GETTING THE MESSAGE/God’s sustaining grace in peril
In Acts 27 the apostle Paul is in Roman custody and is delivered over to a centurion named Julius to be transported to Rome. The chapter gives us the account of the ship that carried Paul being swept away and shipwrecked by a fierce storm, though all on board survived by God’s grace. We need to ask why this story is here and what God would have us learn from it.
One principle we learn is that salvation is of God alone. The storm reaches such a point that the men on the ship abandon all hope: “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned” (Acts 27:20). By this Luke means that all on the ship knew they could not prevent their perishing.
But Paul brings a word from the Lord to them. The Lord has promised there will be no loss of life, though the ship will be lost (verse 22). At the end of the chapter the ship is wrecked and lost, but “all were brought safely to land.” Their deliverance was of the Lord, according to His word.
That they were all brought through a storm to land is reminiscent of Noah and the ark, which is analogous to the salvation of souls. None can save but God, and the salvation of souls is a far greater work than the preservation of the lives of these men from a terrible storm.
The salvation of sinners can only be accomplished by the taking away of man’s sin and guilt before God. The wages of sin is death. This requires a just payment, which no man has any ability to make. Christ made such an atonement for sin on the cross, taking the sins upon himself. The ship was lost in this story, but the lives of the men were saved. If Christ hadn’t given himself to the storm of God’s judgment, we couldn’t make it safely into God’s kingdom.
The problem with sinners is blindness to our peril. No one had to convince any soul on board that ship when they were in a tempest and complete darkness that they were about to perish. But it is very difficult to get men to listen to God. As long as men think they have resources of their own, they will look everywhere but God.
It is when men see guilt and death joined together that they are in a position to listen to God. At Pentecost, men who were formerly proud were suddenly convicted of their guilt when listening to Peter’s sermon about Jesus being the Savior sent by God. They cried out, “Brothers, what shall we do,” and were directed to come to the Lord Jesus. They needed divine help like the men in the ship and the Lord provided it. He is a gracious God to all who call upon Him.
If you don’t know that you know Christ, you need to recognize the peril you are in under God’s judgment and call on the Lord Jesus for salvation. If you do know Christ, you should acknowledge that your salvation is entirely of God. His light gave eyes to see and ears to hear, or you would have remained in darkness. His salvation is entirely of grace. It is not deserved; it is a gift of God.
Another thing we learn from this passage is God’s sustaining grace to his people. The Lord preserves Paul in the storm, and Paul acknowledges God in the storm: “to whom I belong and whom I worship” (verse 23).
“To whom I belong” is the language of ownership. Paul often calls himself a bondservant of Christ. He claims to be a servant or slave of Christ and thankfully so. It is a blessed thing to be owned by the Lord, body and soul. Christ insists on having his throne in the souls of His people. We can be happy in no other way, so we must not resist the Lord’s rule.
This doesn’t mean He won’t lead us into the middle of storms in this world. Paul is in this storm by the Lord’s hand. The Lord will teach His people their preservation is only by His hand. But as Christians we know that the ark of our soul cannot sink no matter the storm because Christ is in it.
You may yourself ebb and flow, rise and fall, but your Lord is this day as He was yesterday, and it is your comfort that your salvation is not of your own making. It is a blessed thing to say Christ is mine, and I am His. No storm in this world can ever change that.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.