Your Amazing Faith, Part 2

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Faith is an amazing gift from God. How amazing is faith? It’s so amazing only Christians have it. Non-Christians don’t have faith. Like so many other things of God, the world has a version of faith, but it’s a pale imitation of what Christians have been given. The world has positive thinking, but only the Christian possesses faith. That’s what we learn from Romans 10:17 –

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 | NIV84)

It’s unfortunate that the average Christian doesn’t grasp the profundity of this idea. He glibly takes his faith for granted; utterly clueless of its value or it’s power. Your faith comes from hearing the Gospel. Never underestimate the power of the Word of God, nor the power of the faith it implants in your heart. So the basis of our faith is not what we think or what we feel or what we wish; the basis of our faith is the Gospel.

If the basis of faith is the Word, then what is the object of our faith? Paul gives us the answer in Acts 27:25 –

So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. (Acts 27:25 | NIV84)

Let’s take a look at why Paul said that, and let’s begin by considering this, one of the most exciting chapters in all the New Testament.

Context

The last two chapters of Acts are exciting and make for fun reading. They are full of nautical terms, which is significant given that the author of Acts, Dr Luke, was a landlubber! Notwithstanding, his account of Paul’s journey to Rome is considered to be masterpiece because it sheds some light on how sea voyages were made in those days. James Smith, a Scotsman who is considered to be the father of yachting, is often associated with these chapters. His lifelong devotion to and studies of geology and conchology are considered legendary, but it was his love of yachting that led to his writing a book detailing Paul’s seafaring adventures. In 1844 he retraced this voyage as Luke recorded it, and Smith concluded:

Luke, by his accurate use of nautical terms, gives great precision to his language, and expresses by a single word what would otherwise require several.

His estimation of Luke’s record testifies to the integrity and authenticity of the Biblical record.

When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us. (Acts 27:1-2 | NIV84)

Three times in those two verses we read the word “we,” which includes Paul, Luke, and a fellow by the name of Aristarchus. The last time we read “we” in the books of Acts is back in chapter 21 when Paul and his friends finally arrived in Rome. That was about two years before the incidents in chapter 27. What was Dr Luke doing for those two years while Paul was held as a prisoner in Caesarea? Remember the other document the good Doctor wrote – the Gospel of Luke? It was here in Rome and the surrounding areas that he did his research for it.

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled a among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus… (Luke 1:2, 3 NIV | 84)

Luke was nothing if not thorough! But why was he allowed to travel with Paul the prisoner? For that matter, why was Aristarchus there? Paul was a special case; he wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill prisoner, and he was treated with slightly more consideration than were other prisoners. In all probability, Luke was Paul’s personal physician and Aristarchus was one of Paul’s best friends.

But what got Paul in such hot water that he was being transported to Rome a prisoner? Back in chapter 25, we read that Paul had been hauled before Agrippa and Festus to face charges brought against him by some troublesome Jews –

A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. He said: “There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner. When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.” (Acts 25:13 – 15 NIV | 84)

Paul faced both Agrippa and Festus and he shared his conversion experience with the king. This was Paul’s habit. If you read the whole book of Acts, you’ll read Paul’s testimony several times. The fact is, if an unbeliever stood still long enough, Paul would share it with him! Agrippa’s response to Paul’s evangelistic efforts and Paul’s response is a classic exchange –

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Paul replied, “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.” (Acts 26:28, 29 NIV | 84)

Everybody agreed that Paul was not guilty of any crime, but he was determined to get to Rome at all costs. In a mark of his frustration with Paul and the Jews in general, Agrippa remarked –

This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” (Acts 26:32 NIV | 84)

Agrippa stands as a most tragic character. He had no desire to persecute Paul. Meyer Lenski, one of the great New Testament scholars, notes ;

Agrippa had felt Paul’s touch upon his heart, and from this strange and unexpected power he “left the room.” It was his hour of grace, and when he “left the room,” he left salvation behind him.

Sad for Agrippa. He was presented with a the chance of a lifetime: the chance to have his sins forgiven and a home in heaven guaranteed. And he walked away from it. He’s not alone, unfortunately. Countless others have done what he did.

Bound for Rome

Nobody onboard that ship was thrilled to be there this time of year. A sea voyage such as this one was not looked forward to by the ancients, but it was particularly perilous this time of year. Paul left the area in late August and didn’t arrive in Rome until March! It was a miracle that he got there at all, having not only lost all his belongings, but also his ship!

The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. (Acts 27:3 NIV | 84)

But it wasn’t all bad, at least at first. As a Roman citizen, Paul was treated with respect and “presumed innocent,” at least until he faced Caesar. He was allowed to visit some friends, but time was passing and the weather was changing fast. Paul wasn’t sailor, but he was no dummy – he knew they were in trouble.

Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast. 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.” (Acts 27:9, 10 NIV | 84)

Just like Agrippa, nobody on the ship would heed Paul’s warning, so instead of finding safe harbor, they pressed on.

The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. (Acts 27:15 NIV | 84)

In other words, their fate quite literally was “hanging on the wind.” If that isn’t a metaphor for life, nothing is. So many people honestly think that they are in control of their lives; that they shape their destiny; that they can plan their lives around a desired outcome. It’s not like that, though. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to be careful and live prudently. But it’s downright foolish to think for a moment we control our lives. Other times it may seem as though outside forces are doing that; that we are at the whim of our employers or our government or our health. But that’s not accurate either. It’s God who is control of our lives, and it’s not a passive control. But at the same time, you and I as believers in God shouldn’t allow ourselves to be “driven along” by the winds of this world. The world should never, ever direct the course of a Christian! Paul knew back in verse 10 that trouble was coming, and it was.

When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved. (Acts 27:20 | NIV84)

All hope was lost. They had reached the point of no return – the absolute end of their resources. And that’s when Paul said this:

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.’ (Acts 27:23-24 | NIV84)

Those verses grab your attention. Most people are hooked at “an angel of the God whose I am…stood beside me,” but what is most astounding, to me at least, is that God had a plan for Paul’s life (to stand trial before Caesar – not a great plan from the human perspective!), and therefore Paul’s life would be preserved. Not only that, because of the importance of Paul’s life, the lives of all those associated with Paul would also be preserved! Never underestimate the importance of a single Christian life! A single Christian life can change the course of history.

That word from the God sustained Paul through this storm. It didn’t matter how bad the storm was or how terrified the sailors were, Paul knew things would be fine because he knew what God’s Word was and his faith was in God and His Word. Paul’s faith was completely objective, and that Object was God. That’s why he could make this declaration –

So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. (Acts 27:25 | NIV84)

His faith wasn’t in the sailors’ skill or the boat’s sturdy construction. This wasn’t positive thinking speaking. Paul’s attitude was the logical outcome of his faith in God and God’s Word. There’s nothing like the worst circumstances of life to bring out the best aspects of faith.

Paul lived an exciting life, and this incident highlights a couple of things. First, God’s will for those who serve Him can never be stymied, not by nature or man. Second, God’s people are able to hear the voice of God in the midst of terrible storms. Maybe nobody else, but God’s people can hear God’s voice, and His voice brings personal assurance and strength.

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