Acts 27 is a magnificent sea story (and it stands in a good tradition of Greek literature), but it is far more than just a sea story. The setting and the event push you to trust God’s gracious gift of life.
God graciously spares lives. God’s protection goes with the one proclaiming his Word. This is not just a good sea story, though it is that, recorded by one who was an experience traveler though not a professional sailor, nor is it simply an account of Paul’s heroics, though his calm advice under pressure was instrumental in saving the lives of all on board. Rather, Luke’s interest is in Paul as the bearer of the good news, journeying towards the capital of the world empire. The howling, hope-sapping storm, the Euraquilo or northeaster, could have been the end of the apostolic mission, much to Satan’s delight, but God is not about to let his Word or his messenger perish in this storm. Luke’s account reminds one of Homer’s classic description of a storm in Book 5 of The Odyssey, but more likely Luke, and the Holy Spirit who inspired him, want you to think in biblical terms focusing on the storms of the Book of Psalms, which reveal the power of the true God, and on the storm in Jonah 1. There God hurled a storm upon the sea to drive a reluctant prophet back to his preaching. Here the storm hinders the willing apostle and threatens the progress of the gospel to the political center of the empire, but God’s protection confirms his care of his servant.
“For the sake of the gospel Paul had wrestled [in prayer] for the safety of the ship. The angel had revealed to him that, although the ship would be lost, all persons on board would be spared. God had put the lives of all crew members and passengers into Paul’s hands; their deliverance was the answer to Paul’s prayer. They would all realize that it is safe to be under the protection of the Word of God.” , Vol. 4, p. 239).S. G. DeGraaf, Promise and Deliverance, Vol. 4, p. 239
God’s gracious gift is life. God graciously gives Paul the lives of his shipmates. An angelic messenger had assured Paul that, not only would his life be spared in order to proclaim the gospel in Rome, but also that the lives of everyone aboard would be saved. God did not avoid using means, including the skill of the sailors, but the emphasis of the miracle is on God’s grace.
“After all, perseverance is also not coercive but, as a gift of God, impacts humans in a spiritual manner. It is precisely God’s will, by admonition and warning, morally to prompt them willingly to persevere in faith and love…. Paul knew with certainty that in the case of shipwreck, no one would lose one’s life, yet he declares, ‘Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved’ (Acts 27:22, 31).” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, pages 267–268)Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, pages 267–268
The deliverance from the storm is a specific, concrete illustration of the widespread diffusion of grace through the apostolic ministry. For the sake of the gospel and its messenger, God spares the lives of all on the ship. The world, then and now, is preserved for the sake of the church. The account recalls not only Jonah’s storm, but the flood. In both instances salvation depends on the protection God provides. The storm and shipwreck provide in one incident, and example of God’s rich common grace. It is for the sake of his people that he spares this world from the judgment it deserves. Your faithful life as a Christian has a more profound impact than you may realize.
Your God summons you to be committed to him. You belong to your Lord. As Luke describes this storm in the Mediterranean Sea, he may be remembering what he wrote about in Volume 1, Luke 8:22–25. There the disciples had feared for their lives and cried out to the sleeping Lord that they were perishing. Jesus speaks, and quiets the storm. As Luke records the marveling question, “Who can this be?” he wants you to remember that of course the wind and waves obey their Creator. Although the ascended Lord did not calm the storm in Acts immediately, he was no less in control of it and the ship being tossed around by it. There may be no atheists in foxholes, or on storm-tossed ships, or possibly in the traumas you face. Paul’s relationship with God antedates the storm. Notice how Paul identifies God: “whose I am and whom I serve.” God is not there primarily to meet your felt needs! God calls you to trust him, to serve him, to be committed to him. Paul’s commitment, and yours, are but faint reflections of the commitment, service, and trust which characterized the Savior. Your baptism marks you as belonging to God. It is a (sometimes) silent testimony to the fact that you belong to God. Remember that as you face danger, and as you are tempted to sin.
Q .What is your only comfort in life and death?†
A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him. (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1)
Why this message? For Paul, for his shipmates, and for you, keep up your courage. God will do what he said he will. That is true whether it is the gift of the lives of Paul’s companions, the assurance that the gates of hell will never prevail against the church, or the promise that he will work all things together, both for his glory and for your good. What are you facing that seems overwhelming, impossible to survive? Your courage grows out of the strength of the One who is powerful enough to control the northeaster, who also displays his power in the gift of his Son, to and through whom the Father has given the lives of many. Trust this God, not only for deliverance from the storms that seem out of control in your life, but trust him with your life for all eternity. You do belong to your faithful Savior.
God’s gracious gift is protection and is life itself. He has even given you, his church, the lives of those around you!