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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

Hope Revised is Hope Revived


"Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid…"

Acts 27:23-24

In Acts, the apostle Paul’s been taking every opportunity to hold out hope to a world without.  He’s telling people there is a way to get right with Almighty God.  Regardless of your background.  Or the mess of your messed-up life.  Or how much you may feel you’ve lost your way.  The way to God is simple.  Believe that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, came to our world - to live the kind of life that you could not do.  Believe that he died on the cross - to pay the penalty for the life failure that you could do, all too well.  Believe that he rose from the dead, confirming that God’s new deal in Christ was also living and breathing.  Believe that… and you’re right with God.


Many had believed and come to faith in Christ.  But many others had rejected this message.  Some had got seriously bovvered by it!  And now Paul was paying the price.  In recent times, there’s been much talk about the ‘cost-of-living crisis’.  The cost of everyday necessities has ramped up. Many people have paid a high price.  But Paul wasn’t suffering a cost-of-living crisis.  He was suffering a cost-of-believin crisis!   As Jesus warned his followers, there’s a cost attached to following him (see John 15 20).  There’s a cost of living for Christ!  So, with Paul.  He’s been arrested and imprisoned and is now heading to Rome by sea.


So, what’s Acts 27 about?  I suspect that most of us would say, ‘shipwreck’.  But it’s also – perhaps more so - about hope.  Paul tells us this in Romans 15 4, about everything that the Bible records to inform the lives of believers in Jesus.  Paul says, ‘For everything that was written… was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.’


‘The endurance taught.’  Acts 27 is a story of endurance in really pressing circumstances.  It ‘was written to teach us.’  Not just so that we have some cold hard facts about endurance in Paul’s life.  But to provide us encouragement for our own.  That is the end goal of these accounts of people of faith.  That we might have hope.


That verse in Romans 15 has the words ‘teach’ and ‘taught’.  It reminds me of school.  Those are words that come up regularly around educational settings – teaching, being taught.  That’s what happens there.  And we instinctively know the difference between a good teacher and a bad one.  We sense their motivation.  A bad teacher is just there for the pay cheque.  They’re motivated by self.  They do the bare minimum to get through.  They do it cos they have to.  A good teacher does it because they want to.  A good teacher teaches because they want others to learn.  They are motivated by others growing.


That motivation was evident when Jesus taught people.  The Bible shows this being recognised by people.  In Mark 10 17, ‘a man ran up to’ Jesus with a burning question?  He needed an answer.  He wanted to learn something.  He’d come to the right place!  To the right person!  How did he address Jesus?  He said, ‘Good Teacher’.  Let’s not doubt this.  Our God – in Christ - is a Good Teacher.  He’s given us a book full of life-lessons.  Many lessons about the lives of other people.  But they’re lessons for our lives.  Designed to give us hope in similar situations.


What?  Shipwreck?  Seriously?  How many Christians are, nowadays, likely to experience peril at sea?  Probably a tiny minority.  But how many would admit to similar - times in their lives where they feel they’re heading for the rocks, with no control over life’s rudder?  Probably the vast majority.  And probably the others aren’t being as truthful as they should be!  I like the like of Acts 27.  My plans easily get frustrated.  I need the Bible’s constant reminders that though I often don’t feel to have control, my God does.  Yes, my plans for my life easily veer-off.  But his plans for my life, they stay on course.  What a hope?!


But this lesson is not one that is learned once and never forgotten.  Acts proves this.  The words of the angel in this chapter are so like the words of the Lord spoken to Paul in Acts 23 11.  There, Paul’s plan was to speak to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and convince them about Jesus.  That plan went disastrously wrong.  But then we read, ‘The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’


Paul made plans for his life.  They didn’t always work out as intended.  But the Lord reminded Paul, that he also had a plan.  And that would take shape as intended.  But in Acts 27, Paul needs reminding again.  Hope is slipping away.  The lesson learned only 4 pages ago, is being forgotten.


When I was younger, I saw a piece of graffiti that I loved.  I loved it because it encouraged my slack attitude to learning.  It said this – ‘The more you study, the more you know.  The more you know, the more you forget.  The more you forget, the less you know.  So, why study?!’


It’s a rhyme that has some truth.  But now that I’m a lot older and a teeny bit wiser I realise that it promotes a lie.  Yes, the more we learn, the more we will forget.  But that shouldn’t encourage us not to bother.  That should encourage us to go back over what we’ve learned - to reinforce it in our minds.  Just as a good teacher will teach and re-teach, so a good student will learn and re-learn and revise.  But how did Paul end up needing this re-learning?  Well, let’s look at the circumstances of that day before the bell goes!!!


The chapter starts with ‘when it was decided’.  Paul’s next move was ‘decided’ by others.  He was a prisoner - that’s how it works.  Paul’s not controlling the moves here.  Others are.  That’s often how life works.  Most of the time we have limited control over life’s flow.  Often, we just gotta go with it.


But Paul doesn’t go-with-it alone.  Actually, that’s the whole point of church.  Christians aren’t meant to go it alone.  The Bible is absolutely clear on that (see Hebrews 10 25).  And we’ve seen it over and over in Acts.  Here, we have a mini-church group.  Praise the Lord – other believers are travelling with Paul!  It’s less, a house group.  More, a boat group!  But what a source of comfort and hope that must have been to Paul.  We know that Luke is there.  He wrote this Acts account and he uses the word ‘we’ to describe the Paul party in verses 1 and 2 onwards.  Luke’s there.  Also, in verse 2, there is Aristarchus.  He was seized in the Ephesus riots in Acts 19 29.  He’s named as one of church elders who accompanied Paul on his mission to Jerusalem in Acts 20 4.


Luke had evidently chosen to travel and stand by his friend in his time of need.  Aristarchus initially volunteered to travel with Paul.  Now he probably had about the same amount of choice as Paul – like none!  Because in Colossians 4 10, Paul describes him as ‘my fellow prisoner Aristarchus.’  They are ‘handed over to a centurion named Julius’ in the first verse and then ‘we’ set sail.


We can be thankful for what we read about Julius in verse 3.  I’m sure Paul was.  It’s encouraging.  It’s hopeful.  He treats Paul with ‘kindness’.  What a world of difference that can make when life gets tough.  At the first port stop, Paul the prisoner is given shore leave!  This seems remarkable.  But, evidently, Paul’s trustworthy character is already clear to Julius.  Paul is the type of prisoner that can be allowed day release - without the worry that he’ll vanish into the following night!


In verse 6, they change ships to one from Alexandria.  That’s in Egypt.  Rome depended on Egypt for much of its grain.  There’d’ve been a lot of ships travelling that route.  And Julius locates one.  The slow progress described in verse 4, continues into verse 7.  In both those verses, and in verse 16 we have this shipping term – ‘to the lee of’.


That word ‘lee’ only appears three times in our NIV Bibles – all of them in this chapter.  What does it mean?  Well, in verse 7, the journey plan continues to be frustrated by outside forces – in this case the wind.  Again, how like life is that?!  We make plans but then outside forces just blow us off course.  And force us to take a new direction.  That’s what happens here.  ‘When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete.’  It means along the sheltered coast.  If you’re sailing past an island into a headwind, you need to be on the side that most acts like a windbreaker.  The south side of Crete is particularly good for that.  It has mountainous terrain that blocks the wind up to a point.


What do I mean by up to a point?  The point the ship is about to reach.  Here the coastline will turn through roughly 90 degrees and travel south to north.  The shelter of the mountains will be completely lost.  Imagine.  If a hurricane force ‘North-Easter’ were to start blowing, things would get really hairy!  Spoiler alert! – Don’t read verse 14 just yet!


Paul warns of this upcoming danger.  In verse 8, they reach a place called Fair Havens.  That sounds alright – dunnit?!  But look closer.  Verse 12 confirms the reality.  As a harbour it was unsuitable to winter in.  Fair Havens – a totally false name.  You can imagine the billboard they saw when they arrived – In massive letters, ‘Fair Havens – Secure moorings all year round.’ And then the small print – ‘Currently closed for winter’!  How like life is that?  The reality glossed over in the adverts.  So often things that look so attractive turn out to be anything but. 


The reality of where they’ve now ended up leads to the discussion in verse 9 onwards.  Even though the ‘majority’ (see verse 12) view is to carry on, Paul warns them not to.  He thinks it’s reckless.  But – hold on – hasn’t the Lord already promised Paul that he’s going to reach Rome.  This reckless abandon can’t stop that.  So why not just continue to go with the flow?  Because that isn’t the Lord’s way.  Not for Paul.  Not for any Christian.  If you’ve put your faith in Christ, then you’re assured of reaching heaven.  Does that mean that you can now live your life with reckless abandon, knowing that you’re gunna get there anyway?  If you think that as a Christian, you’ve got some revision to do!


But Paul’s advice is not heeded.  A gentle south wind is puffety-puffing!  Everything looks rosy.  But the rose-tinted shades are about to get blown overboard.  Along with everything else.  Yes, we’re at verse 14.  Then every verse, 14 through to 19, is like one more click on life’s storm dial.


The whole point of that ship was to carry grain.  That was its purpose.  To make money for the owner and crew.  Therein lay its value.  Yet by verse 18 the value of that grain has dropped dramatically.  That weight of that money source could be what sinks them all.  And so it goes.  Overboard.  How like life is that?  When life gets serious it can really affect our value system.  When life gets serious, things that seemed so important suddenly have little value.  Stuff that was lifting our lives.  Now baggage that’s just weighing us down.


Then verse 19 has the ‘ship’s tackle’ heading in the same direction.  These were the things vital for the running of a ship.  Under normal circumstances you wouldn’t choose to lose those.  But these weren’t normal circumstances. So that follows too.  And then ‘finally’ in verse 20 they lose the one thing that nobody wants to lose ever – not under any circumstance.  All gone is ‘all hope’!


In life, we can have everything else, but if we lose hope, we’re desperately poor.  And yet, we can have little or nothing else, but if we’ve hope then we’re rich.  And God’s word always holds out hope to the people of Jesus.  In verse 20 onwards, Paul now tells those others onboard about his experience the previous night.  In verse 23 he tells of God’s word of promise.  Hope lost has become hope regained.  Not because he’s been taught a fresh lesson and learned something new.  It’s a re-visit.  Something re-seen.  A re-vision lesson!  A reminder of what he was told way back when.  He is going to reach Rome.  Life’s circumstances say that he isn’t.  But God says he is!  Life appears to have spiralled out of control.  And then God appears.


Look at the vigour that Paul has now.  It reminds me of what David says in Psalm 23.  Paul has gone from having an empty glass to having a cup that overflows.


Do you know what I’d do if I had an actual cup that overflowed?  Like one that just chucked out water all the time.  I wouldn’t keep it on my bedside table!  I’d stick it in my vegetable patch.  My veg would benefit from my overflowing cup.  That’s what happens here with Paul.  He’s learnt his lesson well.  Hope is overflowing.  And Paul’s overflowing hope is used to encourage those around him.  Again, that’s how church should be.  Many times, when my hope spring has been running dry, my life has become a well-watered garden again, by the excess that a brother or sister in Christ has had in that moment. 


The Lord, once again, has given Paul revised hope.  Paul has re-learned – he’s been re-minded.  Over the last few days Paul has found, once again, that life has a boat-load of ways to make us feel desperately insecure.  Now he’s reminded of a greater truth.  If we are joined to God by faith in Christ then we are ultimately secure.  Because nothing – no thing in life - will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (as Romans 8 39).


That is an important lesson about our futures that we must be reminded of.  A most important detail.  And Paul sees it clearly now.  But he doesn’t see all the future details.  We won’t either.  In fact, some of the things he’s told seem downright unlikely.  The ship will be destroyed but everyone will be safe!  How’s that gunna happen?!  But Paul’s God isn’t a God of the downright unlikely.  He’s the God of the impossible.


And I love verse 26 – ‘we must run aground on some island’!  Some island.  Paul hasn’t been told where exactly he’s gunna end up.  Just that his Lord will be there.  Still by his side.


This is a raw account.  Nature at its wildest.  All hope blown away.  We can read it and see only that.  Or we can read it and see also the supernatural.  When all around is shaky.  The promises of God in Christ stand firm.  Through this whole account, Paul makes slow progress.  But nevertheless, steady progress towards Rome.  According to God’s promise.  In keeping with his plan.  God’s word encourages us to see this in Paul’s life.  So that we might believe it for our own.  So that we might have hope.


Life can appear hopeless when we only see difficulty and danger and destruction.  The Bible encourages us to see more – to see destination definite.


Who wouldn’t want a God like this, ordering life with a loving hand?  But so many don’t.  People so want to control their own destiny - to be Lord’s over their own futures.  They say, ‘I know what floats my boat and I don’t want it to be Jesus.’  But that means separation from a loving and forgiving God forever.  That means remaining in a place of sin.  That place can seem so attractive.  But it will prove to be like the harbour at Fair Havens.  Not suitable for shelter when the storms come.  And life’s winter – it will come!


So, what should you do?  Move.  Move to Christ.  Live life in the lee of Jesus.  Protected by his cross-work.  Shelter behind that huge barrier against God’s wrath towards sin.  Whatever life throws your way, you’ll be safe and secure.  Through its ups and downs you’ll make steady progress towards your final destination. 


A place where there will be no more storms.  Replaced with the everlasting calm, and everlasting presence of Christ.  In Revelation 21 4-5, it says this about Jesus in that place – ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’  And then Jesus says this - ‘I am making everything new!... Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’


‘Trustworthy and true’ - to ‘these words’there is no small print. May these words give us hope.


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