Acts 27: 4-12
“From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.
Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement. So Paul warned them, ‘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.’ But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. Since the harbour was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbour in Crete, facing both south-west and north-west.”
One of my favourite authors is the Irish economist David McWilliams. He was testifying at a banking Inquiry a few years ago and spoke of how he was mocked, vilified and attacked when, at the height of the property boom during the Celtic Tiger, he predicted the bubble would burst and the economy would crash.
This is what he told the joint committee into the Banking Crisis:
“I probably spent the best part of a decade trying to warn as many people as possible on as many platforms as possible that our property market was going to crash and that when it did, our banking system would be in a situation where money would fly out of the system and lead to a banking crisis…. I think the Irish property crash and the banking crash were both incredibly predictable and absolutely preventable.”
David McWilliams wasn’t being prophetic, he hadn’t heard from God. He had just studied the economies of other countries around the world who had a similar property and credit bubble and saw what happened there and said: Basic economics and common sense predict the same thing will happen here. He saw all the warning signs and paid attention to them.
So why didn’t anyone listen? Why did everyone keep borrowing?
Because David McWilliams was a very small minority who was out-voted and had his voice drowned out by the majority of ‘so-called’ experts who were lining their own pockets.
That’s something of what we see here in Acts 27.
Paul sees all the warning signs. Let’s face it – he’s been in enough storms and shipwrecks to be able to tell when things aren’t looking good. Plus I reckon the Holy Spirit is speaking to him at the same time.
Verse 11: “But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship.”
Let’s face it - who is Paul here? He’s a preacher and a prisoner. Who is he to tell anyone what to do? He has no authority whatsoever.
And yet he carries an authority from God to speak in every situation. He essentially represents the Word of God on board the ship.
The pilot and the owner of the ship represent worldly authority and popular opinion.
Because look at what it says: “…the majority decided that we should sail on…” (v 12)
So here we have the Word of God saying one thing and the worldly experts and majority opinion saying something else. It’s God’s wisdom versus man’s wisdom.
And God’s Word says: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength….. God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise” (1 Cor 1: 25 & 27)
What the majority are saying makes more sense. The experts sound incredibly persuasive. Their argument is more convincing.
And yet, what we will see, is that the majority opinion took them into a horrendous storm where they all nearly lost their lives.
Just because the majority say something doesn’t make it right or make it wise.
Just because something is popular opinion in our society or in the media - it doesn’t mean it is right.
In fact, when popular opinion and the majority contradicts what God’s Word says – they are always wrong. And listening to them and following them will lead you into difficulties and storms and shipwrecks that you could have avoided if you had just stuck to what God says.
Proverbs 14:12 says: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (KJV)
Jesus himself said: “‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” (Matt 7: 13)
There are crucial moments, decision times in our lives that often shape our future and can even determine our destiny.
If we make this decision and go this way – our lives will turn out one way.
If we go the other way – our lives will look completely different.
The key question is: Whose voice will we listen to? God’s or someone else’s?
Will we steer our lives by the Holy Spirit or will we steer by our human senses?
In my 25 years of being a Christian and in 11 years of being a pastor, I have watched people get into the worst storms and even shipwreck their lives because they chose to ignore all the warning signs. They knew what God wanted them to do, but they wanted to do their own thing. Everyone was telling them – don’t go there – but it looked good and it felt good and the pull was just too strong.
Then there’s other times when it’s outside of our control. Others make the decisions for us. The actions of others cause us to end up in the storm.
You see Paul here could give his opinion, he could tell them what God says. But in the end what happened next was outside of his control.
Some of you have been through the worst times of your life through no fault of your own. Others have made sinful decisions and stupid choices that have affected and afflicted you.
The truth is, as Christians we can’t control the actions of others – but we can seek to do what we believe is right. We can’t always change what happens to us – but we can only seek to live according to God’s Word and the truth we find there.