Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest. When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, 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. We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved. 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. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 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.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” – Acts 27:12-26
Today’s passage is about storms and casting off cargo that we do not need in exchange for something far more valuable than any cargo. Apparently the ship captain in this passage was pushing the envelope trying to get a load of grain from Alexandria to Rome. Apparently after September 15 sailing on the Mediterranean was considered dangerous and after November 11 it was considered impossible. I am not sure what was driving this captain to make the dangerous crossing, perhaps the grain would be ruined if he waited or maybe he was motivated by the money he would make if he could make the crossing. Either way it was a poor choice and the ship and cargo will be lost, but it turns out something much more valuable will be gained.
Paul and other prisoners had been transferred to this cargo ship because the other ship they were traveling on decided to stop for the winter because travel was too dangerous. They apparently succeeded in making part of the Mediterranean crossing as far as Crete, the first and last large island between this part of the Mediterranean and Malta to the west. Their goal was a harbor on Crete near a town called Phoenix. Unfortunately, their initial landing fell short of their intended destination. The bay did not afford good winter protection and the crew decided to push on to Phoenix to find a better harbor to spend the winter. Paul had recommended that they remain and take their chances rather than going on to Phoenix.
The crew thought they saw their opportunity when a gentle south wind came up which could push them along the relatively short distance west along the coast to Phoenix. Unfortunately what started out as a gentle wind became a raging storm and essentially blew them right by their intended destination on Crete and out into the Mediterranean. For many days they battled the storm trying to keep the ship from sinking. They deployed a sea anchor which as I understand it is really just a sail or some other object attached to a rope which is driven in the water to pull the boat along to provide steerage without the danger of using the wind and the sails. They also began to jettison the cargo and eventually the ship’s tackle overboard in an effort to prevent the ship from sinking.
“When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved. 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.” So in essence Paul was saying “I told you so”. While true this was probably not the most sensitive time or manner to share this rebuke. Paul still has much to learn about leading while following.
I think in many ways this event was Paul’s “Meribah test“. Just as Moses and Aaron were tested at Meribah, Paul is tested to see if he will follow and trust God even in the midst of this scary storm, and perhaps more importantly will he lead others to do the same. This is Paul’s opportunity to learn some the same lessons that Peter learned when Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Paul passed the test by faithfully following God through his prayers and listening when the angel came to him. Ultimately many on the ship, and in Rome, will believe and become followers of God because of his actions and choices.
Paul is reassured by an angel from God that although the ship will be lost all those on the ship will be saved. I think there’s an important spiritual metaphor here. Sometimes we may have to jettison our cargo and be ready to lose our lives to find our real purpose on the journey. Jesus said all those who lose their lives will save them and gain eternal life. The men on this voyage with Paul lost every earthly thing but escaped with their lives and something infinitely more important their eternal souls.
The take home lesson for me here is that even if we lose all earthly things in pursuit of God we can still have the most important thing – God Himself. He believes in us and our ability to find Him even in the midst of storms. If we place our lives in the hollow of His hand He will carry us like a son or daughter to exactly where we need to go. The loss of our souls is far more important than a load of Alexandrian grain or any other “cargo” we are hauling around with us.
Prayer: God help us to trust in You and the life that You promise all those who faithfully follow You.