Phil Cox

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Drowning - Part 2

1st March 2014

Two weeks ago, we looked at the story of when Jesus and the disciples were crossing a lake, and a sudden storm caused them to cry out "teacher, don't you care if we drown?" (Mark 4v35-41). Many years later, Paul and Luke were sailing across the Mediterranean Sea. Luke writes:

Acts 27v14-20
Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the "north-easter," swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure. When the men had hoisted it aboard, they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Fearing that they would run aground on the sand-bars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along.
We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard.
On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands.
When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.

Luke must surely have known the story from Mark 4. He would have heard all the gospel stories many times, and he wrote his own version of that story in Luke 8v22-25. So it's interesting that, in another storm, he as well as his companions gave up all hope of being saved. If the Mark story tells us anything, surely it tells us that no storm is so great that Jesus can't calm it. There's always hope for those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

And Luke was a well-taught, mature, experienced Christian. During his travels with Paul he must have seen many signs and wonders, and heard of many more. But at the height of the storm all the things we've learnt, and all the experiences we've had, can desert our minds. Sometimes, all we can think about is the situation we're in. We have faith in God, but we forget to put it to use. We forget to have faith in God. Storms can do that to a person.

I don't know if Paul was amongst those who gave up all hope but, if he did, he soon recovered his composure:

Acts 27v21-26
After the men 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. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me 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.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island."

It seems a bit sad that Paul had to start his speech with "I told you so". He had a point; we shouldn't lightly disregard the advice of those in spiritual authority. In my experience, though, no-one is more loved for pointing out how right he is and how wrong everybody else is.

But then Paul told them about his encounter with an angel. God had been merciful to Paul, and to them all. He'd sent the angel to promise Paul that they would all be saved. We don't often speak face-to-face with angels, but then we're not often in a situation as desperate as the one in that boat.

God knows what we need. They didn't just need the boat to hold together long enough for them to reach land. They also needed hope. And God gave them that hope through the angel's message.

And we can read in verses 27-44 how they were, indeed, all saved.

Sometimes, when we can't find a way out of the storm, it's hope that keeps us going. Whatever storm you're experiencing right now, however far away your faith and your theology and your memories of God's help seem to be, God will send you enough hope to carry on. Many years before, Paul wrote this to the church in Thessalonica:

1 Thessalonians 1v3
We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sometimes, God-given hope is all we seem to have left. In God's mercy, He gives us enough hope to keep going. And, ultimately, our hope comes in this promise:

Hebrews 13v5b
God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."