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Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Mediterranean Storm


Luke's account of Paul's voyage to Rome stands out as one of the most vivid pieces of descriptive writing in the whole Bible. Its details regarding first-century seamanship are exceptionally precise and its portrayal of conditions on the eastern Mediterranean remarkably accurate. 


 When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. 2 We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.

3 The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. 4 From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us (prevailing winds in summer were westerly). 5 When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia (The growing importance of the city of Myra was associated with the development of navigation. Instead of hugging the coast from point to point, more ships were daring to run directly from Alexandria in Egypt to harbors like Myra). 6 There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7 We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. 8 We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.

9 Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement (The Jewish Day of Atonement falls in the latter part of September or in October; in 2016, ii October. The usual sailing season by Jewish calculation lasted from Pentecost (May-June) to Tabernacles, which was five days after Atonement. The Romans considered sailing after Sept. 15 doubtful and after Nov. 11 suicidal. The Day of Atonement fell late in the year 59 — an indirect confirmation of the estimated date of this journey). So Paul warned them, 10 ‘Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.’ 11 But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. 12 Since the harbour was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there (A major city that served as a wintering place, having a harbor with protection against the storms). This was a harbour in Crete, facing both south-west and north-west.

The storm
13 When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. 14 Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the ‘North-Easter’, swept down from the island. 15 The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, 17 so the men hoisted it aboard (small boat was being towed behind the ship. It was interfering with the progress of the ship and with the steering. It may also have been in danger of being crushed against the ship in the wind and the waves. It had to be taken aboard). Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together (probably crosswise, in order to keep the ship from being broken apart by the storm). Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sand-bars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. 18 We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. 19 On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands (spars, planks and perhaps the yardarm with the mainsail attached. At times these were dragged behind, serving as a brake). 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.

21 After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: ‘Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.” 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.’

The shipwreck
27 On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. 28 They took soundings and found that the water was forty metres deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was thirty metres deep. 29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. 31 Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, ‘Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.’ 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away.

33 Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. ‘For the last fourteen days,’ he said, ‘you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food – you haven’t eaten anything. 34 Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.’ 35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat (Paul gave two good examples: He ate food for physical nourishment and gave thanks to God. To give thanks before a meal was common practice among God’s people. But in the way Luke records the events, we should not doubt that Luke wants us to understand that Paul eats here with communion or eucharistic intent. In the midst of great trouble, he remembers) 36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 Altogether there were 276 of us on board. 38 When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.

39 When daylight came, they did not recognise the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach
(Malta), where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. 40 Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. 41 But the ship struck a sand-bar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.

42 The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping (if a prisoner escaped, the life of his guard was taken in his place. The soldiers did not want to risk having a prisoner escape ). 43 But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan (the centurion is to be admired for stopping this plan and trusting the prisoners). He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely.

As I said, Luke's account of Paul's voyage to Rome stands out as one of the most vivid pieces of descriptive writing in the whole Bible. Its details regarding first-century seamanship are exceptionally precise and its portrayal of conditions on the eastern Mediterranean remarkably accurate.

What stands out is his portrayal of Paul as a man of powerful personality, who commanded respect in various situations. 

Luke’s magnificent account of the storm at sea is possibly intended to be more than just an interesting story well told. Here at the climax of his account of the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome, especially through the labors of the apostle Paul, he provides an exquisite depiction of the state of the world seen from the perspective of Paul’s gospel: The peoples of the world (represented by the ship’s passengers) stand under the threat of God’s judgment (represented by the terrible storm), with Paul and what he represents being their only hope. Sometimes you and I and what we represent, as discipled followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, are the only hope that the struggling people around us have. They don't know that, but I really hope you know that. You are the bearer of good news in every situation that God in His grace allows you to be. This is what it means to be a disciple and this is what it means to evangelise. Do you remember in verse 10 Paul did the work of a disciple of Jesus and advised some total strangers that their course of action was dangerous. In verse 21 he reminded them: "You should have taken my advice." Although they had not done so, Paul had good news for everyone (vv. 22–26), God will save them from this, or perhaps one should say, in this mess and because he has now been with them for  quite some time, he has gained their trust, and they listen. This is evangelism and this is discipleship. On board are representatives of the world’s economic, military and political powers and those skilled in navigating the sea, but none of these can master the raging storm to save themselves or their possessions. They escape only as they follow Paul’s instructions. 

Two important questions: 1. How much are the people of Hellesdon suffering because they don't listen to our witness about the God who saves and makes a huge difference in every stormy situation they find themselves in.
2. Are we witnessing to the people of Hellesdon about the God who saves and makes a huge difference in every stormy situation they find themselves in.

Storm clouds are gathering ... Mediterranean storms are gathering and heads need to come out of the sand and look at the world around us:

Political storm clouds … this past week has been ugly (in UK politics) … judges mocked in a democracy … MPs resigning their seats … talk of an early election … political storm clouds are gathering.
International political storm clouds: Whoever the next president of USA turns out to be … a storm is in the offing.

Economic storm clouds are gathering: the pound has tumbled in value … the threatened increase in the price of marmite a few weeks ago just the beginning … the cost of imports is already soaring for some importers … your and my money will be worth a lot less in a few months time. Those of you who have travelled to Europe in the last few weeks haven't needed the newspapers to tell you that our pound is worth significantly less than when you last travelled.

Military storm clouds …. The kind of talk coming out of Russia and her (why are countries usually referred to as female?) actions in Syria … earlier this year Russian warplanes testing British airspace … last week a Russian warship chugging through the channel, not just on naval manoeuvres, but preparing to deliver death on women and children in the Middle East … surely sometime the west is going to say "So far and no further" … military storm clouds are gathering.

Paul was the bearer of good news in a Mediterranean storm … We who bear the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand and ALL that that entails … we have our work cut out for us in the gathering storms of 2017, if, in the words of the preacher this morning, we are going to be relevant … so I close with those two questions:

1. How much are the people of Hellesdon suffering because they don't listen to our witness about the God who saves and makes a huge difference in every stormy situation they find themselves in.
2. Are we witnessing to the people of Hellesdon about the God who saves and makes a huge difference in every stormy situation they find themselves in. 

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