would be better to sail forty miles along the coast to Phoenix. It was only forty miles after all. A gentle south wind blew and so they took their chance. They were given a window of opportunity to improve their situation and they took it.

    I have every sympathy with the captain and owner of the grain carrier. The author of Ecclesiastes writes: Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. Ecc11v4. (See exposition on Ecclesiastes11.) We have to take risks in life if we are to achieve anything. The commander of allied forces took advantage of a short term improvement in the weather to launch the D-day invasion fleet.

    The wise man will be able to discern when a risk is not worth taking. In this instance Paul, who had already been ship wrecked three times, showed sound judgment. It is foolish to put lives in danger. One of the stupidest decisions I ever made was to take a group of sixth formers up Grisedale Pyke in the Lake District after a snowstorm. Our route took us over Eel Crag. As I trudged with my students towards the high-level col at the head of two valleys I met a party of well-equipped, rugged, bearded, mountain walkers who said, "You can't go that way - it is too dangerous." I couldn't face going back. I decided to take a chance. The walk across Eel Crag was the most hair-raising thing I have ever done. The wind was so strong it blew maps and clip boards from our grasp and completely disorientated the two girls in the party. It was very difficult to stay up right. It is only by the grace of God that no one was blown off the ridge.

    (3) Reacting decisively to danger.
    Once the north-easterly gale struck the boat there was a single-minded effort by the crew and passengers to preserve life. The lifeboat was secured with great difficulty. The sailors took down the sails and lashed the steering oars to the sides. A sea anchor - probably a long length of sailcloth - was lowered into the water to slow down the rate of drift towards the sand-bars of Syrtis off N. Africa. Ropes were passed under the boat and tightened to hold the timbers together. First the cargo was jettisoned and then the ships tackle - ropes, sails and planks. No effort was spared to save lives.

    So it remains. When natural disasters strike superhuman efforts are made to rescue the endangered. No expense is spared. No one counts the cost. Life is precious. The value of life, the princely gift of God, is emphatically reaffirmed by all those who work in the emergency services.

The Christian's hope in times of helplessness and despair.

Luke records that after 14 days of stormy seas we finally gave up hope of being saved. v20. They had lost all control of the boat. It was just drifting before the wind. They had experienced the bleakest conditions - howling wind, rain, tumultuous waves and salt spray for a fortnight. Everyone was hungry. No proper meal had been eaten since the onset of the gale. The ships company were totally disorientated. No one knew where they were. Neither sun nor stars appeared for many days.

It is impossible to think straight in these conditions. A few years ago I was walking in the chalk downs fringing the Vale of Pewsey in Wiltshire when the heavens opened and rain fell in buckets. The rain soaked my map, it obscured my vision and it hammered down upon my waterproofs. It wasn't long before I mistook a ridge on my sodden map for a valley and got thoroughly confused. I ended up not knowing where I was. So how must the poor folk on the stricken cargo ship have felt? It is easy to understand how they gave up hope and expected to die.

But one of the passengers had hope. Paul said, "Be of good cheer." v22and24. AV. Keep up your courage. NIV. I like be of good cheer best! The apostle used a medical term - the sort of thing a doctor might say to keep a patient's spirits up. Why had Paul hope? Pastor Alan Carr of Calvary Baptist Church in Lenoir, reckons he had four anchors of the soul. As the boat was finally secured off the island of Malta by four anchors so Paul had four anchors that kept his soul: Steadfast and sure while the billows roll. Priscilla J Owens poses a question in the second verse of her well known hymn:

          Will your anchor hold in the straits of fear?
          When the breakers roar and the reef is near;
          While the surges rave and the wild winds blow,
          Shall the angry waves then your barque o'erflow?

Paul could answer this question in the affirmative. His four anchors were:

    The Presence of God.
    Paul was able to say: "Last night an angel of God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me ... v24. There is nothing more reassuring when in grave peril than to be conscious of the presence of God. David was able to say: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me. Psalm23v4. Stephen but a few moments before the stones began to fly said: "Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." Acts7v56.

            I fear no foe with Thee at hand to bless;
            Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness;
            Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
            I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

    I like Corrie ten Boom's testimony to the presence of Jesus in her watch repairing work: When my hand was not steady and I had to do a very exacting piece of work like putting a frail part of a watch - the balance, for instance - into the movement, I prayed, 'Lord Jesus will You lay Your hand on my hand?' He always did, and our joined hands worked securely. Jesus never fails us for a moment.

    (2) The Providence of God.
    The angel said to Paul: "Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar." v24. God's providence is very mysterious. God does not so control our lives that we are no longer free agents. A loving earthly father would not do that. However, God will make special provision for those he loves in time of need.

            Thy flock, thy own peculiar care
            Though now they seem to roam uneyed
            Are led or driven only where
            They best and safest may abide.

    Secondly, if God has a purpose for us he will see that we fulfil it. I believe that it was in the will and purpose of God that I provided a home for my parents when my father retired from the ministry and that later, after my mother's death, I cared for my father. I do not think that I would have done either if I had not returned to live at home after qualifying as a teacher. The year I qualified Mr Rayner, the long serving Geography master at my old grammar school, retired and my former headmaster, Mr R.W. Elliot, wrote and offered me his job. This could never have happened but for a mistake I made years before. Mrs Gibbs, my primary school teacher, put me in for the 11 plus examination a year early because, I suppose, she thought that I was a bright boy. At the start of the Mathematics exam the supervisor gave out the papers and said, "Don't turn over until I tell you." She then gave the order, "You may commence." I answered the questions on the first side of the paper and then waited to be told to turn over the page. I waited, and waited, and waited. I was a very obedient little boy. I realised too late that the other children were turning over the pages of their booklet. The supervisor meant, of course, do not turn over the paper and start until I tell you. I failed the 11 plus on that first occasion and but for that I would have commenced my teaching career the year before Mr Rayner retired. I would have taken a job wherever I could. My life would have been completely different.

    (3) The Promises of God.
    The angel assured Paul that: "God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you." v25. That was a precious promise. I have no doubt that the apostle had been praying for everyone whose lives were at risk. God in his mercy, and for his beloved servant's sake, was going to deliver them all from danger.

    There are many wonderful promises in God's word.

            Precious promise God hath given
            To the weary passer-by
            On the way to earth to heaven,
            'I will guide thee with mine eye.'

    The old Sankey hymn is based on one of the many promises in Psalm 32.

    One night as Corrie ten Boom lay by the side of her sister Betsie in a Nazi concentration camp she thought hard of something comforting to say. Then she remembered a favourite text of their dear father's. "Betsie," she whispered, "The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms." (Dt33v27)

    "Yes, Corrie .... and they will never leave us," replied Betsie.

    (4) The Power of God.
    Paul believed in the power of God and so he was able to tell the passengers and crew with confidence: "So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me." v25.

    Paul writes about about God's power in Philippians2v12and13: Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed - not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence - continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

    Corrie ten Boom said that there was often an argument in her home about this text. Her father would emphasise the power of God: For it is God who works in you...; whereas her Tant Jans would dwell on the: work out your own salvation.

    Tant Jans in spite of being an ardent and active Christian dreaded death. Corrie thought it might be because she relied too much on living a life that pleased God. However, Corrie was able to testify: When the hour of death arrived God took away her fear. Tant Jans was able to say: "Jesus said, 'I give my sheep everlasting life.' That's good .... I can't do anything more .... I'm safe in the hands of the Good Shepherd who gave His life for us."

    To the very end God worked in Tant Jans. His power was manifest. He removed her fear of dying and gave her peace.

(D) The good man's power to inspire confidence.

There is overwhelming evidence in Luke's account of the voyage to Rome that Paul inspired confidence in others. At Sidon: Julius, in kindness to Paul allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. v3. When Julius met with the captain and owner of the grain carrier to discuss whether they should winter at Fair Havens the prisoner Paul was allowed his say. Later as the sailors tried to escape from the ship in the lifeboat Julius and the soldiers heeded the warning of Paul that their action endangered the entire company and cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall away. v32. Then on the last night that all were aboard Paul advised everyone to eat. He took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. v36. Finally the centurion stopped the soldiers killing the prisoners as the prepared to swim ashore because he wanted to spare Paul's life.

Why did Paul inspire such confidence particularly in such a crisis? The Rev R. Tuck in the Pulpit Commentary makes three suggestions:

    (1) His transparency.
    Paul was an honest man. He was without guile. Paul was quite prepared to remind the ships company that the mess they were in was the result of ignoring his advice. Paul kept nothing hidden. He had no ulterior motives for what he did or said. What you saw was what you got. There was no side to him. The apostle was: all things to all men that he might win some for Christ. Anyone who reads the epistles of Paul can see that he was the sort of man who wore his heart on his sleeve. He was open, frank, earnest and endearing.

    Deceitful, deep, crafty, close and duplicitous men do not inspire confidence.

    (2) His firmness.
    Paul was reliable. He stood fast by his promises. He was steady as a rock. Paul practiced what he preached: Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground and after you have done everything, to stand. Eph6v13. Paul was a virtuous soul. I love George Herbert's little poem in honour of the virtuous soul:

            Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
            The bridall of the earth and skie:
            The dew shall weep thy fall to night;
            For thou must die.

            Sweet rose, whose hue angrie and brave
            Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye:
            Thy root is ever in its grave,
            And thou must die

            Sweet spring, full of sweet dayes and roses,
            A box where sweets compacted lie;
            My musick shows ye have your closes,
            And all must die.

            Only a sweet and vertuous soul,
            Like season'd timber, never gives;
            But though the whole world turn to coal,
            Then chiefly lives.

    The opposite of a firm man is an unstable one. A few weeks ago our cricket grounds man, Denis Fisher, asked if I would help him, along with others, prepare our square for the winter. I said I would. Now usually I am a man of my word. However, last week, I was asked if I could play hockey on the Saturday. I was keen to play and said so. The captain then informed me that we would have to leave Bury for the match against Peterborough at 10am. This was the morning on which I had promised to assist my friend Denis. I phoned him up and wriggled out of my commitment. I know full well that I compromised my integrity. I forfeited something of the confidence the members of the cricket club have in me. Was it worth it?

    (3) His sympathy.
    Some men, like Paul, seem to understand us and feel with us. Their brotherliness commands our confidence. This was a quality the great Antarctic explorer, Earnest Shackleton, had in abundance. He always noticed when one of his men was down. He took the man aside, drew him out, listened to him and then reassured the team member of his inestimable value to the success of the expedition.

    Paul was brotherly to a remarkable degree. His epistles overflow with love and concern for the churches in general and individuals in particular. Paul showed it aboard the storm-damaged craft when he urged the ship's company to eat some bread. He knew that they would feel better for it and they did. He predicted that not one of them would lose a single hair from his head. All 276 on board were encouraged.

    We need to have sympathy with others - to listen and care. I sometimes visit Henry and Jesse - neither of whom are well. Jesse usually pours out her troubles. After a few minutes Henry will say, "It's time to change the subject." But I don't mind listening as Jesse unburdens herself. It is the least I can do. I know from experience how important it is to have access to a sympathetic ear when up against it. I found during my teaching career that pastoral staff often listened to a child in distress but they were not necessarily as patient with an upset colleague.

Paul inspired confidence by the strength of his character; so, too, did Winston Churchill during the Second World War; so, too, did Mr Ten Boom in the Dutch city of Haarlem.

(E) The Victory of Faith

The crew and passengers of the endangered vessel had to take God at his word to be saved. They had to believe the words of Paul: Not one of you will be lost, only the ship will be destroyed. v22.

Some tried to escape their own way: In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat into the sea. The shallow draught of the lifeboat gave it a big advantage near to land. Paul informed Julius: "Unless these men stay with the ship you cannot be saved." They were needed in the morning to prepare the vessel for the desperate attempt to run the ship aground. v39.

We must be saved God's way or not at all. Just as in the first instance we freely turned from God and asserted our independence so now we must turn to God's son and willingly surrender ourselves to him. This is the only way to be saved.

The ships company showed their faith in God and complete dependence upon him when they cut loose the anchors, freed the rudder, hoisted the sail and made for the land. They went, as the saying is, for broke. We must do the same to be saved from sin and given eternal life - cast our all upon Jesus - yield control to him - go for broke.

I just love how the story ends:

(1) They who could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land; And the rest some on boards and some on broken pieces of ship.

Those of strong and robust faith struck out boldly for the distant shore but others needed to cling to planks and broken pieces of ship. Of what does this flotsam and jetsam consist:

    (a) It may be a favourite verse of Scripture.
    E. Paxton Hood had a friend - poor Beccy Williams. She was a simple soul who was rather despised by better-informed Christians and easily confused by those who questioned her faith. Beccy Williams had a plank she clung to. If asked why she was a Christian Beccy would reply: All that the father hath given me, shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. John6v37. This is the precious promise by which she made her faltering progress towards the land.

    My friend and fellow elder, Edward, never had a dramatic conversion experience or a Pentecostal filling of the Holy Spirit. I have often heard him say that what assures him that he is a child of God and a joint heir with Jesus is the verse: We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren. 1John3v14. This fragment of Scripture buoys him up as he struggles towards the land.

    (b) It may be a memorised prayer or a hymn.
    Corrie taught a boy called Henk in her Sunday school. He was mentally handicapped but for all that he loved the Bible stories Corrie told him. Henk died young. But before he died he was often discovered singing:

        Out of my bondage, sorrow and night, Jesus I come, Jesus I come;
        Into Thy freedom, gladness and light, Jesus I come to Thee.
        Out of the depths of ruin untold, into the peace of Thy sheltering fold,
        Ever Thy glorious face to behold, Jesus I come to Thee.

    Who can doubt that these lovely and comforting words were the broken spar on which the boy Henk was born landward by the waves.