Acts Wednesday: Chapter 27, Shipwreck!


Because Paul had requested a trial in Nero’s court, Governor Festus was bound by law to comply, so around October he handed Paul over to a Roman guard to set sail for Rome. It was probably the last travel window Paul would have before spring, due to the fierce storms that usually whipped through the Mediterranean during the winter months. As you read through the first eight verses of this chapter, you can trace the course of their passage.

Accompanying Paul were his faithful and trusted friend and coworker, the physician Luke, and Aristarchus, a Macedonian believer from Thessalonica. Aristarchus is the one who, along with Gaius, had been dragged by the angry crown in Ephesus, and who had also, later, accompanied Paul to Jerusalem. Paul had been handed over, along with other prisoners, into the care of Centurion Julius, a member of the Imperial Guard, and Paul’s ticket into the palace, to see the emperor Nero.


Paul’s Journey to Rome
JWooldridge / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

They were pushing against time, the High Holy Days had come and gone, and travel was getting much more difficult as winter weather approached. Paul had already been shipwrecked three times, he knew what they were now heading into, and confidently told the captain it would be unwise to continue with their crossing until the spring. Honestly, it’s no surprise, Paul the prisoner was overruled. Centurion Julius was impatient to get to Rome, and understandably relied upon the captain’s expert advice, even though it was contrary to God’s word.

And here came a fair wind, making it easy to ignore Paul’s prophecy.

How often do you and I make decisions for the same reasons and get ourselves into bad situations because

  1. we were impatient?
  2. we consulted people who told us what we wanted to hear?
  3. circumstances were favorable for ignoring prudent wisdom?

They sailed into a storm that raged for two solid weeks with skies so black you couldn’t even see the sun or stars.

It is well worth the read, as Luke depicted the class 5 hurricane they had sailed into.

One time, when I was a very young woman in the early 1980s working as a hand on the research vessel Vantuna, traveling along the coast of California, we were caught in a similar pounding gale. Heavy tables slid back and forth like toys across the deck as our boat was tossed from wave to wave. We scrambled to batten down everything we could, and hung on for dear life until we could find a port to tie up in. Our fears were real, for though 85 feet made the Vantuna ocean-worthy, it was still sinkable in the size storm we’d been swept into.

Similarly, everyone on that Alexandrian ship twenty centuries ago began to panic, as one bad thing happened after another. Matters were getting desperate—there was terror, confusion, anger, and despair. Maybe the corona virus shutdown has tossed you into the middle of a gale because of decisions you could not influence. Or maybe you’ve been swept into another kind of storm because of unwise decisions (yours or someone else’s). Maybe you were the only voice of reason, and you got overruled. Maybe you were the one in charge and made what you felt was the best decision at the time.

Paul knew the ship’s crew, as well as the prisoners chained in the hold, needed courage and hope, and he spoke with the kind of powerful confidence that comes from having faith in God. Paul knew for a fact God intended to get them to Rome. It was unquestionable, for the Lord Jesus Christ had told Paul, personally. Now, God had sent an angel to remind Paul the Lord was with him, and would guarantee their safety.

Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss. 

I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 

For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 

and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.’ 

So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.

Luke 27:21-25 (NRSV)

You might wonder why Paul said that first bit. I know I did! This was no time for recriminations. But then I realized, Paul was reminding them of the trustworthiness of what he had to say. They could count on it being true, for look at what had happened: Paul had prophesied a storm, even though the weather had been fine, and the wind perfect for sailing when they started out. Paul’s accurate prophecy, acted as his credentials for the prophecy he was about to make.

Paul’s calm assurance and steady faith in God gave courage to the whole company, the soldiers and sailors, even the captain, because he had something to offer from the Lord.

So, for two full weeks they struggled in this storm, until the sailors began to notice a change in the soundings they were taking. Land ho! Keep reading . . . in a stunning plot twist, it seems they were preparing to slip secretly away in the night, as soon as they got close enough to shore, and have nothing more to do with this doomed voyage.

Paul brought his signature firm authority to a situation that was rapidly getting out of all control. Paul had no real authority, he was just a prisoner, but he knew what was right, he had confidence in God, so he went to those who did have authority and insisted they intervene. (God may also be calling you to deal firmly in a particular situation, trusting in His wisdom, strength and guidance.)

Then, in a scene faintly remindful of the Passover, Paul disciplined himself and all on hand to eat, and strengthen themselves for the next part, swimming to shore.

Everyone had to swim or come in on pieces of wood. It was raining and cold, they were wet, exhausted and miserable, but Paul right away began to pick up wood to make a fire, to warm them and bring them some cheer. Maybe that is where you are right now, you are just as tired, just as worn out, you have been enduring this crisis just as much as everyone else. Yet, as the one filled with the Holy Spirit’s supernatural wonder-working power, is there still something that you can do to bring warmth and cheer to the other people involved?

Crisis reveals our character

What kind of character is revealed in you and in me?

Think about all that Paul had been through so far.

  • From the moment he stepped foot in Jerusalem things had gone downhill.
  • Instead of unity in Jerusalem, there had been riot,
  • beatings,
  • near death,
  • four disappointing trials,
  • years of imprisonment
  • and a shipwreck.

In the past three years there had been no conversions, no church planting, no response to the gospel….

Can you imagine how broken and tired he must have been in spirit and in strength?

What do you think would have refreshed Paul’s emotions, healed and strengthened his body, energized his mind and brought joy and uplifting to his spirit?

Stay tuned, for the Lord was about to do something really wonderful, that would strengthen Paul’s spirit, and encourage him for the final leg of his journey.


[The Morning After | Paul Jean Clays / Public domain]

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