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Ships On The Sea

Scripture: Acts 27:21-29; Text: Acts 27:41

"And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the forepart stuck fast, and remained unmoveable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves." (Acts 27:41).

The passage before us tells about Paul being transported to Rome. He was on board a ship bound for Italy. The ship stopped at a seaport called "The fair havens" (Acts 27:8) where they no doubt took on supplies and provisions for the further trip. Winter was nearing and it was very treacherous on the open seas, so Paul advised them to winter in Phenice, which was commodious to winter travelers (Acts 27:12). While they remained in the Fair havens a south wind brought a pleasant break in the weather and supposing that the weather might hold for the trip, the captain set sail again for Italy (Acts 27:13).

Not long after they had returned to the open sea, there arose a tempestuous wind called Euroclydon (Acts 27:14). The storm was so violent that the sailors completely lost control of the ship and were at the mercy of the strong winds that drove them across the sea. Coming to a small island, they made temporary repairs and went to sea again. The storm was so severe that they unloaded much of the cargo to lighten the ship. The more intense the storm became, the less hope remained in their hearts. There were days that neither the sun nor moon could be seen because of the thick storm clouds. They soon abandoned all hope of surviving the storm and thought they would be lost at sea.

Right then, at their lowest point, God did a remarkable thing. He sent an angel to Paul with a message of hope. God assured Paul that only the ship would be lost, none of those on board would die. What a wonderful message for Paul to share with his ship mates. Let us learn something here that is important. When we are brought down to our deepest despair, it is then that the message of God's grace seems the sweetest. God has given us a message of hope through the Bible and like Paul we should share this message to the glory of God. We have no way of knowing how many of Paul's fellow travelers believed his words, nor can we predict how people will respond to our gospel message of grace; but of this we can be certain, where a work of sovereign grace has prepared the heart, there will be joy and comfort.

Finally, after fourteen days; the storm still raging, the ship was driven toward land. The ship’s crew became busy, sounding the waters to check its depths. The water changed depth quickly, so they cast out four anchors into the shallow waters. The next day Paul reassured the people that God would spare their lives but only if they remained on board the ship. They were comforted, so Paul publically prayed a prayer of thanksgiving and they ate.

Seeing a creek, they pulled anchor, and made an effort to steer the ship into it. They fell into turbulent waters where two seas met and the ship ran aground. The front stuck fast and the rear part was broken by the violence of the waves. Just as God promised, the vessel was lost but not one person lost their life. If we were to learn nothing more, let us be assured that there has not failed one word of all God's good promises, which He has promised to His people (1 Kings 8:56).

There are some lessons that were clearly evident as we study this passage, but there are many more which are not as obvious. Therefore, we should follow the example of Jesus. His parables drew parallels between the nature and spiritual. For us to be able to do so, we must recognize that we are like ships on the sea. Poets and song writers have observed this parallel and so should we. One very beautiful song that many people love, is "The Light House." The comparison between us and ships is a valid parallel. Even James makes a comparison between our bodies and a ship. He said, "Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, withersoever the governor listeth" (James 3:4). The parallels are between our body and the ship and our tongues and the helm. Having established the biblical validity of this comparison, let us continue our study of the ship and its parallel to our lives.

As we pursue this idea, there are many lessons we need to consider. It is upon the sea of life, and in service to God, that we must exercise great faith. A sea has shallow edges but for the most part there are great depths. The same is true of the service of God, which is to embrace the totality of a Christian’s life. There are shallows in which we may wade, but most part, life is to be spent in the depths where we will sink or float. When by faith we put our trust in God, we are able to sail forward, doing God's will daily and enduring the storms; which we often encounter. Paul and all those who traveled with him, were spared by the hand of God. Even the shallows were perilous during that raging storm.

The scripture lesson pointed out very plainly, that the sea is not always calm and peaceful, nor the sailing smooth; even in the service of God. The Christian is not exempted from the disappointments of life but God does give grace and take care of us when they come (2 Corinthians 12:9). Remember the time when the disciples of Jesus were caught in a storm and became afraid. Jesus was in the ship with them and when they woke Him, He "rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm" (Matthew 8:26). Keep this in mind while you are sailing along, Jesus lives inside of you and every born again person. He that is in us is greater than he (satan) that is in the world (1 John 4:4). Because our body is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19), the presence of God is in our ship and whenever the storms come, He is able to keep us safe in His care; just as He did the disciples and all those who were on board the ship with Paul. Trust His gracious care!

Just as the Lord rides in our ship to take care of us and protect us, He also enables us to perform tasks we would not otherwise have the ability to do. There was another time when the disciples of our Lord encountered a strong and stormy wind. During the night there was a brisk wind against which they could make little progress by rowing. When Jesus came to them, at first they were afraid; but His peaceful words calmed their fears and as He entered the boat, suddenly and miraculously, they were at their destination (John 6:16-21). This should teach us another great lesson; what we cannot do by our efforts alone, we can accomplish when Jesus is with us. Paul said, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philippians 4:13). As we sail along on the sea of life, like Paul and the disciples of our Lord, there are forces that oppose us and the resistence is so great that we are helpless to overcome them. The “winds” create difficulties that we cannot effectively withstand; then, by the power and grace of our Lord, our little ship gets safely to shore.

Having considered the storms Paul and the disciples encountered, may I also remind you that some of the richest experiences of the disciples of the Lord, took place on the sea. Perhaps there is a lesson here for us all. The Psalmist said, "They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep" (Psalm 107:23-24). Haven't we all rejoiced to see the wonders of God's at work as we have sailed the course that He has charted for us. Many have gone to the sea to do the “Father's business” (Luke 2:49) and as they performed the bidding of the Master, they enjoyed some of the richest experiences of their lives.

Perhaps this is an appropriate place to examine another passage that involved the sea and Peter. Here we shall turn our focus to the subject of obedience. In Luke 5:4 Jesus said to His disciples, "Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught." They were told to move out to the deeper water and let down the nets (plural). Peter said they had fished all night, which was an excellent time for fishing that sea; yet they were completely unproductive and had caught nothing at all. Having faith, Peter believed that if Jesus gave the command, they should obey and so they launched out into the deeper waters. I am not sure what Peter expected, but I am fairly sure he did not expect as much as Jesus gave. Does that describe you, sailing the sea of life and service to God; yet expecting too little from the Lord, who has already done too much for us? They did go into the deeper water and the passage informs us that they let down the net (only one net). Jesus told them to let down the nets (plural) and having only partially obeyed, they caught so many fish the net began to break under the strain. Like those disciples, we need to move out into the deep waters, where only great faith can go; but unlike those disciples, we need to obey all that our Lord commands, not just part of it.

There was another occasion when Jesus came to His disciple while fishing on the sea of Tiberias. It is recorded in John 21:1-14. After our Lord Jesus died for sins and had been resurrected; Peter and six others went to fish again. This is the second time they caught nothing, while Jesus was not there. As the morning broke, Jesus called to them and said, "Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find" (John 21:6). This time they did exactly as He said and though their net was filled with so many fishes that they could not lift it, yet it did not break. How amazing that when they obeyed, they cast on the right side. There is a right side and a left side, but also a right side and a wrong side. As we sail our ship of life, let us always remember to cast on the right side. This we do as we obey the commandments of our Saviour and by His blessings, we too, shall rejoice again and again.

Now if we are going to obey His words, we must first know what they are - right? How can we obey Him if we don't know what He commands? It is therefore very important for us to sail our ship into the sea port of the church. Genesis 49:13 said, "Zebulum shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for a haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zion." We can think of the church as a haven for our ship. Remember that the ship Paul traveled on, stopped in the port of the “Fair Havens” to replenish their resources. What a beautiful description for the church, "The Fair Havens." Here we may bring our vessel, to be filled with the worthy goods of Bible teachings. As we sail through life, we often find ourselves deplete of spiritual resources. Time and time again, we need to sail into the haven of rest (church) and laden our ships with refreshments for our souls. Here we feed upon the milk (1 Peter 2:2) and meat of God's word (Hebrews 5:14). In the church we understand His will and see the course that He has charted for us. Obeying, we are blessed and rejoice, as did the disciples of our Lord.

As we now resume our parallel between Paul's experience and that of our own, we must face the fact that we can encounter ship wreck. Even though we are saved by grace and heaven is our sure destination, guaranteed by the sovereign Ruler of the universe; yet it is possible for us to suffer ship wreck; many have. Many saints have suffered shattering experiences and have been broken to pieces. Could such ship wrecks have been prevented? I am certain that many could have been avoided. Paul and those who traveled with him, could have avoided it, if they had wintered in the Fair Havens. In the spiritual parallel, many could avoid shipwreck, if only they would apply God’s word to their lives daily. According to 2 Cor. 11:25, Paul was involved in the ship wreck of three different vessels and his observation enabled him to write about ship wreck lives. He said, "Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made ship wreck" (1 Timothy 1:19). Here Paul is clearly addressing spiritual shipwreck. Some had refused to sail their ship, using the faith which the Holy Spirit has given (Galatians 5:22). Today, many are unwilling to follow the coarse that is divinely charted; no wonder they end up shipwrecked upon the rocks of this sinful world.

What specifically can we do, to prevent such ship wrecks in our lives? The answer is plainly set before in our initial passage. As the ship on which Paul was traveling, began to near land and the possibility of ship wreck increased; notice that they “sounded” the waters. This is recorded in Acts 27:27-28. The purpose of "sounding" the waters was two fold. They sounded by using a metal bell filled with wax and tied to a rope that was marked with knots at regular intervals. As they let down the weight, they counted the knots to determine the depth of the water and from the materials that stuck to the wax in the bell, they determined the nature of the bottom; whether rocky or sandy. We need to constantly "sound" the spiritual depth of the waters in which we sail, lest we get too near the world and its destructive force. We can easily check the depth by checking the word of God. For that reason Paul said we are to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). The responsibility is yours, don't wait for someone else to do it for you. The Bible says, "Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord" (Lamentations 3:40).

The next action of that ancient crew was to cast out four anchors to hold them securely from the rocky shores that threatened their ship. We should think of those anchors as anchors of hope, for they hoped with each one they threw out, that it would dig into the bottom of the sea and by the attached ropes would hold them secure. The writer of Hebrews declares that we have the anchor of hope. He said, "Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into tat within the veil" (Hebrews 6:19). There is a noticeable difference between spiritual and natural anchors. A natural anchor goes down into the water and holds from beneath, but the spiritual anchor reaches up into heaven and holds securely to the Rock of Ages, God.

What anchors of hope do we have for our spiritual ship? Let us consider four very briefly: (1) We have a hope in God, for the Psalmist said, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance" (Psalm 42:5). (2) We have a hope in prayer, "For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?" (Romans 8:24). (3) We have a hope from God's word. Paul said, "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope" (Romans 15:4). (4) Finally, we have a hope of heaven through Jesus Christ our Lord. Paul wrote, "To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). When you are threatened by shipwreck, throw out these four anchors. Remember the example of those in Acts 27:29, for their anchors held through the night. Their shipwreck did not occur until they had taken up the anchors (Acts 27:40).

As I conclude this sermon, I shall point out that the ship wreck actually occurred when the ship had its forepart stuck on the shore and its hinder part in the sea. If it had been altogether on the land, it likely would have stayed in tact as it had while it was altogether at sea. However, when one part was controlled by the sea and the other part controlled by the land; the pressure was too great and shipwrecks occurred. Does that say something to us? It should, especially when we remember the words of our Saviour. Jesus said, "No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24). Many lives are torn apart and shipwrecked, because they try to serve Jesus and at the same time hold firmly on the monetary system of worldly lusts. Let us be wise enough to give our lives wholly to God, then all we do shall be guided by His will. Otherwise we shall be broken apart by the violence of the waves and ship wreck will occur as it did in Acts 27:41. Through these parallels of comparison, we are amply warned of ship wreck; so let us cautiously sail our ships on the sea of life, laded with the precious goods of godliness, which glorify our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

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This page last updated on June 7, 2014