Acts 27: 13 – 26 The storm
When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the ‘North-Easter’, swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, so the men hoisted it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sand-bars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.
After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood before them and said: ‘Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourself this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night and angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.” So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.’
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“When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete.”
The plan was to sail to Phoenix and spend the winter there. With the onset of a gentle southerly wind, they slipped out of Fair Havens and sailed westwards, hugging the coast. The vessel’s master and the centurion in charge of the prisoners agreed that this was a prudent course of action; they gambled on fair weather, in which case a day’s sailing would see them make harbour at Phoenix.
Unfortunately, they lost their gamble; they were caught by a North-Easter. Nowadays we would call it a Medicane, a Mediterranean hurricane. The period of September to January is the season for these storms, and many of them start in the Ionian Sea.
The wind struck them from the north, completely preventing them from running for shelter on the coast of Crete. All they could do was run before the storm.
The human direction of the vessel by the master and the sailors was expert; they took all the precautions they could. They secured the lifeboat on board. The sea was so rough that the flexing of the ship threatened to spring planks from its hull, so they passed ropes underneath the vessel to hold it together. They lowered a sea anchor to try to keep the vessel pointing into the wind, so that it didn’t go broadside on to the waves and become swamped. They jettisoned the cargo and the ship’s tackle.
Without these actions the ship would have foundered and all the 276 souls on board would have drowned. And still the storm blew and blew, and they drifted helplessly for day after day.
Then, one night, Paul had a vision of an angel, who said, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.”
Luke does not describe this as an answer to prayers of intercession, although I’ve little doubt they were many and heartfelt. No, it’s very matter-of-fact, just, “This is what God’s going to do, and this is why.” Paul simply reports the message to the others. He doesn’t urge them to repent; he just tells them to keep up their courage. He says “I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.”
Human strength and expertise had been stretched to the utmost, and had sufficed to keep everybody alive. Now God was saying that he would make sure that everyone came safe to shore. Paul had faith that God’s word in this matter could be relied on absolutely, and he told his fellow travellers so.
We all live our lives using our own skills and strength. I believe that God wants us to do this, using the gifts that he gives us, and I think that this is part of the message of this passage. Equally, there comes a time when our efforts on their own fall pitifully short of what’s needed. God is there for us. He knows what’s best for us. May he grant that we all respond to him like Paul, and say, “I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.”
Thank you that you love us at all times, and want the best for each one of us. As we learn to listen to you more attentively, please grant that we will say, “I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.”
In Jesus’ name, Amen