ISSUE: 2017, Volume 14, Issue 4
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‘There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats’, says Ratty, one of the heroes of Wind in the Willows. The apostle Paul was similarly a frequent sailor, although his nautical adventures could hardly be described as ‘messing about’. Sailing was a major mode of transport in New Testament times.1 Not counting the incident in this chapter, Paul had already been shipwrecked on three occasions, 2 Cor. 11. 25. Nonetheless, Paul and others willingly ‘hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’, Acts 15. 26.
Naval historians rely on source material in this chapter as a leading description of first-century shipping technology and practice. Many unique Greek words describe the voyage, as Luke with his doctor’s eye for detail provides this rich narrative. If we need to convince ourselves or others regarding biblical accuracy, this chapter provides plenty of evidence.2
However, our study focuses on individuals who demonstrate care for others. The virtue of caring indicates that humans are created ‘in the image of God’, Gen 1. 27, since ‘He careth for you’, 1 Pet. 5. 7.
Julius the Roman centurion belonged to ‘Augustus’ band,’ v. 1. This elite regiment of crack troops was the equivalent of the modernday SAS. Despite his tough training, Julius showed kindness to Paul, v. 3. We observe that strength and gentleness are not mutually exclusive – a good lesson for believers.
Although the centurion did not heed Paul’s navigation advice, at the very least he listened politely, v. 11. Julius learned his lesson during the journey; two weeks later he followed Paul’s instructions completely, vv. 31, 33. In witnessing as well as general conversation it is important for us to persevere with those whose initial reaction is to disregard our words. The patience and persistence that characterized Paul should also be present in our lives.
At the end of the chapter, Julius was determined to save Paul’s life, despite the bloodthirsty instincts of his soldiers, v. 43. Perhaps Julius recognized Paul’s innocence, or even his godliness? Like the centurion who met the Lord Jesus, Julius appreciated that Paul was God’s man in the same way as a soldier is Caesar’s man, Matt. 8. 9.
The Lord’s servants often face storms, whether literal or metaphorical. Paul, however, stands apart from many believers. Whereas Jonah brought a tempest upon himself and his shipmates because of disobedience, Jonah 1. 12, Paul went through Euroclydon in calm assurance that he was obeying God’s will. Although the disciples doubted Christ’s care during the storm, Mark 4. 38, Paul was reassured that God would bring him through, Acts 27. 25.
The Lord sent an angel, v. 23, with a comforting message for Paul, who immediately broadcast it to the other passengers and crew. He told them, v. 23, of his God-given identity – ‘Whose I am’ – and purpose – ‘Whom I serve’. Could we truthfully use this same language of devotion to describe ourselves? Next, Paul passed on the revelation that all aboard would be safe, v. 24. Here is a challenge to us: do we keep the good news of salvation secret, or are we ready to share it with colleagues and companions? This brings us neatly to the final point.
Notice the repetition of ‘all’ through the chapter, vv. 24, 33, 35, 36, 37, 44. Every soldier, sailor, and passenger was valuable to Paul and to God. There were 276 in total, v. 37. Paul (or Luke?) counted them all. God had even counted the hairs on their heads, v. 34, cf. Matt. 10. 30. All (literally people, hyperbolically hairs) were to be preserved unharmed.
A 100% survival rate seemed unlikely during the massive tempest, especially in the presence of cowardly sailors, v. 30, and murderous soldiers, v. 42. However, Paul must have been praying to God. The angelic message refers to those ‘given’ to Paul, v. 24, presumably in response to the apostle’s intercession for his shipmates’ safety. God granted his request. Almost certainly, Paul also prayed for their souls’ salvation. Did God grant this request? We must be prayerfully aware of both the everyday and the eternal needs of people around us.
Paul could not stop the storm, but he did his best to relieve difficulties aboard the ship. Alongside offering reassurance, he lent a hand to the sailors, v. 19, and encouraged them to eat, v. 35.
Finally, through Paul’s prayer and God’s power, ‘they escaped all safe to land’, v. 44. Have faith and pray! At times it seems unlikely that our friends and family might ever be saved, but God is ‘able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think’, Eph. 3. 21.
1 ‘It is estimated that in the Roman period, the Mediterranean was better connected than at any point until the 19th century’, Julian Wainwright, University of Southampton, 2017, www.futurelearn.com/courses/shipwrecks/0/steps/7964.
2 For example, see A Meteorological Appraisal of Acts 27: 5-26. R.W. White, The Expository Times 113(12), pp. 403-407, 2002.