And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away. — Acts 27:20
Everyone faces times in life when circumstances bring stress, but recently I went through a trial in which I experienced debilitating anxiety. I would be sitting in a crowded room when suddenly my heart would begin to beat rapidly and my breathing would become labored. My entire body would begin to shake as though I was in danger, even though there was nothing threatening around.
These panic attacks began to happen with regularity. Sometimes I would be driving and need to pull over. Other times I would be at a social gathering and need to retreat to a dark room. It even happened during church! It was scary, frustrating, and embarrassing.
I didn’t want anyone to know, so I did my best to keep up the appearance of cheerfulness and confidence even though inside I was distraught. Instead of the anxiety lessening, however, it grew worse. My attempts at acting “normal” became anxiety-inducing in themselves. I found myself withdrawing from people in order to hide my internal suffering, which only brought loneliness and isolation. In addition, I felt guilty when I was forced to give up a responsibility due to what I was experiencing.
God led me to let go of my own attempts to gain control over my problem, and let Him help. The first step was to tell someone. Although it was not easy, I went to a trusted Christian friend and relayed what was going on. Instead of judgment or disapproval, she gave me encouragement and support. She began to pray. With my permission, she told a few others who also joined in praying for me. And immediately I felt peace — while times of stress still came occasionally, the weight of isolation and fear eased.
When I read today’s text about the typhoon-like storm that hit the ship carrying Paul, Luke, and 274 others toward Rome, it made me think of that time of trial. I had no control of the winds of anxiety that hit me when I least expected it. I felt like I was being tossed about in a storm, with no idea how to remedy the situation. And in my case, like that of Paul and his shipmates, God gave direction. Although opening up to my friend felt like I was letting go of the wheel and allowing the storm to drive me, in fact it was the starting point for surviving the storm.
Many others have gone through similar trials. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, more than forty million American adults suffer from depression.1 However, mental health disorders are certainly not the only storms that come in life. They may come in the form of fear, loneliness, financial challenges, health concerns, grief, or any combination of these and more.
There are a couple important lessons we can learn from Paul’s experience aboard the ship set for Rome. First, when the ship of life seems out of control, we must follow God’s leading. In my case, that meant telling another Christian what I was going through. It may be an entirely different instruction for you, but the important thing is that we follow through in obedience to what God reveals.
Secondly, we must be sure not to abandon our relationship with the Lord. Paul warned the sailors who tried to escape the ship that they would not be saved unless everyone stayed aboard. We cannot abandon the Gospel, even in the worst of storms, or we have no assurance that we’ll be saved in the end.
I can say from experience that trials are not easy, but God is the Great Deliverer. Let me encourage you with the words of Paul, “Be of good cheer.” We will overcome if we keep looking to the Lord and following what He tells us to do.
Use of the pronoun “we” in verse 1 reveals that Luke, the author of this account, accompanied Paul on this journey. He recorded a detailed sailing log of their travel to Rome. Although he was not a sailor, the accurate nautical terms and descriptions in his account reveal that he had (or acquired on this voyage) a good understanding of many aspects of sailing.
Aristarchus (verse 2) was a Macedonian from Thessalonica who had journeyed with Paul to Jerusalem two years before (see Acts 20:4). This journey may have been his intended trip home, though he later stayed in Rome with Paul. Paul’s friends from Sidon in verse 3 were likely Christian friends made on his previous trips. The Roman centurion, Julius, allowed Paul to meet with them, showing his trust in Paul. The friends cared for Paul and possibly gave him provisions for the trip ahead.
The Alexandrian ship that Paul and Luke traveled on was part of the imperial grain fleet and was loaded with Egyptian grain to sell in Rome. These ships in the first century were made of wood and powered by sail. They generally ran 50-120 feet in length and could carry 200 to 300 tons of cargo. Paul and the other prisoners were placed under the supervision of Julius (verse 1). Since Rome controlled the grain fleet, as a Roman centurion he was the highest-ranking officer on board, though he was not the owner of the ship.
Paul warned that the journey would be dangerous because “the fast was now already past” (verse 9). This refers to the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27-32). The Jews observed this memorial in late September or early October. Any time after this observance would be closer to winter, a risky period to be traveling by sea.
The professional sailors deemed Fair Havens an unsuitable location to wait out the winter and desired to sail to Phoenix, located forty miles from Fair Havens (see verse 12). Phoenix (Phenice) was a major city that served as a place for sailors to winter since its harbor had protection from storms.
Luke called the storm that came upon them Euroclydon, which was a northeastern typhoon-like windstorm. He recorded that they ran “under a certain island which is called Clauda” (verse 16), meaning that they sailed between the islands of Clauda and Crete for protection from the boisterous wind.
The smaller boat Luke mentioned in verses 16-17 was a dinghy or skiff towed behind the ship; it was used for transporting goods and people from the ship when it was at anchor, and for maintaining the ship. The exact means of “undergirding the ship” is unknown, but it probably involved using the small boat to loop ropes or cables underneath the hull and secure them crosswise across the deck, to hold the ship together during a storm. Luke observed this was a difficult task, no doubt made more difficult by the tempestuous wind.
The quicksand Luke mentioned in verse 17 referred to the Syrtis, two long stretches of desolate banks of quicksand along the northern African coast. The wind was directing the boat at this point, and carried them toward the Syrtis at such a fast pace that the sailors lowered many of the sails to slow the ship.
In verse 24, the angel reaffirmed the promise Jesus had earlier made to Paul when he said Paul would live to be brought before Caesar (see Acts 23:11).
After being driven by the wind for many days, the sailors sensed they were near. “Sounded” in verse 28 refers to the process of measuring the water’s depth by use of a weighted line. Twenty fathoms equalled 120 feet, and fifteen fathoms was 90 feet deep, so the water was getting more shallow as they approached land.
Paul told the men onboard to cheer up and eat (verses 33-34). Fasting in Bible times often was done as a sign of distress, sorrow, or guilt, rather than a fast prescribed by the Law. In this case, the crewmembers were so distraught or seasick that they had not eaten. Paul’s assurance that “there shall not an hair fall” was a common Jewish saying meaning everyone would have absolute protection.
The men “lightened the ship” (verse 38) by throwing the grain cargo overboard so the vessel would ride high in the water and be driven as close to land as possible, enabling those on board to make it to shore. In the end, all on board made it safely to land.
(Hannah's Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
IV. The witness “unto the uttermost part of the earth”
E. The journey of Paul to Rome
3. His witness on the way to Rome
a. His witness aboard ship (27:1-44)
God is not unmindful when we face challenges in our lives. As we look to Him for help, He will send instruction and encouragement, just as He did for Paul and his fellow travelers.
1 Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “About ADAA: Facts and Statistics,” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics (accessed June 1, 2019).