Acts 27: 23-32
Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong 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. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.’
On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. They took soundings and found that the water was forty metres deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was thirty metres deep. Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, ‘Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.’ So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away.
At first it sounds like Paul is overreacting a bit. Why not just let them go on the lifeboats if they want to? The reason was this: God had spoken very clearly to Paul the night before. In fact an angel had shown up. This is what he told Paul:
“God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.” (v 24)
The only hope for any of them of being saved was to stay with Paul. God says it very clearly - it was only because of Paul that the others on the boat would survive. God’s hand of protection and favour upon Paul impacted and influenced all of them.
It’s the opposite of the story of Jonah in the Old Testament. Jonah wilfully disobeys God, he goes his own way, and his disobedience brings a storm which almost destroys everyone else on the ship with him. In fact the only way to get the storm to stop and save themselves is if they get rid of Jonah from their boat.
“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,’ he replied, ‘and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1: 12)
Who we connect with closely in our lives will often determine the storms we face and whether we survive or sink. Like Jonah, there’s some people that just attract storms. Everywhere they go they cause chaos and do damage. Their sin and disobedience to God affects and inflicts suffering on those close to them.
Then there’s others like Paul here who we will connect with and they bring God’s favour, blessing, peace and protection into our lives. We see that in the story of Joseph:
“…the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph.” (Gen 39: 5)
“The warder paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” (Gen 39: 23)
The blessing and favour that’s on Joseph spills over onto everyone around him.
God brings people into our lives and just being around them and the favour that’s on them, brings us into a greater experience of God’s goodness. They calm storms in our lives, they bring order out of what was chaos and move us closer to God.
Actually church is supposed to be like that. Being part of a community of believers who seek God and hear His Word should position us to become more unsinkable when life gets rough. Surrounding ourselves with other people who want God’s best for us, who help us grow, who build us up, who accept us with all our failings and faults, and who lift us up when we fall.
Beth Moore writes this: “The umbrella of protection or destruction in one person's hand can often cover many heads.”
What do people get if they stand under your umbrella – hope or despair? A Blessing or a burden? Does your presence bring storms to people or does it bring people through storms?
These guys we read about here didn’t understand that Paul’s umbrella was keeping them from great danger. They just wanted to jump ship – do their own thing.
In 25 years of being around church, I’ve found it’s so easy to want to jump ship. Something annoys us, someone offends us – and off we go - we jump ship: 'I’m not going back there. I don’t need church. I’ve got my own boat. I’ll listen to sermons online and play worship music at home. That’ll be my church – made up of just me and Jesus.'
However God never intended it that way. Jesus intentionally calls us together into community where we can be a blessing to and receive from each other. Where we can learn to love despite our differences. Where we can have some of the rough edges smoothed off us by the abrasiveness of others. Where, as we go through storms and even shipwrecks together, we learn to hold each other up when we are sinking.
We all have our own quirks, preferences and ways we like things done. We’re bound to fall out now and again. What unites us isn’t that we’re all like each other or even that we all like each other. What unites us is Jesus. That’s it. He is the glue that holds the ship together. Our unity and purpose and existence is centred on who Jesus is, what He has done, and what He has called us as His church, His Body here on earth to do until He returns.