St. Paul’s journey from Caesarea to Rome in the winter of about 60 AD as recorded in the 27th chapter of Acts is a fascinating story of God’s providence in the midst of a horrendous ocean storm. But it is much more too; it is also the story of the apostle’s courage and leadership among the ship’s crewmen and prisoners who were overwhelmed and frightened by the experience. It not only has some interesting applications to all believers about how to trust God in difficult circumstances but also about how God has called them to lead in providing a sense of security, encouragement, and even salvation to those who are in trouble. In that sense, Acts 27 is a striking metaphor to me of the role of God’s people in a frightful and perishing world.
It is very interesting to see how God allowed Paul to go through this very demanding experience. Having been falsely accused and imprisoned by those who were opposed to his message of salvation in Jesus Christ he himself is already in a very difficult place. Apart from the company of Aristarchus of Macedonia and a visit with some fellow believers at Sidon Paul must have felt very alone among the other prisoners, Roman soldiers, and swarthy seamen. Perhaps for much of the journey — the worst part — he was the only Christian believer among all 276 of them.
Early on it is evident that Paul had some standing in the group in that he advised against sailing since he sensed there would be great difficulties ahead. But popular opinion outweighed his advice and the ship’s crew decided to sail anyways. As is often true of believers today Paul was recognized but in the end merely tolerated and then marginalized. Everyone tried in their own strength to make the voyage successful in spite of the gathering storm; yet Paul remained silent in faith trusting God for grace and the right moment for influence. The opportunity came by way of a visitation from an angel of God in which he was personally addressed and strengthened by the message that he would stand before Caesar and that everyone on the ship would be saved from destruction. With this message firmly in hand he boldly addressed the ship’s crew about not heeding his advice and about his God-given confidence in their ultimate rescue. Later Paul had authority to challenge the intention of the sailors to abandon the ship and to encourage everyone to eat and look forward to being saved. They began to be responsive to his encouragement and in the end, though some wanted to kill all the prisoners, Paul’s stature among them saved the day. At last, just as he had prophesied, everyone made it to the shore on the small Island of Malta.
It reminds me that while storm and panic are inevitable in life and believers in Christ are not immune to that exposure they can rise above the wild confusion of those times. They can provide security, hope and leadership if they themselves remain resolute in their faith and commitment in such circumstances. This experience was no mistake in the apostle’s life; God ordained it to illustrate His grace in and through Paul’s life for a people in desperate need of it.
As we pass through a world made extremely stormy by sin’s curse and God’s judgment, believers in Jesus Christ can rise to be God’s instruments of encouragement and salvation if they choose to trust Him in these kind of times. The world desparately needs people like Paul who will dare to stand, to trust, to speak, and to give direction through the storm!