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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

Forever and Today


"…So keep up your courage… for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me."

Acts 27:25

In verse 25, Paul says, ‘I have faith’.  Now, we could think, ‘I know what that is.  Faith is trusting that Jesus Christ alone has made us right with God.  Faith is believing that Jesus alone has secured my forever.’  And we’d be right.  Because faith is that.  Faith is believing that the cross of Christ secures our eternal future.  That’s what happened to Paul in Acts 9.  That’s when Paul first found faith.


From that moment on, Paul trusted Christ for his everlasting security.  Now in Acts 27 25 he’s telling us again, ‘I have faith…’  It’s that word again.  But it seems to mean something a bit different.  God’s word has come to Paul in a time of great need.  It was a promise to Paul, not about eternity, but about now - today.  And Paul tells those around him, ‘I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.’  Because faith is not only about trusting God’s plan for eternity.  Faith is also about trusting God for today.


That’s one of the reasons why God’s word records this shipwreck account?   God’s word promises believers so many things about now - today.  So often, what we really need is the faith to believe that those things will happen just as God has told us.


It may seem utterly bizarre.  But I’m sure I’m not alone. Trusting him for my forever future is one thing.  But sometimes trusting for today is even harder.   But this Acts account shows that we can trust him for both.  Faith is like a coin with two sides.  One side says, ‘Jesus supplies my forever’.  The other says, ‘and Jesus will supply me today.’  In Christ, God is telling us he’s got both.  He’ll give us what we need.  So that we can trust that it will happen just as he has said.


And it’s all about belonging.  It’s about ownership.  Paul says, in verse 23, ‘Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me.’   This was an awesome statement.  This boat contained a mixture of people – influenced by Egyptian and Roman and Greek belief systems.  Those belief systems differed.  But they all agreed on this - there were lots of gods.  And what happened on earth was in the lap of those gods.  But those gods were distant.  None were particularly interested in the today experience of mere mortals.  Yes, maybe you could get their attention through acts of great sacrifice, or special religious observance.  But there was no guarantee.  Then Paul stands and makes a claim of guarantee about the one true and living God.


‘I belong.’  In Christ… Paul belonged.  He didn’t have a god who was distant.  But one who has deep, personal relationships with his people.  ‘I belong.’  I am his.  He is mine.


I have something which is mine.  It’s my bike.  It didn’t use to be mine.  It belonged to someone else.  It was at a distance from me – Peterborough.  But one day it became mine?  Saturday 31st March 2007.  I paid the price - £285 on ebay!  How do I remember that? – Cos it’s mine!  It’s my special possession.  And it serves me well - to work and back every day.  For 17 years and nearly 50000 miles.  But how has it kept going?  Because I’ve supplied it.  Life has worn stuff thin.  But I’ve given it with what it needs.  To carry on its journeying.


Recently, someone asked me why I don’t scrap it.  My response?  Cos it’s mine!  My wife’s mentioned the time and energy that maintaining it takes.  My response?  It’s mine.  I guard it jealously.  Why?  Yes, you’ve guessed it!


Those things are true of me and my bicycle.  But they’re truer of our God and us.  In Acts 20, Paul said something about the church belonging.  He said, ‘the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.’  Why did Christ part with his blood at the cross?  Because sin owned us.  And the highest price was demanded.


In Acts 26 18, Paul reminded us of where Christ has bought believers from and to.  Paul says, ‘from the power of Satan to God.’  We weren’t like my bike - living unloved in Peterborough.  We were living unloved in Devil-borough!  Until God’s love reached out and paid the price.  Now we belong to him.  Are we his special possession?  You bet we are!  Will he guard us jealously?  You bet he will!  Will he supply what we need to carry on our journey… today?  He will.  Why?  Cos we’re his.


Verse 23 tells us so much about the implications of belonging to God through Christ.  Paul says, ‘I belong… I serve.’  And he ‘stood beside me.’  The previous night God had sent his word to Paul.  Not so his ears’d have something to listen to.  But so his heart and spirit would have something to carry on living by.


That day on that boat, Paul served God.  As God stood by Paul.  As God’s word spoke to Paul.  As God supplied the strength needed.  Paul had hit hopelessness head on.  Then his faith was resupplied by God’s word.


Pauls got enough now.  He’s got enough to share.  He’s sharing with others the greatness of his God. ‘I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.’  Everyone’s crumbling.  But God’s word stays firm!  All around is sinking. I’m standing on the promise of my God.  We could mistakenly think that Paul is being bold.  That he’s putting himself on the line here with his outrageous claims.  He’s taking a gamble!  He isn’t.  He’s putting God’s character on the line.  God won’t let himself down.  If we belong to him, we won’t - he can’t - let us down.


It's staggering the effect that Paul’s witness has on those people in that desperate situation.  There’s a lesson for us as believers.  It’s so easy for us to set future goals.  To have a future place, or future role in mind.  To think, ‘when I get here then I can really start serving God.’  But look at Paul.  God’s told him he’s going Rome to testify about God’s love in Christ’s.  But Paul’s not waiting ‘til he’s got there.  He’s witnessing to God’s love on the journey.  And it’s visible.  Really visible.


Time for another bike story!  I sometimes have my bike lights on even when it isn’t dark – like when it’s dusky or rainy.  I can arrive home and not notice they’re on.  It’s not visible to me in the surrounding daylight.  I wheel my bike into the garage and still don’t notice.  Then I close the garage door, and everything goes dark.  Except… then I notice those shining lights.  They haven’t got any brighter.  But they look like they have.  Now they’re visible.  It’s so like Paul here.


In verse 11, Paul brought his light and knowledge to the debate about whether the ship should sail on.  But at that moment everything was hunky-dory.  Paul’s light went unnoticed.  But now they’re surrounded by darkness.  Now they can see the light of God that Paul is supplied with.  Now they’re listening to what he says.  So, with us.  Our witness will most likely shine brightest against life’s darker backdrops.  God may supply our lives with dark backdrops.  Then our light may shine.  It won’t be easy.  But God will stand near.  And he will hear… when we call upon him.


Paul did that.  He called out to his God.  That Paul had prayed is only implied in verse 24.  The angel told him this – ‘God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’  The strong implication is that Paul has asked for these lives to be spared.  And that prayer’s been answered.  Answered ‘graciously.’  Even at a time of huge loss, God was, and is still, gracious.  What a lesson for us here.  If I was on that ship in those circumstances, I know what my initial prayer instinct would be - ‘God save me’!  But Paul’s prayer had evidently progressed much further than that.  With good reason.


Had Paul died on that ship he would have gone to ‘be with Christ, which is better by far’ (Philippians 1 23).  So would his two friends– Luke and Aristarchus.  But that left 273 others for whom death meant something so different.  Had they died, they’d’ve experienced forever-separation from God.  Lost for ever.  That’s why Paul prayed for them.  And God answered graciously.  Because the God to whom we belong – he’s like that.  So, let’s continue to pray in that way, and remember those whose need is greater than ours.


And then we have the shipwreck.  In verse 27, the sailors believe they’re approaching land.  They are sensing shore.  By verse 30, they are off!  Oh, the hardness of human hearts.  They start ‘pretending’.  Pretending that they have everyone’s interests in mind.  When all they have is their own.  Paul is forced to speak in verse 31.  What an awesome display of God’s turning around of life’s events and social order.  Paul is so well supplied that, despite being the prisoner, he’s giving orders to the centurion.  And those orders are being followed. 


Paul says, ‘unless these men stay, you cannot be saved.’  There was no other way to be safe in that situation.  They must follow God’s way.  It’s so like the gospel.  How can we be kept secure forever… and today.  Faith in Christ – It’s the only way.


In verse 33 Paul offers sound practical advice.  For two weeks these people had been too anxious to eat.  Now Paul is anxious to get them eating.  They’ll need energy to get to shore.  And so, in verse 35, ‘he took some bread’.  What a lesson about God’s supply of what we need!  Often, what we think we need is not what is needed.  That bread was at least two weeks old.  Bread that had been soaked by a fortnight of foaming sea froth.  I seriously doubt anyone took a bite and said, ‘pass me the salt?’!  But Paul’s witness was powerful as he stood there and gave thanks to his God.  And, because of that sharing, those people ‘were all encouraged’. 


Paul leads by example.  An example for us.  It’s so encouraging when others share what they’ve been supplied with.  All too often, we can be tempted to focus on our little.  To believe that what we have to offer others is so small that no-one could possibly benefit from it.  But Acts 27 says not so matey!  All Paul had was some soggy, salty sourdough.  But God had supplied it. So, when Paul faithfully shared it, something amazing happened.  All – 276 people out of 276 people were encouraged, including Paul.


If all we’ve got is a Kit-Kat, then, break that and share it.  Or maybe share the truth about your broken life.  Or break off from life’s rush, to share a moment of silent embrace.  You may feel you’ve no words of wisdom, for what your brother or sister is going through today.  But if you’ve a little hug, then share that.  Cos that may mean so much!


In verse 39 we have the arrival of daylight, and the subsequent events that see the ship running aground.  Then in verse 42 there’s yet more trouble.  The prisoners must die.  But the threat is stopped.  That cannot be allowed to happen.  Why?  Because the Centurion says so?  No, because God’s word has already said so.  And so, just as God promised… the man who belonged to him, chapter 27 finishes with confirmation that ‘everyone reached land safely.’  All accounted for by heaven’s great keeper of short accounts.   Though we deserve nothing, he always pays his promises in full.


Acts 28 then starts with them realising they’re on Malta.  We’ll look at this first section in more detail next time.  I want to finish today by cutting loose the anchors and rushing towards verse 10.  Because it connects with today’s themes.  In verse 3 there’s more trouble in the shape of a snakebite.   More trouble?  Trouble is like a boomerang.  No sooner have we launched it from our lives than it’s heading back our way again.  Almost guaranteed.  But God’s supply through trouble is more guaranteed.


And there’s a series of events that take place.  Miraculous events.  Like life is being controlled by an out of this world power!  Those events have an effect.  And it’s so powerful, that by the time we get to verse 10 the islanders are indebted to Paul.  They’re hosting him.  He’s staying with them.  But they feel like they owe him.  And so, Paul and his party ‘were honoured… in many ways.’  The NLT has this as ‘we were showered with honours.’  After Acts 27, that’s what you’d want – a good shower!  But they get more.  Showered with honours.  And then it says this.  ‘And when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.’


Have you heard of ‘crowdfunding’?  That’s when people go online and publicise what they need money for.  We have websites like ‘GoFundMe.’  If others in the crowd of online humanity, like you and your idea, and have the funds, then they can donate, until you have what you need.  The internet tells me it’s a new thing.  But that’s because the word of the internet is not as reliable as the word of God.  The internet says that ‘the first recorded successful instance of crowdfunding occurred in 1997’.  But read Acts 28 10.  Nearly 2000 years before crowdfunding was apparently a thing, God uses that very thing – this crowd of Maltese islanders, to fund his servant with what he then needed.


What a God to be supplied by!  Paul’s life experiences in Acts are so varied.  There were times when life appeared to be plain sailing.  And then times like Acts 27.  Sometimes he had more, like now in Acts 28 10.  Sometimes he had much less.   Paul comments on this in Philippians 4 10-19.  He says, ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.’  I find that so helpful.  Paul had to learn it.  It didn’t come by magic.  I doubt it came easy.  Or quickly.  He had to learn it through the lessons of his life.  So will we.  And for many of us, it will take a lifetime of ongoing learning. 


In Phillipians 4, he continues with, ‘I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.’  But how? Paul says, ‘I can do all this through him who gives me strength.’  Paul concludes that section with an awesome promise to believers in Jesus.  He says, ‘my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.’


There may be times in life when we feel like we’ve lost everything.  There may be others when we experience surplus.  There may be occasions when his people are crowdfunded.  But always.  Always.  Our needs met ‘according to the riches of his glory in Christ.  Our lives - always Christ-funded.  All expenses paid at Calvary.


‘Bought with the blood of God.’  The cross purchased our future.  The cross will supply our today.  Can we be like Paul on that boat?  Do we have faith to believe that it will happen just as God has told us?


We may answer, ‘No, that’s my problem.  This whole thing doesn’t appear to be demanding much, but it’s demanding faith.  My faith is so imperfect.  What should I do?’  Well, follow this Bible recipe. 


Do Hebrews 12 2.  Mix Philippians 1 6.  Take Ephesians 2 8.


Imperfect faith?  Do Hebrews 12 2.  Fix your ‘eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.’


And mix Philippians 1 6.  Be ‘confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.’  Your work in your life may be shoddy.  But his is good.  When we’re in Christ, it’s not so much about how good we are.  But it depends upon how good he is.  And he is good!


And, finally, take - Ephesians 2 8, ‘faith… it is the gift of God.’ Think that you won’t have enough for your current today? Then ask him to give you more. He even supplies us with that. We may be ever so poor. But he is always rich. And, in Christ, he’s rich for us. Why? Cos we’re his.


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