Pastor Scott Jonas
Acts 27: The Mark of Suffering
What is the last thing you say to people as they leave? Later. Goodbye. Farewell. See You Soon. I’ll Miss You. Thanks for Everything. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. Have fun. I hope you are wearing clean underwear. When my family leaves each other we say “Love you.” A man once said, “One’s feelings are always purest and most glowing in the hour of meeting and farewell.” It used to be that when you left a store the clerk would say “Have a nice day.” Now they say something different. They say “Be safe.”
Your parting words reveal the value you hold dearest. It seems like more and more tour society’s greatest value is to be safe. If you could choose just one attribute for your loved ones would it be riches, intelligence, faithfulness or to be safe?
Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus ever say, “Be safe.” Nor does He ever promise safety. Suffering is an essential condition to being on this earth. Both believers and unbelievers suffer. The examples are in the book of Acts are Stephen and Paul. Christians suffer life’s usual plights plus they suffer for their faith in Jesus. In the church, suffering is normal.
Paul talks about all of his sufferings in Corinthians but Luke documents it in the book of Acts. He’s been blinded, thrown out of synagogues and cities, jailed, attacked by mobs, manhandled in the temple, verbally abused, accused of vile acts against God and Rome, and now at the end of Acts he’s a prisoner bound for Rome on a ship that is being thrashed by a violent storm for 14 days. Even nature isn’t safe for the faithful.
Suffering is a given. The question is how do you behave when you are suffering? There is such a contrast between suffering Paul and suffering Jonah in the Old Testament. Jonah hates the Ninavites so when God calls him to go and proclaim Yahweh to them he refuses. Jonah boards a boat where he would rather die by drowning than do what God says. He endangered everyone around him. Jonah is suffering and he is isolating himself in that suffering.
Paul hates the sea as much as Jonah but he is willing to sail to the ends of the earth in order to tell people about Jesus. Even when he is in the custody of roman soldiers and being taken to Rome via ship he still puts others above himself. For 14 days on the Mediterranean sea the 276 crew and passengers are being thrashed by wind and wave. Who wouldn’t be miserable? But Paul expects suffering in life and in ministry. He sees it as an opportunity to bless people in the same situation.
Instead of cutting off his fellow men and women, he encourages them. Over the sound of the storm he yells, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” Paul has every right to be despondent. He was falsely accused by his fellow Jews. He was handed over to the Romans. His freedom has been compromised. He’s a land lover from a people who view the sea as a monster. That monster is pummeling their vessel. He hasn’t eaten for 14 days because he’s just going to puke it up. He’s probably going to die in Rome when Caesar renders judgment on his case. But he is thinking of his brethren who are suffering with him. Paul is the opposite of Jonah. Shared misery is an opportunity to minister. He will not abandon even his captors. There is a fellowship in suffering together. He shares the promises of God. Paul knows that in the middle of chaos and pain, God is still in control. During this near hurricane it was obvious that Rome was not in charge.
That is because Paul is following in Jesus’ footsteps. Right after this exchange, Luke saw Paul do the following: In the hull on this ship, “He took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves.“ What does that remind you of? The Last supper. Jesus just before his death used that night to bless his friends. He shared a meal and encouraged them to be faithful until the end. Jesus had every right to focus solely on himself but instead he encouraged his brothers. Of course, the next day Jesus suffered an unimaginable death.
In Paul’s shipwreck story, God assures his disciple that he and the passengers will be safe. But that promise is just for that trip. It was temporary. It allowed the crew and Paul to land on Malta so that He could go on to Rome and preach the Gospel to the most powerful politician on earth. Caesar announced himself as Lord and Savior. Paul was going to contradict him. Surely, Paul was not going to be safe in Rome.
We don’t usually get that type of miraculous promise of safety in our suffering. God promises us a different kind. In 2 Timothy 4, Paul writes, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Tradition says that Paul was beheaded in Rome but God kept his promise. Paul was rescued from every evil deed, even his own execution. Just as Christ was rescued from the grave, so Paul will be. Paul and all of the faithful are safely in the kingdom of God.
This type of safety should affect the way you behave. Paul wasn’t in denial of his own suffering but he just didn’t dwell on it. You no longer have to focus on your own suffering. Instead, serve others. Blessing those in the same predicament lessens their pain and yours.
We all are on this ship in a sea of Covid. Covid is a monster who kills and destroys life as we know it. You can either be like Jonah and ignore reality and focus on your own misery or you can be like Paul and encourage those who are afraid just like you.
When Paul said goodbye in his letters he said words like “To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ” and “My love be with you all in Christ Jesus.” His farewells ended with Jesus not “Be Safe.” Choose your farewells wisely.
By Grace through Faith