The Stormy Journey of Life
July 15th, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
THE STORMY JOURNEY OF LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 27:1 – 20
7-15-79 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Stormy Journey of Life. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we have come to chapter 27. This is one of the most unusual and brilliant passages in ancient Greek literature. There is described here in greater detail a journey on the sea than any other place found in ancient literature.
After Paul had been in Caesarea in prison for over two years, a day came when he was to be taken to Rome, there to make his personal appeal to the Roman Caesar. So the story begins. "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," a town on the coast of Asia Minor, "we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia"; and then follows the story of that journey [Acts 27:1-2]. And as they continued their way, in verse 13, "when the south wind blew softly, supposing that we had obtained our purpose… we sailed close by Crete. But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon" [Acts 27:13-14]. And in the nineteenth verse, "And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship" [Acts 27:19]. And in the twentieth verse, "all hope that we should be saved was then taken away" [Acts 27:20].
And in the middle verses, Paul stands speaking a message from God. They would be saved, though the ship lost [Acts 27:22-23]. And they finally run the ship aground in verse 41 in an island they later learn to be Malta [Acts 27:41]. And so they all were saved, though the ship and all of its cargo was irretrievably lost [Acts 27:42-44].
So the sermon – following the story in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts: The Stormy Journey of Life. The sea, to the ancient, was an ominous and terrible thing. They had no compass, so when the sun and the stars were blotted out, the sailors had no idea where they were. They had no engine, so they had no power to face into the wind, and their sails and their oars were helpless before a great hurricane.
You see that image of the terror of the sea all through the Word of God. Jonah is thrown out into the sea to appease its wrath [Jonah 1:1-15]. In the passage you read from Mark, the disciples, even on the little inlet sea of Galilee, were frightened, saying to the Master, "Lord, don’t You care? Is it nothing to You that we perish?" [Mark 4:38].
In the eleventh chapter of the second Corinthian letter, Paul says that thrice he was shipwrecked, and a day and a night he was in the deep. He was cast into the open sea [2 Corinthians 11:25]. In the Book of Jude, he refers to the raging waves of the sea [Jude 1:13]. In the Book of the Revelation, the first verse of the thirteenth chapter, John says, "I saw a beast rising out of the sea" [Revelation 13:1]: the ultimate and final Antichrist. And in the twenty-first chapter of the Revelation, John says, "I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the old heaven and the old first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea" [Revelation 21:1].
The sea was a dreadful and awesome and ominous thing to the ancient. "There was no more sea." In literature, and in lyric, in song, and in drama, and in poetry, in parable, and in simile, and in metaphor, life is so often compared to a voyage over a vast sea. But whether any one of us has ever written a line of poetry or not, our lives are defined by, and we speak in terms of, this twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts.
So ofttimes we come into a different port from what at first we thought, and our plans and our dreams and our visions take an all together different course from what we had purposed. That is cause for one thing by [which] we are so easily mislead and deceived.
In the thirteenth verse, "When the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete. But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon" [Acts 27:13-14]. Euroclydon: euros, euros, the Greek word for east wind, and clydo, cludo, however you – in English we take that "u" and make a "y" out of it – cludo, clydo: wave. You find the word nowhere else in Greek literature except right here. It was used by the sailors to refer to this hurricane-force, tempestuous northeast wind that suddenly swept out of Crete and into the sails of that little vessel.
Isn’t it a strange thing how human mind, and human choice, and human will and understanding can be so easily deceived and mislead? Up here in these previous verses, "Paul had said to those who were in command of the ship, ‘I perceive, sirs, that this voyage is going to be with great loss and tragedy.’ Nevertheless, the centurion who was in command, being the chief officer in the Augustus’ Band, the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken by Paul" [Acts 27:10-11]. So, when a soft south wind blew, supposing they had their purpose, why, they weighed anchor and set out into the sea [Acts 27:13].
Deceived and mislead: we are so ofttimes that in our voyage in our human lives. Last week, walking down the street of London with a pastor in the city, there came by us a tall, fine looking young Englishman. He had on a red shirt, and on the red shirt, he had "Marx and Engels" written on it; Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the founder of the modern communist totalitarian movement. And I said to the pastor, "What is that?"
And he replied, "That young man is a communist, an active communist, an agitator in England, in the British Isles."
I said to him, "My friend, God help us! I have been in Romania, I have been in Hungary, I have been in Czechoslovakia, I have been in Poland, I have been twice in Russia, I have been in East Germany, and without exception, the government and the state is oppressive. You feel the awesome stranglehold of those totalitarian governments on the people, and to leave is to breathe gratitude and thanksgiving. And you say that young man is a Britisher and an Englishman and an agitating communist, flaunting his red shirt and Marx and Engels before the people?"
He said, "Yes. We have that group and party in England."
How could it be? Because he’s mislead and deceived, and so many of the people of the world are like that. Not only is life’s journey attended by such a change in plan and thought for what we hope for, but these terrible things that come upon us in life usually strike us with hurricane force and without announcement. Without previous knowledge, they come immediately and tragically and terribly.
"And when the south wind blew softly, they thought they had their purpose, so they weighed anchor and left into the open sea. And not long after, there arose against it a tempestuous wind" [Acts 27:13-14]. Life’s journey is not sailing over tranquil seas under fair skies, through a many-island Mediterranean, along lovely coasts. It is not a romantic journey down some beautiful blue Danube or glorious Rhine. Rather, life is a voyage in an open sea that is filled with hidden rocks and raging reefs and sunken shoals. And the things that overwhelm us so ofttimes come suddenly, and without announcement, and without preparation.
Life just doesn’t turn out in most instances as we had planned for, and thought for, and hoped for, and dreamed for, prayed for.
Coming back from London on Friday, there was a young man who sat by us, and because of the long journey, we became well acquainted with him; a fine, Christian young man, a most devoted young fellow. Fine looking and most prosperous, it seemed; you couldn’t help but love him, just visiting with him. What his journey was, he’d been in West Germany. He represents a company, is an executive in a company that is worldwide. And he was making this journey from Germany to the state of Washington, there to pick up his two boys, two little boys, for six weeks. For six weeks out of the year, he has those two little boys.
So, as he talked to us, he began to open his heart, and you could weep. He had married a precious girl, precious to him, and they had had those two children, two darling little boys, he described them. But his work takes him all over the world, and she got tired of his traveling, so divorced him. And now he travels alone, without a home, without his family. And six weeks out of the year, he has the privilege of those two boys. And [he] was asking us: what should he do? And how? He never expected that. He never dreamed for that. That’s life’s journey.
When we came home, on the desk at the house is a letter written by a sweet couple in this church concerning another couple in the church, asking prayer and remembrance and to go to the hospital to visit. They were on the way, the four of them, to a party, and this dear wife became suddenly paralyzed on one side of her body, just suddenly, just suddenly, rushed her to the hospital. She has a great blood clot on the brain, and they’re just hoping that she can live; without announcement, just suddenly. That’s life!
I was walking down the street of one of the great cities of America. And suddenly, a woman right there beyond me, a woman stepped from the island in the middle of the boulevard, stepped from the island in the street, and a car hit her; knocked her thirty, forty feet, and whether she lived or not, I could not say. Ambulance came, took her away without announcement, without preparation. That’s life.
We so ofttimes come to a different kind of a port than what we thought for and dreamed for. Thinking in terms of some fair haven, we are suddenly dashed against the shoals and the hidden rocks. That’s life. That’s life.
Look again: our evaluations and our standards and our values are so different when we face these inevitable providences. You look at this, in the nineteenth verse: "And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship" [Acts 27:19]. Now, that word translated "tackling" is oskuous, and it’s a far broader word than just "tackling." That word refers to everything that was loose. They threw out all of the furniture. They threw out everything that they could throw away in order to lighten the ship. All of it. All of it.
Then, finally, in verse 38, "And when they had been on that sea for fourteen days, they cast out the wheat into the sea" [Acts 27:38]. Why, man, look at that! They cast out the wheat into the sea. That’s why the journey. That’s why the ship. That’s why the crew. That’s why the trip. That was the raison d’etre of the whole aggregate. Egypt was the breadbasket of Rome. And this ship was a transport ship. And they were carrying wheat from Egypt, from Alexandria, to the city of Rome. And here with their own hands, they throw it out into the sea.
You see, in the face of the providence and the peril of life, they’re no longer merchantmen. They’re no longer traders. They’re no longer sellers. What they are now are suppliants that they can even live. In verse 20: "All hope that we should be saved was then taken away" [Acts 27:20].
Isn’t that a strange turn of life? These things that we think are so important, and we covet them so deeply, and grasp them so endearingly, in the face of a great tragedy and a great trial, they turn to dust and ashes in our hands. What we thought we wanted no longer appealing at all.
Long time ago, I remember a cartoon, a funny paper, on Sunday about Mutt and Jeff. They made a journey across the sea to a land where they scooped up diamonds, and then on the way back home across the sea, a great storm broke up the ship, and Mutt and Jeff are on a raft. And the hot sun is beating upon them, and the illimitable expanse of the sea is around them, and Mutt and Jeff are there on that raft. And rolling off of the raft, from side to side, are all of those beautiful diamonds, and Mutt and Jeff are languishing for one drop of water – would trade a five hundred carat diamond for a cupful of water, a cartoon, but how true of life.
Our evaluation of things in life are so different in the tragedies and the providences that so ofttimes can so overwhelmingly and terribly overtake us.
Third: what is the gospel messenger? Who is he and what is the gospel message? What is it? After long absence:
Paul stood forth in the midst of them and said, I exhort you to be of good cheer: there shall not a man’s life be lost; for there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying Fear not, Paul, fear not. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God.
That is the gospel message and that is the gospel messenger. The gospel message and the gospel messenger is a man standing in the midst of a hurricane of life, standing on the deck of the ship that is being torn apart by the beating waves and the thundering winds, and he’s standing in the midst of the huddled wretches who are facing death, and he lifts up his hand, and he lifts up his voice, and he says, "Be of good cheer: I believe God" [Acts 27:25].
What a wonderful message is that one that God gives us in the storms of life: be of good cheer. I preached a sermon one time on the good cheers of Jesus. When they brought to Him the paralytic, He said to him, "Be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven thee" [Matthew 9:2]. In the raging storm on the Sea of Galilee, when they saw Jesus walking on the water, they were affrighted, thinking they had seen a spirit. And the Lord said, "Be of good cheer; it is I: be not afraid" [Matthew 14:25-27]. And those marvelous chapters in John 14, 15, and 16 close with these words: "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" [John 16:33]. That is the gospel message, and that is the gospel messenger.
When the world is dissolving around you and every dream and hope has faded away, all hope that we should be saved was taken away, there stands the messenger of God with the gospel of hope, "Be of good cheer; I believe God" [Acts 27:25].
And last, we are ultimately and finally saved in a great tribulation. Seeing the little cove, the little creek, in an island to them yet unnamed, they sought to take the ship and to run it aground in the little aperture created by the creek bank. But when they did, they fell into a place where two seas met, and they ran the ship aground; and the forepart was caught fast in the mud and the sand, and the remainder, the last, the back part of the ship remained unmovable, and the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves [Acts 24:41].
That is our ultimate and final destiny. In a place where two seas meet, the surging tides of time on one side meeting the surging sides of eternity on the other side, and there, caught between those two pounding seas, we see our little ship torn asunder timber by timber, faculty by faculty, century cognation by century cognation. Piece by piece the whole frame is torn apart where two seas meet; in that final and desperate hour on a deathbed, that’s where we finally find our deliverance.
For in that ultimate and final breaking apart of the ship of our lives, the grace of God reaches down and lifts us up into glory. Out of the tragedy of death that awaits us all, if the Lord delays His coming, there is some room somewhere, some place, some bed, some day, some hour, some moment, when those pounding waves of the sea will beat our little ship into pieces. And it is then that the grace of God reaches down and lifts us up, and spares us, and saves us to Himself in glory.
Do you remember this beautiful 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.
In Thee we trust, whate’er befall;
Thy sea so great, and our boat 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 Deep," Henry Van Dyke]
We shall not escape the pounding tides of surf and sea; the billows of hurricane force sweep us up, bear us away, and we’re helpless before the driving storm. But our hope is in God; wherefore, my brothers and sisters, be of good cheer; we believe in God [Acts 27:25].
And if our boat is broken, as it will be, God has prepared some better thing for us up there [1 Corinthians 2:9], a better house, a better boat, a better home, a better fellowship, a better city, a better house: God’s grace reaching back for us.
And that is our appeal to your destiny and to your decision and to your life choice this holy and heavenly hour. ‘I know what you have said is true. Pastor, I know all about it already: the providences of life that sweep us, in a moment the tragedies that overwhelm us and the ultimate and final destiny. I know that, pastor. I need God. I need Him now in the journey of life. I need Him in its ultimate end, and I need Him in the great destiny that lies beyond. And this day, this moment, I am giving my heart in faith, and love, and commitment of soul to Him, and here I stand." Down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, a couple you, a family you, or just that one somebody you, "Pastor, today I have decided for God, and here I am." Bring your family with you. Put your life in this church. As God presses the appeal to your heart, answer now. Do 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