Pastor David B. Curtis


The Perfect Storm

Acts 27

Delivered 08/29/2010

How many of you have seen the movie, The Perfect Storm? If you have seen the movie, you have some idea of the perils of the sea. The sea can be so beautiful and yet so dangerous. The storm that Paul faces in our text is truly the perfect storm. It is designed to allow all onboard to see the sovereign hand of God.

If you remember from our past studies, Paul has been a prisoner of the Roman Empire for allegedly starting a riot in the temple area in Jerusalem. After being secretly moved to Caesarea, he was accused by the high priest before Felix, the Roman governor.

At a second trial two years later Paul was forced into a corner by the governor, so he appealed to Caesar. Festus invited King Agrippa and his wife Bernice to listen to Paul in a public arena for the purpose of forming some acceptable political charges before shipping him to Rome. Paul, however, used the opportunity to witness of his faith in Jesus of Nazareth. Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice rejected the apostle's invitation to place their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, and so arrangements were made to ship him some 2,000 miles away to Rome. It was September of the year A.D.59.

Our text for today is one of the most detailed portions in all Scripture. Luke was such a careful historian that the detail which he gives in this chapter about ancient methods of sailing gives more insight into sailing practices on the Mediterranean in the first century than all other ancient manuscripts put together. Historians and archaeologists have studied this passage for its valuable description of ancient seamanship.

The ancients generally had no love for the sea. The vessels were uncomfortable. It was not easy to travel in them. They were very perilous. They had no sextants. They had no compasses. They had to navigate by the stars, by the sun, and by the land.

When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, they proceeded to deliver Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan cohort named Julius. 2 And embarking in an Adramyttian ship, which was about to sail to the regions along the coast of Asia, we put out to sea accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica. Acts 27:1-2 NASB

One way or the other, Festus must have found some way to explain Paul's appearance before Caesar. Paul and a number of other prisoners were put aboard a ship on their way to Rome.

"We" in verse 1 and 2 is a return to the "we" of Acts 21:18, an indication that Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, had since rejoined Paul. Luke had most likely been living in Caesarea, where Paul was imprisoned, and had joined him along with Aristarchus. Aristarchus is a man whom Paul had met in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey, and who now faithfully accompanies the apostle wherever he goes.

Paul was being sent to Rome as a prisoner, so how is it that Luke and Aristarchus can go with him? Some surmise that Luke went along as his physician, and Aristarchus as his servant, which would give them official positions. We don't really know for sure why they got to go other than the grace of God. This is the goodness and kindness of our God. The importance of the support of Christian friends should not be underestimated or taken lightly.

This also demonstrates the love of these men for God and Paul. They weren't taking a Disney cruise for a time of rest and relaxation. They were risking their lives to be with Paul.

There were other prisoners traveling with Paul, all under the authority of Julius, a centurion who was the commander of a hundred men. This Augustan Cohort of the Roman military establishment, which is a very prestigious unit, a picked body of soldiers responsible directly to the emperor himself, has considerable authority as a result. God gave Paul favor in the eyes of Julius. This centurion was to develop a deep respect for Paul, so that he would extend considerable liberties to him, take seriously his advice, and make every effort to protect him.

Their intention was to sail from port to port, hoping to connect with a ship that was headed for Rome. Since there were no passenger ships, they had to rely on transport ships headed back to Rome.

The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul with consideration and allowed him to go to his friends and receive care. Acts 27:3 NASB

So the first leg of their journey was from Caesarea to Sidon. This is Paul's first visit to Sidon, but Christians were already in Phoenicia (Act:11:19) and so Paul had "friends" here.

This act of Julius is rather strange, and again I think attributed to the goodness of God. The Romans had very strict rules concerning their prisoners. If a Roman solider lost a prisoner, he served the prisoner's sentence himself--regardless of the circumstances. But Julius let Paul go ashore and visit with his friends, no doubt accompanied by a guard.

From there we put out to sea and sailed under the shelter of Cyprus because the winds were contrary. 5 When we had sailed through the sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. Acts 27:4-5 NASB

The normal route would not have been to go around Cyprus, but because the wind was such a problem they had to sail very close to the coast. Historians have indicated that it would have taken approximately nine days to travel from Sidon to Myra:

There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy, and he put us aboard it. Acts 27:5 NASB

As they arrived in Myra, the centurion found an Alexandrian ship, laden with wheat, that was headed for Italy. They boarded this ship and set sail. These large ships were often 180 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 44 feet deep from the deck to the bottom of the hold.

When we had sailed slowly for a good many days, and with difficulty had arrived off Cnidus, since the wind did not permit us to go farther, we sailed under the shelter of Crete, off Salmone; 8 and with difficulty sailing past it we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea. Acts 27:7-8 NASB

Roman transportation ships were very heavy and would have displaced a tremendous amount of water. And since they were grain ships, they would be loaded down. They had a single mast with a large, square sail and the seamen usually preferred to sail with the one sail behind the wind.

They did not have an easy time going around Cape Salmone, which was on the eastern tip of Crete, because Crete is a 140-mile-long island:

When considerable time had passed and the voyage was now dangerous, since even the fast was already over, Paul began to admonish them, 10 and said to them, "Men, I perceive that the voyage will certainly be with damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives." Acts 27:9-10 NASB

The time which had been lost, due to unfavorable winds, made it evident that they would not be able to reach Rome, not without wintering at some port, and finishing the journey in the spring.

An ancient writer, Vegesius, said, "Up to September the fourteenth, sailing was safe in the Mediterranean. Then from September the fourteenth to November the eleventh, it was dangerous." Now, those are the words that are used by Luke in the ninth verse, "the voyage was now dangerous." Vegesius went on to say, "After November the eleventh, then sailing was impossible." So from November until March, there was no sailing on the Mediterranean, particularly, if you wanted to arrive at your destination.

To be stuck in Fair Havens would have been very undesirable because it was exposed to the winds of the open sea. It is not known how much time was spent in Fair Havens, but it must have been at least a month.

"The fast" is a reference to the Jewish feast of the Day of Atonement. It occurs on the tenth day of Tishri, which is the seventh month in the Jewish calendar. That would put their journey at the end of September or the beginning of October.

Notice what Paul says, "Men, I perceive that the voyage will certainly be with damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives."

Some say that Paul is simply giving his opinion here. He simply spoke as a seasoned traveler, an astute observer, and one who had experienced dangers at sea. That's possible, but I think Paul may have had some divine insight as to what was to happen. I will expand on this a little later.

They were not going to get to Rome until after winter was over anyway, and they could stay right where they were with no real problems. They had little to gain and much to lose. Time would prove Paul right.

Paul's caution is rather interesting. I would think that Paul would have more reason to be reckless than these seasoned seamen and the centurion, because he was a Christian. His God was in control of all things, including the sea. But more than this, God had already assured Paul that he would reach Rome:

But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, "Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also." Acts 23:11 NASB

Paul was as secure as any man could be. But he still used wisdom. God's sovereignty and man's responsibility are not incompatible. Paul's concern here was not for himself, but for others. Paul knew that he would reach Rome, but he also seemed to know that the ship and some of its passengers would not.

But the centurion was more persuaded by the pilot and the captain of the ship than by what was being said by Paul. 12 Because the harbor was not suitable for wintering, the majority reached a decision to put out to sea from there, if somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there. Acts 27:11-12 NASB

The centurion agreed with the pilot and captain as did the majority of those on the ship. Their main reason for wanting to continue on to Rome was that Fair Havens was not a desirable place to stay. Historians record that the only place in the winter season that was comfortable was the port of Phoenix, which was about forty miles from Fair Havens.

When a moderate south wind came up, supposing that they had attained their purpose, they weighed anchor and began sailing along Crete, close inshore. 14 But before very long there rushed down from the land a violent wind, called Euraquilo; 15 and when the ship was caught in it and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and let ourselves be driven along. Acts 27:13-15 NASB

Euraquilo, was a sailor's term for a strong northeasterly wind. It came from two words--one Greek and one Latin. The Greek word euros refers to an east wind, and the Latin word aquilo literally refers to a north wind. This northeast wind would come down from Asia Minor and was so fierce that it was of hurricane or typhoon proportions.

The Euraquilo was a great fear among all who sailed the Mediterranean because it tended to send ships to an ocean graveyard off the coast of North Africa.

Running under the shelter of a small island called Clauda, we were scarcely able to get the ship's boat under control. 17 After they had hoisted it up, they used supporting cables in undergirding the ship; and fearing that they might run aground on the shallows of Syrtis, they let down the sea anchor and in this way let themselves be driven along. Acts 27:16-17 NASB

They tried with great effort to get behind the island to gain some protection from the tempestuous winds. Every sailing vessel had a dinghy or lifeboat. It was small enough that when the vessel was harbored, it could be used as transportation to go ashore. With great difficulty everyone worked to secure the lifeboat.

Barns writes, "In a single-masted vessel there was no distribution of stress, as opposed to a multi-sail vessel, where the stress is distributed over the entire hull. The ship would simply begin to split in half. They would attempt to wrap cables tightly around the ship to keep it secured during the storm, a procedure called 'frapping' in a mariner's dictionary" (Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Acts [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975], p. 364).

The "shallows of Syrtis" probably refers to the dreaded sandbars and shoals off the African coast west of Cyrene.

"Sea anchor" was a broad piece of wood held vertical by a weight below and an empty barrel on top. It would slow the ship's movement from crest to crest and help keep it on course.

With the sail down, the storm swirling around them from all sides, and their inability to navigate, God caused them to sail on a direct course to the harbor of Malta.

The next day as we were being violently storm-tossed, they began to jettison the cargo; 19 and on the third day they threw the ship's tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 Since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned. Acts 27:18-20 NASB

The situation became so desperate that the entire group--crew and prisoners--began throwing overboard the excess tackle of the ship, such as unnecessary sails, cables, furniture, and baggage. They navigated by the stars and by the sun, so when neither one of these appeared for days, that was disastrous for accurate navigation.

The men on the ship had lost all hope. They had nothing and no one to turn to. Torn by the wind, drenched to the skin, hardly able to keep on their feet, and finding it difficult to hold on to the ship to prevent themselves going overboard, their plight now appears hopeless.

When I was in the Navy I was aboard a Spruance class destroyer, which was 529 feet long; at least three times the size of the ship Paul was on. We ran into a very violent storm in the North Atlantic. We were not allowed out on deck because the waves were washing over the deck. It was dark, loud, and very violent. The captain had to change the ships course because it was being damaged by the storm. This was on a modern ship--I can't imagine what this crew was going through.

When they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst and said, "Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss. Acts 27:21 NASB

Paul fought his way through the howling wind, and finding a convenient place, yelled, presumably to the pilot, the captain, and the centurion, but also to any within hearing, that had they listened to him this would not have happened. "You ought to have followed my advice"--the word "ought" here is the Greek word die, this is a term often used by Luke to indicate divine necessity. This may point to the revelatory quality of his prior warning. Paul's words were not meant as a typical "I told you so," but were spoken to motivate his peers to listen to him now. If Paul had been right before, and his words had come to pass, he had even more important words to speak now:

"Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 "For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, 24 saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.' Acts 27:22-24 NASB

As at Corinth, the angel urged Paul to "stop being afraid" (18:9). He reiterated the divine necessity "you must" (dei) of standing trial before Caesar.

"God to whom I belong"--that looks at Paul's position. He belonged to the Lord. He regards the Lord as the owner of himself, but then he says, "Whom I serve"--that is Paul's practice. He realized that he belonged to God, so he lived his life in service to Him. Paul calls every believer to understand this; to live their lives for Christ:

For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:20 NASB

We belong to God; we should live to serve Him.

Notice verse 24, not only was Paul going to be saved, but so was everyone who was with him. "Has granted you"--is the perfect middle indicative of charizomai, which is from charis, a gift or grace. The lives of those that sailed with Paul God had spared as a gift (charis) to Paul. In the phrase "God has granted you," you can see what Paul has been doing. He has been praying for these others, praying that the sailors and soldiers accompanying him would be spared. God granted this one man, because of his prayer, the lives of the two hundred seventy-five individuals who sailed with him. They were spared because Paul prayed for them. What a revelation of the power of prayer!

"Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. 26 "But we must run aground on a certain island." Acts 27:25-26 NASB

Now, you can see here, that what the apostle is saying is that faith exists in the understanding and accent to the words of God. God said it, and Paul believed it--that is faith. Faith is simply the acceptance of the teaching of the word of God.

What are the chances of landing on the only island around, losing the ship and cargo, and yet everyone's life being saved? The mathematical probability of that occurring would be staggering. But with God this is no big deal:

But when the fourteenth night came, as we were being driven about in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors began to surmise that they were approaching some land. 28 They took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and a little farther on they took another sounding and found it to be fifteen fathoms. 29 Fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak. Acts 27:27-29 NASB

Fourteen days had passed since they left Fair Havens in Crete and now were being driven about in the center of the Mediterranean Sea. At midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land, perhaps because they could hear the sound of the surf pounding on the shore.

To verify that they were approaching land, they dropped a line weighted with lead into the sea to determine the depth. They found they were at twenty fathoms (120 feet, a fathom is 6 feet). A little later they verified that the water was 90 feet. Nearing land in a storm is a very dangerous thing. A ship can be tossed about in the sea and survive much better than it can survive being dashed upon the rocks.

James Smith, who wrote The Voyage and Shipwreck of the Apostle Paul over a hundred years ago, with extensive research, showed that a ship from the island of Crete left to drift for two weeks, which is about the time here, would have drifted just about exactly where this ship came, somewhere in the vicinity of Malta. And even modern navigation has confirmed that fact. The distance from Clauda, their last known destination, to Malta, where they ended up, is about 470 miles.

The purpose in using stern anchors was in order to keep the ship pointing in the same direction.

But as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship and had let down the ship's boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, "Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved." Acts 27:30-31 NASB

They tried to make it appear as though they were dropping anchors over the bow, but were actually dropping the dinghy into the water. Once the sailors discerned that land was nearby, staying on board ship became increasingly dangerous. They could not handle the ship in the stormy waters. Because of its size and cargo, it required deeper water. The smaller boat, was much more easily handled, and would have been the logical choice when trying to make shore, especially in such circumstances.

Notice what Paul says in verse 31, "Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved." Is Paul adding a condition to eternal life? Is he here teaching shipboard salvation? Paul clearly says that only those in the ship can be saved. Paul is using the Greek word sozo here, the same word he used in:

They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." Acts 16:31 NASB

So do we have to believe and be on a ship? I know that I'm being stupid here, but I'm trying to make a point. The majority of English readers see this word "saved" and automatically think--eternal life, salvation from damnation of God. Notice what James says:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? James 2:14 NASB

James also used the Greek word sozo. Many people take this verse to mean that we must have "works" if we are truly saved. But they would not think that Paul is teaching shipboard salvation. They can see the context there means physical deliverance.

What we must understand is that the Greek verb sozo--save, and the noun soteria--salvation, have a wide range of possible meanings. They can be referring to physical healing; rescue from danger; spiritual deliverance of various kinds; and to preservation from final judgment, the wrath of God. We must determine its meaning from its usage in the context. Paul is using sozo in Acts 27 of physical deliverance, and so is James in James 2. We are not saved by faith and staying on the ship, and we are not saved by faith and works. We are saved by faith alone, in Christ alone!

Alright, back to the lifeboat. Paul saw what was happening and realized that those on board needed the sailors' expertise to get to land in the morning. So he said to the centurion, "Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved."

In other words, although God promised that everyone would be preserved alive, Paul did not assume that it would happen apart from the use of proper means. The sailors could not escape, and everyone needed the strength that came from eating.

The fact that God announces what the end result is going to be does not mean that men are permitted therefore to fold their hands and say, "Well, it's all going to work out some way or another." He intends for us to exercise considerable understanding of a situation, and to act in line with common sense to carrying out His purpose.

Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship's boat and let it fall away. Acts 27:32 NASB

By this time, the centurion was willing to believe anything Paul said, because everything else he said had come to pass. The centurion must have felt cutting the dinghy was the only way to stop the crew from leaving the ship:

Until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, "Today is the fourteenth day that you have been constantly watching and going without eating, having taken nothing. 34 "Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation, for not a hair from the head of any of you will perish." 35 Having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all, and he broke it and began to eat. 36 All of them were encouraged and they themselves also took food. Acts 27:33-36 NASB

Paul. the prisoner, now seems to be in total command of the ship. Everyone was looking to him for the next instructions. He urged them all to eat, since they had not eaten in over fourteen days. If they ever expected to get to land, they were going to have to regain their strength.

The word "preservation" in verse 34 is the Greek word soteria which means salvation, deliverance, preservation, or safety. In Scripture it refers to both physical deliverance and spiritual salvation, but here it simply refers to their physical well being or safety.

"Not a hair from the head of any of you will perish" is an old Jewish proverb that refers to safety and security (1 Sam. 14:45; 2 Sam. 14:11; 1 Kings 1:52; Luke 21:18).

Everyone was so captivated by Paul's courage that they too began to eat and have hope:

All of us in the ship were two hundred and seventy-six persons. 38 When they had eaten enough, they began to lighten the ship by throwing out the wheat into the sea. 39 When day came, they could not recognize the land; but they did observe a bay with a beach, and they resolved to drive the ship onto it if they could. 40 And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea while at the same time they were loosening the ropes of the rudders; and hoisting the foresail to the wind, they were heading for the beach. Acts 27:37-40 NASB

The count when all this was over would prove that not one was lost. Evidently the sailors had locked these rudders in place when the ship was drifting, but now they put them into use again.

Though God is sovereign, human beings still have responsibility. These sailors met theirs, and we must meet ours, especially in adverse circumstances that can tempt us to despairing passivity.

But striking a reef where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern began to be broken up by the force of the waves. 42 The soldiers' plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none of them would swim away and escape; 43 but the centurion, wanting to bring Paul safely through, kept them from their intention, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land, Acts 27:41-43 NASB

"Reef" implies coral reef in English, but the Greek word (topon) and investigations at the site (St. Paul's Bay) suggest that Luke probably described a sand or mud bar.

The traditional Roman discipline was that any soldier who allowed his prisoner to escape would then be responsible for serving out the prisoner's sentence. The soldiers wanted to kill the apostle Paul and the rest of the prisoners to prevent that from happening. The prisoners (at least the dangerous or violent ones) may have been in chains. If the prisoners were to make it to land, the soldiers would have to release them:

and the rest should follow, some on planks, and others on various things from the ship. And so it happened that they all were brought safely to land. Acts 27:44 NASB

Here again we see that because of Paul all the prisoners are kept alive. "And so it happened that they all were brought safely to land"--Two hundred seventy-six men jumped into the water, and two hundred seventy-six people met on the shore! The first thought those men must have had was that the God Paul worships is faithful to His word. God not only established His own veracity, but also established the credibility of the apostle Paul. Over and over again, God has kept His word. For Paul's sake, all of the prisoners were spared from execution by the soldiers. Believers. we bring a sanctifying influence to those we are around:

It came about that from the time he made him overseer in his house and over all that he owned, the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house on account of Joseph; thus the LORD'S blessing was upon all that he owned, in the house and in the field. Genesis 39:5 NASB

I think that others are benefitted by the presence of a believer. Such would have been the case in Sodom and Gomorrah. If there were but ten righteous in the city of Sodom, God would have spared the city for the sake of those righteous (Genesis 18:22-33). Is this principle of extended "deliverance" perhaps an explanation of Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians 7, that the unbeliever is sanctified on account of the believer?

Since Paul was in the will of God why did God bring the storm? I say that God brought the storm because the Bible teaches that God is sovereign over all things! There are those who teach that it is not God's will when some tragedy hits. If the tragedies that happen aren't God's plan, then God is at the mercy of some greater power that got the upper hand, which is a blasphemous thing to say about God!

So why couldn't Paul have had smooth sailing all the way to Rome? What is the purpose of the storm? The storm allowed each person on the ship to see that God was in complete, sovereign control. When He says something will happen and it does, it proves that God is who He claims to be. One of the greatest proofs that God is the author of the Bible is the fulfillment of prophecy.

This storm was the perfect storm because it also caused Paul's faith to stand out. When we trust in God's care, we will be different in the storms than those who do not know God. Paul stands out above all others in this desperate situation because of his calm faith in God.

The Christian is to live by a different principle. That is why, in the midst of circumstances which would panic others, the Christian is expected to be calm. We are not to reflect the panic, the anxiety, and the troubled countenance which others display when they get into difficulty.

Paul's experience teaches us that if we will trust in God's sovereign care for us in life's storms, He will use us to bear witness to many. Because Paul rested in God in the midst of disaster, he was there to help others.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century a group of Scottish unbelievers decided to expose errors in the Bible. They designated one of their number to visit all the places

Luke mentioned that Paul visited with a view to proving the record in Acts inaccurate.

The man chosen was Sir William Ramsay, who, after thorough study of the matter, concluded that Luke was accurate in every detail. Ramsay became a Christian and wrote several books on Acts and Paul in defense of God's Word.

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