God always has a short and long term plan, though it is difficult for us to see it and believe it. Paul did, and in ACTS 27 was so compelling that a literal boatful of people believed it too. ◊
We all have generally heard of the Apostle Paul spending a lot of time in prison, getting beaten by his enemies, and even being shipwrecked. He himself delineates a slew of his persecutions and dangerous plights:
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked…. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. (2 Corinthians 11:24-26)
In a ministry that spanned just over 20 years, Paul spent about 5 years in prison (half of that time under house-arrest rather than a prison cell).
In ACTS 27, Paul is being transferred from Caesarea to Rome for his trial before Caesar Nero. It is on this sea voyage that a fascinating shipwreck episode involving 276 people occurs which demonstrates God’s hand of prophetic protection on Paul and his historian companion, Dr. Luke, the author of the Book of ACTS.
Paul Sent to Rome by Ship
After his time with Festus and King Agrippa, Paul is now sent off to Rome:
When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment…. (Acts 27:1)
There are several stops at shipping ports and even a change of ships before facing delays due to weather:
The next day we landed at Sidon… From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus…. When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty…. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete…. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens… (Acts 27:3-8).
The delay causes them to still be at sea in the now dangerous fall/winter season. Paul has a premonition that is unheeded:
Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement [October]. So Paul warned them, “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.” But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on…. (Acts 27:9-12)
The Storm and Crisis at Sea
Shortly after relaunching the ship, a major wind of hurricane force hits them. Then Paul makes assurances about the safety of all hands on board after a visit from an angel of God:
When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along…. We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.
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. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 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.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” (Acts 27:13-26)
The Shipwreck and Paul’s Confrontation
They drifted across the Adriatic Sea for 14 days. Paul stops a sailor revolt and commands the ship of 276 people like an encouraging sea captain:
On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land…. Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away.
Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. 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.” 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. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Altogether there were 276 of us on board. When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.
When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. 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 soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely. (Acts 27:27-44)
The God Plan
It would appear that God always has a plan. A plan for the short term that impacts the long term. He even clues in those that dial in like Paul as to what He’s going to do. It would also appear that not everyone believes this or would even believe it if God presented them with an angel/vision/dream of that plan.
But Paul believed it, and was so compelling that a boatload of people believed him. Even as a prisoner he had to work hard to convince a still skeptical crew. But God’s will was sustained, and He was publicly praised and thanked by Paul. And documented by Luke.
And the rest is history.
Do you have the confidence of Paul?
Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 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.’ – Acts 27:23-24