Sermon on Acts 27:1-44 – “Tempest, Storm, and Wind”

Sermon Text

[Act 27:1-44 ESV] 1 And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius. 2 And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. 3 The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for. 4 And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. 5 And when we had sailed across the open sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. 6 There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7 We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. 8 Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea. 9 Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there. 13 Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. 14 But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. 15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. 17 After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. 18 Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. 19 And 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 no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. 21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.” 27 When the fourteenth night had come, as we were being driven across the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. 28 So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms. 29 And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. 30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go. 33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) 38 And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea. 39 Now when it was day, they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned if possible to run the ship ashore. 40 So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that tied the rudders. Then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach. 41 But striking a reef, they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf. 42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. 43 But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, 44 and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Just when Paul gets away from the Jews who wish to murder him, now he comes upon a storm at sea. A tempest, storm, and wind, to use that phrase from the hymn.

 

And I must apologize for titling this sermon after Christmas sermon, when the season has passed. It is there in “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (not God Rest YOU Merry Gentlemen like our hymnal says) it it there that we sing “through tempest storm and wind.”

 

There we are singing not about Paul, but about the sheep. Not even the shepherds, but the poor sheep! “The shepherds at those tidings rejoiced must in mind, and left their flocks a feeding, in tempest storm and wind.” Nobody ever thinks about the sheep!

 

Of course, God does. And he cares about his people, the sheep of the shepherd Jesus. And so God cares about Paul. So Paul has nothing to fear. In fact, Paul has been through storms and shipwrecks in the past. He has a lot of sailing experience. (And a lot of life experience, a lot of God experiences.) That is partially why we see him giving advice to the centurion and pilot of the ship.

 

It is quite unusual for Paul, as a Hebrew, to be such a seafarer. The Jews are land-lovers. If you look at any map of ancient Israel, you’ll see they had few cities on the water. The disciples went on fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee, but that was about as big as it got. The Philistines often controlled the coast. And the Phoenicians to the north, in Tyre and Sidon, they did work as ship merchants. There was just one time in the Scriptures, in Solomon’s reign, when Israel built ships for trade. Interestingly, Solomon’s ships were not built on the Mediterranean, but in Ezion-Geber on the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea so they access “Ophir,” a distant place, probably on the coast of Africa. Even when Solomon had these ships, they were built with the help of the Phoenicians. And that was about the only “navy” of Israel. A thousand years later and Paul is perhaps one of the most experienced Jewish mariners. Maybe he hadn’t captained a ship, but his travels have been all over the Mediterranean.

 

So they’ve got Paul on a ship going to Rome to have his trial before the emperor, Caesar Nero. And with him is a centurion and “some other prisoners.” We saw some parallels before with Paul’s trials and Christ’s trials. Now we have another point of similarity in their stories. Christ had criminals on either side of him on the crosses, when Christ himself was not a criminal. Now Paul has other prisoners with him (presumably criminals of some sort) when he is not guilty of anything but preaching the Gospel.

 

We have a centurion on the ship as well. This is a commander of a Roman army of 100 men. You can see the language – centurion, century, 100 cents in a dollar. So he is an important man. And in the text he actually is named – Julius.

 

There are many interesting pieces of nautical information in our text.

 

First, is the path of the journey itself. Let’s track it some.

 

Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea, on the coast of Israel. So that is where we start. And the destination is Italy, Rome. They embark on a “ship of Adramyttium.” This just means that the ship was built there or owned by a person from there. Well, where is Adramyttium. This is a city in Turkey, Asia Minor. Of course, this city was included then in the very large Roman Empire. So they sailed to Sidon (up the coast in Lebanon). They then “put out to sea” and sailed “under the lee of Cyprus.” Maps of his journey show this as going around the east side of Cyprus and then up, as the text says “along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia” (two areas of Asia Minor) and they came to Myra in Lycia, also in Asia Minor. That is the first leg of the journey.

 

There, they switch ships, to a “ship of Alexandria” (Egypt) sailing for Italy. Every year there were ships going from Egypt to Rome. Why? To bring grain. There were more people in Rome than Rome could feed. Egypt was the bread basket of Rome. So Paul is on one of those ships apparently. (We see later that they throw wheat out to the sea to lighten the boat).

 

After a number of days and with difficulty they arrived off Cnidus. This is in Crete. And we see other places in Crete as well. Salmone and then Fair Havens where they stop. Here Paul gives his first advice: “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” But it is ignored. They want to get to a better harbor. But this is a risk. Some harbor, Paul thinks, (even nicely called Fair Haven) is better than no harbor and the risks of the sea at that time of year with the winter approaching.

 

The sailors want to get the city of Phoenix, but the tempest, storm, and wind comes.

 

It is a nor’easter. That is how the ESV translates it – a northeaster. Other versions, like the KJV, keep it in Greek, the wind is called Euroclydon. Sounds like a monster! Euroclydon. Meaning “a broad wind” or “a violent agitation, a wind raising mighty waves.” And the ship is driven off.

 

This is where the story really starts. Tossed about at sea. Where will they end up? When things get tempestuous, you no longer have much if any control over things. Life is like that.

 

“The ship was caught and could not face the wind.” What is the wind coming at you?

 

“We gave way to it and were driven along.” How often does it feel like that in life? Driven about. No control.

 

They are still trying though. “Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. “

 

Cauda is a place now called “Gavdos.” It is a small island south of Crete. In fact, they have a monument there now — a chair of all things — that marks the southernmost point of Europe.

 

A remote place.

 

The place names continue. They fear they will run aground on Syrtis. Apparently Theophilus, whom Luke is writing to, is assumed to have geographical knowledge; Luke doesn’t explain where these places are. But we need help. Syrtis is part of the North African coast, on Libya and Tunisia. Being on land might sound nice, because it doesn’t rock like the waves, but often these coasts—these running aground’s— are on terrible rocks that would destroy the ship and kill all aboard. So, you prefer the sea to that.

 

So they start to “jettison the cargo.” Why? So the boat will be higher in the water, less likely to hit rocks. Then they throw overboard the ship’s tackle.

 

But this isn’t a quick storm. “Neither the sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us.” “All our hope of being saved was at last abandoned.” That is probably the general attitude, but it isn’t Paul’s conclusion. He in fact says the opposite to all the people

 

“I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar.”

 

The only way to get out of these lengthy storm then was to run aground. Paul says “we must run aground on some island.”

 

The storm continued on to the 14!! night. That night the sailors took a sounding a found twenty fathoms. Then fifteen. That’s 120 ft and then 90 ft. So they’re getting closer to land. And concerned that they might hit a rock, they let down their anchor to get into the boat, the lifeboat. But Paul said “”Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” Now they listen to Paul. “The soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.”

 

You have to wonder if there were some believers among the crew. We don’t know. But Paul is very open with his faith. He gives thanks to God “in the presence of all” and eats bread. They had all gone fourteen days without food. So now they all eat. Then they threw the rest of the wheat into the sea.

 

They, or Paul anyways, is living by trust. No more food. He’ll need God to provide.

 

They then see land and head towards it, but strike a reef. The soldier’s wanted to kill all the prisoners, so that none would get away. The soldiers don’t want to be punished for their escape. But the centurion wished to save Paul and so ordered his own plan. Swimmers swam to shore, and all others hung on to planks or others pieces of the ship.

 

Finally, they are on dry ground. All 276 people are alive, just as God had told Paul would happen.

 

The whole ordeal must have been a terrific shock to all on the ship. Fourteen days of tempest, storm, and wind. And they have no idea where they are. Usually they reckon their position by the stars, but there have been clouds the whole time of the storm. Or maybe you can figure your position by distance, speed, and time. But “who knows” which direction they’ve been tossed in. And “who knows” how fast they’ve been going. So it is a great shock. But also a great relief now that they are on land.

 

Theologically, how are we to view this passage?

 

We’ve seen the calmness of Jesus when he was on a boat during a storm. No fear at all.

 

Now we see it with Paul. Through the physical storms and the spiritual storms of life, he trusts God.

 

Let’s then contrast the reactions to the storm of Paul and of everyone else.

 

I. Everyone else.

 

There are some ways in which the reactions of “everyone else” are not uniform, not the same. Some react actively, wanting to do something to improve their situations. Others react passively, not sure what to do, just leaving it all to fate. And others just wish for better times.

 

Wishing doesn’t make it so. Passiveness doesn’t help either. And even the “actions” of the sailors are futile compared to the storm. Think of the strongest man in the world rowing a boat against the wind. Who wins? The wind wins.

 

So while there is a variation in approach or response of the sailors, there is something the same with all of them. They don’t trust God; the God who alone CAN control the storm and keep them alive.

 

II. Paul

 

Paul, on the other hand, is all about trust. Faith, belief. It is central to his theology. Trust in God.

 

God had spoken to him saying that he WILL preach in Rome. And Paul knew that God’s prophecies always came to be. So there was no worry that it wouldn’t happen. He’s get to Rome.

 

Then God spoke to him saying ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’

 

And maybe they came to believe him.

 

At first, he had argued against the majority, that they should stay in Fair Havens. Paul didn’t get his wish. But later, after he says he has heard from angel, and after they realize that Paul was right last time, they listen to him. They take food when he says to, and they throw the rest overboard for their own chance of survival.

 

Conclusion – The Majority and the Church

 

We see two contrasting groups. Two entities in this text.

 

On the one side is the majority.

 

We’ve seen the majority through the scriptures. They don’t usually chose well. The majority says “let’s go back to the meat pots in Egypt.” The majority says “we can’t conquer those giants in Canaan.” The majority says “give us a king like the other nations.” The majority says “give us Barabbas.” And now the majority says “let’s get out of this small harbor and go to a bigger safer one.”

 

On the other side is Paul. Granted, at first, the harbor debate was just his decision, but later views were revelation from God.

 

And Paul is part of the church. Let’s read again Paul’s words.

 

23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.

 

That is a great description of who Paul is. He belongs to God. He says “there stood before me an angel of the God TO WHOM I BELONG.”

 

R. C. Sproul points out the connection here with the church.

What is the church? He says the word church comes from the Greek kuriake. I don’t know if this word rings a bell at all. Kuriake. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is called Kurios, Lord. Kurios. Then we have Kuriake. It means “OF THE LORD.” The church is that which is “OF THE LORD.” Thats how Paul describes himself. He belongs to God. That is why he can have such trust. He knows that God is HIS GOD and cares for him.

 

We also are in the church. We belong to Christ.

 

We belong to Christ. Isn’t that incredible. Maybe we as American individualists have a tendency to say “I don’t belong to anyone.” But the Biblical idea is, first, that it is inevitable that we belong to SOMEONE or SOMETHING. We are either slaves of sin or slaves of God. And then, belonging to Christ is to be a great comfort.

 

Know this great comfort, Christian, in the tempest, storm, and wind, (whatever comes your way) remember that YOU BELONG TO CHRIST. Hallelujah. Let us pray.