St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Keep Up Your Courage

Sermon on Acts 27:13-26

Text: When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. 14 Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. 15 The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, 17 so the men hoisted it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. 18 We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. 19 On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.
21 After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 24 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.’ 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”

In 1633, Dutch artist Rembrandt painted a picture depicting the events of our Gospel lesson (Mark 4:35-41). In it, he portrays the fury of the storm on the Sea of Galilee. The waves are lifting the boat, threatening to overturn it. Something that you might notice as you study the painting is the fact that there are 14 people in the painting. You have Jesus (1) and the 12 disciples, which makes 13. Who is the 14th person? It is Rembrandt himself. He inserted himself into the picture to show that he, too, felt as though he was in the middle of a horrific storm, where all seemed lost. How about you? Could you paint yourself into a corner of this painting? If so, and I believe that we all can, let us heed the words of the apostle as he said, “KEEP UP YOUR COURAGE.” 1. Yes, The Storms Are Very Real. Even though this is true, we also want to remember 2. God’s Promises Remain.

Paul had been taken into custody for an event that happened at the temple in Jerusalem. During his trial, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen and appealed his case to Caesar. As a result, Paul began his journey to Rome. So, they set off from Jerusalem and eventually made their way to Crete in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. This is where our text begins. Despite Paul’s warning, they weighed anchor and set off. However, they soon met with disaster. A Northeaster blew in across the mountains on Crete. It was so strong that they could not make it back to the port they had sailed from. The best that they could do was to ride it out.

They did everything that they could to keep themselves safe during the storm. They hoisted the lifeboat aboard the ship, which was being towed behind it, so that the lifeboat wouldn’t hit the ship and damage it. Then, they passed ropes under the ship, reinforcing it, so that the planks wouldn’t spring loose, and the ship wouldn’t break apart. Next. They lowered a sea anchor, which was a piece of canvas that was funnel-shaped and would act as a drag chute to slow the ship down. The next day, to lighten the ship and keep it from being swamped, they threw the cargo overboard. On the third day of the storm, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard, hoping that this would also provide some drag. It says in verse 20, “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” Sailors of that era would steer by using the sun and the stars. All they saw for days were storm clouds. They didn’t know where they were. They didn’t know where they were going. It’s no wonder that they gave up any hope of being saved. Due to anxiety and seasickness, they were unable to eat. Their situation went on for 2 weeks. It certainly looked like a hopeless situation.

Can you relate to what these sailors and the passengers on this ship were going through? Have you ever gone through a storm in your life, and you just don’t know what to do and where to turn next? If you haven’t, in all likelihood, you will at some point in your life. Allow me to walk you through the scenario. Things are going along relatively smoothly. You have made your plans for what you are going to be doing and how you are going to get there. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, a storm hits your life. It might be a medical issue, a financial setback, a family problem, or something else that threatens to swamp and sink your boat. When it first hits, you try everything that you have at your disposal to try and fight against it. You consult experts. You talk to your friends and family. You try this and you try that. However, it doesn’t seem as though anything is helping. You feel like those sailors who didn’t see the sun or the stars. You feel hopelessly adrift, not knowing where you are or where you are going. You feel genuinely afraid.

Please, don’t misunderstand and think that it is wrong to be afraid. When God created us, he gave us a sense to fear to protect ourselves, so that we wouldn’t run head-long into danger. As a matter of fact, we read in our text that the angel that God sent to Paul said to him, “Do not be afraid, Paul.” (Verse 24) The Greek could be translated, “Stop being afraid, Paul.” It isn’t so much the idea of being afraid as it is letting that fear overwhelm us so that we are paralyzed, so that we give up any hope. Yes, the storms of life that we have gone through, are going through, or will be going through are very real. There is no doubt about that. However, they don’t have to let them overwhelm us.

What gave the apostle Paul his courage during this storm? It wasn’t a misguided trust. It wasn’t a sunny, upbeat attitude toward life. It was a trust in the promise that God had made to him. In Acts 23:11, God told Paul, as he was imprisoned, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” God promised Paul that he would make his testimony in Rome before Caesar. This promise was repeated in verse 24, “You must stand trial before Caesar.” Since God cannot lie, Paul knew that he would make it through this storm. The angel told him, “God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.” Because of these promises that God had made, Paul could say with all confidence, “I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.” (Verse 25) God said it and that was good enough for him. He trusted in the everlasting promises of God.

God makes the same sort of promises to us, as well. Jesus assures us in Matthew 6:31,32, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” God promises to provide everything that you need for your life. We read in Psalm 91:9,10, “If you say, ‘The LORD is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.” God invites us in Psalm 50:15, “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” Finally, we have this assurance in Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Again and again, God makes promises to us, so that fear does not paralyze us, so that the situation we are facing does not overwhelm us.
How do we know that we can count on these promises? It’s easy enough to talk about these promises when everything is going smoothly in our lives. What about when we are going through these very real storms in our lives? How do I know that I can count on these promises? First, as we noted earlier, God does not lie. If he says it, you can count on it. His word is as good as gold. Second, God has taken care of your eternal storm. You and I, by nature, are spiritually lost at sea. Our many sins threaten to overwhelm us. We might try any one of various methods to get us to safety, but none would work. We would have been lost, going down to the depths of hell. However, that same Jesus who calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, enters the ship of our lives and stills the storm. He did so by coming to the earth to be our Substitute. He would never be swamped by the storms of sin because he had none. Then, to still our spiritual storm, Jesus allowed himself to be put to death on the cross. With the blood that was shed there, he has washed away all our sins. By his resurrection, he stills the storms of sin in our lives. He guides the ship of our lives into his eternal harbor. Since he took care of this storm, which surely would have done us in, we know that he loves us enough to take care of the storms that we go through in this life.

Wouldn’t it be nice, if all the storms that we face ended as peacefully and as quickly as the storm did on the Sea of Galilee? This is not always the case. As Paul was facing this storm, he knew, “We must run aground on some island.” (Verse 26) As you read the rest of Acts 27, you find that the ship that was carrying Paul and the others did crash and break up off the coast of Malta. They got to shore on pieces of the ship. However, they did make it safely and, eventually, Paul did make it to Rome. This is good for us to remember. It would be wonderful if, as soon as the storm began to blow in our lives, we prayed to God, and it immediately disappeared. It may well be that it happens that way. However, God, in his infinite wisdom, may have that storm continue for some time. It may even intensify. Yet, you have the abiding promises of God that he loves you and will always do what is best for you. We read in Jeremiah 29:11, “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” God’s promises remain for you.

One final note. How much do you think the crew needed to hear Paul’s message of hope in the middle of their storm? Are there people in our lives that might be going through their own storms right now? If so, what do you say to them? Do you say, “I’m sorry to hear that. I hope that things go better for you.”? While it might give a momentary relief, it really doesn’t help anything, does it? How much better to point them to a loving God, who has loved them with an everlasting love and who wants to be there for them. It’s an opportunity to show our Christian love and concern for our brother or sister, who is facing this storm. This might be an opportunity to point someone, who doesn’t believe, to a God who loves them. May God not only open our ears and hearts to be reminded of his loving promises. May he also open our hearts and our lips to give this assurance to others, as well.

We have so many ways to be warned of approaching storms. We have our televisions, radios, and phones, just to name a few. Yet, despite all the weather forecasters’ technology, they still miss. The storm that they predicted doesn’t come to be or it goes in a completely different direction. We can fairly be certain that we will face storms in our lives, in one form or fashion, at different times in our lives. When they hit, we know that these storms are very real. How blessed we are to know that, when the storms do hit, God’s promises will always be there to comfort and strengthen us. It is because we know this that we can hear the words, “Keep up your courage,” and know that this is more than a nice encouragement. They are a promise that comes from God himself. Amen.