THE STORM (ACTS 27:13-26). It looked like Paul was wrong as the ship set sail under a light south wind. Hopes were high that the goal might be reached when a violent northeaster (Euraquilo) roared down upon the ship from the mountains of Crete. The violent wind was so strong that the ship could not hold its course, and the vessel was driven southward till it reached the shelter of Cauda, an island about 23 miles from Fair Havens.
The ship’s dinghy filled with water and it was brought on board with great effort. The crew passed cables under the hull of the ship, drawing them tight to prevent the heaving vessel from breaking apart. Once they left the protection of Cauda, the crew lowered the gear to slow the ship, fearing that it might be driven onto the Syrtis, sandbars off the coast of North Africa, the graveyard of many ships.
The following day the crew began lightening the ship of nonessentials, and the third day some of the fittings of the vessel itself were jettisoned. The situation had become desperate and even the crewmembers gradually abandoned hope of survival. For ten more days and nights there was the dreadful monotony of no sun and no stars—only screaming and howling wind!
Then an amazing thing occurred, the prisoner became the captain. He is a leader of men because he himself is led by God. Courageous leaders take charge in times of crisis. Paul is the only one with courage left so he took command with a much-needed word of encouragement.
A chip of the old Paul with the tendency to justify himself comes out, “You should have listened to me!” He speaks as a prophet; he had a fresh message from an angel of God assuring him that he would live to stand before Caesar, and that all 276 on board would be spared as well.
The hapless ship was being driven by the storm broadside across the Sea of Adria, a portion between Malta, Italy, Greece, and Crete. They were five hundred miles off course. At midnight on the fourteenth night, the sailors detected signs that they were nearing land, perhaps by hearing the crash of breakers upon the shore. Their fears were confirmed after they had taken several soundings and found the depth to be rapidly decreasing. Immediately the sailors cast four anchors from the stern and hoped fervently for daybreak so that they could make visual observation of their predicament.
THE SHIPWRECK (ACTS 27:27-44). The sailors lowered the lifeboat pretending to leave an anchor down. Paul caught them and told the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it away—that was an act of faith! Paul had gained great influence with Julius. Paul understood divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The action of the selfish and unbelieving crew would destroy everyone. We sometimes suffer because of the unbelief of others.
This storm was good. It revealed the character of Paul, the centurion, soldiers and crew. It gave Paul an opportunity to serve others and witness to Jesus Christ. It revealed that God overrules even storms for His purposes.
Fourteen days they had gone without food—probably too seasick to eat. Again, Paul asserted his leadership by encouraging everyone to eat to have the strength to survive. He promised that no one would lose a single hair from his head. He gave thanks to God in front of them, broke bread, and began to eat. All 276 on board were still alive and mustered enough strength to eat. When they had eaten all they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.
At daylight, they saw a sandy beach but did not recognize it. The location is now called St. Paul’s Bay on the coast of Malta. The captain carried out a complicated maneuver. He cut loose the anchors and at the same time loosed the lashing of the steering paddles, set the foresail to the wind, hoping to run the ship aground on the beach. Nevertheless, the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.
The soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners to avoid their own death later if the prisoners should escape, but the centurion did not so quickly forget the debt owed to Paul. He ordered that everyone should get to shore as best he could, and thus by swimming or by grasping anything that floated, each one made it safely to land. They owed their lives to Paul.
All 276 were safe on shore thanks to Paul’s leadership! He had boarded the ship practically last in rank, but departed it first in rule. A leader will rise to the top when there is a need for a leader. Paul convinced Julius that he was trustworthy and gained his support. The primary thing for a leader is that he is trusted. Paul led from the vantage point of a servant. He had the best interest of others at heart. He used good judgment and reminded them they failed to heed it. He strengthened others with spiritual encouragement and physical nourishment. He led by example. Paul was optimistic and enthusiastic in the midst of the storm. He relied upon the promises of God. Paul did not panic or compromise when the crew’s wisdom said it was better to abandon ship.