This message zooms in on the storm that Paul and the passengers encountered on their ship voyage to Rome (Acts 27). The apostle's calm disposition as the ship rolled in swelling waves is a prime example of faith which resonates with the story of Jesus who peacefully slept during a violent storm in the Sea of Galilee.
The setting of this message takes us to the book of Acts, where Apostle Paul is finally heading to Rome after enduring many trials and much suffering. If you look at his circumstance, Paul isn't exactly going there as a glorified guest or visitor, but as a prisoner. In the spiritual aspect, he is sailing off to Rome a victorious and triumphant Apostle of Jesus Christ to further the gospel to the world!
Paul's voyage wasn't "smooth sailing", but certainly one that Luke reckoned important enough to record in scrupulous detail, as it holds a deep spiritual message for believers today. This account of Paul's voyage was canonized(!) and is revisited today by numerous believers. Paul's journey was a journey of faith, so it is our story too.
Acts 27:9 Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement.
2,000 years ago, ships were not as well-built as they are today, so sailors relied heavily on the winds to sail the seas. After a few stops and making 'slow headway' (v7), they lost a lot of time.
Now it was after the Day of Atonement, which was a Jewish festival observed around the end of September to early October. It starts getting cold around this time, indicating that winter is near. The strong winter winds of the Mediterranean Sea were starting to blow and by then, it was too late in the season and too dangerous to sail.
So Paul warned them. Acts 27:10 "Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also."
Paul had a strong premonition that this wasn't going to end well. He is like a weather forecaster. There must be a reason why his internal radar sensed the impending disastrous voyage, so he warned the centurion. (Luke wanted to indicate that the apostle is showing us the way and giving guidance in the voyage of our lives.)
v11 But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. v12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.
Following the "expert" advice of the pilot and owner of the ship who had years of experience traversing the waters seems like the right thing to do. After all, they would know better than Paul. But Luke wants to point out that the centurion still should have listened to the words of Paul. Instead of heeding the apostle's warning, they cast off and continued the journey.
v13 When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. v14 Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. v15 The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along.
But the confidence they started off with quickly waned when a powerful storm came their way, battering their ship and rendering it powerless to the force of the winds. The passengers must have been deathly terrified as their ship violently pitched and rolled in the rough seas.
v18 We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. v19 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 the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.
For many days, neither the sun nor the stars appeared, meaning it was dark. Darkness signifies the state of being lost and helpless, to the point of losing hope.
v21 After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: "Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss 22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.
At a time like this, Paul gives some very encouraging words. "Keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed."
v23 Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me v24 and said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.' 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.
When they are trembling with fear of death, Paul says, "You will not die." He has faith because he knew it was God's will for him to go to Rome.
The prisoners on this ship must have served various foreign gods. Paul speaks of "the God to whom I belong and whom I serve." Believers of his God can have this kind of comfort and peace.
While the people of the world live with fear and are hopelessly lost in the sea of life, the Apostle had this deep comfort of the assurance of being watched and protected by his God.
The passengers must have been so encouraged by Paul's words. "God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you." Their lives depended on Paul. Helpless as they were, their lives were preserved through God's righteous agent. It's important to follow God's righteous one. When we do, we will not sink in despair.
v26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.
Although no one is going to die, they needed to reach land. So they are preparing for this.
v34 Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head." 35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. 36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 Altogether there were 276 of us on board.
Paul is feeding 276, most of them prisoners. Paul assumed leadership among the prisoners. Everyone on board is hungry and trembling with fear. How can they eat (let alone digest) at a time like this? But Paul took some bread, gave thanks to God, broke it and began feeding them.
What the apostle is doing here is reminiscent of the Lord's Holy Last Supper. Jesus took the bread, prayed, broke it and distributed it, saying "This bread is my body. This wine is my blood." This is the world of resurrection beyond death. No matter what kind of difficult situation we may face in our lives, the apostle always comforts us with high spirituality.
We are the disciples of Christ. We too must go to the souls who are weary without hope, and give them Bread! We must break the bread and give it to the hungry souls crying out in despair and sorrow. This is the privilege and power given to believers.
The apostle doesn't lose hope or give up. Even in a place of despair, he doesn't despair, but boldly comforts and feeds others. The apostle doesn't let the situation control him; rather, he controls the situation with his faith.
v38 When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.
First the cargo, then the tackle. One by one, the passengers have shed their stuff. But that is still not enough and they must now throw out the grain to lighten the ship. This was the last essential supply they held on to - and for good reason - for how can they survive without food?
If they throw their grain out, they will immediately face hunger, but they had to lighten the ship. The situation had boiled down to the essential matter of life and death. Only a person of faith can take such drastic action. What we must note is that Paul wasn't the only one who threw out the grain, but everyone worked together to do so. They had reached the end of the rope. "God, we don't have anything anymore. We entrust everything to you now. Please take responsibility." They absolutely trusted in the living God to take care of them. This means they all transformed into people of faith too!
Many prisoners were headed for Rome. Among them were criminals who would go on to train to become gladiators to fight in the arena, where they would battle each other to the death and also go against wild animals such as lions and leopards to die or "survive."
The life of a gladiator was a very hopeless one. Being sentenced to the arena was a cruel and inevitable death sentence. But for some of the people on the ship, this was their uncontrollable, grim destiny. Thus, having hope of resurrection after death must have been so meaningful. The precious time they had with Apostle Paul changed their lives and filled them with hope and faith in the resurrection! Paul showed them to trust in God, even in the face of death. He broke bread and fed them; he shared with them Jesus Christ and the Gospel of eternal life.
We don't have any foresight of our lives, and don't know what storm or crisis will strike us. But with Jesus, there is unfailing hope! Jesus is the true Bread of life and He is the Bread we must eat to live.
Right now, the world is living in fear due to the coronavirus. Many are getting sick and meeting untimely deaths; are afraid to go out freely in public like we used to; the new normal is wearing masks everywhere we go. Even if they are not directly infected, millions are feeling the economic effects: the unemployment rate has fallen lower than during the Great Depression (which was considered the greatest economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world, from 1929 to 1939.) In the U.S. alone, over 30 million people have lost jobs, and many can't afford to even put food on the table.
The whole world is panicking, but the people of God can have inner peace. The deeper root of our peace and comfort during this global pandemic comes from the assurance and faith that our mighty God is in absolute control. He is the Sovereign One whom all creation submits to. God is the author of life and death. Whether I live or die, we are in Christ. (Romans 14:18) So in Christ, there is no death, but eternal life! (Romans 6:23)
There was a recent story about an elderly patient in Italy who himself was sick with the virus but always read the bible and encouraged others with an uplifting spirit. The doctors had lost hope after dealing with patients dying left and right of them and having no control over the situation. But they were deeply encouraged by this man's cheerful faith. This patient, who was also ill and dying, helped restore the faith of doctors. They longed for what he had - peace and hope - in the midst of fear and death.
The faith that Christians possess shines as a bright beacon of hope for many in darkness. They are God's chosen ones whom He prepared and called to give courage and hope to others.
Paul the Apostle stood firm and encouraged the ones who were fearing for their lives. His image challenges believers to also share with others the reason for the amazing hope that we have -Jesus Christ who died and resurrected, and lives forever. Like Apostle Paul, strive to urge others to have courage, break the bread of eternal life and feed the ones who desperately seek hope in the darkness of life's storms.
Lord, we saw the amazing faith of Apostle Paul who remained calm and maintained spiritual leadership even in a severe storm of hurricane-force winds. He took control of the situation with faith instead of letting the situation overtake him. This was possible because he had his mind set above, on Jesus Christ. Let us learn from this precious example set by the Apostle. In Jesus name, Amen.