On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. 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. Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away. Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Altogether there were 276 of us on board. When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea. When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf. The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely. – Acts 27:27-44
Wow fourteen days at sea being driven by a storm. I can see why some of the sailors were ready to abandon ship and take their chances. I can only imagine the seasickness, cold, and discomfort that these sailors must have experienced over this two-week period. Losing their cargo was the least of their worries. Paul is taking on the role of being a comforter to these men who were technically his prison guards en route to Rome.
Paul must have impressed the Roman soldiers with his peace and passion amidst the storm. When some of the sailors wanted to take the lifeboat and leave the Roman soldiers did something that would seem to be either unwise or at least risky. They cut the lifeboat free and let it drift away. This was in response to Paul saying “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” Paul the prisoner had gained stature and respect among these Romans. Perhaps this was in preparation for his many conversations and conversions with other Romans to come.
Paul sets a good example by caring for the sailors and the soldiers by telling them to eat. He leads them in giving thanks to God, before they eat the food. Importantly, Paul was also giving thanks before they were saved or out of danger. He was faithfully following, trusting God, and leading others to do the same.
Paul was caring for the 276 souls on board that ship in a way that many of these men had probably never seen. I imagine that many had led hard lives of labor and loneliness. The combination of the storm, and Paul’s quiet example in the midst of it, seems to have enabled them to follow this passionate prisoner with a purpose. They are about to go all in by tossing the rest of their cargo and cutting lose the anchors that had been keeping them from crashing into land.
Their landing on the island did not go well and the end result was a ship run aground still some distance off shore in pounding surf that was tearing the ship apart. At this point the Roman soldiers want to simply kill the prisoners, but their respect for Paul, and perhaps the God he served, led them to allow all aboard to swim for it to the island. In the end everyone reached the shore safely, just as Paul had prophesied. I suspect there was some kissing of the ground and sailors very happy to become landsman once again.
This may be a stretch but it strikes me that this storm is a bit like the last days of Jesus before He was crucified on the cross. The time when He was being beaten and whipped must have felt like a horrendous storm to His disciples and all those who were following Him. Through it all Jesus demonstrated radical faith and following, even to the end when He stated that God’s will should be done rather than His own. Jesus was also a prisoner with a purpose. He needed to provide a means for us to be with God and to help us cross the river that no one could cross.
Jesus found Paul on the road to Damascus and Paul helped these 276 souls find God and a safe landing. It was Paul’s spiritual squall, born of blindness and recovered sight, that gave him the faith he needed to lead these sailors to their savior.
Prayer: God thank you for leading us amidst storms and squalls. Help us to use what we learn to lead others to You.