Down with the Ship?


My daily Bible reading plan has me in the book of Acts. You know, that crazy book where God poured out the Holy Spirit on the newly-minted believers, and all heaven broke loose? That book. Luke wrote this book, hence the “we”.

In chapter 27, Paul is on his way to Rome. He’s been beaten, imprisoned and when put on trial, appealed to Caesar after speaking to in an audience in Caesarea that included King Agrippa, the governor and Bernice. He’s a Roman citizen. Taking his case to Caesar is his right as a citizen. But get this: he knows what awaits him.

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace… – Acts 20:22-24 NIV

He knows it’s only going to get harder. Back to chapter 27. On a sailing vessel with 276 souls bound for Rome, Paul warns the captain and crew that the season for good sailing is over. It’s well into fall. He can see it’s going to be “trouble” (v. 10). Which turns out to be an understatement. A huge storm arises, a northeaster, that keeps the ship from gaining port. After a couple of days, the crew starts throwing cargo overboard. Paul has something to say:

“Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this damage and loss. But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down.  For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. But we will be shipwrecked on an island.” – Acts 27:21-26

I don’t know about you, but I think I would be moping. I would be deep into self-pity at this time, not acting like I’m directing a pleasure cruise. “Dudes! It’s all good. Let’s stay together, and we’ll make it out alive.” Perhaps he whistled a merry tune. Hey, but remember the part where hardship and imprisonment awaits you? Paul cares not a fig for that. He is fully into the situation at hand. Encouraging, guiding and caring for people form the foundation of his Jesus-transformed character. Also remember, these were Gentiles,  the goyim, a group Jews were taught to steer clear of and to generally shun as the great unwashed.

Everything happens just as Paul predicted. The prisoners escape by swimming/being dragged to shore on the island of Malta. This happened after 14 nights of the storm. Paul’s life gets spared again, as the soldiers wanted to kill all prisoners to keep them from escaping. The commanding officer overrode their plan. Was it out of his curiosity to see what happened next? Or genuine admiration for the man who kept his head when all around were losing theirs?

A welcoming committee awaited them on Malta. Paul manages to survive a poisonous snake bite, which has the island buzzing about his divine status. Then, he heals the father of Publius, who is the island’s ruling official. This fosters a great outpouring of love:

As it happened, Publius’s father was ill with fever and dysentery. Paul went in and prayed for him, and laying his hands on him, he healed him. Then all the other sick people on the island came and were healed. As a result we were showered with honors, and when the time came to sail, people supplied us with everything we would need for the trip. – Acts 28:8-10

There’s more to this story, of course. I don’t know why I didn’t see this before, but Paul’s attitude could have sunk with the ship. “Oh, man. Well, this trip couldn’t get any worse. I’m soaked to the skin. Who knows if I’ll ever be warm and dry again? I’m going to Rome where I’ll die. I’ll never see my family and friends again. This is the end!” Yet he didn’t go there. Sure, he probably got discouraged and hungry, but he didn’t let those waves overwhelm him. He stayed on task, on mission. See, Paul truly counted his life as Christ’s, not his own. It didn’t matter if he was in plenty or want. He stayed in God’s will. For all Paul knows, this stopover helped spread the gospel to uncharted territory. Even shipwrecks can be welcome if we let them.