Acts 27: 27 – 44 The shipwreck
On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. They took soundings and found that the water was forty metres deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was thirty metres deep. Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, ‘Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.’ So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away.
Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. ‘For the last fourteen days,’ he said, ‘you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food – you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.’ After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Altogether there were 276 on us on board. When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.
When daylight came, they did not recognise the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. But the ship struck a sand-bar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.
The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely.
* * *
This passage shows Paul in charge. Although he’s a prisoner, guarded by a centurion, and merely a paying passenger in a vessel run by an expert master and experienced seamen, he is in charge.
Look at what he did:
- he prevented the sailors from abandoning the ship and its passengers;
- he encouraged everybody to eat so they were ready for the ordeal of struggling ashore when the vessel was run aground;
- his influence on the centurion was such that the prisoners were spared from death at the hands of the soldiers.
Paul was watching everybody and every action, and thinking about what he observed. He was both an intellectual and a man of action.
In fact, this voyage to Rome is quite a good metaphor for Paul’s life. At first the journey had fair wind (Acts 27: 2 – 3). This rapidly changed, with the wind becoming more and more adverse (Acts 27: 4 and Acts 27: 6). Briefly, it looked as though they would have fair weather (Acts 27: 13) and then the hurricane struck. They were blown west, helpless for days, finally making landfall on Malta – 2000 kilometres away from where the hurricane hit them.
Malta is not a large island. They could easily have been blown past it, but it was where God wanted them to be. The shipwreck was very damaging, with the vessel breaking up; but God ordained that everyone should be saved, and they were.
Paul was a tempestuous man, stirring up controversy wherever he went, but God channelled his combative personality into a powerful testimony to Jesus.
Whatever we face in life – and we all have tempests, we all have periods of being becalmed, we all (thank God!) have periods when both wind and weather are fair – whatever we face, we can be confident that through the power of God we will end up in the place he needs us to be.
Let us then remember to say, with Paul, “Keep up your courage – for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.”
Thank you for the encouragement of this passage. Please help me to follow Jesus with all my heart.
In Jesus’ name, Amen