Shipwreck (Acts 27)

MOTIVATE

Life interruptions can be irritating or infuriating, but there is often a reason behind every disruption.

  • Traffic jams…but if an accident then you have perspective that a delay is mild compared to another’s detriment.
  • Flight delays…but if it means your plane’s effectiveness in the air then a tardy take-off is worth a safe flight.
  • House/Vehicle maintenance… but thankful you have home/transportation.
  • Meeting/work having late start/end… annoying, but if it means your team has full participation and better effectiveness, then time is worth the investment.

Interruptions do not have to be viewed as thieves stealing happiness from our life. If we have the right focus, then we can view delays as divine appointments for how God is working in our life. Interruptions (or storms) happen for at least 3 reasons:

  1. Divine sovereignty. The rain falls equally on the just and the unjust (Mt 5:45). Until meeting God, we may never understand why some things happen. THINK of Job.
  2. Develop us. God orchestrates circumstances to define our faith, develop our character, and deepen our trust in the Lord.[1] THINK of Jonah.
  3. Dragged into. Your association with the actions and errors of others drag you into the consequences that occur. THINK of Jesus, and Paul.

Today’s message continues with Paul traveling to Rome where he has 3 major travel interruptions: bad weather, shipwreck, and a travel detour. Paul’s responses also become an illustration for us in how to respond to interruptions/storms/shipwrecks of life.

EXAMINE       Acts 27

Last week in Acts 21-26, Paul was on trial for his faith. He was relentless to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus in the face of Jewish persecution. There are times when Christians will be dismissed, mocked, or mistreated because of their faith. It takes uncompromising courage to follow Jesus, and for all those who live for the Lord, your reward is great in heaven.

Paul’s strength and hope came from the Lord’s promises and reminders of God’s call upon his life. We noted the words in red in these chapters as Jesus spoke directly to Paul to reassure him about testifying the gospel in Rome (Ac 23:11). Rather than the church paying for Paul’s travel and lodging fees, God uses persecution to result in the Roman government providing expenses for Paul to enter and evangelize the unreached in Rome.

Acts 27 There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy and put us on board. 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. Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea. 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. 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.

Paul was an experienced traveler. He knew how to journey by land, as well as voyage by sea. He endured three shipwrecks in his mission travels (2 Cor 11:25-27). He advised the Roman centurion and ship captains that continued sailing in winter storms will cause harm to cargo and life. They were on a large Alexandrian ship capable of carrying grain (Ac 27:38) and at least 276 passengers (Ac 27:37). Ancient documents from this time period identify ship galleys 70’ – 150’ long. [2]

Despite Paul’s experienced advice, they refused to listen, and they continued their journey. However, the “northeaster” storm did not cooperate with their planned route, as the waves tossed the ship like a cork in a jacuzzi, and the thick clouds with fierce rain veiled their vision of sun or stars for many days (27:20).

Ac 27:21-26 21 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. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”

Paul had God’s promise and he sought to comfort and motivate the ship’s crew to not lose hope. While they spent multiple weeks at sea, and after a shipwreck, multiple months marooned on an island, they would eventually reach their destination of Rome and deliver Paul to stand trial before Caesar.

  • As Christians, we have what Paul had. We have the same Holy Spirit, expanded Scriptures, and the fostered family of God. Like Paul, we are to see the possibilities and be suppliers of inspiration and dealers of hope.

APPLY/THINK

Paul’s actions are an illustration for us in how to respond to life interruptions, crisis circumstances, or storm situations. 

1) Abandon non-essential cargo (Ac 27:18-20)

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.

Their ship was taking in much water. They needed to make the boat lighter, in hopes the boat will stay afloat. For a while, they kept the main cargo of food they were carrying to Rome for payment (cf. 27:38). However, they decided to discard the ship’s tackle – “σκεῦος” general term for gear, which would include spare tools and likely the mainsail (long as ship, all hands on deck to toss) to steer and navigate the ship. [3] Getting rid of the ship’s gear revealed the significant danger and severe hopelessness of their circumstances.  

In life, there are situations or seasons when you need to prioritize what captures our attention and consumes our activity. Each of us only has so much bandwidth. We are finite creatures with limits to our time, strength, and ability. When we begin to take on too much water, weighing us down, we must decide to abandon non-essential cargo.

In life, there are situations or seasons when you need to prioritize what captures our attention & consumes our activity. When we begin be weighed down, we must decide to abandon non-essential cargo… Some of us fear letting go & leaving the results to God, & that fear sinks us.

  • What is non-essential that is possibly hindering your ability to stay afloat, survive, or even thrive?

Jesus says, “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collet for yourselves treasures in heaven… Do not worry about food or drink; or about clothing on your body… Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add a single cubit to his height by worrying? And why do you worry about clothing? Learn how the wildflowers of the field grow: they don’t labor or spin thread. Yet, not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these. If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t he do much more for you?… Therefore, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Do not worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble on its own.” (Mt 6:25-34)

Some of the unnecessary cargo we attempt to carry is controlling the outcome of our circumstances. We can and should embrace responsibility for the input, but we must leave the outcome to God. Some of us fear letting go and leaving the results to God, and that fear adds water to our sinking boat. A spiritual practice is learning to pray with our hands: palms down (surrender), palms up (faith), palms together (intercession), and palms raised (praise).   

2) Anchor deep and cry out to God (v.27-29).

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.

Paul’s journey undertook quite a storm and ultimately a shipwreck. His travel mates endured about 2 weeks at sea in the winter months. It was like a scene on Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch”. They feared for their lives and did the only thing they knew for protection – they dropped 4 anchors and prayed.

Likewise, when you are faced with an unwanted interruption in your life the best thing you can do is evaluate the situation around you, drop anchor. Anchors do not remove the danger or rescue you from a storm, but they keep you from becoming further lost. They hold you in place until the storm passes and you are prepared to travel again.

Some anchors that hold you in place:

  • The names of God. There are numerous names of God that describe His character for not just who He is, but what He does.[4] The names of God are anchors reminding us that we are never alone and we can trust Him to work in our situation.
    Ps 18:2 “The Lord is our rock, our fortress, and our deliverer, our God, our mountain to seek refuge; our shield, and the horn of our salvation.”
  • The word of God. Scripture is an ongoing anchor for us in highs and lows. There are two truths about God’s word: Sin keeps us from Scripture / Scripture keeps us from sin (drifting). We need daily dosages of biblical truth.
    Ps 119:50 “This is my comfort in affliction: Your promise has given me life.”
  • The people of God. God places faithful friends to support you through thick and thin – in difficulty and in exposed vulnerability. We all need friends who will love the mess out of us!  
    Gal 6:2 “Carry one another’s burdens”
  • The promise of God. As God promised Paul would arrive in Rome, so He promises we will arrive in Heaven. Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal (David Crowder). This world can bring us down, dampen our joy, and even destroy our body, but it will never prevent God’s promises from coming true.
    Rom 8:18, 38-39 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us… For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height, or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.”

3) Align with others who will help you be saved (v.30-32).

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.

The storm was so bad some of the men tried to escape using lifeboats. Paul’s prophetic vision knew all the shipmates would only be saved if they stayed together. So, the soldiers cut the ropes to the lifeboats for all to stay together.

Sometimes in crisis or storms, we want to run away. If that’s you, you’re in good company as the Psalmist: 55:6 “If only I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and find rest. How far away I would flee; I would stay in the wilderness. I would hurry to my shelter from the raging wind and the storm.” As you read the rest of that Psalm, we see the author knows only faith helps us overcome our fears: 55:16-17, 22 “But I call to God, and the LORD will save me. I complain and groan morning, noon, and night, and He hears my voice… Cast your burden on the LORD, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.”

Seeing the Psalmist’s and Paul’s example should remind us that escape never fully solves the situation. We must commit to aligning ourselves as God’s people, so that we reach our intended destination.

Churchless Christians are like appendages missing from the human body; family members unreconciled; children lost from their parents; or sheep wandering from the flock with predatory wolves surrounding.[5] If you try to do life alone, or apart from the local church, then you are disconnected from God’s means of maturity and God’s provision of help. Your growth will be malformed in ways that are unhealthy and unproductive. Further, exiting the lifeboats will not produce safety but self-deception. You will think you are saved but you really are in greater danger. Your aloneness implies your lack of acknowledgement that you need God. So, we must stay in the ship or there’s no telling how much drift and danger will come.  

4) Attend to your physical well-being as much as spiritual (v.33-38).

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. 37 (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) 38 And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea.

For 2 weeks the 276 shipmates stayed together but they were doing little to care for their physical health. Paul encouraged them all to eat. They did so until they were full. This is a great reminder that in the middle of interruptions sometimes we can get caught up in solving problems of others and not take care of our own well-being. This is true spiritually as well as physically. Both are necessary if we are to survive crisis and work out effective results.

Some of the most practical and spiritual advice you can pay attention to or pass on is to eat well, relax, and rest.

  • Jesus shared meals and served food to spend time with others, especially when they were struggling or needed restored. Man may not live on bread alone, but food is helpful. As God provided manna for the Israelites in the wilderness, so we must thank God for daily food.
  • Jesus slept on a boat during a storm (Mk 4:37-39). He worked hard and gave much, therefore needed times to rest and refuel. Sabbath and rest are helpful for us too.
  • Christian, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Take care of it.

5) Above all, trust God to bring all things together for his purposes (v.39-44).

39 Now when it was day, they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned if possible to run the ship ashore. 40 So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that tied the rudders. Then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach. 41 But striking a reef, they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf. 42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. 43 But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, 44 and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.

The entire book of Acts is about the Christian movement to Rome – the ends of the earth. For Paul, his journey to Rome endured persecutions, hardship, a terrible storm, shipwreck, and a long detour to the island of Malta. Several months later they were able to get back on the journey to Rome and reach their destination. Even then, God was not finished leading Paul to other places to bring about his plan and purpose for Paul’s life.  

Based on your faith in Jesus, some will arrive in heaven with smiles. Your faith will be rewarded with sight. Your perseverance will have paid off and your hopes will be fulfilled to reality. All those challenges and hardships will have expired, and you will enter the joy of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Others, by the grace of God, will arrive in heaven by the slimmest margin. I do not mean there are two levels of salvation. It’s just this latter group puts off salvation and/or sanctification so much. Your life is challenging often because of your choices. Your life struggles because of shallow priorities and sinful lifestyles. You have experienced shipwrecks and arrive on the shore water-logged, weathered, tender, and wounded.

But, by the grace of God you will hopefully reach a point where your past is repented, and you have turned from sin toward righteousness in Christ. You will no longer be a child of defiance but adopted into the family and a seat at the table. My friend, I pray this day and determination will come sooner than later, because for far too many it will be entirely missed.

We have one more message in Acts series… and for SPBC, my prayer is that our hearts are ripped to shreds and broken in compassion for the lost, just as Paul’s was to reach Rome to preach the gospel – and just like Jesus’ was to give His life on the cross.

Won’t you pray to see how God wants you to respond.


[1] I propose some diagnostic questions to help identify what God is doing in your life in this brief article: https://growinggodlygenerations.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/pdf_god-and-suffering.pdf

[2] Charles R. Swindoll, Acts, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2016), 499–500.

[3] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 736. James M. Hamilton Jr. and Brian J. Vickers, John–Acts, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar, vol. IX, ESV Expository Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019). David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 688.

[4] For a study on the names of God, see: https://growinggodlygenerations.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/god-has-a-name.pdf.

[5] Inspired from a helpful book: Rediscover Church: Why The Body of Christ Is Essential, by Jonathan Leeman.

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