Wednesday, June 11, 2014

SHIPWRECKED! (Acts Chapter 27)

Acts 27:25, “So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.”

I just finished reading “A Storm Too Soon: A True Story of Disaster, Survival and an Incredible Rescue,” by Michael J. Touglas.  In the book the author recounts the dramatic Coast Guard Rescue of three men whose 47 foot sailboat capsized 250 miles off the east coast.  Amidst hurricane forces winds and 80 foot waves, the Coast Guardsmen delivered the men from their small and damaged raft, and brought them safely aboard their Jayhawk helicopter.  It’s a great story that speaks to the courageous, never-give-up, attitude of the three men and their rescuers.

Acts Chapter 27 records the events surrounding the shipwreck of the ship carrying the Apostle Paul to Rome.  The captain and crew of that ill-fated voyage lacked the advantages of their modern-day counterparts.  They had no reliable long range weather forecasts.  They had no EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) on board.  There was no Coast Guard to call.  But they had a man on board who intervened on their behalf.  He was not the captain and not even a member of the crew, but it would be fair to say that things might have turned out much differently were he not on board.  How was it that Paul, a mere prisoner on board ship, came to exercise such influence?  Interwoven through the account are some telltale clues.

The Apostle Paul endeared himself to others.  Paul had been delivered, along with some other prisoners, to a centurion named Julius.  Though we are not given all the details, it is obvious that Paul gained the respect of the centurion (Cf. Acts 27:3).  One would suspect that Paul had proven himself trustworthy, and judging from what we otherwise know of Paul, he no doubt showed kindness to Julius.

The Apostle Paul took initiative.   Paul had captained no ships and had no experience as a navigator, but he was knowledgeable—inasmuch as he was a man full of the Spirit—of what lay ahead.  He possessed, in the Helper’s indwelling presence, something that the others lacked.  When the decision was made to leave Fair Havens, Paul counseled against it (Cf. Acts 27:9-10).  The fact that he was allowed to speak his opinion on the matter speaks to the influence that he had already obtained.  “But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and the owner of the ship than to what Paul said” (Acts 27:11).  The ship sailed on to its ill-fated destination.

The Apostle Paul prayed for and encouraged his shipmates.  As Paul had predicted, the voyage met with difficulty.  “A tempestuous wind, called the northeaster” (Acts 27:14), began to blow causing the ship to be driven along without recourse.  The crew jettisoned overboard the cargo and then the ship’s tackle.  “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned” (Acts 27:20).  When all hope was lost, Paul encouraged the men with a message of hope (Cf. Acts 27:22, 25).  He told them that there would be no loss of life.  He spoke to them of how God had spoken to him, assuring him of his safe arrival in Rome and how God “granted (to him) all those who” sailed with him (Cf. Acts 27:24).  He had prayed for them.  God had granted to Paul their safety.

The Apostle Paul witnessed by his actions.  He gave specific instructions as to what the men were to do once they approached land (Cf. Acts 27:30-32).  After fourteen suspenseful days without food, Paul urged the men to eat (Cf. Acts 27:34a).  He reminded them again of God’s watch care over them Cf. Acts 27:34b).  “”And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat.  Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves” (Acts 27:35-36).

He was not the captain and not even the first mate, but Paul—a mere prisoner on board—was used by God in an incredible manner to assist and encourage his shipmates.  He did things that we all, as believers, can do as we interact with others lacking hope in this storm-tossed world.  He befriended others and proved himself trustworthy.  He walked by the Spirit.  He prayed for and encouraged his companions.  He led by example as he trusted in God in the midst of his own difficulties.  Every member on board that vessel benefitted by Paul’s presence amongst them.  They lost their ship and their cargo, but they were brought safely to land (Cf. Acts 27:44b) and learned something about the God Paul worshipped and served. 

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