The Apostle Paul Sails Into the Storm
[Acts chapter 27, verses 13-29]
by Minister Paul J. Bern
Last week in our ongoing Biblical study series of the writings of the apostle Luke, the apostle Paul, together with the others with him including his guard Julius, had left the port of Caesarea and was headed to Rome with some stops along the way. But since the weather wouldn’t cooperate with the pilot’s plans (see verses 4-9 from last week’s study), the ship wound up on the southwest side of the island of Crete. At that point in the voyage, since it was getting later in the year with increasingly unfavorable weather conditions, the decision was made to finish the voyage for Rome. So Paul, Julius his Roman guard in the Alexandrian ship from the port of Lycia, along with Luke, Aristarchus plus the crew and some others, set sail for Rome. Things started out well enough, but once they left what would be near the coast of Crete, things got progressively worse. So let’s pick up where we left off last week, stating at verse 13.
“13) When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. 14) Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. 15) The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. 16) As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, 17) 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 sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. 18) We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. 19) On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20) When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” (Acts 27, verses 13-20)
Now, I’m no expert on cargo ships from that time period, but they ranged in capacity from 70-100 metric tons all the way up to 400 metric tons in capacity (for more info, just click here). While not exactly tiny, these vessels of the sea had lengths of 25-30 feet on the low end to over 100 feet for the biggest vessels. Still, these merchant ships and their crews were the kings of commerce in their day. I don’t know how big the ship was that Paul was on, but it most likely was one that was above average in size and displacement, Otherwise, the storm they were caught up in would have already sunk the ship.
From the time they left the shores of what would be modern Greece today, they had sailed on the south side of Cyprus and westward to the south side of Crete. However, their ultimate destination was Rome, so the ship, crew and passengers left once again, probably after a day’s rest. “14) Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. 15) The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along.” If we take a look at a map of the Mediterranean sea, we can see the island of Crete situated in nearly the center of the Mediterranean. There is nothing west of there but open water until we go further towards Sicily and Malta. So the ship Paul and company were on was largely protected while they were on the south side of those two islands. But, once they came around to a northwestern bearing towards Italy, that’s when all hell broke loose.
Verses 18 -19 bring the severity of the storm into sharp focus, like having a front row seat at a movie or a sporting event. “18) We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. 19) On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands…..” As you can see, that ship was taking on water faster that it could be bailed out. Their situation was becoming increasingly urgent as the hours crawled on by even to the point of throwing the cargo overboard. “20) When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” The storm was of such intensity that everyone lost track of time itself.
I’m sure you all have noticed that life can be a lot like the sudden squall that Paul and the rest with him were experiencing. When they left the port at Crete’s western edge, everything was fine. But before that day had ended, they found themselves in the worst storm of their lives. Their situation was so dire that they began throwing the cargo overboard in an attempt to save the ship. In our own lives we too can find some sort of excess baggage of the emotional kind that we need to throw overboard, so to speak. It is my sincere hope that someone somewhere benefits from these words I write today. Jettison all that freakin’ baggage, brethren, You don’t need all that anymore. And now, let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s lesson, beginning at verse 21.
“21) After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: ‘Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 22) But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23) Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 24) 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.’ 25) So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26) Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” (Acts 27, verses 21-26)
Now we see in even more graphic detail that Paul’s situation, along with everyone else on board, was intensifying. The seas were too rough to fix a decent meal, and so it had been days since they had eaten anything by this point. Neither the sun nor the moon and stars had been seen for possibly as much as a week. Evidently there was enough of a lull in the weather for Paul to say what needed to be said. “Paul stood up before them and said: ‘Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 22) But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.” Centuries later, people find themselves enduring great loss due to natural disasters. When that does happen to less fortunate individuals, the response seems to be universal – we can replace the stuff we lost, but lives are irreplaceable. This truth is still the same, and always will be.
25) “So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26) Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” So Paul was saying that even running the ship onto the rocky shore would be better than drowning, and he was absolutely right. Now, here comes that remaining verses of this week’s lesson. “27) On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. 28) They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. 29) Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight.” (Acts 27, verses 25-29)
In verse 27 where it says the sailors “sensed they were approaching land”, it doesn’t say how they knew they were getting close to it. Add to this mystery was the fact that it was around midnight or so, yet the sailors knew they were getting close to land. It’s not until the final two verses when they realize the were closer to land than they thought. So much so, in fact, that when they took “soundings” and discovered they were getting close to the shore line. So how much closer were they by then? Would they be able to beach their ship and walk ashore, or would they drown trying? Stop on back here next week for part 3 of Acts 27, and you will find out. Until then, take good care….