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Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 27:21-26

21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”

———————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry introduced the violent nor’easter that wrought havoc on the crew, the centurion, his troops and the prisoners on board the ship taking Paul, himself a prisoner, to Rome. Luke was among the passengers.

Nearly everyone was without hope by this time. They felt hopelessness to the extent that they could not eat.

John MacArthur also factors in seasickness and, more importantly, the constant activity involved in staying afloat which precluded them from taking nourishment (emphases mine):

It’s terrible. Seasickness. And, of course, in addition to that they probably had pretty salty food by this time with the – with the washing over of the sea. And on top of that, the fact that they had jettisoned the cargo may have limited the supply, but mostly they were too busy to eat. By the time it was over, 14 days they’d gone without eating. Fourteen days they’d fought that storm without any food.

Paul said that they should have listened to him when they were at Fair Havens (verse 21). He had told them not to set sail. He had been overruled.

He encouraged them to ‘take heart’, because, in the end, only the ship would be lost; they would survive (verse 22).

Verse 23 is beautiful. Paul said that an angel appeared to him, an angel:

of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship,

A man of faith cannot say better than that, can he? As in so many other Christian matters, Paul shows us the way.

In older translations, the wording is as follows:

of God, whose I am, and whom I serve,

Matthew Henry has an excellent analysis of Paul’s words, equally meaningful for us today in more ways than one:

He looks upon God, [1.] As his rightful owner, who has a sovereign incontestable title to him, and dominion over him: Who I am. Because God made us and not we ourselves, therefore we are not our own but his. His we are by creation, for he made us; by preservation, for he maintains us; by redemption, for he bought us. We are more his than our own. [2.] As his sovereign ruler and master, who, having given him being, has right to give him law: Whom I serve. Because his we are, therefore we are bound to serve him, to devote ourselves to his honour and employ ourselves in his work. It is Christ that Paul here has an eye to; he is God, and the angels are his and go on his errands. Paul often calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ; he is his, and him he serves, both as a Christian and as an apostle; he does not say, “Whose we are, and whom we serve,” for most that were present were strangers to him, but, “Whose I am, and whom I serve, whatever others do; nay, whom I am now in the actual service of, going to Rome, not as you are, upon worldly business, but to appear as a witness for Christ.” Now this he tells the company, that, seeing their relief coming from his God whose he was and whom he served, they might thereby be drawn in to take him for their God, and to serve him likewise; for the same reason Jonah said to his mariners, I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who has made the sea and the dry land, Jonah 1:9.

Paul told the group what the angel had told him: he would stand before Caesar and, to that end, the lives of those sailing with him would be saved (verse 24).

John MacArthur says:

Why would they believe him? Well, maybe they might believe him. You see how God had set up his credibility because he was right once, huh? I mean the foundation was there.

And look at this. “For there stood by me this night an angel of God” – I love this – “whose I am and” – What? – “whom I serve.” Don’t you love that? That guy knew who he belonged to. “There stood by me an angel of God whose I am and whom I serve.” There’s the first commercial for the Lord. God gets dragged in the situation. You see what God wants to do? God is introducing Himself to these people. He had to get them in a position to accept the introduction.

And now, they’re looking for a God, aren’t they? Because only a God can help them. “An angel of God whose I am and whom I serve appeared to me to me and said, ‘Fear not, Paul, thou must be brought before Caesar and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.” Paul you’re going to make it to Caesar and everybody with you is going to make it.

Paul repeated his message: ‘take heart’, explaining that his faith assured him of the veracity of the angel’s message (verse 25).

Then came the kicker. To reach safety, they would have to land on an island (verse 26). Imagine how that must have sounded to Paul’s listeners. They had been out in a stormy sea for nearly a fortnight and they were going to reach land? They must have been wondering how that was going to happen.

MacArthur tells us:

Well, you know that was like a needle in a haystack, hitting an island. I mean, as I say, look at the whole thing. There’s no island there but Malta. He says, “Don’t fear men, an angel came to me from God whose I am, whom I serve.” See he wants them to know that they can go to him to know about God. He establishes himself as the connection to God. And then he says, “God’s angel said to me you’re going to make it, Paul, and everybody with you is going to make it. The ship’s going to go, the cargo is going to go, but everybody’s going to make it.” Now, do you see what that is? God is setting Himself up to establish His credibility.

Now you know what happens? One of two things. That comes true or it doesn’t come true. If it doesn’t come true it wasn’t God. If it does come true, what? It was God. Do you realize that the obscurity of landing on an island, losing the ship, losing the cargo and everybody’s life being saved, could you chart the mathematical probability of that? Staggering! In the millions that all of those things would come to pass. You see, God is setting up the display of Himself. That’s the promise. But what happened? Well that’s for next week.

Indeed, it is for next week!

Next time — Acts 27:27-32

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