Monday, September 22, 2008

Amazing Grace on Display

One of our most beloved and treasured hymns is Amazing Grace written by John Newton a former captain of a slave ship. As a young lad Newton had memorized Bible passages and hymns at the knees of his mother who died when he was about seven years old. However, John Newton wasn’t converted until he was twenty-three years old. After falling deeper and deeper into sin, Newton found that he was capable of anything. Then on the night of March 9, 1748, Newton was jolted awake by a brutal storm that descended too suddenly for the crew to foresee. The next day, in great peril, he cried out to the Lord. He later wrote, “That tenth of March is a day much remembered by me; and I have never suffered it to pass unnoticed since the year 1748 – the Lord came from on high and delivered me out of deep waters.”

Psalm 107:23-32 says, “Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters; they have seen the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths; their soul melted away in misery. They reeled and staggered like a drunken man, and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distresses. He caused the storm to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they were quiet, so He guided them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men! Let them extol Him also in the congregation of the people, and praise Him at the seat of the elders.”

This happened to John Newton; this happened to the disciples of the Lord on several occasions; and this happened to the apostle Paul more than once – so that any of them would have been able to sing, “Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home!”

Here in Acts 28:11-15 we see God’s amazing grace that not only delivered Paul and the others safely from the storm and shipwreck on Malta but also provided Paul with the encouragement of fellowship with the brethren as God guided him to his desired haven – Rome!

Going to Rome had long been a desire of Paul’s heart. Paul had written his letter to the Romans at least three years before these events while he was in Corinth. And in his letter to the Romans Paul said, “For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles” (Romans 1:9-13).

So as we move into our text this morning keep in mind that Paul had written the letter to the Romans at least three years earlier and that they too would have looked forward to seeing Paul just as he had longed to see them.

Christians on the boat (11-13) – Luke and Aristarchus sharing in suffering.

It’s encouraging to know that we are not on this journey alone. Luke who wrote the book of Acts said, “At the end of three months, we set sail on an Alexandrian ship…." After being shipwrecked on Malta and given safety and shelter during the dangerous time of the year for navigation, the right season for sailing returned – after three months. Another ship, evidently with a captain and pilot that knew better than to try to sail at that time of the year, had wintered at the island. What a coincidence - God caused these circumstances to coincide! This ship took on the passengers from the ship that had wrecked and began its voyage towards Rome. This time the weather was in their favor and was not a deceiving south wind. This south wind was so advantageous to the journey that the trip from Rhegium to Puteoli only took two days. Puteoli was an island just off the toe of Italy.

But keep this in mind – Luke and Aristarchus were with Paul and what an encouragement that had to be. There is nothing more discouraging than to believe that you are all alone in your service to God. Elijah the prophet was severely discouraged when he thought that he was the last true prophet alive – but it was great encouragement for him to know that God had 7,000 who hadn’t bowed the knee to Baal. All courage to stand against the false and stand for the true can leave when you think you are all alone in your service to God. Never forget that we are not alone because God always has a remnant according to His gracious choice.

Also as we face difficulties and persecutions for the sake of righteousness there are two things to remember: (1) that Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach (Hebrews 13:12-13) and (2) resist the devil, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you (1 Peter 5:9-10). We are not on this journey alone!

Christians at Puteoli (14) – showing hospitality!

We are encouraged not only because there are others on the boat with us but also because there are others whom we have not met yet that care about us and will provide us with hospitality. Hospitality is to mark the children of God. “Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1 Peter 4:9). And hospitality is one of the ways that God allows His children great privilege in meeting and serving His servants – “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).

Certainly Paul and Luke and Aristarchus would have been strangers to the Christians at Puteoli but because of their common salvation the brethren invited them to stay with them for seven days. And Luke adds – “And thus we came to Rome!” In other words, “This is how we came to Rome – with God protecting, providing, and encouraging all the way!" It would be here that this little band of Christians would have burst forth in hymnody and sang, “Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home!” Let us never forget to be or quit being hospitable – God uses it as part of His amazing grace to encourage the brethren with Christian hospitality.

Christians at Rome (15) seeking fellowship!

How did there come to be Christians as Puteoli and Rome? It is obvious that Paul hadn’t been to Rome yet and according to his closing in chapter 15 of the book of Romans neither had any of the other apostles. But the book of Acts sheds some light as it shows the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the earth and that on the day of Pentecost there were in Jerusalem, “visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes” (Acts 2:10).

At least three years earlier Paul had written to the Romans indicating his desire to see them and fellowship with them for mutual encouragement and growth in the faith. True Christian fellowship is based on a desire to bless and be blessed – “that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:12). The Christians at Rome desired to see Paul as much as he desired to see them – “And the brethren, when they heard about us, came from there as far as the Market of Appius and Three Inns to meet us” (15a).

They weren’t coming to “get the anointing” or to see Paul do miracles or to hear some sermon addressing their felt needs. They surely weren’t going to hear some health, wealth, and prosperity false gospel from Paul – he was in chains as a prisoner! No! There was a noble-minded reason for the Christians from Rome to make their way out of the city to meet the apostle on his approach to Rome – they were coming to fellowship and to grow – to be a blessing and to be blessed! And the last part of the verse says, “And when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage!”

Thank God for Christians who will go out of their way to encourage God’s faithful servants! Thank God for His amazing grace! Amen!

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