By Being In The Storm
1. We have entered chapter twenty-seven. Paul finishes his prison life at Caesarea where he spent two years and is transported to Rome. From here the story is composed with the focus on a detailed picture of the journey. In verse one since the word "we" appears, we surmise that Luke was involved in this trip. He probably wrote this passage based on their travelogues. It seems clear from the place we read today that this trip was not one of tranquility and peace. Because of hardships at sea, they had experiences near the shores of death. When we consider the account based on the people involved in that journey, each word recorded here which is loaded with importance will urge us on. What was it Luke saw in this situation? And, what is it he is seeking to convey to us through the pictures of those events?
A Stormy Passage From Head winds
2. Please refer to the beginning from verse one to verse eight. What is touched upon in the account of Paul's conveyance was a character Julius, a centurion under the direct control of the imperial army. It seems that several other prisoners had been given to his custody. They boarded a ship from Adramyttium harbour and set sail from Caesarea. So the next day the ship first pulled into the port of Sidon. Here Paul was allowed to associate with the Christians of Sidon. We think Paul who had Roman citizenship received favorable treatment by the centurion Julius. Then, hardly after the ship had set out, here it met up with some head winds. We think this was some seasonal winds blowing out of the west. For that reason they went north and headed for the north shores of the island of Cyprus, and they went towards the west making use of the land breeze blowing toward the open sea of Cilicia and Pamphylia. This voyage was looking to be a stormy passage, so the ship anchored down at Myra of Lycia. Mira had a harbour that could be described as a refuge for ships unable to sail due to wind conditions. We don't think that this pulling into port was part of the scheduled run. Furthermore, at this location the centurion was able to locate a ship from Alexandria going to Italy and he made Paul and his company take passage on it. This seemed to be a ship that engaged in cereal transactions between Alexandria and Rome. By the way, even this ship did not move along with any speed because of strong north-westerly winds. All they could do was approach Cnidus harbour. But, even there they were hindered in their power to go into the winds. Finally, the ship rounded the Salmone promontory and sailed in the shadows of the island of Crete, then it made headway along the island coast. So at last it arrived at a place called "a good harbour, a haven" near the small town named Lasea.
3. What I noticed when reading here was that Luke repeatedly makes reference to "winds." The course of the ship was altered by the winds, or they may have decided to go that way because things weren't working out according to their original plans. If the case was that it was a sailing ship without a motor, it would not have been a strange thing to happen, rather it would have been a natural occurrence. On the Mediterranean sea route, this type of occurrence was apt to take place. However, if we see this story as promoting a picture of humanity tossed about in a ship by a wind storm, then what Luke has recorded doesn't just appear as merely documentation of a natural occurrence. Actually, in the development of this entire twenty-seventh chapter, "the winds" are playing a key role.
4. Needless to say but, "the winds" being spoken about here are a power from nature. We could say calling it a power from nature represents the various powers which human strength can do nothing about. In this story, the directions which move along according to such power are altered. In modern times, this kind of power may not have such influence to alter directions. If we were concerned only with winds, we would think that everything was okay if a motor was fixed to the ship. But we could say in a certain sense in both ancient and modern times there has not been much change in the phenomenon of humans concerning directions getting altered by powers that exceed human power, schedules getting changed, or things not proceeding at all according to our satisfaction. Rather than calling it an image of that time period we might consider how the image of persons who set sails which get into trouble with contrary winds symbolizes the unchanging fundamental condition of humanity in any time period. Although humanity in each and every time period has lived acting haughtily as though man or woman was the owner of life and the master of history, in actual practice, he or she has not been able to become such an owner or master. Humanity has always been swung around by various winds and forced to modify his or her course. Of course, we are not exempted from this either. I think we can surely see an image of our own selves here as well.
Being Attacked By Gale Winds
5. Next, let's read verses nine to twenty. Although the text says "after some considerable time," this was probably quite a prolongment of the voyage than estimated. As they had already passed the days of the fast, the voyage changed into the dangerous season. What is called "the days of the fast" is the span of five days before the Day of Atonement as set in the Old Testament book Leviticus in chapter sixteen and verse twenty-nine, and this falls in today's calendar from the end of September to the beginning of October. With this Paul is issuing a warning to the people. "Everyone, what I am seeing is that on this voyage not just the cargo and the hull of the ship, but even we also will suffer danger and great loss," (verse ten). We should see this as a general common sense utterance from Paul rather than a message from his special gift of prophecy. Or Paul's warning may have originated from his experiences when he had suffered troubles at sea on three occasions (II Corinthians 11:25). However, Paul's message was not accepted because he made the claim that the captain and the owner of the ship continued sailing. Furthermore, a large number of persons also went to Phenice harbour which was just under a distance of seventy kilometers from there, and they sought to spend the winter there because it was believed it was best to spend winter there.
6. It's deeply interesting how Paul who believed here that he was heading for Rome in accordance with God's will had an outlook tending towards prudence while the persons on the same voyage had a positive outlook. Being faithful is different from being reckless. In addition, this so called "positive thinking" is a whole different thing from "the faith" approach which Paul embraced. There was not a fragment of the idea that "If you believe you can, then you can," in Paul. For sure, Paul believed that he would soon be standing on Roman soil. He believed it would surely come to pass based on the fact it was God's will. However, because of this very belief he doesn't say "we really ought to go on," but instead he says "we should wait."
7. At last, the centurion handed down a decision for them to continue sailing. The text says (verse thirteen), "Then as south winds were blowing in calmly, when the men thought things were going their way they pulled anchor and proceeded along the coast of the island of Crete." Again, we have a story about "winds." This one was about a favorable wind. Thwarting a crisis is important; but, at that moment they were missing something. What they were missing was the awareness that they had been living under various powers which they could not control and the modesty produced from such an awareness. The Bible says they took up anchor "when the men thought things were going their way." (This translation conveys the nuance of the original text well.) Now, how familiar is their position to us? We also think like that without even noticing it. "Thinking that things are going our way..." We think like that without any basis in fact. We think that way when the gentlest of favorable winds is blowing by.
8. However, things do not usually proceed the way humans think or wish. Suddenly, the wind rose up. It is written that "But, in an instant a violent wind called 'Euroclydon,' blew down from the island area. As the ship got caught up in it and could not advance against the wind, we turned it over to the force of the flow," (vv. 14-15).
9. Well, when a man is tossed by such great storm-like power and the crisis touches him personally, what in the world does he think of then? Luke recorded the following. "But, after we were troubled by the terrible gale, the next day the men began throwing the cargo into the sea, and on the third day we ended up pitching the ship's rigging with our own hands. Without seeing the sun or the stars for several days, as the gale blew violently through, at last we decided to completely extinguish any hope for rescue," (vv. 18-20). Our attention is drawn to ponder several points through the image of humanity illustrated here. At the beginning the owner of the ship must have shouted "Save the cargo!" In a desperate attempt they tried to save the cargo and ship; for, should they lose it all, it would be a major loss. However, in no time the men began to cast off the cargo. I guess both the owner as well as the captain themselves heaved away the cargo with their very own hands.
10. We realize that in the middle of storms what we thought was important becomes only a hindrance in crucial moments. When one's life is exposed to crisis, one is made aware of many things that he or she doesn't truly need. I once read the story of when a certain very rich man was informed that he was dying, and he shouted out, "I'll give all these riches so extend my life span!" When one's life in this world becomes an issue, a person thinks about what is or is not important. However, if we'd think about it, the time when life becomes the issue will surely come calling on everyone sooner or later. The time when a person's existence is exposed to crisis comes all too surely. If then (when our existence is exposed to crisis) we first start to think about what is important, we have to admit that our life is quite poor in quality, though we are not the rich man in that story I mentioned. Wait, if we have anything to say, in such a time it is not merely just our earthly life and death that is at issue, but eternal life is the issue, and it is time for asking about salvation or hell. What do we tenaciously hold to? Isn't what we hold to what we truly value? What are we truly making important? What is it that we really need in the end? I think we have a real need about which we should carefully think, even though we have so far been thinking about the image of the persons on this ship.
Encouragement From God
11. Well, after heaving off what was unnecessary and doing their best to do what they could, for several more days they were tossed by the gale and finally they decided they should let their hope for rescue die out completely. When it gets to the point where a person cannot save himself by his own power, he cannot help but lose hope. However, among those desperate men stands a lone figure. It is the figure of Paul. He stands as a completely different character than the other men. He says (vv. 21-26) [quoting the King James Version], "...Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar; and lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island."
12. The important thing here is that Paul has spoken of God to these who have lost hope. To those who have lost hope so to speak at the horizontal direction (or water level) Paul is speaking about conditions at the vertical direction. To persons who have been tossed about by powers that human strength cannot shoulder, Paul tells about the exceedingly great One who controls from above even those very same particular powers. Paul knows that very One because this is the One Paul calls "the God who I am serving and who I am worshipping, ['...God, whose I am, and whom I serve' from the King James Version quote given above]." He has been living in such a relationship with God. Therefore, Paul is not a man who loses hope here along with them; rather, he is acting as a man who encourages and gives hope to the others.
13. "For there stood by me this night the angel of God..." I don't really know in what way the angel stood there, whether Paul had a vision or a dream. But, one thing I know for sure. When the men became desperate to save themselves in the storm and had soon lost even their hope, Paul calmly turned to God. Even more than when the angel appeared and all that, we can say there had been a definite difference here between Paul and those men, which is, Paul listened to the message from God "Fear not," which God had spoken through his messenger back there. I believe Paul needed that message, too. He was also in the storm. He was also in fear. But, he had heard the message from heaven that said, "Fear not."
14. Although he was a man who served and worshipped God, he was not exempted from the storm on that spiritual basis. After all, in the same way even other people who serve and worship God encounter storms. We also are placed under conditions where we ought to feel afraid. We are tossed by tempests in the same way. We might become afraid as well. We might end up completely losing our hope in this world. But, as for the person who serves and worships God, he or she still looks to God even in such a place of seeming hopelessness. He or she earnestly waits in hope on God alone. Furthermore, he or she hears the message from God that says "Fear not." The person who has heard the "Fear not" message from God in that particular way will also be able to tell about conditions of the vertical dimension to the [unsaved] world.
15. I believe the image of Paul in the midst of this storm could be described as the image the church ought to have which has been placed right in the middle of this world where the storms are still sweeping through with their devastations. As we are in the storm being tossed along with the people in this world, we should not lose all hope. This is something that we should do not just for ourselves. It is not just for ourselves that we serve God, worship God, wait in hope for God, or listen to the word of God. We believers have a responsibility. We are placed in this world to bear the responsibility to listen to God's word, to re-gain our balance through God's word, to tell this world God's word, and to make plain the hope based on the God who controls the storms.