God Has Graciously Given You The Lives Of …
Key Verse: 27:24
“…and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’”
In the last part of chapter 26, the king’s words of sarcasm didn’t escape Paul’s attention. Paul had given him the words of life; words that could save his soul from the hell he lived in every day, and from the damnation he would eventually face at the judgment of God. But when he heard Paul, he had blurted out sarcastic words that reflected pride and ignorance; he said: “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (26:28) And as if the answer was already on his lips, Paul in return said: “Short time or long— I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” (26:29) Let me say that those who are in chains and whose lives are hanging by a thread don’t usually speak to those who are in authority like this, let alone to kings and governors. But Paul sure did! He told the king that it was his prayer the king would become what Paul was, except for the chains he was wearing. It seems the king was right after all— Paul’s intention all along had been for the king to become Christian— However not just any Christian— but a Christian just like Paul. There’s a difference you know— between a Christian like Paul and a Christian who has no idea what it really means to be a Christian. It’s important to understand what Paul meant when he said “Become what I am”.
There’s much to reflect on in what Paul is saying here. But simply speaking, Paul knew who he is! To know who you are [“What I am” or “Who I am in Christ”] is vital to your life as a Christian. If you don’t know who you are, you’ll spend your life comparing yourself to others; wishing you were someone you’re not; praying to be someone you’ll never be; and feeling miserable; and often blaming God and likely blaming others for who you can never be. To know who you really are is at the heart of your triumph first, as a human being, and immensely more as a Christian— as a child of God; one who’s content; one who’s able to stand on the summit even when you’re in the valleys of life— and still look at the whole world below from the mountain top. Paul was such a man. He never for a second wanted to be anyone or anything other than the person God created him to be; the child of God whom God redeemed for himself; The one God called and now sent forth to preach the gospel as the greatest honor a person could ever receive. That was the kind of Christian Paul was, committed, devoted, sacrificial, obedient, faithful, humble; And willing to wear the chains of the Savior’s grace as a testimony to the Savior’s love to all who are lost in this wretched world. And it was his prayer when he preached the gospel that everyone, including this conceited king Agrippa would become like him.
Paul knew who he is— a child of God; A Christian redeemed by Christ; A prince of the Heavenly Kingdom! In the heavenly realm where he sat with Christ his Lord, he was higher than any king on earth; he had more authority than any governor on earth; he was more famous than any person in the world below. Paul knew who he is. And he wanted everyone to be like him. When he looked at the king with his temporary and paltry earthly privileges, Paul felt sorry for him because he was beguiled by the master deceiver who blinded him to God and to the truth of his own miserable situation. Like those around him who were also listening to Paul speak, he really didn’t know who he was. And so he couldn’t understand Paul’s earnest plea to let go of the world and to embrace Christ is Lord. Many are like Agrippa, who don’t know who they are or where they belong. Paul’s words: “Become what I am” elude them, maybe even insult them! John the Baptist said: “I am the voice of one calling in the desert.” (John 1:23) John was famous beyond measure, and could lead an army to battle if he wanted to. But instead he lived a poor life and served the word of God leading people to the gates of heaven. When his disciples struggled to see Jesus and his disciples rising in popularity while they and John were fading to obscurity, John gave them one of the greatest wisdoms of all time: “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.” (John 3:27) He taught them and us that for us to know who we are in Christ and what mission we’ve been entrusted with by God is not only a blessing but also a bliss. It brings peace and contentment to our hearts even if we end up in a dungeon like John or in chains like Paul.
Paul was the kind of a Christian who knew who he was before the Lord; He knew the kind of precious blood he had been bought and redeemed with; He knew the sort of kingdom he belonged to; He knew the kind of seat he occupied in the heavenly realms. And when you’re that kind of a Christian, you’re no longer in competition with anyone; you’re no longer envious of anyone’s position or wealth or social standing; you no longer concern yourself with whether God will establish or bless your home; or whether you’ll have means to survive; or whether others will look on you with favor or despise you; or whether the world will recognize you or ignore you; When you’re that kind of a Christian, it won’t matter whether you’re speaking to kings or to beggars because just like you’re Lord, you’re no longer of this world but you’re a prince or a princess of the other. Paul was that kind of a Christian. For this reason he said: I pray for all of you to become what I am. And he said it with all his heart.
That fateful day, all these high dignitaries were under the delusion that they were deciding Paul’s fate. But in truth, their own fate was being decided based on how they responded to his message. That’s another thing most people aren’t aware of. Especially people who think they have authority are often deluded to think they have some power to decide what happens in their own lives and in other people’s lives— just because they have wealth and wield power. But the reality is different! If you know who you are as Paul did, and you’re teaching the Bible or giving them a message of good news about the Lord Jesus to anyone, you’re always in the position of greatest and highest authority! And how people respond— every encounter with the word of God— brings about a counter response— no matter who the listener is— whether he’s a king hearing the message or a beggar. God says in Isaiah: “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11) That’s why it calls for us across the ages to listen, for God says also says: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you: that today I have set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. Choose to love the Lord your God and to obey him and to cling to him, for he is your life and the length of your days.” (paraphrase: Deuteronomy 30:19-20)
It’s hard to imagine that Paul’s journey was coming to an end. There’s today’s story and then the next and we will be done with one of the most amazing life stories ever told. Today’s story is simple. The author Luke who wrote this book to tell us Paul’s story devotes this entire chapter to the last journey Paul will ever make, the one that finally lands him in Rome, the city God promised he would reach in order to testify to Christ before the throne of Caesar. A whole chapter devoted to a journey through the storm at sea! But he could have said that in three lines, not a whole chapter of a detailed account! The question is why? And the answer is simple. Consider what God might want to teach us through this. For one, consider the significance of having one man of faith on board a sinking ship battered by a storm and your life is hanging by a thread. Consider also how this man first boarded the ship a despised prisoner in chains, and soon after became its captain and the lifeline and compass of its crew. There may be many insights for which Luke records the details of such a journey to Rome. But we want to look closely at what sustained Paul himself throughout this nightmarish journey. What might give a person the strength to ride the storms of life when the storms come crashing in announced? I think we can all identify when we consider how sudden the storms of life come and how unprepared some of us usually are. Paul’s plight is a remarkable paradigm of Christian heroism— of someone who weathered the deadly storm, not only personally but bringing a whole congregation to shore safely with him. Let’s learn something from him through this.
Read verses 27:1-12. And so the journey to Italy on a ship begins. Paul is handed over to no ordinary centurion who belonged to the Imperial regiment, named Julius. The New Testament mentions several distinguished centurions who make a big mark on spiritual history because of their remarkable faith. In Acts chapter 10, the centurion Cornelius of the Italian regiment receives a visitation from an angel who directs him to invite Apostle Peter to deliver the good news of the Lord Jesus to him and his family. Cornelius humbly obeys the Lord’s directive even unto repentance and his family’s conversion and baptism are recorded in the book of life as a testimony of God’s faithfulness to anyone who’s waiting to come back home to God. It was centurion Cornelius’ faith in Jesus that opened the door for his Nation and People and ushered them into the kingdom of God! Here we see another centurion Julius with another great man and Apostle Paul, and he’s in charge of delivering him to Rome. He has no idea yet how privileged and blessed he is to be Paul, the prisoner’s guardian. But he’s learning that Paul isn’t just an ordinary or dangerous prisoner he should be concerned with at all. Actually if you look at verse 3, you’ll see that when the ship lands at Sidon, Julius shows that he’s really a kind man. He lets Paul enjoy time of fellowship with the Christians in that city that they might provide for Paul’s needs. How can God ignore a centurion like this, who’s mindful of the needs of the less fortunate! Who knows, maybe it was Paul’s Christian influence on him!
Yet, Julius kind and mindful as he is, was still just another blind man of the world. Like most people he had no clue to the unseen spiritual world all around him which had been waging war against Paul trying to kill him in order to stop him from reaching Rome. We should never forget the countless attempts to transport Paul back to Jerusalem in order to silence him, and to prevent him from taking the gospel message to Rome, as the Lord had directed him to do. Now the journey to Rome had begun, and Paul was in good hands. Even so, the battle was raging on. Look at verse 9. Time was lost and sailing the seas had become dangerous. How did Paul try to help in this situation? Look at verse 10. “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” They were only a few words from an insignificant prisoner. But he spoke from past experience (2 Corinthians 11:25) and from conviction with the prophetic insight of one who’s obedient to God’s will and serves his purpose. But here’s where centurion Julius made his big mistake, as most people do. He didn’t listen to Paul’s advice at all.
Look at verse 11. Of course, he’d be more prone to listen to the expert advice of the pilot and owner of the ship. So then, he listened to the Captain, who also owned the ship. It’s possible that Julius completely ignored Paul’s advice in favor of the Captain’s, considering that the captain maritimer would be a nautical exert. But on reflection, it’s doubtful that Julius would just ignore Paul’s advice since he’s grown to respect and at times even honor his wishes. So why did he favor the captain’s advice over Paul’s here? It’s the sinful human nature that consistently gravitates towards “what’s best for me in the end”. When Paul made the suggestion to remain in Fair Havens, he wasn’t thinking of what’s best for him at all; rather he was thinking of the souls of all these people who’d suffer if they sailed. On the other hand, let’s look at verse 12. Apparently the port of Fair Havens wasn’t a very comfortable place to spend your winter in. Maybe it didn’t have all the amenities that soldiers often look when they’re away from home. Also it seems Fair Havens wasn’t as safe a place as Phoenix would be— that’s where they were heading. Maybe spending winter doing extra security details wasn’t what any soldier looked forward to. When we make decisions centered around our own desires and wants and needs, no wonder so many people end up suffering so much along with us. Julius should have listened to Paul. But as expected, the voice of his own sinful nature was much louder, coupled with the captain’s voice which confirmed it. They both knew they were taking a huge risk. But perhaps the temptation on the other side was too sweet to resist. Already the storm was brewing and about to take them all by surprise, except that Paul knew what was coming!
And so the nightmare started. Read verses 13-20. As they sailed, a wind of hurricane force struck the ship. And when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, they finally gave up all hope of being saved. In the gospel stories, we see this happening with the disciples as they cross the lake with Jesus in the boat with them. They too tried to fight the storm until they lost all hope of survival. It was so bad for them that at the time they wake up the Lord and say to him: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 438) And these too were skilled boatmen familiar with waters and winds and storms. And when such men despair of life, you can be sure the situation is dire beyond human resolution. This time, Luke the evangelist was writing on behalf of the entire crew: “We finally gave up hope of being saved.” (20) It may be that Luke was reflecting the thoughts of Paul as well. Who knows that Paul, in a moment of doubt, may have thought that the battle was already lost. We need to keep in mind that regardless of how great a man or woman of faith might be, the spiritual battle is often greater, as this storm reveals. When the storms of life rage, when their origin is not of this world, if they are instigated by the enemy of God and man, they have the power to crush anyone. Even Paul may have despaired of life at this point. But in a sense it’s not so bad that such things happen even to the faithful, as Paul explains in one of his letters. Here’s what he said which helps us understand why God allowed the storm to happen:
He once wrote to the Corinthian church saying: : “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us…” (2 Corinthians 1:8b-10)
It’s hard to imagine what everyone was going through while the storm raged on and on. “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.” And that’s what actually happened. The Lord didn’t leave his small team of faithful people, especially Paul hopelessly suffering without a glimmer of hope and assurance and clear direction; It’s exactly what they needed at this moment of fierce spiritual battle with the storm and the enemy behind it trying to fill them with doubt and trying to drain them of every bit of hope of salvation. Look what happened. Look at verses 21-26. Of course no one was eating on the doomed ship, for who could eat when the axe is about to fall! But now Paul rose to the occasion; he had a change of heart as well as a change of attitude. Why this sudden change from? Because he’d received the word of God! He’d received a word of assurance from the Lord. He may have earlier personally believed with his whole heart that the Lord would bring him safely to Rome one way or another, even if he had to drift on a wooden plank all the way to Rome. But he couldn’t possibly know the fate of all the other 250 some passengers on the ship, including that of his faithful companions, those who have also dedicated their lives in the service of the Lord. That he was fearful for himself and for them and for the crew, there is no doubt. That he was doubtful regarding his safety and all of theirs, there is no doubt. So he was in as much in confusion as everyone when the storm went on and everyone seemed to be swallowed up in defeat by the spiritual battle. But now he’s had a change of heart and attitude. He was a different man of a different attitude and composure, and all because he’d received assurance from the word of God.
Paul didn’t miss the chance to subtly rebuke them for not listening to him earlier. “You should have taken my advice.” That was vital, not to rub it in their faces as people usually like to do when they are right, but to remind them that we are in a spiritual war, and the consequences are serious; they are life and death. So many people never get that, even when you lovingly rebuke them for their own sake: “You should have taken my advice.” For the most part Satan has their senses dulled. After his fatherly rebuke, Paul gave them great words of comfort: Read verses 22-25. “But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.” Paul took these words to heart himself and then conveyed them to the whole ship. When he came on board the first day, he was only a prisoner in chains. Now he stood as the captain of the ship! He stood as the shepherd who spreads hope and assurance to those sick with fear and with doubt and with despair and to shine the light of God’s hope and blessing and assurance into the hearts of all who felt the sentence of death upon their hearts. How could he do so? He could so for one reason only; He had received the word of promise again in his own heart. Now he could share it with confidence even while the storm is still raging outside. Somehow the same raging storm no longer seemed as fierce and deadly as it did before! Yes the storm is greater than even a great man or woman of God. But the Lord and his word in our hearts are by far greater than any storm; especially the storms set off by our invisible enemy.
Look at verses 27-44. Here’s an interesting story towards the end of this nightmare that shows how the soldiers and the crew had begun to view Paul and his advice. The devil started to plant fear in some sailors’ hearts that the ship would be dashed against the rocks. So they tried to escape by stealing the lifeboats— such a selfish and irresponsible act. Those who only want to save themselves in this world can’t be trusted in a crisis. It was another attempt by the devil in this spiritual war to disrupt God’s plan at bringing the whole crew safely to shore. (26) Paul saw through Satan’s plan and warned the centurion. This time the centurion not only followed Paul’s advice absolutely; look what else he did! He also made sure that the lifeboats are no longer a temptation to anyone on the ship at all. He had the soldiers cut the ropes and let the lifeboats go, cutting off the only means of escape. (32) In this way, the centurion showed absolute trust and faith in the God whom Paul serves and in the word of his promise. Here’s another centurion who’s been so deeply influenced by the faith of one man of faith. It was one man of faith during the deadly storm that this crew needed to help them navigate. In this world, expertise, knowledge, proficiency, talent, competence, ability, skill, knowhow, knack, qualifications and qualities and whatnot maybe enough to make a leader. Even then it may not be enough, since in times of crisis, they’re the first to jump ship. But spiritually speaking, while many qualities comprise leadership, faith is foremost. Faith changes our lives— our disposition— the core of our being. Symbolically, faith takes a person bound in chains (any chains) and sets them free. Faith will literally mold you into a man or woman of God and an instrument to navigate in the storm of your life, when it comes, and in others’ storms until it lands you and others with you safely on the shore. It was faith in the God’s word of promise that did the same for Paul during that hellish storm.
Paul’s faith didn’t only encourage them, he was also a shepherd for them. Look at verse 33. “For the last fourteen days”… “you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. No one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” Paul saw that they needed the strength to swim to shore, so he encouraged them to eat and regain their strength. Once they eat, they would feel better. Then look what he did. “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.” Then daylight came, and they ran aground on a sandbar. Once again, the Julius rose to the occasion and prevented the soldiers from executing all the prisoners for fear of their escape by saving Paul’s life. And so they all reached Malta where they lived happily ever after! God’s word of promise in our hearts, when we deeply accept it, really changes us. It changes us from prisoners in chains to captains who can navigate through our own storms of life leading congregations of people to safety— bruised and battered, but safe, by the grace of God! Let’s read 24 together. “…and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’”