- Sermon Notes
God’s Hand of Favor
We’ve recently been looking at the ministry of Timothy as he was leading the churches in Ephesus. Paul was not there himself because he had been arrested, had appealed to Caesar and was on his way to Rome to make his appeal.
Let’s pick up Paul’s story and the lessons of faith that come out of it. Paul had determined to go to Jerusalem, eager to share the gospel with his fellow Jews, but they didn’t exactly receive him warmly. A crowd took hold of him intending to kill him, but a Roman commander got word of it and rushed down with some soldiers and took Paul into protective custody.
When the Roman commander heard there was a plot against Paul, he sent him to the Roman governor at Caesarea. He was kept as a prisoner there for two years yet was never charged with any wrongdoing. Finally, because he was a Roman citizen, he appealed to Caesar.
Paul was put in the charge of a Roman centurion named Julius who was responsible to get him to Rome. They set sail from Caesarea, but along the way they encountered a storm that raged for two full weeks. Can you imagine being in a first century sailing ship in the middle of the Mediterranean fighting a hurricane force storm for two weeks?
All hope was gradually lost. They had already thrown the ship’s cargo overboard, and then a few days after that they threw the ship’s tackle overboard. But then Paul stood up in their midst and urged them to take courage because an angel of God had assured him that he would stand before Caesar and that God had granted safety to those sailing with him.
So Paul stood up and said, “Keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on a certain island.”
They came to an island about midnight. Fearing they might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak. When day came they observed a certain bay with a beach and decided to drive the ship onto it if they could. Casting off their anchors, they hoisted the foresail to the wind and headed for the beach, but they struck a reef and the prow of the vessel stuck fast. Soon, the force of the waves began to break up the stern of the ship, so they commanded those that could swim to jump overboard and get to land and the rest followed, some on planks, and others on various things from the ship.
Storms and even shipwrecks come in everyone’s life, but storms and shipwrecks don’t have to shipwreck your faith. You can trust God through every stormy gale; you have an anchor for your soul.
In Acts chapter 28, we pick up the story just after they made it safely to shore. They found themselves on the island of Malta; cold, wet, beaten down, weak from exhaustion and being seasick for two weeks. But then we see the favor of God on Paul and therefore on all of them.
What do you do when your ship is broken and you’ve come to the end of yourself?
First, thank God for what you have, and then, begin to rebuild your life on the foundation of God’s heart for you. God is not finished with you. Press on knowing that His favor is still on your life, even if there are shipwrecks and storms. He is the one who brings beauty out of ashes; He will rebuild your life on this sure foundation.
I. God’s Love is our Victory
- The natives were exceptionally kind to them and because of the cold, they kindled a fire. Paul was also gathering sticks.
- I love Paul’s helpful, servant heart here.
- But while he was gathering sticks and laying them on the fire, a viper fastened on his hand.
- How you respond to trouble has a lot to do with your faith. There are a lot of people that would respond with exasperation to yet another peril.
- “All right, Lord, I’ve had just about enough. I’ve had all I can take. Here I am, serving You, and I get attacked by a crowd, there’s a plot to kill me, I sit in prison for two years in Caesarea, I have to go through a raging storm for two weeks, I get shipwrecked on this island, and now this, bitten by a viper? How much can a man take?”
- That’s not Paul’s response. He gets bitten by the viper and then just calmly shakes it off into the fire. When you’ve been through as many storms as Paul, it begins to change your perspective.
Illus - I think a lot of people would have panicked; snakes and vipers have a tendency to do that. One time Jordi was trying to put a snake down my shirt and it turned and bit her. Let’s just say she didn’t calmly shake it off. But I’m no better, one time I saw a baby water moccasin and I wasn’t exactly calm either.
- Not Paul, he was told he was to stand before Caesar and he trusts God to keep His word. There is a perspective of faith that strengthens the soul…
Psalm 138:3, 7-8, You made me bold with strength in my soul… Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; and Your right hand will save me. The Lord will accomplish what concerns me; your loving kindness, O Lord, is everlasting.
B. Nothing can separate us from God’s love
- That is the foundation of Paul’s faith, he knows that God’s love is everlasting and that nothing can separate him from God’s love.
Romans 8:35, 37-39, Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- What a powerful perspective; no matter what tribulation, or distress or peril Paul is going through, he has every assurance that he is in God’s love.
- There’s beauty out of ashes; the favor of God is seen even as he’s going through these storms and troubles.
Illus - Going through Bible school was a difficult time. I had a full load of classes, would often only get four or five hours of sleep, I had two jobs and our children were just babies, but I kept seeing God revealing His favor. One night when I was serving tables I got a table that was trying to spend as much as possible. What a tip!
- The people on this island had never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, and God gives attesting miracles as Paul is kept from harm from the viper and many people are healed.
- I also imagine what’s going on in the heart of the centurion, Julius.
- Keep looking for God’s favor and trust completely in God’s love over you no matter what trouble you’re going through.
Illus - When Israel entered the land God promised them, at first there was a great victory at Jericho, but then a shocking defeat when they came up against just the small village of Ai. But there were some who had turned their back on God and brought trouble on Israel. Later, they called it the valley of Achor, or the “Valley of Trouble.”
But again you see the grace of God over them…
Hosea 2:15, “I will give the valley of Achor as a door of hope; and she will sing there as in the days of her youth.”
- I have seen the grace of God and the favor of God over my life through the troubles and trials and even over some of the troubles that came from my own stupidity.
C. The curse of sin is broken
- It’s interesting that it was a viper that latched itself on to Paul’s hand. The viper, or serpent, has represented the enemy since the beginning.
- The enemy of our soul has his grip on many people’s lives and many people have been destroyed by it.
Jeremiah 17:9, The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?
Illus - The Minnesota Crime Commission put out this report: Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centered. He wants what he wants, when he wants it – deny him these wants, and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness, which would be murderous, were he not so helpless. He has no morals, no knowledge, and no skills. This means that all children, not just certain children, are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in the self-centered world of his infancy, given free rein to his impulsive actions to satisfy his wants, every child would grow up to be a criminal, a thief, a killer, and a rapist.
- But the curse of sin is broken and the grip and power of the enemy has been defeated, so that we can confidently say…
1 Corinthians 15:55, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
- When the viper took hold of Paul they concluded he had to be a murderer and that justice had found him.
- Many still think this way, and there is some truth to it in that there will come a day when God will settle all accounts, but the great truth for believers is that we have been set free by the blood of Jesus.
Romans 8:1-2, There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law sin and death.
Illus – I was using an extension ladder and lowering the top ladder with the rope when it came loose and came crashing down, smashing my left hand that was holding the lower ladder. It should have broken my fingers, but amazingly it didn’t even hurt. Why? My wedding ring took it all and I was saved.
Jesus took it all and what we deserved fell on Him and we are saved. The curse of sin is broken.
II. Faith Must be Personal
- When Paul arrived in Rome he was allowed to stay by himself, with a soldier guarding him. He called together the leading men of the Jews.
- He wanted to persuade them; he wanted them to take hold of God’s word, God’s truth and be changed.
A. God’s word is personal
- Three years earlier Paul had written what we call today the book of Romans. He mentions people by name and sends it with his heart for them.
- But Paul wrote that letter by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and today we call it the word of God.
- It was personal for them and it's personal for us.
Illus - Our daughter, Nicole, wrote a journal to her daughter Aviah shortly after she was born. She continued writing to her daughter for many years. How absolutely precious that journal is to her and to know her mother’s heart toward her.
- In a similar way, God wrote His word to us and it’s personal, God wants us to take hold of it and be transformed by understanding His love for us.
Isaiah 43:1-5, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you… For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… You are precious in My sight, you are honored and I love you… Do not fear, for I’m with you.”
- I think about these Roman soldiers that were chained to Paul and wonder how many of them came to faith in Jesus Christ. No doubt they listened as Paul spoke about Jesus Christ to everyone who came to visit, but I’m sure there were many times Paul would speak to them individually. Can you imagine being chained to Paul all day long?
- As far as he was concerned, the Rome was chained to him and couldn’t get away.
- Paul sat with this group of Jewish men all day explaining the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning until evening.
- That would be an amazing Bible study! Some were persuaded… But others would not believe. It doesn’t say that they could not believe, it says that they would not believe. It was their choice.
- This is an issue of the heart, not just the mind.
Luke 8:15, “The seed that fell on the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”
- To those who would not believe Paul quoted Isaiah…
- In other words, it’s about the heart. The heart makes a convert of the mind. There are many people with great intellect that do stupid things. It’s the heart that opens the ears to hear and the eyes to see.
Acts 28:1-24 NASB
1 When they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was called Malta. 2 The natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all. 3 But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they began saying to one another, "Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live." 5 However he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 But they were expecting that he was about to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.
23 When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. 24 Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.