God’s Word for You
Acts 27:15 When We’re in Trouble
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, March 1, 2021
15 When the ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along.
In a storm, a sailing ship could do one of three things. They would first of all try to find a safe harbor or shelter (such as an island) to ride out the storm. If that was not available, they would turn the vessel into the wind. They would take in all sail that was possible, since the gale would tear sails to pieces or throw the ship onto such a steep angle that she would be in danger of sinking. Using only a small slip of sail, they would use the force of the wind to move the ship parallel to the storm, then turn, and do this again in the other direction. This maneuver is called tacking into the wind, and a vessel could hope to remain in approximately the same position by doing so. A third course of action would be to use a sea anchor. In water too deep for a conventional anchor, a crew would quickly construct a sea anchor, something like a raft tied to the ship with a long rope. This would exert tremendous drag on the ship since the anchor at the water level would not be subject to the same force of wind.
The Alexandrian cargo ship probably didn’t have the capability of so elegant a maneuver as tacking into the wind, They did have a large lifeboat which they were towing (Acts 27:16), but the boat would have been imperiled by a sea anchor, so that left running before the storm as their only option. Luke reports that they had to turn the ship away from the wind and allow the vessel to be driven along by the storm. Any other position for the ship to be facing would cause her to capsize and sink. This way, they would become lost, but they would be alive. It was a desperate maneuver.
Sinful, fallen man is subject to things like natural disaster, famine, blight, fires, and storms. These things are part of the curse from Genesis 3:17-19. It is why we must wear clothes (Genesis 3:21), to protect us from the elements and to protect one another from sinful thoughts (Ephesians 2:3). It pleases God when we use our natural gifts to do our best when we’re confronted by these things, like Joseph’s plan for Egypt (Genesis 41:33-36), and it pleases God when we turn to him for help, like the disciples in the boat (Matthew 8:24-25).
The ultimate consequence of sin is death. The Holy Scriptures describe three forms of death, and all three of these can be shown also in the present state of mankind and examples in our lives.
- The first death is spiritual death, which is unbelief. Unbelief turns away from God, dismisses God. Either the unbeliever stops acknowledging the existence of sin, or he tries to make sin a necessary step in man’s perfection. But the prophet says, “I will pass judgment on you because you say, ‘I have not sinned’” (Jeremiah 2:35). And the Apostle preaches: “If we claim we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar, and his word has no place in our lives” (1 John 1:10).
- The second death is physical death. This is the price mankind pays for sin (Romans 6:23). Paul explains: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
- The third death follows spiritual death and physical death. This is eternal death, which is everlasting punishment in hell. It can be avoided only by repentance and forgiveness in this lifetime.
In his love and compassion for us, God sends warnings to mankind throughout our lives that remind us especially of the relationship of the second death with the third. After physical death, there is nothing left for the unbeliever but everlasting agony and punishment in hell. This is taught, for example, in the vivid images of John’s Revelation: “I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades (hell) was following close behind” (Revelation 6:8). All of the troubles that Christians face in this lifetime fall into the category of warnings. They are not to be thought of as God’s judgment over sin, since Christ suffered for all our sins once for all: “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). Instead, these troubles are to be regarded as natural phenomena. Luther said:
“All the creatures are against us, prepared and armed to bring about, if possible, our destruction. How many are there whom fire and water destroy? How much peril threatens us from wild and venomous beasts, which harm not only our bodies but also our food, intended for our nourishment? Not to mention that we ourselves fall upon each other and murder each other, just as if there were not enough pestilence and other calamities to threaten us… What are thorns, thistles, water, fire, caterpillars, flies, fleas, lice, bugs, etc., what are all these jointly and severally, but messengers which preach to us of sin and the wrath of God?” (Luther’s Works, St. Louis Edition I:249-250, 254).
Our defense against these disasters is to pray that God would spare us. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Since we know that he will not leave the guilty unpunished (Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Nahum 1:3), we also know that he does not punish his children, we who put our trust in him, since he laid on his own Son the sins of us all to forgive us in Christ (Colossians 2:13). So we can cry out to him when disaster or storms assail us. We can throw ourselves on his mercy, since his mercy is promised to us forever. Call out to him when you are in trouble, and he will hear you. “God,” said David (Psalm 46:1), “is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
Pastor Timothy Smith