In The Storm
1. The scripture passage we are given for today tells of the events of when Paul was being escorted out to Rome. It is the story of the ship that carried Paul when it was attacked by violent winds. We especially want to keep in mind two phrases in this passage today. The first is the phrase in verse twenty-five. It is the words Paul spoke to the people he was on the ship with. "So, take heart, everyone." The other phrase is in verse thirty-six. "So then, everyone in the group took heart and took a meal."
2. In order to understand the phrase of "Take heart" that Paul gave them, let's back track a bit and get an understanding of the situation.
3. While on an ocean voyage, they took port in a place called "The Good Harbor." As it was already deep into the fall, traveling on the sea had entered its dangerous season. So Paul warned the men. "Everyone, from what I'm seeing, this sea trip will not only be dangerous and result in great loss to the cargo and the hull of the ship, but also to our own selves," (verse ten). However, that harbor was not fit to pass the winter in. In the end, they set to sailing as it was the opinion of the majority.
4. Then the text goes on to say in verse thirteen: "At the time, as the southwinds had been blowing quietly, the men thought it would carry things as they hoped it would, and they took up anchor, and went along the coast of the island of Crete," (verse thirteen). The winds were favorable. When good winds blow, people think, "it will carry things the way we want." But, often times things don't go like we want. "But, all of a sudden, the tempestuous winds called 'Euroclydon' had come down from off the island," (verse fourteen).
5. It's a story about "a storm." In this chapter Luke repeatedly makes reference to "storms." To persons traveling on the sea "a storm" is a representation of the powers of nature to which human powers do not attain. Of course, if you think of just the ship, you might say that at some point in time motors were added to ships and the storm problem was overcome. However, the reality of the fact hasn't changed, that in this world we are under all different kinds of powers, which our human power still hasn't matched. Our schedules are often changed or even broken by powers that go beyond human strength. Or [our plans] are even thrown totally around and even mocked [by nature]. At times we are put into some critical situations. People sooner or late come to realize that we can't protect one thing about ourselves or that we can't even guard our own lives against these outside powers. In any time period, humanity has lived arrogantly as if people were the master of their lives. But, we have never been able to actually become masters. Even though we set sail thinking that "Everything will go our way," the bad winds of Euroclydon will always blow down on us.
6. As they were on the ship being mocked by the storm, what did the men do? In verse eighteen the text reads as follows: "However, as they were made to suffer by the fierce storm winds, on the next day, the men began to throw the cargo overboard, and on the third day, they cast off the accessories to the ship with their own hands. For several days, without seeing the sun or the stars, as the tempest blew fiercely, at last any hope for help was about to be put out completely," (verses eighteen through twenty).
7. When they were thinking that things would go their way, the cargo and rigging of the ship were extremely important. But, when they could no longer go on as they would please, then what used to be important turned into a burden that they had to get rid of. They came to realize that the things they had been depending on till then, the things that used to make them feel fine just by having them, were now useless for the support of life or even their very existence come a critical moment in time. With their very own hands, they started to throw away the things that had supported their day to day living till then, things they had put a lot of value on and depended on. Then, at the last, there was something else that the men had to throw away - the hope they had in their hearts. There was one thread of hope barely remaining in their hearts that they had been clinging and clawing onto. But now even that, with the storm winds blowing full force for several days on, had served them not.
8. But, Paul stood there a completely different person though everyone else had lost their hope. He said to them, "Everyone, as I've said, if you hadn't shipped out from the island of Crete you would have avoided this danger and loss. But, now I urge you. Take courage. The ship will be lost, but no one among you will lose his life. Last night an angel from the God I serve and worship stood by me and said, 'Paul, fear not. You must appear before the emperor. God has entrusted to you everyone who is on the voyage with you.' So, all of you, take courage. I believe God. It will be exactly as it has been told me. We are supposed to crash up against one of these islands," (verses twenty-one through twenty-six).
9. Paul wasn't talking about how he could be helpful. Paul was talking about the God that he had been serving and worshipping for so long. Though the winds may blow hard and the waves may play with [the ships at sea] he was talking about the One who remains unaffected. He was talking about a word from that God.
10. An angel stood near to Paul. We don't understand clearly if it was a vision or a dream. But, one thing for sure is that when the people were desperate to save their lives, Paul was looking at the One who is worthy to entrust our lives. He was in the storm too. He didn't escape the storm just because he was a worshipper and servant of God. Just as the others he was mocked by the winds. You can't say that just because he was a believer he was untouched by fear or worry. Paul was a normal human being who had nerves like anybody else. He was surely afraid just like the others. He probably had even lost his hope. However, the One whom he had been serving and worshipping all this time was there. The One who was worthy to look to was there. Then he heard the words from the angel, "Fear not." The message from the angel was a message from God. It was a "fear not" right from God.
11. As I read this I think of myself somewhat. I am a cowardly person. A lot of times I am in bed with fear and worry. This quality hasn't changed in me much even as a believer. But, something has changed. I've gotten to the point I'm at ease with myself as a person who might be timid, who might hold on to fear or be worrisome. Why? Because I can call a spade a spade and name my fear and worry. But also, because there is a God who tells me not to fear while it used to be just me saying that.
12. Paul told the distraught men to "have courage." He didn't say that because he was optimistic or because he had tough nerves apart from the average Joe. He said it because he had heard a word from the One he had been serving and worshipping. He spoke to the men as a person himself who had heard the words, "Fear not."
The Group Took Heart And Then A Meal
13. So, with the ship adrift in the middle of the night on the fortieth day, the crew felt like they were getting somewhere closer to land. When they measured the depth of the water, it was twenty fathoms [technically, orguiaV] (about thirty-seven meters). They went on a bit further and when they measured it, it was now 15 fathoms (about twenty-eight meters). It proved they were nearing land.
14. About when dawn was breaking, Paul encouraged the group to take a meal. "Today is the fortieth day you all have passed in worrying and not eating anything at all. So, please eat something. Because you need to, to survive. You will not lose not even one hair from your heads," (verses thirty-three and thirty-four). In having said that, in front of the group Paul took bread and as he offered up a prayer of thanksgiving to God, he broke it and began to eat. As the story continues, the text goes with the words that were given at the beginning. "So then, the group took heart too and took a meal," (verse thirty-six).
15. In order to understand this phrase, we need to keep an accurate understanding going of the situation. Since they were approaching land, were they able to finally relax and take a meal? Hope at last had come in sight. It seemed kind of sure. But, this scene is not as simple as that. When we read the verses afterwards in verse forty-one, it says "The ship's stern broke in the fierce waves." The storm hadn't settled down. The waves were still fierce.
16. Furthermore, something quite strange is written in verse thirty-one. "However, as the crew tried to flee from the ship and made an attempt to let the anchor down from the stern and lower a small boat into the sea, Paul told the centurion and the soldiers, 'Unless the men remain on the ship, you not be rescued.'," (verses thirty and thirty-one). No matter which way you look at it, it was an act of suicide to put out a small boat in the middle of the night and worse on a sea still storming regardless of how close the land was getting. Why were the crew so ready to flee from the ship in such a way? The reason is clear enough. The crew had determined that it was more dangerous to remain on the ship. The ship may have already been falling apart. Either way, before the early dawn within the fierce waves and wind Paul and the others were still on the boat from which the crew was ready to flee. [They took] a meal on a boat like that. They didn't take a meal because they were under circumstances in which they could relax.
17. So why did they "take heart" and take a meal? The text says right before, "In having said that, in front of the group Paul took bread and as he offered up a prayer of thanksgiving to God, he broke it and began to eat," (verse thirty-five). It was a normal gesture about the time when Jews would eat a meal. But, here we should take note that the text say he boldly "took bread," "offered a prayer of thanksgiving," and "broke (bread)." These are all phrases that appear in the scene of the Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples.
18. By this time Paul must have celebrated the Lord's Supper and broke bread countless times with the brothers and sisters of the church. Thus, here we have him breaking and eating bread the same way. In other words, Paul was with Christ while on the ship in the midst of this storm just exactly like he was with Christ in the church. The men weren't just seeing "the prisoner Paul" there. They saw the Paul who was with the church, who was with the Christ. It might even be better to say that they saw Christ who was with Paul. The reason they "took heart and took a meal" was precisely because they were in the divine presence of Christ.
19. So, with Paul as nothing more than an escorted prisoner while on a ship in a storm, he fulfilled a decisively important role. It was not because he was better than they were or because he was a strong person. It was because he was with the Lord. The way he was pointed to how Christians should be as they live in this world. How do Christians serve in the world? Christians are to look truly to God, and only by being with Christ, while in this world, can they fulfill their God given roles.