"Paul Survives a Shipwreck"
Lesson Text: Acts 27:1, 2, 33-44
Background Scripture:Acts 27
Devotional Reading: Romans 1:13-17
Acts 27:1,2, 33-44 (KJV)
1 And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus’ band.
2 And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us.
33And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing.
34Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you.
35And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat.
36Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat.
37And we were in all in the ship two hundred threescore and sixteen souls.
38And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea.
39And when it was day, they knew not the land: but they discovered a certain creek with a shore, into the which they were minded, if it were possible, to thrust in the ship.
40And when they had taken up the anchors, they committed themselves unto the sea, and loosed the rudder bands, and hoised up the mainsail to the wind, and made toward shore.
41 And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the forepart stuck fast, and remained unmoveable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves.
42 And the soldiers’ counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape.
43But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose; and commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land:
44And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.
To understand the courageous yet humble faith of Paul, and the events of his perilous shipwreck and survival.
To tell how Paul’s faith gave him the strength and ability to encourage others on the ship in the midst of crisis.
Make a commitment to always trust God, even in times of crisis.
When You Least Expect It…
Do you like surprises? It depends on what kind of surprise, does it not? We like the surprise of finding money in the back of a drawer or discovering that our friends have thrown us a surprise birthday party. We do not like the surprise of learning that we have a serious illness or that a friend has passed away.
Sometimes the surprise is not in what happens, but in what it turns out to mean. A person might get the unhappy surprise of losing a job. But later that person may realize that the job loss led to something better. The first surprise may seem much different with a new perspective. Today’s text is about an event that was a surprise for some. But thanks to God’s action, it was a surprise that turned out much differently from what anyone—except Paul—expected.
Prior to today's lesson, according to Acts 19:21, Paul said, "I must also see Rome" while preaching in Ephesus (Acts 19:21). Little did he realize all that would happen to him before he would arrive in the imperial city: Illegal arrest, Roman and Jewish trials, confinement, and even shipwreck. He had long wanted to preach the gospel in Rome (Romans 1:14-16) and then go on into Spain (Rom. 15:28), but he had not planned to travel as a prisoner. Through it all, Paul trusted God's promise that he would witness in Rome (Acts 23:11), and the Lord saw him through.
Time:A.D. 58 - 59
Place: Mediterranean Sea, Malta
Our text continues the story of Paul’s imprisonment from last week’s lesson. Having stood before Governor Festus, Paul was judged innocent of any crime. Paul nevertheless had to be sent to Rome for a hearing with the emperor, for which Paul had appealed (Acts 25:12 26:32). That trip involved a sea voyage across the Mediterranean.
Sea travel in the ancient world was very dangerous. Even before the episode in today’s lesson occurred, Paul reported that he had been shipwrecked three times (2 Corinthians 11:25). Ships of the day were small and dependent on the uncertain winds; navigation was crude and unreliable in bad weather. But the enticement to travel fast is always strong. Thus the decision was made for a sea voyage to Rome rather than an overland trip.
Sailing into Danger (Acts 27:1, 2)
1. Who was on board this ship that was set to “sail into Italy” (Acts 27:1, 2)? Why?
As the account begins, Paul is every bit the prisoner, the least important man on the sailing vessel. By the end, Paul will effectively be in command. How that transformation takes place and what it means is the message of the text. There are a total of 276 men on board which includes the Imperial Centurion Julius, his two soldiers, the ship's crew, two of Paul's friends: Luke, Paul's physician and co-laborer, (who wrote Acts, had not included himself since Acts 21:18, but now uses the word “we,” Acts 27:1), and Aristarchus, a Christian convert and personal attendant to Paul (Acts 17: 1-8; 19:29; 20:4), as well as other prisoners. Paul is one of several prisoners under guard for delivery to Rome.
The forthcoming journey will be one of more than 1,300 miles with strong winds. To make the journey, the ship will take an irregular path to keep the coast in view for safety, making port whenever possible (See map: 123)
The journey starts in Caesarea (Acts 25:13), on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Paul’s ship will sail north along the coastline, then west along the southern coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). From Sidon to Myra, the voyage became difficult because of the westerly winds. At Myra, Julius, the Roman officer, found a ship going to Italy; so he abandoned the slower coastal ship and put Paul and the others on board this large grain ship from Adramyttium (which is on the northwest coast of Asia Minor).
Preparing for Landfall (Acts 27:33-34)
Paul’s situation becomes dire in Acts 27:3-32 (not in today’s text). Winter is approaching as the ship reaches Crete. Paul warns the centurion and the ship’s officers that they will face the loss of the ship and the lives it carries if they sail farther (Acts 27:10). But less concerned with a warning from a mere prisoner than with getting to a suitable harbor for winter, those in charge decide to take one more short journey to another port in Crete. Quickly the ship is taken up in a violent storm. Driven by ferocious winds for 14 days, the crew takes desperate measures but still despairs of surviving.
In the midst of this crisis, Paul offers a message of assurance: God has sent an angel to him, reminding him of God’s promise that Paul will reach Rome. An added promise is that none on the ship will be harmed, although they will run aground. As the situation unfolds, the sailors realize that the ship is nearing land as dawn approaches. They are in a perilous state. What should they do?
2. How did Paul help prepare the members of the ship's crew and other prisoners for the difficult landfall and journey ahead? (vs. 33, 34)
Having rightly warned of the danger that the ship now faces, Paul has earned respect from the ship’s crew and passengers. As he speaks, they have reason to listen. Now just before dawn, Paul urged them all to eat. “This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing.”
Food, Paul says, will be important for everyone’s survival. But the Greek word translated health points to something more. This word is commonly translated salvation in the New Testament. While it does not have the meaning of eternal salvation here, it does refer to the way that God is about to save the ship’s crew and passengers from death in the sea.
Paul’s affirmation for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you has its basis in the Old Testament (see 1 Samuel 14:45; 2 Samuel 14:11). It reminds us of Jesus’ assurance of God’s protection for His messengers (Luke 12:7). It is not chance or fate that will bring the crew and passengers to safety, but God himself. This deliverance will ultimately point everyone to the most important realization: that God offers salvation from something even more awful than death by shipwreck.
Pronouncing Blessing and Encouragement (Acts 27:35, 36)
3.Describe Paul's example of trust and encouragement during this crisis (vs. 35, 36).
Paul took the bread and openly prayed and gave thanks to God in public and began to eat. His example encouraged the others to join him, and before long, everybody felt better. There are times when one dedicated believer can change the whole atmosphere of a situation simply by trusting God and making that faith visible.
What Do You Think?
What was a time when the way someone coped with a crisis served as a witness to help strengthen your faith?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
A church leader l A neighbor l A politician l A young person
Lightening the Load (Acts 27:37, 38)
4. How was it possible for all 276 on board to be saved, and what danger did they face(vs. 37, 38)?
The ship’s company of 276 is considerable (v. 37). Out of so many, how can not even one be lost if the ship runs aground in this terrible storm? Only God’s protection can bring such an outcome. What is it that distinguishes Paul so that he has such extraordinary command of the situation? Only God’s power is the answer to that question.
The sailors have thrown things overboard throughout the storm to lighten the ship. They do this so that the ship will sail higher in the rough waters and not be swamped. The tackle (the ship’s equipment) went first, (Acts 27:19). But to this point, the occupants of the boat have kept their food. Even though they have not been eating it until now, it is necessary for survival. Now they jettison the remaining food supply, trusting Paul’s assurance that they are about to reach land while losing the ship (27:22).
FLOTSAM OR JETSAM?
Flotsam and jetsam are technical words used to describe the legal status of goods that are found floating in the sea or that have washed ashore. Flotsam refers to goods that result from a shipwreck, but were not thrown overboard intentionally; since the original owner did not jettison the goods voluntarily, he or she still has legal rights to them. Thus anyone who finds flotsam cannot consider it “finders keepers.”
Jetsam, on the other hand, refers to goods purposely jettisoned from a ship. Because the goods were thrown overboard intentionally, the owner of the goods forfeits rights of ownership to them.
At some point, each of us finds our Christian faithfulness threatened by some of the baggage of life (see Hebrews 12:1). When that happens, we must realize that such baggage will become either flotsam or jetsam—our choice. If we fail to deal with that baggage, it will become flotsam as a result of shipwrecked faith.
The wise person realizes, however, that some baggage must be jettisoned for faithfulness to survive the storms of this world. The choice to jettison involves surrendering rights to ownership to that baggage—we don’t even want it back. Are we willing to “throw overboard” things that may lead to spiritual death?—J. B. N.
Heading for Shore (Acts 27:39, 40)
5. What happened the next morning (Acts 27:39, 40)?
The immediately preceding events take place at night. When it was daylight, the crew spotted a coast they did not recognize. Nonetheless, expecting to be run aground as Paul has warned, they look for a place where the ship’s passengers might make it safely to shore.
The crew spots an appropriate beach, which is the sense of the phrase a certain creek with a shore. A beach has a gentle slope to the sea floor, which will allow the ship to run aground without being smashed at once by impact with a steep underwater slope. Survivors can then make their way to land. Thus the crew decides to point the ship toward the beach, allow it to run aground, and then, with “every man for himself,” swim for shore.
Verse 40 represents the sailors’ final steps in their desperate attempt to run the ship aground. First, they discard the anchors, which no longer serve the purpose they had in Acts 27:29. In the original language of the text, the expression translated taken up the anchors indicates throwing those items overboard.
The phrase loosed the rudder bands indicates that the rudder previously was tied down. This probably was done the night before to prevent the rudder’s destruction by pounding waves. Now the rudder is needed for steering the ship to shore.
Finally, the sailors lift a sail into place. This lets the storm’s strong winds carry the ship to the shore. It is an all-or-nothing move, but the sailors and their officers seem to be convinced that Paul’s assurances are credible. After all, he had warned them of the storm before it happened. Paul’s confidence during the storm’s most desperate moments suggests that he has more than his own power to rely on.
Delivered Through Peril (Acts 27:41-44)
6. How was the deliverance of Paul and all others so perilous (Acts 27:41)?
We now reach a point of transition between sea and land, between peril and deliverance. 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 ship now runs aground as Paul had predicted (Acts 27:26). Ships buffeted by strong winds and waves on the open sea normally survive because they can give way to the forces exerted against them. However, if the ship becomes immobile—such as being stuck on a sandbar—there is no “give,” and the pounding of the sea can be a very destructive force. This was the situation Paul’s ship experienced. The only thing the passengers could do was jump into the water and make for land.
7. Why did the soldiers plan to kill the prisoners (v. 42)?
As chaos and panic ensued, there was the possibility that some of the prisoners might try to swim away and escape. Also, if any prisoners got away, the soldier who was supposed to be guarding them would be executed for dereliction of duty (see Acts 12:19; 16:27). Thus to prevent this from happening, the soldiers decided to kill all the prisoners on board the ship (27:42).
8. What unique role did the Centurion play in sparing Paul's life (vs. 43, 44)?
Against conventional wisdom, the centurion orders the soldiers not to follow through in killing the prisoners. He has one reason: respect for Paul. Paul had warned of the storm before it happened, and he assured the ship’s company of safety as the storm raged. The centurion must see that some divine power is at work in Paul. Perhaps the commander does not want to enrage that power by harming the power’s spokesman.
The centurion also prevents the deaths of the other prisoners. Paul has pledged that all will make it to safety (Acts 27:22); the centurion is determined to allow Paul’s assurance to be fulfilled. Julius ordered everyone who could swim to dive first into the water and head for shore (v. 43). The remainder of the crew and passengers were to make it to shore by holding on to planks or other portions of the demolished ship.
The account of the fateful journey and shipwreck ends with a simple statement that all do indeed make it safely to land. Throughout the ordeal, Paul has affirmed that God has given him the warnings and the assurances. All that Paul has said, all that he has attributed to God, has happened. So the simple statement everyone reached land in safety is profound. It is a statement of God’s power and faithfulness to fulfill his promises to save. If God can save a shipload of people from a storm, he can also save a sinner from eternal death.
What Do You Think?
What procedures or methods have you seen God use to deliver people from “the storms of life” today? How have these increased your faith?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
God’s working through the forces of nature l God’s working through other people l Other
POINTS TO PONDER
1. God already knows the plans He has for you, where you’re going, and how to get you there. Trust Him! (Proverbs 3:5,6; Acts 27:1, 2).
2. When we are faced with the storms of life, sailing by faith will often times encourage others who may be in the same boat! (Acts 27:33-38).
3. God can use your testimony to bring others safely ashore as well! (Acts 27:39-44).
Protected Through, Not From
When the book of Acts was written, many held Christianity in low esteem. Its message seemed absurd. It challenged the foundational beliefs of society. Christianity’s leaders had been arrested, and some executed. It was spoken against everywhere. Paul’s story as prisoner and victim of a shipwreck could reinforce that negative judgment. After all, if God were truly with Paul, then he surely would have protected him from imprisonment, let alone shipwreck, right?
What the telling of this story reveals is something very different, however. God was with Paul, not to protect him from imprisonment and shipwreck, but to protect him through those trials. God’s strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Those who belong to Christ belong to him by the power of the cross. God’s people live in Christ and by Christ’s power through episodes of suffering that are reminiscent of Christ’s. Just as God triumphed in Jesus’ resurrection, so he does in Paul’s deliverance from the shipwreck. When Christians come through hard times by the power of God, they witness His triumph. A Christian’s life is not easy, but it is victorious, thanks to the protection of our victorious God.
Great God, we commit ourselves to your protection. We thank you for every provision you give to allow your victory to be made visible in us. In the name of the victorious Jesus; amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
God is with us in storms.