“For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar.”
Paul was on his way to Rome!
He had been taken captive and tried before Felix and Agrippa, at which trial before the latter he had appealed unto Caesar. So to Caesar he must go! He therefore was given in trust to a centurion who was charged to bring Paul and a band of prisoners to Rome. The boat on which he was placed was to sail for Asia Minor, the last point of contact with the land of Palestine being Sidon. They passed the island of Cyprus, coming to a coastal town called Lycia in Asia Minor, where they were to change ships. All the while Paul was given great liberty aboard ship!
Having boarded a different ship which was headed for Alexandria in Egypt, and because of the wind, they came to Crete, and the port called Fair Havens. It appears that much time was spent here, both in lading, the ship, and waiting for better weather conditions. Fair Havens was not a commodious harbor for winter quarters, and winter was coming on. Paul sensed that with winter approaching it would be dangerous to sail further. He therefore advised the centurion not to go on but to stay here until weather conditions warranted further sailing. The captain of the ship, however, was of a different mind, and prevailed upon the centurion to set sail.
No sooner had they gotten out of the harbor when strong contrary winds carried the ship helplessly out to sea. Every attempt was made to keep the ship from sinking. The cargo they hoisted overboard. All the sails were taken down, except the short main sail which was to keep the ship headed with the wind. But with all this effort, it appeared the ship was to be broken to pieces with the waves, or to founder in the sea. All the passengers except one despaired of ever seeing land and home again!
Now just when all seemed hopeless, and the time most opportune had arrived, Paul stood up and began to speak. Mildly he rebuked the ship’s master for not having listened when he warned not to sail from Crete. Then he spoke to all a word of comfort and good cheer, telling them that no man’s life would be lost, for the Lord had reassured him that he must go to Rome, and that all those in the ship would be spared.
Listen to him speak: “And now I exhort you to be of good cheer, for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.”
Like a lighthouse beacon on the tempestuous sea our text looms! Not only is this so because it gave new hope to the troubled seamen, but because it speaks of a calm assurance of safety and reliance on a faithful God!
Indeed, here was calm in the storm!
A calm that was based upon true convictions!
Expressed negatively, Paul’s conviction was that he was not his own! That is the very first conviction the child of God comes to when he is made aware of his sinful and hopeless condition as he is by nature, and when he has been delivered from sin and death by the grace of Christ Jesus!
The natural man has convictions that are quite the opposite of this! Actually he thinks that he is his own. He believes he is “the master of my fate,” and “I am the captain of my soul.” And so he lives out his life on the earth. He believes and actually lives out of the principle that with body and soul he is his own. No one, yea, no one is going to tell him what to do and how to live!
The spiritual man, on the other hand, lives out of an entirely different principle, and is of wholly other convictions! He deposes and dethrones self. When he analyzes himself in the light of God’s Holy Word and Law, he learns that he is nothing, yea, less than nothing! Or, to put it in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely, the people is grass.” And again, “Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance.” Isaiah 40:6, 7, 15. Such is the estimated value the spiritual man, regenerated by grace, places upon himself!
He is not only convinced that he is not his own, nor will he serve himself! Again, we remark that his convictions are quite different than those of the natural man. The latter serves only himself, and would have all things serve him. He lives for himself, and strives to make all things work for his own honor and glory. The evidences of this we see daily all about us. Every man seeks himself. Let another stand in his way, and he will steal, murder, and commit adultery to bring the thing he desires for himself into his service. The spiritual man serves another. He is not his own. He seeks not himself. He belongs to another, and that other he must serve!
That is what Paul negatively and positively implies when he declares: “Whose I am, and whom I serve.” These convictions are the very essence of true religion. True religion is the spiritual consciousness of being possessed by the only true God; and thus, all we can do is worship!
Whose I am!
That expresses the universal truth that men belong to God by virtue of their being the creatures of His hand. As the 100th Psalm says, according to a probably correct reading, “It is He that hath made us, and we are His.” But the apostle is going a good deal deeper than any such thoughts, which he, no doubt, shared in common with the heathen men around him, when he declares in a special fashion, God had claimed him for His. “I am Thine,” is the deepest thought of this man’s mind and the deepest feeling of his heart. And that is godliness in its purest form,—the consciousness of belonging to God! This saying of Paul must be interpreted in the light of another of his sayings: “Ye are not your own, ye are bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your bodies and spirits which are His.” I Cor. 6:19. He traces God’s possession of him, not to that fact of creation, but to the one transcendent act of the divine love, which gave itself to us, and so acquired us for itself. The divine ownership of us is only realized when we are consciously His, because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ!
And if you and I are His, then that involves that we have deposed from his throne the rebel Self, that ancient anarch that disturbs and ruins us! They who belong to God cease to live to themselves. There are two centers of human life, and only two! The one is God, the other is my wretched Self. They who have themselves for their centers are like comets with a wide elliptical course, which carries them away out into the cold abysses of darkness. But they who have God for their sun are like the planets, those “sons of the morning”, which make music as they roll and as they flash back His light!
Whom I serve!
Employed is the word which means the service of a worshipper, or of a priest—not that of a slave. Paul’s purpose was to represent how, as his whole inward nature bowed in submission to, and under the influence of God, to whom he belonged, so his whole outward life was a life of devotion. He was serving Him there in the ship, amidst the storm. His calmness was service; his confidence was service; the cheery words that he was speaking were service. God’s priests are not far from the altar, and never are without something to offer.
Confession may be made by one’s walk as well as by his words. But both are so closely related that it is difficult to conceive of the possibility of the one without the other. Shipboard is a place where people find out one another very quickly. And such circumstances as Paul had been in for the last fortnight, tossing up and down in the sea, with “Death” looking over the bulwarks of the crazy ship every moment, were certain to have brought out the inmost secrets of his spiritual life. Paul durst not have said: “the God whose I am, and whom I serve,” if he had not known that he had been living day by day a consistent and godly life amongst them. Long before Paul spoke, his shipmates had taken notice of his walk.
Confession of the mouth has no value unless there is sincere faith in the heart. Excessive verbiage without sincerity of heart is worse than profanity. A man who continually boasts of his religion and who lives not near to his God is a hypocrite. Paul experienced a great calm even before he gave expression to it. And this should be the peculiarity of every Christian who is faced with difficulty and who is cast upon the storms of life!
How many are the times when such a confession is most necessary! You who work in the shops where you are required to eat your noon meal out of a bucket, how many of you dare to fold your hands and close your eyes before you eat and offer a brief prayer for God’s blessing? How many of you who daily are surrounded with those who flippantly curse and swear, dare to open your mouths in protest against them? In another place this apostle says: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” That makes confession very important and necessary, doesn’t it? You may easily offend a man by saying to him: “Won’t you be a Christian too?” But it is hard to offend if you simply say that you are a Christian!
Only remember that the avowal must be backed up by a life, as Paul’s was backed upon board that vessel. Do you think that these Roman soldiers, and the other prisoners, would not have smiled contemptuously at Paul, if this had been the first time that they had any reason to suppose that he was at all different from them? I am sure they would have said: “The God whose you are and whom you serve? Why, you are just the same as if you worshipped Jupiter like the rest of us!” And that is what the world has a right to say if our walk and our confession do not match.
And so there is calm in the storm!
Calm in the storm? Why, apparently there was much room for the very opposite. It was most natural to fear. Even the child of God will have moments of distress and fright. Paul undoubtedly also experienced this. If this were not the case, how would you explain the appearance of that angel? And the address of the angel? “Fear not, Paul!”
There would be no need for this exhortation where no fear was! O, indeed, there are moments of fear! The Christian is not a stoic, a cynic, who sets his face like flint and feels no pain, and experiences no misery, or fear. Nor is it so that in the storms of life he has no doubts. Very well, the apostle too may have been troubled with the question how he was now to reach Rome and appear before Caesar. How will the promise of God now be realized that he must witness in the court of Caesar in the face of such a storm as this?
But the Lord thinks constantly of His own! His watchful eye is always upon them! He also knows their hearts and fears, and comes at the exact moment to dispel them. That is what Paul experienced aboard ship. One who can speak as Paul did in the face of great danger, need not trouble himself about the danger at all!
He to whom it is given of grace to say, “I am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour,” will also believe that it is the Savior’s business to look after His own property. He is not going to hold His possession with such a slack hand as that they shall slip between His fingers and be lost in the storm! God keeps His treasures, and the surer we are that He is able to keep them unto that day, the calmer we will be in all our trouble!
And when the crash comes, as it surely will for all of us, we may rest assured that we will come safely to the shore! We do not know to which of two groups Paul belonged: whether he could swim, or whether he had to hold on to some bit of wreckage to get safely to the land. But whichever it was, it was neither by his swimming nor by the spar to which he clung that he landed safe on shore. It was the God to whom he belonged. When the Owner counts His subjects and possessions on the quiet shore as the morning breaks, there will not be one who is lost in the surges, or whose name will be unanswered to when the muster roll of the crew is called!