Do you have a friend, a co-worker, maybe a spouse or a family member who is a bit of a train wreck? They make bad decisions that lead to worse decisions. They are always in a crisis, they call you up again at 3AM to pick them up from somewhere they shouldn’t be. You know who I am talking about? If you don’t, it might be you :).
It’s exhausting being a friend or a family member of a train wreck. The closer your relationship, the more exhausting it is. Because the truth is that we’re not created to observe human relationships like train wrecks, detached and uninvolved. We’re tied to these people that God has placed in our lives. We don’t just watch them crash, at times we feel that we’re crashing with them - that perhaps “train wreck” is not that adequate a picture, its more like a shipwreck and we are in the boat with them, and if they go down, we go down together.
In Acts 27, the apostle Paul actually has this experience of being tied to the ill-fated decisions of those he is travelling to Rome with. They literally ship wreck. And the big theme of this chapter is that God has providentially placed Paul on this ship with these men - 276 of them - to warn them of their danger and to proclaim the hope that he has in god to them. They do in fact go through the crash together, but through it all, they also reach the other side together. As we work through this chapter, we see precisely why Paul is on this boat, and may it encourage you as you at time question, when your friend or family member is crashing again, why am I here? What am I to do?
To warn one another of danger Luke details for us that this trip was riddled with difficulty from the beginning.
Acts 27:4 And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. 5 And when we had sailed across the open sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. 6 There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7 We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. 8 Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea
In five separate ways, Luke highlights for us the struggle they faced. Ancient vessels were driven at the mercy of the wind; from the start the wind is against them. The difficulties they faced in the first part of the trip set their schedule back enough that they now faced the impending danger of late autumn storms. Now there is one person on the ship who sees the danger clearly. And he is providentially on that boat to warn the others of the dangers that they face by pressing ahead.
Acts 27:9 Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said.
Luke informs us that the fast related to the Jewish Day of Atonement had already been completed. In 59AD the fast ended around October 5th. According to the Roman writer Vegetius, the dangerous season on the Mediterranean began after September 15 and sailing ceased completely for the winter by mid-November. And whereas up to this point, the fate of the voyage has been at the mercy of the wind, here is where we see that their destruction is now sealed by decisions that are made onboard.
Now, it’s not surprising that they would ignore the advice of the Apostle Paul, for though we know him as the Apostle Paul, they just knew him as Paul, the prisoner. However, Paul was not drawing from any sort of mystical connection with Jesus here - no, he is giving advice as one who had vast experience travelling on the Mediterranean. Even before this trip, Paul had travelled at least 3,500 miles by sea, most of which in this region. Yet the pilot and the owner ship were listening to other voices: namely, that of money and greed. For, because of a food shortage the Emperor Claudius offered substantial bonuses to ship owners who took the chance of sailing late in the season. Greed prevailed and led them to take an ill-fated gamble.
12 And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.
“On the chance that somehow” is not a phrase that should usually guide your ventures. And yes, though they only needed to go 35 miles, a trip of a few hours with the wind at their back, they know that in mid-October the winds could quickly change their course, and that they did.
Acts 27:13 Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. 14 But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. 15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. 17 After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. 18 Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. 19 And 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 no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.
As I said, they should have reached the harbor in a few hours. Instead, there was a violent change in the weather. A gale suddenly roared down on them from Crete’s seven-thousand-foot tall mountains, forcing them to turn and run before the wind. Typhoon-strength winds now came from the Northeast, pushing them away from the coast of Crete, around Cauda, after which they would be driven out to the open sea, heading directly toward the North African coast into an area called the Syrtis, a shallow region of sand bars and shoals that terrified the sailors. those familiar with ancient sailing methods tell us that at this point they lowered the sails are directed the craft headlong into the wind, with the ship pointing due north, and letting the current and the wind blow it west to open sea, rather than south toward the African coast.
For nearly two weeks they weathered the storm and the terrifying winds. They threw out most of the cargo, then threw out their fishing gear. Finally, they threw out all hope of survival. They had done all they could do, and now they could do no more. They were utterly spent.
In the midst of this storm, a word from God enters through the Apostle Paul, providing a path back to shore. And we realize, this is what Paul is on the ship for. He’s tied to these people.
To call one another to repentance
Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss.
While this is basically an “I told you so” moment, it is also an opportunity. Paul want’s them to see that the reason they are in the predicament they found themselves in is not merely because of the storm, but because they ignored what he had earlier proclaimed to them.
It is so easy to go through life seeing yourself as a victim of the storm, and never have to own what you have done to drive yourself into the storms path. The Christian gospel is that, yes, there is hope in the storm, but only as we repent of and own what we have done to set ourselves into the path of destruction. When you find yourself in a crisis, the question to ask is how have I contributed to the crisis? What truth have I rejected, what wisdom have I ignored? How did God’s spirit blow against me, even as I pressed further on?
To encourage one another by pointing to God’s salvation
22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.
Next, Paul urges them to take heart at the word’s he will now proclaim to them - namely, that there is hope in the storm. Whereas they ignored the apostle’s words before, now he speaks again, but his message is different. He first spoke a word of warning, now one of hope. Will they now be ready to receive Paul’s words?
This is the opportunity that the storms of life provide. We’ve all known people hardened to the gospel, hardened to the warnings found in the word of God, and its only when they abandon hope that they are ready to receive the word proclaimed.
This is where faith matters. It is one thing to believe in God when all is well, it is another thing to trust God in the storm.
In late 1735, a ship made its way to the New World from England. On board was a young Anglican minister, John Wesley, who had been invited to serve as a pastor to British colonists in Savannah, Georgia. When the weather went sour, the ship found itself in serious trouble. Wesley, also chaplain of the vessel, feared for his life. But he noticed that the group of German Moravians, who were on their way to preach to American Indians, were not afraid at all. In fact, throughout the storm, they sang calmly. When the trip ended, he asked the Moravian leader about his serenity, and the Moravian responded with a question: Did he, Wesley, have faith in Christ? Wesley said he did, but later reflected, "I fear they were vain words.” In fact, Wesley was confused by the experience, but his perplexity was to lead to a period of soul searching and finally to one of the most famous and consequential conversions in church history. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/denominationalfounders/john-wesley.html)
To testify to one another of God’s Lordship
23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship
Here Paul reveals to them that he has personally experienced God and received a message from the Lord, for everyone on the ship. He identifies himself as one belonging to God, and not just any God, but the God who reveals Himself and His ways. A personal God who sends a message in the storm. This is the first time in this entire chapter that God is mentioned, and it is the basis for any possibility of hope that is given - the God I belong to and worship is greater than this storm. He may not be the God you worship yet, but I’m on this boat with you, and God owns me.
To suffer alongside one another
26 But we must run aground on some island.”
Paul’s then prepares them for the reality that while God will get them safely to their destination, their will still be immediate consequences to be faced. There are consequences for rushing headlong into the storm, and though if you’re a Christian God promises to ultimately save, God often does not remove us from the immediate consequence. But this word is itself a grace. Having received this word from the angel, those on the ship can now prepare themselves for the crash.
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, what a man sows he reaps. King David, although he was immediately forgiven by God, he still faced the consequences of drifting away into sin. Those consequences were devastating to his family. So if you find yourself in a centre of a storm of your own doing, return to God, repent of your sin, revive your faith, receive the word, but also ready yourself to face any consequences that come as a result of your sin.
Acts 27:27 When the fourteenth night had come, as we were being driven across the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. 28 So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms. 29 And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. 30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.
Paul had been told that the fate of each of the men of the ship was bound up in them remaining in the ship and tied to the fate of Paul. If they were to jump out of the ship and seek their own deliverance, they would be utterly lost. Yet these men were terrified. While some of the men prayed, others tried to escape from the ship. Only by hitching their fate to Paul’s, were they assured deliverance from the storm. They would live together or die alone.
To set the worship of Christ in front of one another
Acts 27:33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves.
As morning dawned on the 14th day, the apostle Paul prepared them for the shipwreck that was to soon occur by urging them to take the last bit of nourishment that they could spare, so that they might have strength to face the day. Now there is a huge debate about whether we are to understand this as an observance of the Lord’s supper, for the phrasing Luke uses in verse 35 is very, very similar to other observances of the supper in the scripture. However, it is unlikely that any of the men on the boat, except Dr. Luke and maybe some other Christians would have understood that significance. While that is true, and this probably wasn’t understood as a formal observance of the Lord supper, it seems to me that for the Christians on the boat, and to Luke’s Christian readers, it is likely that the language Luke uses here is not a coincidence. Christ is with Paul and Luke in this last supper before the shipwreck.