The Shipwreck and Paul the Apostle’s Leadership
Acts chapter 27, verses 30-44
by Minister Paul J. Bern
Last week as we left off at verse 29 of Acts chapter 27, the storm that was battering the ship they were traveling on had become so severe that those on board were helping the crew toss the cargo overboard in an attempt to save the ship and themselves. Had this particular vessel been equipped with even so much as a rudimentary means of propulsion, they would have stood a fairly decent chance of being able to outrun, or go around, that storm. Instead, they found themselves caught up in or near the center of the storm as they were being propelled along with it. As we begin part 3 of this week’s lesson on Acts 27, we finally find their circumstances showing signs of changing for the better, starting at verse 30.
“30) 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. 31) Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, ‘Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.’ 32) So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away. 33) 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. 34) 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.’ 35) 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. 36) They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37) Altogether there were 276 of us on board. 38) When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.” (Acts 27, verses 30-38)
Without a doubt, the ship the apostle Paul was on had just experienced a near- catastrophe at sea. So much so that Paul said in verses 31-32, “’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….” By now it is clear that Paul had quite a bit of sailing experience – even to the point of knowing what to throw overboard and what to keep. Sometimes life can be like that. There are points in life where we can see to go to our intended destinations, and still others where we can’t see our hands in front of our faces. But the Bible tells us repeatedly that he or she who holds out to the very end will most certainly be saved by the Blood of the Lamb. Selah’
Once again, beginning at verse 33, the apostle Paul begins to have a greater role, not in the fate of the ship, but in the lives of those who were on-board with him. Saying and doing what needed to be said or done, as he encouraged the men on board, he urged them to stop and eat something: ‘For the last fourteen days,’ he said, ‘you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food – you haven’t eaten anything. 34) Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive….. 35) After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all…..”
I don’t know about yourselves, but I don’t really see myself as being the type of personality that could endure 2 weeks at sea without eating anything. So it’s no wonder that, once Paul had baked the loaf of bread that he was about to consume, the rest of them joined in immediately, and I quote: “36) They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37) Altogether there were 276 of us on board. 38) When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.” And so, even though it was evident the storm was no longer their biggest problem, they had continued in a state of heightened alert since the ship had been damaged by the storm to the extent that it could no longer carry its cargo, let alone the 276 individuals on board. And so they continued to throw heavy objects overboard. Let’s hold that thought as we continue to the second half of this week’s study, beginning at verse 39.
“39) When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. 40) 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. 41) But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf. 42) The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. 43) 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. 44) The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely.” (Acts 27, verses 39-44)
Those aboard what was left of that ship were being presented with a choice in verse 39. Those choices were to go for that beach or attempt to find a better one with a deeper harbor. Either way the voyage was over. One thing I have learned over the years when it comes to being a servant of the Lord Almighty is to never try and second-guess God. Sometimes when a solution to a problem is presented to us, we are to be ever thankful as we receive it, even if it doesn’t seem right at first. This inevitably leads to our own differentiation between our emotions, our logic, and our souls or spirits. The apostles Paul and Luke, together with Aristarchus of Thessalonica, Julius their Roman guard, and the other 260 or so passengers and crew, knew that if they saw land with a suitable beach, they should make for the shoreline immediately. No speculation about a better landing spot was ever considered. They simply did what needed to be done.
Life and how we live it puts us in similar predicaments today. Sometimes we are presented with a choice that doesn’t seem to fit the situation at first. Oftentimes it’s because we’ve seen better choices in our own pasts, to the point that the current choice seems inadequate. That’s what that beach may have looked like just before they hit that sand bar. But first, they had to cut loose all that was holding the ship back. Like the freight back in verse 18 from last week’s study, everything that held the ship down or kept it from moving forward was thrown overboard or cut loose from the ship. Had any of these drastic steps not been taken, they would have sank before they got to the sand bar.
By now Paul’s strong faith in Christ, combined with the prayers from the people of faith who were on board, had made a deep impression on everyone else. So taken aback with the formidable faith of Paul and the others were the rest of those on board that Julius the centurion put an end to the plans of some of those on board who wanted the prisoners executed, as we saw in verses 42-43. Instead, he organized a plan of escape so that, at the end of the chapter, everyone reached shore without the loss of one single life. This is a really great ending to the harrowing tale of being lost at sea for two weeks, only to culminate in a successful landing with no fatalities. So what’s in store for them now? First, they needed to get their bearings straight by identifying their location. But that is something I must hold in reserve until next week’s Biblical lesson. So until then, stay safe and stay in tune with God.