Life’s Stormy Sea
July 15th, 1979 @ 10:50 AM
LIFE’S STORMY SEA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-15-79 10:50 a.m.
And once again we welcome the uncounted thousands and thousands of you who are watching this service on the two radio stations, one of which is KCBI of our Center of Biblical Studies. And then on television, being on cable, this service is a worshipful hour for people all through this great Southwest. I see you in the airport, on the streets, in convocations, and your words of encouragement mean so much to me. And may every service be a high spiritual experience that draws you nearer the Lord and makes you a more worthy follower of the Lamb.
The title of the sermon today is Life’s Stormy Sea. And this is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing that message from the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we have come to chapter 27 [Acts 27]. At the end of chapter 26, Paul has been in prison in Caesarea for more than two years. Being a Roman citizen, he had the prerogative of appealing his case to the Roman Caesar [Acts 26:32]. So he is now being placed in a boat to be sent to Rome as a prisoner for the imperial head of the Roman Empire to review his case [Acts 27:1].
The twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts is one of the most unique passages in ancient literature. Not in all of Greek and Latin literature is there any description of a sailing vessel and a shipwreck at sea comparable to this one in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts. “And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus’ band. And entering into a ship of Adramyttium—Adramyttium a town on the seacoast in Asia Minor—we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia” [Acts 27:1-2].
So in the course of the journey they came to Crete, and cast anchor at Fair Havens [Acts 27:8]. But it was not commodious, so thirty miles further down the seashore in Crete there was a town named Phenice. And they lift up anchor when they think they have a nice, soft wind in order to go those thirty miles to spend the winter in Phenice [Acts 27:12]. But not long after, there arose against it a tempestuous wind called Euroclydon. And when the ship was caught, they could not bear into the wind, so they loosed her and let her drive [Acts 27:14-15].
And in desperation, they unloaded the ship. Everything that was expendable they threw overboard; and finally, the great cargo of wheat itself [Acts 27:38]. And then they were shipwrecked on a little island later they learned to be Malta [Acts 27:44, 28:1]. But all of the people were saved according to the word that Paul the apostle brought them from the angel of the Lord [Acts 27:22-23, 37, 43-44]. This is the story in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts.
The sea to the ancient was a dreadful and terrible and ominous thing. The seafarers had no compass. So when the sky was blotted out by heavy storms, the sailors had no idea where they were, or whither they were being blown. Not only that, but they had no engine; they could not face into the wind. All they had were sails and oars, and in a tempestuous hurricane they were helpless before it. You see that imagery of the terror of the sea all through the Holy Scriptures.
In the story of Jonah, he is thrown overboard to appease a raging sea [Jonah 1:15-16]. In the story that you read out of the life of our Lord, even on the little tiny Sea of Galilee, a raging wind and storm threatened to capsize their little boat, and so the disciples cry to the Lord Jesus: “Lord, carest Thou not that we perish?” [Mark 4:38]. In the eleventh chapter of the 2 Corinthian letter, Paul speaks the fact that three times he was shipwrecked, and a day and a night he was in the open sea [2 Corinthians 11:25-26]. In the Book of Jude, Jude refers to the raging waves of the sea [Jude 1:13]. In the thirteenth chapter of the Revelation, the first verse says, “I saw a beast rising out of the sea” [Revelation 13:1]. That’s the final Antichrist. But in the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Revelation, John says, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the old first heaven and the old first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea” [Revelation 21:1].
The sea to the ancient was a dreadful and terrible thing. And in heaven and the new creation, there will not be any sea. In literature, and in lyric, in song, and in poetry, and in drama, in parable, in simile, and in metaphor, life is likened to a great voyage upon an open sea. But whether anyone of us has ever written a line of poetry or not, our lives are pretty well depicted in this twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts. We are launched out upon an open sea and we hope and pray that in the grace of God, we shall ultimately cast anchor in some fair haven, in some heavenly port.
But the story of life’s journey is in an altogether different mold. You see, we don’t anchor in the port to which we have hope to come. Our lives are so ofttimes filled with uncertainty and difficulty, and the winds of fortune drive us in directions and toward places that we do not choose to go. For one thing, we are deceived and misled by circumstances that we misjudge. It says here in the thirteenth verse, “…when the south wind blew softly” [Acts 27:13]. Supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they loosed and cast themselves on the bosom of the open sea. But not long after, there arose against the vessel a tempestuous wind called Euroclydon [Acts 27:14].
It’s only time in Greek literature you will find that word. Euros means east wind and clydon means wave. It apparently was a term that the ancient mariners used to describe the tempestuous wind that came sweeping out of Crete and so struck the little sailing vessel. So different from what they had expected when the soft wind blew from the south. Paul had stood before them in verse 10 and said, “I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and tragic damage” [Acts 27:10].
Nevertheless, the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship more than those things which were spoken by Paul [Acts 27:11]. So when the south wind blew softly, they went out into the sea [Acts 27:13]. And not long after, there arose that tempestuous storm called Euroclydon [Acts 27:14]. That is so typical of our lives, and so many of our people are misled and misdirected.
Walking down the streets of London last week, in the company of a pastor in the city, there came by us a tall, fine-looking young British lad. He was dressed in a red, red T-shirt. And on the front of the T-shirt were the words “Marx and Engels”; Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the founders of the modern communist totalitarian movement.
I said to the pastor, “What does that mean?”
And he replied, “That young fellow is a Britisher; he’s an Englishman, a young man, tall and fine-looking, but he is an active, agitating communist.”
I said, “I cannot believe such a thing. I have been to Romania; I have been to Bulgaria; I have been to Czechoslovakia; I have been to Hungary; I have been to East Germany; I have been to Poland; I have been twice to Russia—those are oppressive states!”
The totalitarian government has in an iron-grip all of the destiny and hopes of the lives of the people. It is a terrible way to live, and yet this young man in the freedom of the British Isles is walking down the street as an agitator and a communist. Misled and deceived, reaching for a goal that he thinks brings prosperity and happiness to all of the nation, when in reality it plunges the people into abysmal despair.
Not only that, but on the burden of the sea of life the tragic providences that can overwhelm us; without announcement, without preparation; just suddenly our lives are thrown into a tragic and sorrowful providence.
When the south wind blew softly, supposing they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and moved out into the sea; but not long after there arose against it a tempestuous storm called Euroclydon. And when the ship was caught, why, they let her drive before the raging wind [Acts 27:13-15].
Our lives are so often times like that. The sea is not quiet and tranquil, and the journey is not in beautiful island-studded Mediterranean coves and bays. The life’s journey is not even a romantic trip up and down a Blue Danube or the River Rhine. But the journey of life is over a sea where there are roaring reefs, and hidden rocks, and surging surfs, and dangers on every hand. Life doesn’t follow a pattern and a plan that we dream for, and pray for, and hope for. But our little boats are so ofttimes struck by terrible and tempestuous and raging providences, things that we didn’t plan for and never thought for.
Coming back from London Friday, we sat by the side of a young man. Because of the length of the journey, became rather intimately conversant with his life; a fine-looking young man, a most prosperous businessman and a fine, Christian young man. The purpose of his journey was, because his business assignments are all over the earth, working for a company in so many nations of the globe, he was making a journey from West Germany to the state of Washington, there to pick up his two little boys, whom he has by a court order six weeks out of the year.
The tragedy that had struck his life so unexpectedly: his wife grew weary of his global business assignments and divorced him. And in great sadness of life, he is seeking what God wills for him. What a tragedy! With two little boys and he has the privilege by court order of having them six weeks out of the year. Who would have ever thought such a thing when they courted? When they had their beautiful marriage ceremony and when they began life’s journey together, then the tempestuous, raging storm hits them, and the shambles remain and is heightened by tears and infinite sorrow.
When we came back to the house, there on the desk is a letter, a sweet letter, from a couple in the church. They were with another couple preparing for a party and suddenly the wife, who belongs to our dear church, became numb and paralyzed on one side of her body—rushed to the hospital—a blood clot on the brain. Whether she lives or not is in the balance, and grace, and elective purpose of God. And the letter was to make us aware of the great sorrow that had come and to ask us to pray and to make the visit to the hospital. Who would have ever thought of such a thing, dressing and preparing for a party and in a moment, struck down?
I was walking down the street of one of the great cities of America, and there was a woman with her arm full of packages; she had been shopping. And she stepped from the island in the center of a great boulevard and, when she stepped into the street to cross it, she was hit by a car. She was thrown through the air, thirty or forty feet. I stood there and watched, aghast, in horror. And when the ambulance came and took her silent form away, I did not know whether she was alive or whether she was dead. The providences of life, unlooked for, unexpected; some of them filled with infinite sorrow and tears. Some of them bearing great tragedy, but that is the journey of life. Will you notice how our values of life change in the face of terrible disaster and tragic providences?
“The third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship” [Acts 27:19]. That word translated “tackling”—skeuos—refers to far more, it has a far wider meaning than just the tackling of the ship. Skeuos, refers to everything that was movable. They threw out all of the furniture. They threw out everything that was expendable. They cast overboard with their own hands everything in the ship. What difference we face in our lives in providences that are terrible and tragic! These things that we cling to, and covet, and prize turn to dust and to ashes in our hands. “With our own hands we threw abroad, we cast out the tackling of the ship” [Acts 27:19]—the skeuos, everything, furniture and all in the ship. And then finally after fourteen days, we cast out the wheat into the sea [Acts 27:38].
Why, I can’t believe that. That’s the reason for the ship! That’s the reason for the journey! That’s the reason for the crew; that’s the reason for the whole effort. They were transporting wheat from Egypt to Rome. Egypt was the breadbasket of Rome, and this is one of the state ships that carry food to the people of the imperial city. And yet, with their own hands, they take the wheat, and they cast it out into the sea. Isn’t that strange? They are no longer merchantmen, they are no longer sellers, they are no longer buyers. They are no longer businessmen. They are now grasping for the hope of life itself; for it says that after the tempest, and “the sun and the stars in many days did not appear, all hope that we should be saved was taken away” [Acts 27:20]. That is a strange thing, how the tragedies of life can change our evaluations and our values.
A long, long time ago I remember reading on a funny page, on a comic section in the paper, a series about Mutt and Jeff. They had been told about a land across the sea where they could scoop up diamonds. So they made their journey there and scooped up diamonds by the bushelbaskets. And then coming back home, a great tempestuous wind caught the boat and tore it apart. And Mutt and Jeff are now on a raft in the middle of the sea, and the sun is beating down upon them. And almost now unconscious, those diamonds, big diamonds are rolling off the raft into the sea, and they are without cognizance. Trade a five hundred carat diamond for a cup of water! How the tragedies of life change our sense of values.
With their own hands they threw everything overboard [Acts 27:19], and with their own hands, finally, they cast the cargo of wheat into the sea [Acts 27:38]. This is the gospel messenger, and this is the gospel message. Who is the gospel messenger? And what is the gospel message? The gospel messenger is he who stands in the midst of the storms of the fury of life, and he has a message of hope and salvation from heaven. And what is the gospel message? The gospel message is: “Be of good cheer, I believe in God” [Acts 27:25].
For in the midst of that raging storm when all hope that we should be saved was taken away [Acts 27:20], Paul stood forth in the midst and says:
I exhort you to be of good cheer:
for there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve,
Saying, Fear not, Paul; . . . God hath given thee not only your life, but all them that sail with thee.
Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as He has told it unto me.
That is the gospel messenger and that is the gospel message. Lift up your hearts; lift up your face! God hath promised us victory, and health, and deliverance, and salvation; be of good cheer!
One time I preached a sermon entitled The Good Cheers of Jesus. When they let down that paralytic before Him, He turned to the paralytic and said, “Be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven thee” [Matthew 9:2]. When the storm struck the little boat on the Sea of Galilee, the Lord Jesus was walking on the water [Matthew 14:25]. And the disciples were affrighted thinking they had seen a spirit [Matthew 14:26]. And the Lord said, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid” [Matthew 14:27]. Do you remember how that incomparable fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth chapters of John [John 14-16] ends the discourse in the upper room? The last sentence is this: The Lord said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” [John 16:33].
There are no problems for which He does not have an answer. There are no darkened ways for which He is not the lamp of light. There are no providences that, that He cannot deliver from. There are no tragedies and sorrows out of which He cannot bring peace, and deliverance, and salvation, and help, and encouragement. That is the gospel of the good news of Jesus Christ. “Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it will be even as He said unto me” [Acts 27:25]. And finally, our deliverance is in a tribulation.
As they neared an unknown land that later turned out to be the Isle of Malta, as they neared a land, driven by that tempestuous storm, they saw a little opening in the island—a little creek bank. And they turned the ship the best they could to drive the ship ashore, to run it aground between the banks of that little creek. But when they sought to do so, they ran aground a mud and sand bank where two seas meet. And the ship, being thrust into that embankment, the forepart stuck fast and remained unmovable. And the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves [Acts 27:41]. The soldiers said, because they were accountable for their own lives for the prisoners, the soldiers said, “Let us kill the prisoners lest they swim and escape!” But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose and commanded that they could swim for themselves. So they cast themselves into the sea and thus came to the land [Acts 27:42-44]. And the ship was broken in pieces [Acts 27:41].
That is our final and ultimate end. Where two seas meet, our little boat will ultimately be run aground: on one side, the surging tide of time; and on the other side, the surging tide of eternity. And where those two seas meet, time and eternity, there will be the final breaking up of our lives; the dissolution of our little boat. And under those pounding waves, we are cast up and borne along until finally the boat is broken in pieces. Timber by timber, faculty by faculty; cognizance by cognizance, century by century, our little frame, our little boat is broken up.
Somewhere, someplace, sometime, some inevitable and inexorable hour there will our little ship be run aground and be torn up between two seas. It is then that we are saved only by the grace of God [Ephesians 2:8]. How helpless I am before it. Nor can the power of any man’s hand stay that tragic storm; it is only in the grace of God that we are delivered.
Do you remember this beautiful and moving poem by Henry van Dyke?
O Maker of the mighty deep
Whereon our vessels fare,
Above our life’s adventure keep
Thy faithful watch and care.
In Thee we trust, whate’er befall;
Thy sea so great, our boats so small.
We know not where the secret tides
Will help us or delay,
Nor where the lurking tempest hides,
Nor where the fogs are gray.
We trust in Thee whate’er betide,
Thy sea so great, and our boats so small.
Beyond the circle of the sea,
When voyaging is past,
We seek our final port in Thee;
O bring us home at last.
In Thee we trust, whate’er befall,
Thy sea so great, and our boats so small.
[“O Maker of the Mighty Deep,” Henry van Dyke]
There is no one of us but has or shall experience that tempestuous journey over life’s sea. Things we never looked for, never planned for, never prepared for, never thought for, and how overwhelming they sometimes are! And ultimately, running our little boat aground where it is broken up by the raging waves and wind of the sea.
Our Lord, we have no other hope but in Thee. There is no one of us escapes that inexorable, and inevitable, and final hour. Lord, Lord, weak and helpless and soon to die, may Thy mercy, and grace, and pity, and love, and sweet remembrance reach down hands of help, and encouragement, and salvation, and deliverance for us. We cast ourselves upon Thy kind arms. O Lord, remember us!
And that is our invitation to your heart today, to come into the circle of the keeping grace of our Lord; of the promise of His remembrance and deliverance from heaven. “Pastor, I am coming today. I have decided for God, and here I stand. I’m bringing my family with me. This is my wife and these are our children. We’re all coming forward today.” Or a couple you or just one somebody you, “My life, I give into the able, keeping, delivering, saving hands of God. And here I stand.” Out of this balcony round, down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, here is my hand. I give it to you in token that I have given my heart to God” [Romans 10:8-13].
Do it! It will be the greatest decision you have ever made. And let the Lord be your light, and Shield, and Comforter, and Deliverer, and Savior, and strength, and Guide, and Friend along the pilgrim way of life over the voyage of our vast and unknown sea.
Come, do it now. Make it now. It is the most meaningful decision you’ll ever make in your life, for you in your own soul, for your family, and for those dear to your heart. In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and when we stand to sing, on the first note, when you stand up, take that first step. God will give you strength for the rest of the way. It is a decision you never regret. It is life now, and abounding life in the world to come [John 10:10, 27-30]. When you stand up, take that first step; angels will attend you; the Holy Spirit will bless you as you answer with your life [Romans 10:8-13]. Do it now! Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
A. The journey to Italy
The sea to the ancient was a dreadful, ominous thing(Mark 4:38, 2 Corinthians 11:25-26, Revelation 13:1, 21:1)
In literature, lyric, and poetry life is likened to a great voyage upon an open
II. Our hopes, dreams and plans turn out
so differently than what we expect
A. We are so easily
deceived, misled(Acts 27:18)
1. The advice of
B. We can easily be
caught up in the fury of tragic providences
III. Our values of life change in the face
of terrible disaster
A. They threw out
everything that was expendable (Acts 27:19)
B. They threw out the
good wheat, the reason for the journey(Acts
IV. The apostle of hope
A. The gospel messenger
and the gospel message (Acts 27:22-25)
B. “Be of good cheerâ€¦” (Matthew 9:2, 14:27, John 16:33)
1. There are no
providences that He cannot deliver from
V. The deliverance in a great tribulation
A. The great surging
tide of time and eternity
B. Somewhere, sometime
there will be the final breaking up of our lives
1. It is then
that we are saved only by the grace of God