Remember that song “When the going gets tough, the toughs get going!”?
Acts 27 is a tale of a storm, a crew and an apostle who knew God. He was the tough one who kept calm when the going got tough, really tough.
Paul had been seized in Jerusalem and held captive in Caesarea for over three years as he waited his opportunity to speak to Caesar. In early fall, Paul finally journeyed as a political prisoner for Rome.
After sailing from port to port in a ship from Adramyttium, in Lycia, Julius, the captain of the Imperial Regiment and commander of the mission, chose a cargo ship from Alexandria, but sailed with great difficulty, as the wind pushed the ship off course, forcing the crew to port at Fair Havens.
In Fair Havens, Paul warned the crew that the time to sail was past, saying, “This voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo and to our own lives, also” (Acts 27:10) but the centurion heard only the assurances of the pilot and owner of the ship, and they set sail trying to reach Phoenix, a port in Crete, to harbor there for the winter instead.
Soon a hurricane force wind began to blow the ship hard, past the island of Crete. By the time they had sailed past a small island named Cauda, the lifeboat had to be pulled in and secured to the ship. Cables were girded to the ship to keep it from breaking apart under the force of the fierce wind and waves. The crew lowered anchors to try and slow the driven ship down, but by the next day, the ship was so damaged, the crew had to start throwing off cargo to keep it from sinking.
By the third day, the ship’s tackle was thrown overboard to further lighten the storm-driven ship which was being ravaged by the tempest winds. In those days, the stars acted as a guide for navigation, but the storm was so dark, they didn’t see the sun or stars for many days, and driven far from land into the open sea, Luke reflects “as the storm continued raging, we gave up all hope of being saved” (acts 27:20)
No one was able to eat, tossed by the seas and bilging out water by the bucket, as the ship’s passengers desperately worked to keep afloat. Finally Paul stood up with crucial news,
Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss. And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. However, we must run aground on a certain island.”[i]
By the fourteenth night, around midnight, the sailors sensed they were nearing land. They took soundings and discovered that the water was only a hundred and twenty feet deep, then ninety feet deep. Fearing shipwreck against the rocks of the land they could not see, the crew dropped down four anchors to again try and slow down the ship and then prayed for daylight. Some of the sailors tried to escape with the lifeboat, but Paul stopped them, saying to Julius, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” So the soldiers went to work and cut the lifeboat off the ship, lest the sailors try to escape again.
Just before dawn, Paul urged the crew and passengers to eat, imploring them to be nourished and survive the next part of their journey, saying, “Therefore I urge you to take nourishment, for this is for your survival, since not a hair will fall from the head of any of you.[ii]” Then Paul took some bread and broke it, giving thanks to God and ate, and the rest of the 276 passengers were encouraged and ate as well. When everyone had eaten as much as they wanted, the passengers, sailors and soldiers threw the grain into the sea, to lighten the ship, in the hopes that it would not get stuck on shallow rocks or sand and be broken apart by the gale forces and the pounding of the waves.
When daylight came, they discovered land before them and hoped to run aground a sandy beach in a bay, trying to make a run for it. The crew let loose the anchors, cut loose the rudders and hoisted a sail for the first time in fourteen days, hoping to sail quick and hard into the shelter of the bay. Unfortunately, the ship hit a sandbar and since the front of the ship was stuck, the back of the ship was breaking apart in the tremendous storm.
The soldiers drew their swords, planning to kill all prisoners in case they escaped, but Julian forbid his troops from action, since he wanted to spare Paul’s life. Instead, Julius ordered all who could swim to jump overboard and head to the beach, and those who couldn’t swim grabbed planks and pieces of the ship and used them as flotation devices to paddle inland to safety.
Once inland, which the crew discovered was Malta, the islanders built a huge fire to dry up and warm off. Paul helped bring more firewood over but as he threw some brushwood on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat fastened itself on Paul’s hand. Paul just shook off the snake into the fire and suffered no illness from the poisonous snake. The islanders were very superstitious and went from thinking that the gods were punishing Paul by sending a snake to kill him off, to thinking Paul was a god because he was impervious to its harm. Neither was the case, as the islanders soon discovered, when Paul prayed for all the sick, beginning with the chief’s father and all on the island were healed.
After three months enjoying the kind hospitality of the Maltese, Paul set sail once again for Rome and arrived safely, just as the angel had promised in the thick of that horrifying storm.
I would love to live in a world without storms, trials or troubles but that place exists only in heaven. Paul, in facing the storm, was diligent to warn the crew that they were out of sync with the season, that the journey would end in severe hardship but he wasn’t heard. At the command of Julius, the group of captives, soldiers and sailors foraged ahead but to disastrous results.
Rather than sit back and wait for heaven to come, Paul prayed and sought His God whom he served, and once he heard, he shared the encouraging news with the ship’s passengers: God will save us and I believe Him.
In these turbulent days, sometimes we are caught in circumstances beyond on control. Do we know and believe the God whom we serve? Can we trust His Word? As we face storms, will we, like Paul pray and seek and then hear God’s perspective, and speak it as a word of truth in the storm? Or will we, like Luke, give up all hope to be saved? Can we demonstrate peace in crisis and be the calm voice to the fearful cries, even give thanks unto God, and encourage others to do the same, when our lives are battling furious waves and tempestuous winds?
Only if we find the God of Love in the storm. He is always there, just a prayer away. He will never leave us or forsake us, ever. And Paul, having been shipwrecked three times, stoned, whipped, caned, persecuted, hungry, sleepless and was still surviving, knew just that.
Lord, thank You for every trial we have endured, that we each have a long history of your kindness and protection and provision when the storms have come. Help us, Holy Spirit to hear Your voice, in the good times and the bad, that we then shine as light in the darkness as a witness to those who have not yet encountered Your Love. Lord Jesus, for every part of the journey, we, like Paul, cry, “You are worth it!” Thank You for being our Rock, our Fortress, our Strength and for always being with us, Love come down, in the storms of life. We believe in You, Almighty God, and we count on You every day, no matter what it holds. Amen.
[i] Acts 27:21-26, NKJV [ii] Acts 27: 34, NKJV
*This is an excerpt of a book Jenny is currently writing called Love Came Down, God Encounters in the Scripture to Change Your Life.
On a personal note: The people in the Philippines are currently battling for their lives, since the region that was hit hardest is where the poorest of the poor reside. I met with a man who just returned from there and it is much worse than even the media has reported. Whole islands are starving to death.
In this time of Philippine’s great need, please consider giving to beahero.org
. This ministry has people in the area of greatest need, feeding whole villages at a time with mercy and compassion for the destitute and homeless. In asking my friend, John, how bad it was, he said, “Think Katrina and multiply it times a thousand.” Please give and please pray for the broken storm ravaged people of the Philippines.
Let’s be light in their storm, as Jesus is to us all.