Paul’s Voyage and Shipwreck
And when it was determined that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus’ band — Act_27:1
Paul’s Mediterranean Voyage
All of us love stories of voyages and shipwrecks, and our lesson of today deals with these themes. I do not know any chapter in the Bible that is more alive with thrilling interest. So far, we have seen Paul in many perils; we have followed him through many strange adventures; but just as the hero in the schoolboys’ storybooks is never quite perfect till he has suffered shipwreck, so is it with this traveler and missionary. Can we briefly outline the fascinating story? Well, Paul embarked at Caesarea under the guard of a centurion, Julius. The vessel was only a coasting-vessel; they would have to change if they were to get to Rome. Fortunately, at Myra in Asia Minor, a corn-ship from Alexandria was in the harbor. It was bound for Rome to distribute its cargo there, and Julius and his prisoners got a passage. But the season was late, and the winds were getting stormy; it was with great difficulty that they made a port in Crete. Here they would have remained throughout the winter had they hearkened to the advice of Paul. But who was Paul that he should be attended to? Had not the captain made this voyage twenty times? The prospect of wintering in Crete was quite intolerable when the stir and gaiety of Rome were waiting them. So the harbor was left; the sails were trimmed again; a favoring breeze gave every one new heart when suddenly the ship was caught in a typhoon— one of the wild and dangerous storms of the Mediterranean. The boat was hoisted on board; the sails were furled; stout ropes were passed round the body of the ship; not a glimpse of the sun could be got and not a star was visible;— for fourteen days they drove on under bare masts. Then at midnight there arose the cry of “Land!” Soundings were taken; the water was getting shallower. Four anchors were cast out of the stern; they held, and the ship rode safely till the morning, Then as the light dawned and outlines became visible, a little bay among the cliffs was seen. The cables were cut, and a desperate effort was made to beach the vessel on the rock-engirdled sand. It partly failed, the currents were so strong. The ship was driven ashore and sorely battered. But though she soon went to pieces, and everything was lost, “it came to pass that they escaped all safe to land.”
Circumstances Reveal the Man
Now among the many lessons of this chapter, note first that the hour reveals the man. When Paul stepped on board, he was one of a batch of prisoners. Neither captain or sailors would give two thoughts to him. They had carried all manner of desperadoes Romeward, and there was nothing striking about this little Jew. But gradually, as the voyage became more perilous, Paul moved out from the darkness to the light. It was he who advised and encouraged and commanded. It was he who put new heart and hope in everybody. He went on board an unregarded prisoner, but the hour of need struck, and he stood supreme. Do not such hours come to all of us when for weal or woe we stand in our true colors? “There is nothing hid, but shall be revealed.” It was Paul’s years of reliance upon God and of secret prayer and of steadfast loyalty that broke into the rich blossom of this hour. Will there be such secrets to reveal in us?
Faith in God Keeps a Man Calm in a Storm
Next note how faith in God keeps a man calm. Perhaps that is the most notable feature in this story. Amid a scene of excitement and of terror, we are arrested by the quietude of Paul. The sailors, panic-stricken, were for fleeing; the soldiers were crying out to kill the prisoners; but the apostle was cool, collected, confident, and he was so because of his faith in God. Men used to feel that, too, about General Gordon. There was something mysterious in his calmness in moments of peril. Those who had fought in many a desperate battle and witnessed many shining deeds of heroism would say there was something in the courage of Gordon that was unlike anything they had ever seen. We know now what that” something” was. It was living and glowing and conquering trust in God. It was the same faith as gave Paul the quiet mastery in the confusion and panic of the storm.
God Saves Many for the Sake of One
Again, we must not omit to notice here that many may be saved for one man’s sake. When the ship was driving westward before the wind, an angel of God, we read, appeared to Paul. And the message which the angel brought was this: “Fear not, Paul, thou must be brought before Caesar; and lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee”— that means that for the apostle’s sake every man on board the vessel would be saved. How little any of them ever dreamed of their obligation to this despised Jew! In after days when the sailors told the story of the wreck, they would say it was a miracle they were not lost. But the only miracle was the will of God in choosing their vessel for His servant’s journey. And we are like these sailors in this one respect. We all owe debts where we little dream of it. A father’s example and a mother’s prayer, the presence of good men and women in our childhood, the spirit of Jesus breathing in the world and falling on us like the blowing of the wind, these influences mould us when we never know of it and may save us in our hours of gale and storm.
We Should Not Just Wait but Cast Some Anchors
Then, lastly, it is not enough to wish for the day (Act_27:29); there are some anchors that we all should cast. One of them is faith; another is a good conscience. Without these, says Paul, some have made shipwreck (1Ti_1:19). A third is hope: “which hope we have as an anchor of the soul” (Heb_6:19). We are all voyaging on a dark and boisterous sea. Our hearts and our eyes should ever be toward the morning. Meantime let us thank God that we have anchors by which the weakest may ride out the night.