Text: Acts 27
Which place in the world would you most like to visit?
Paul had longed to visit Rome. Two years earlier, the Lord had appeared to him and said, “Don’t worry! Just as you have told others about me in Jerusalem, you must also tell about me in Rome.” Now, after waiting all that time under house-arrest in Caesarea, Paul is about embark on his journey of a life-time.
1When it was time for us to sail to Rome, Julius, a centurian from the Emperor’s special troops was put in charge of Paul and the other prisoners. 2We went aboard a ship from Adramyttium that was about to sail to some ports along the coast of Asia. 3The next day we came to shore at Sidon. Julius was very kind to Paul. He even let him visit his friends, so they could give him whatever he needed. 4When we left Sidon, the winds were blowing against us, and we sailed close to the island of Cyprus to be safe from the wind. 5Then we sailed south of Cilicia and Pamphylia until we came to the port of Myra in Lycia. 6There the army captain found a ship from Alexandria that was going to Italy. So he ordered us to board that ship.
It’s a big wooden merchant ship, 60 m long, taking corn from Egypt to Italy. It has a large square sail, and two large oars at the back for steering (rather than a rudder). It might have had some quite comfortable cabins, but most of the 276 on board would have have had to sleep in the hold or camp out on the deck.
7We sailed along slowly for several days and had a hard time reaching Cnidus. The wind would not let us go any farther in that direction, so we sailed past Cape Salmone, where the island of Crete would protect us from the wind. 8We went slowly along the coast and finally reached a place called Fair Havens, not far from the town of Lasea.
It’s odd, isn’t it? We know that God wants Paul to go to Rome. We know that Paul wants to go to Rome. So why are the winds against them! But things are about to get much worse.
9By now we had already lost a lot of time, and sailing was no longer safe. In fact, even the Great Day of Forgiveness was past. 10Then Paul spoke to the crew of the ship, “Men, listen to me! If we sail now, our ship and its cargo will be badly damaged, and many lives will be lost.” 11But Julius listened to the captain of the ship and its owner, rather than to Paul. 12The harbour at Fair Havens wasn’t a good place to spend the winter. Because of this, almost everyone agreed that we should at least try to sail along the coast of Crete as far as Phoenix. It had a harbour that opened toward the southwest and northwest, and we could spend the winter there.
It’s early October. Sailing is becoming more and more difficult as winter approaches. In advising them to stay put, Paul knows what he is talking about. He is probably the most experienced sailor on the vessel. He has made no less than eleven voyages on the Mediterranean before this one. He had already been shipwrecked three times before. He warns against sailing any further, but, understandably, Julius takes the advice of the captain of the ship.
13When a gentle wind from the south started blowing, the men thought it was a good time to do what they had planned. So they pulled up the anchor, and we sailed along the coast of Crete. 14But soon a strong wind called “The Northeaster” blew against us from the island. 15The wind struck the ship, and we could not sail against it. So we let the wind carry the ship. 16We went along the island of Cauda on the side that was protected from the wind. Then the sailors wrapped ropes around the ship to hold it together. They lowered the sail and let the ship drift along, because they were afraid it might hit the sandbanks in the gulf of Syrtis.
18The storm was so fierce that the next day they threw some of the ship’s cargo overboard. 19Then on the third day, with their bare hands they threw overboard some of the ship’s gear. 20For several days we could not see either the sun or the stars. A strong wind kept blowing, and we finally gave up all hope of being saved.
Things are now really scary. The ship is being blown along uncontrollably by the wind. Tthe timbers of the ship are creaking and groaning under the strain, and the sailers are afraid the ship might actually start falling apart. So they pass ropes underneath the ship and them tie them in order to hold the ship together. They lower the sail and let the ship drift, because they are afraid that otherwise the wind might blow it right down to the coast of Northern Africa, where it might become stranded on fearsome sandbanks.
For several days the storm raged. To make the ship lighter, they throw overboard some of the cargo and gear. The sun and the stars – their means of navigation – are invisible. They are the mercy of the elements, totally lost.
Have you ever set out to do something that knew was right, that you knew God wanted you to do, that you wanted to do, and then found that you were facnig nothing but obstacles and opposition? You’re a youngster at school: you try to speak up for Jesus and all that seems to happen is that your friends think you’re strange. You’re an elderly person and you’ve decided to go to church and you wake up to weather like this. The first thing that heppened to me after I became a Christian was that I went deaf. At such times, the only best prayer you can think of to offer is, “Lord, give us a break!”
21Since none of us had eaten anything for a long time, Paul stood up and told the men:…22′Cheer up, because you will be safe. Only the ship will be lost. 23I belong to God, and I worship him. Last night he sent an angel 24to tell me, “Paul, don’t be afraid! You will stand trial before the Emperor. And because of you, God will save the lives of everyone on the ship.” 25Cheer up! I am sure that God will do exactly what he promised. 26But we will first be shipwrecked on some island.’
It seems as if even Paul had begun to wonder if God has forgotten his promise to get him to Rome. But his faith is strengthened by nothing less than an angel.
27For fourteen days and nights we had been blown around over the Mediterranean Sea. But about midnight the sailors realized that we were getting near land…29They were afraid that we might hit some rocks, and they let down four anchors from the back of the ship. Then they prayed for daylight.
What a desperate prayer! What an agonising wait!
30The sailors wanted to escape from the ship. So they lowered the lifeboat into the water, pretending that they were letting down an anchor from the front of the ship. 31But Paul said to Julius and the soldiers, “If the sailors don’t stay on the ship, you won’t have any chance to save your lives.”
Interesting isn’t it, that God had sent an angel to assure Paul that God would save the lives of everyone on the ship. Yet Paul could say to the centurion, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you will not be saved.”
32The soldiers then cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall into the sea.
33Just before daylight Paul begged the people to eat something. He told them, “For fourteen days you have been so worried that you haven’t eaten a thing. 34I beg you to eat something. Your lives depend on it. Do this and not one of you will be hurt.”
Notice again, that although God has promised that everyone will survive, and yet they still need to take responsibility for themselves. We know that Paul had learned this lesson, because either just before or just after this voyage, he wrote to the Christians at Philippi, “Beloved…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
39Morning came, and the ship’s crew saw a coast that they did not recognize. But they did see a cove with a beach. So they decided to try to run the ship aground on the beach. 40They cut the anchors loose and let them sink into the sea. At the same time they untied the ropes that were holding the rudders. Next, they raised the sail at the front of the ship and let the wind carry the ship toward the beach. 41But it ran aground on a sandbank. The front of the ship stuck firmly in the sand, and the rear was being smashed by the force of the waves. 42The soldiers decided to kill the prisoners to keep them from swimming away and escaping. 43But Julius wanted to save Paul’s life, and he did not let the soldiers do what they had planned. Instead, he ordered everyone who could swim to dive into the water and head for shore. 44Then he told the others to hold on to planks of wood or parts of the ship. At last, everyone safely reached shore.
So what’s it all about?
It’s about God having a plan and a purpose for his kingdom which he will certainly carry out.
It’s about God’s people sometimes experiencing many dangers, toils and snares on their voyage of following Jesus.
It’s about often not being able to understand at the time why God may allow the winds and the waves to buffet us when we know we’re doing what he wants.
It’s about realising that although our final destination is assured, we don’t simply sit back and wait for things to happen. Rather, we understand that God uses means to bring us safely home, and those means include our own best efforts. Therefore, study the map, set your sail, steer the boat, confront the obstacles, as if everything depended on you. But trust with all your heart that he who has set you off on this thrilling and sometimes hair-raising adventure will bring you safely to your journey’s end.
You say, “It’s impossible.”
God says: “All thing are possible”. (Luke 18:27)You say, “I’m tired.”
God says: “I will give you rest”. (Matt 11:28-20)
You say, “I can’t go on.”
God says: “My grace is sufficient for you.” (II Cor. 12:9 – Psalm 91:15)
You say, “I don’t know where to turn.”
God says: “I will direct your steps.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
You say, “I can’t cope.”
God says: “I will supply all your needs.” (Phil 4:19)
You say, “I’m worried and afraid”
God says: “Cast all your cares on me (I Peter 5:7)
You say, “I feel all alone.”
God says: “I will never fail you nor forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5)