Acts 27:27-Acts 28:10
Dark Night Turning To Dawn's Light
1. Let's get into what we have for today by briefly reviewing the story we read last week. In the sea off the island of Crete a ship that had been engulfed by hurricane winds called "Euroclydon," took to drifting on the sea for a number of days. The men began to throw the cargo into the sea, they even heaved over the ship's rigging in their attempt to save both the ship and themselves. But, for days in and days out the gale swept through fiercely and because they couldn't see either the sun or the stars, they didn't even know where they were or where they were headed. Finally they lost every hope of being rescued. But, at that juncture Paul stood up in the middle of the men. He said, "Last night an angel from the God I serve and worship stood by me and said this, 'Paul, Fear not. You must appear before Caesar. God has entrusted to you all the men travelling together on this voyage.' Therefore, everyone, take courage. I believe God. What he has revealed to me will happen in exactly the way he has said. We must be thrown upon one of these islands somewhere," (27:23-26). He began to tell the persons, who lost their hopes because of being in the gale, of the One who even controls the gale winds; because when Paul had received the message directed to him from God that said "Fear not," this very same message was for them as well. So, Paul tells them "have courage."
Stillness And Peacefulness
2. The passage we read today is a continuation of this story. After the ship floated adrift on the sea of Adria, on the fourteenth night, around midnight the crew members felt as though they were approaching land somewhere. Their experienced ears at sea must have recognized the sound of waves hitting and breaking up against the rocks or reefs. Then, when they went to measure the depth of the water, it was about twenty fathoms (about thirty-seven meters deep). After moving forward a spell again they went to measure it and it turned out to be a depth of fifteen fathoms (twenty-eight meters deep). It was clear that the ship was approaching the land at quite a speed. It would be awful ending up aground on the reefs. So, they decided to drop over four anchors from the stern of the ship, to stop the advancing of the ship and to wait for dawn to break. However, the crew members pretended to lower the anchors from the bow and lowered a small boat into the sea. They were trying to flee the ship by themselves only. While they were in the process of attempting to flee they were discovered and Paul informed the centurion and the soldiers, "Unless those men remain in the ship, you will not be saved." So, the soldiers cut the rope and let the boat float away.
3. After that in verses thirty-three on down, a very impressive scene is sketched for us. Today I would like to pay special attention to this scene.
4. About the time when a dark and long night was turning to dawn, Paul urged everyone present to eat a meal. "...Today makes the fourteenth day that you all have not eaten one single thing because of this suspense. So, please eat something, because you need to in order to keep living. You will not lose one hair from the top of your heads," (vv. 33-34). After he said this Paul took up some bread in front of everyone present and offered up a prayer of thanksgiving to God, then broke up (the bread) and began to eat it. These three phrases, "take up bread," "offer up a prayer of thanksgiving," and "break up (the bread)," actually appear as phrases in the scene of the last supper Jesus had with the disciples before he was crucified. In short, Luke was evidently overlapping the Lords' supper with this scene. Of course, hardly any of the men aboard that ship were Christians, and the meal the way it happened back then did not have celebrants partaking of the Lord's supper. However, inspite of that point, this meal made at that time when the long night was turning to dawn was not just a meal, but Luke suggests it was a time of worship and prayer as one heart in the very presence of Christ. I think he did say something to that effect. They were encouraged by that meal and after they ate enough, they heaved over into the sea the grain and got ready to disembark.
5. Well, in order to understand what this scene is in the process of giving meaning to, we need to apprehend accurately the particular situation. As the ship gradually neared the land, the men finally rested their minds and were able to take some food. At first glance it did not seem like this particular situation could really be there. At first glance it looks as though the men finally could rest their minds and take some food because the ship gradually neared the land. But it is found to not be so when we read the context carefully. Later in verse forty-one the following is written. "However, they ran this ship aground having struck a sandbar that was between a deep place, the bow got stuck and could not move, and the stern of the ship was destroyed by severe waves." We can see here (in this verse) that the winds had never let up and severe waves strong enough to destroy the stern kept rising. And, what we ought to notice is the very odd behavior of the crew members in the middle of the night. It says in the text that they tried to run away fromthe boat. Although it says the land was getting much closer and the water depth became shallow, their rowing ahead in the dark of midnight without knowing where to go was quite a reckless act. I think that because there were reefs and the sea was as stormy as ever that setting out a small boat under such conditions was equal to suicide. Were the crew members who were experienced in such conditions really doing this? There are scholars who understand this matter as perhaps a misunderstanding here by the author, Luke or Paul. But I think that in the final analysis it's just the way it has been written in the scripture, they tried to escape. That is to say that the crew members got to thinking it was still safe to run away. In other words, they were thinking that the ship wouldn't make it to dawn. One section of the ship looked like it was already destroyed. And, in reality, as one might naturally assume from the text, verse forty-one says about that particular detail which we read earlier, "the stern of the ship was destroyed by severe waves." But, the stern did not hit against the reef and get broken up. It had just gotten to the point where what had been broken up by waves could hold out no longer.
6. In short, when we synthesize these facts, the long night of their waiting for dawn was not a situation where they could be certain of being rescued. Rather, we see this situation where they were standing in limbo between getting saved or not getting saved and everyone was not feeling relieved of their tension and fear, and they were quite worn out over waiting for dawn. Furthermore, I could say that the scene of these men getting rescued here was very much a drama of a rescue by the skin of their teeth, where if the slightest error was made the lives of the whole crew would go down.
7. As we start to understand it like that, the meaning of the event recorded from verse thirty-three on becomes clear to us. This scene is filled with a strange stillness, peacefulness, and hopefulness. As we have seen so far there has not been any peacefulness or stillness because of any certainty of their seeing deliverance. They are still in the storm, still in the gloomy dark, and still in danger for their lives. The future is still entirely unforeseeable. Therefore, what is written about here is not a typical event that you would expect. A special thing is taking place in this situation.
8. Back in my school days I used to perform in plays, when I read biblical passages like this one, I would often think about what kind of stage there would be if this were put into drama. The sounds of the winds in the darkness blowing their sweep of devastation drown out the sounds of the waves into noiselessness. When stillness covers over the stage the light suddenly breaks in and lights up the men standing there with Paul as the center of focus. As there is more than the light of dawn, there is a faint light from heaven, Paul lifts his face in that direction and offers up a prayer of thanksgiving. Everyone's heart is joined together in prayer. I imagine it becoming the kind of stage where there was in the room wind blowing violently, a wind in which their lives turn into glowing lights when touched by the presence of that wind, and then another entirely different room opens up.
9. Luke is pointing out several important facts in the way he records that special event. First, although the storm has not left yet, neither has the dangerous situation been long gone, in that time when Paul broke the bread and offered up a prayer of thanksgiving and everyone stopped fussing over saving their own lives, in that time when they participated in that meal, and in that time when they could only wait in utter silence, and in that time when they could not do a thing for those other problems, then truly was salvation certainly drawing nearer a step at a time. For sure, the time of salvation was drawing near, being neither late nor overdue. Wait, we could even say that they were already in salvation, it was not just that the time of salvation had been drawing near. The night had still not turned to dawn and neither had it turned to morning. But, at the time Paul was offering up a prayer of thanksgiving, at the time they were looking to God together, they were already in the light of the morning. Not even one thing had happened yet; however, they were already in the joy of salvation. "Everyone took courage and ate a meal." These were not just fine words, were they?. The words are surely based on the words Paul had already spoken when he said, "Take courage," and therefore it was a courage from God and it was nothing but a courage based on taking God's deliverance in advance. Amid the storm and the danger they now showed that level of courage.
10. Just as I said before, Luke did not depict this meal as just a mere meal. In this meal, he overlapped worship and prayer in which he joined the common meal made in the presence of Christ and their hearts under the name of Christ. In the way Luke was sketching this out, he may have been overlapping the present situation of the church which was still in the midst of storm-like trials. Even if Luke may not have been conscious of it, the circumstances which are written about here are exactly what the church for generations has experienced in the prayers and worship which they offered up together with united hearts through the presence of Christ at Holy Communion. Previously, he made the statement "in the room wind blowing violently ... and then another entirely different room opens up." Such openings take place even in our midst. Even when a person is in a storm we can take courage because we can take in advance that peace, that stillness, and that joy of deliverance, which have long ago been under the control of God and will never tremble again. Conversely, if there is a person who says, "In times like when a ship seems to be sinking, are we to do something like eat a meal, or maybe something like pray or worship?," regretfully, that person cannot know this blessed grace.
God The True Protagonist
11. Let's return to the story. Morning came, they found an inlet with a sandy beach and decided to ride the boat into it. However, they struck a sand bar and ran the ship aground, then the ship started to break up from the waves. The soldiers were planning to kill the prisoners so they would not swim away. Had they followed through with those plans, Paul would have been killed as well. But through the good offices of the centurion that plan was laid to rest. So, the ones who could swim jumped in first and went up onto the land, the ones left over held on to strips of plank boards or sailors and swam on. This is how all the crew safely disembarked onto the land.
12. When we get into chapter twenty-eight, the state of affairs concerning the island upon which they were launched is recorded. That island was called Melita. The text says the island's inhabitants treated them very courteously. When they made an open fire for them to keep out the cold and falling rain, as Paul placed a bundle of dried up branches into the fire a viper which appeared from that point coiled around Paul's hand. However, Paul shook off that snake in the fire and suffered no injuries. There is a split debate over whether we should view this as a genuine miracle. The snake might have been non-venomous and it might only be that he had not been bitten very deep. But, that is not the important point, we should see a connection with what is written here and what was said by the Lord in the Gospel of Luke when he said, "I grant you authority to trample upon snakes, scorpions and the like and to overcome every power from the enemy. Not one thing will inflict injury upon you," (Luke 10:19). In brief, in this event there is made visible the authority and power from God, and even though it was promised by the Lord to the disciples as a sign of God's control, it was coming to pass with Paul as well.
13. We would do well to understand it as an event that continues to take place. The chief over the island named Publius, who lived nearby that place, entertained Paul's group hospitably. The text says, "So then, the father of Publius was bed fast with a feverish disease and diarrhea, Paul went to his house to pray, he layed hands on him and healed him," (verse eight). Then it says, as a result of this event the other sick persons of the island came by, and got healed. We have come to see already in various scenes the work of healing through this same Paul. Furthermore, we have come to view them as showing God's rule and as signs pointing to the kingdom of God as well. In other words, what has been made clear here through the illustrating of various miracles and signs is that Paul is not the center focus of this scene. The center focus is God and the work of salvation from God; for, the true protagonist in this story is God himself.
14. Therefore, in the final analysis we understand that we can say the same thing about the story of the storm we just read. This rescue event of the crew members should not be credited back to Paul's heroic bravery or his decision making ability or his powers of judgment. Moreover, what they encountered in the storm was not bad luck and neither was their getting rescued good luck. What comes into our sights through Paul is the control or rule of God who orders our life. God, who is calling Paul and making him go all the way to Rome through his plan, is directing this entire string of occurrences within his control.
15. So, we, who are reading the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, ought to take notice while reading this story that when we are in the midst of various events we are also within the rule of this same God as well. Before long it will become perfectly apparent how we are being used within the rule of God, who grants deliverance to us. Where the rule of God is believed and confessed is where we should be at in our daily life worshipping God with the prayer "Thy Kingdom Come."