14-12 Paul's Shipwreck
There is no doubt that the great apostle Paul was a clear type of the
Lord Jesus. He confidently holds himself up as an example to us
to follow, so that we might follow the Lord Jesus. The links between
Paul's sufferings and those of his Lord have been tabulated elsewhere(1).
I get the feeling that there are times when Paul consciously alludes
to Christ's words, and appropriates them to himself. For example,
in v.34 of Acts 27 we read of how he promised them that " not
an hair (would) fall from the head" of any of them, just as
Christ promised his disciples (Lk.21:18); and the way in which Paul
twice encouraged them " be of good cheer" (v.22,25) as
they huddled together breaking bread is also quoting the very words
of the Lord Jesus, in the same context (Jn.16:33); and remember
that Jesus also said those words when the disciples were struggling
in another great storm (Mk.6:50). The way Paul broke bread in v.35
is also an echo of the way Christ did it: " When he had thus
spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in the presence of
them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat...and they
also took some" . We get the impression that Paul was slowly,
deliberately copying the example of Jesus in the upper room (1 Cor.11:23,24).
So it is as if Paul is seeing himself as typical of Christ, and
those in the ship with him as typical of Christ's followers. The
way the Angel appeared to him at night to strengthen him (v.23)
also echoes the experience of Christ in the Garden.
If we study carefully this record of Paul's shipwreck, it becomes apparent
that it is written in a way which is not just a narrative of certain historical
events. All through there are phrases and ideas which connect with other
Scripture. After all, if God's Spirit wrote this record, there are going
to be connections with other Spirit-inspired Scriptures; for the Spirit
of God is one (Eph.4:4), it's end product is unity, of
whatever sort. So when we start to put together all the links with other
parts of the Word which we find in Acts 27, it becomes crystal clear that
we are really intended to see these events as parabolic of the drama of
our salvation. Now I want to labour this point about the Spirit-word having
connections with other parts of the Word. Seeing types and parabolic meaning
in Bible passages is not just a kind of hobby, an enthusiasm, for some
who are keen on that kind of thing. We really are intended by God to make
these connections. This is one reason why He wrote His word as He did.
Ship, Storm and Sea
So let me give you an example of the sort of thing I mean. If you look
at this whole story from a macro perspective, as it were half shut your
eyes and just see the general outline, some bells should start ringing.
There were a group of sailors, with an immensely spiritual man in their
midst, caught in a freak, unexpected storm which threatened their life,
filled with panic and desperation. Then the spiritual man stands up in
their midst and inspires them with his words, and on his account they
are saved by God and miraculously reach land. Of course - I hope!- our
minds go back to the storm on Galilee, with the Lord Jesus standing up
in the midst of those terrified men. And when we analyze the record in
detail, we find this similarity confirmed. " A tempestuous wind,
called Euroclydon" 'beat' (Gk., AVmg.) against the ship (v.14). The
same Greek word for " beat" occurs in Mk.4:37, in the record
of the Galilee storm. The disciples' comment must have been echoed by
Paul's fellow passengers: " What manner of man is this...?"
. Closer study of Mk.4:37-41 reveals many links with Jonah's experience;
and Acts 27 also has connections with this, admittedly different ones.
The progressive lightening of the ship by throwing everything overboard
(v.18,38) is a clear link back to Jonah 1:5. On Christ's own authority,
we can interpret Jonah as a type of Christ, who saved the ship's crew
(cp. the church) by jumping overboard to his three day death (cp. Christ).
Thus the boat passengers in both Jonah and Acts 27 represent ourselves,
and their physical rescue points forward to our spiritual salvation. When
Paul tells them to eat food " for your health "
(v.34), he uses the Greek word normally translated " salvation"
. And Young's Literal Translation brings out the correct sense of Acts
28:1: " They, having been saved..." . They escaped safely to
" the land" (v.44 Gk.), symbolic of the Kingdom.
Now you might have noticed that several times we read about them using
the anchors. Then in v.41 we read of the forepart sticking fast and remaining
" unmoveable" . There are connections here with Hebrews 6:19,
which speaks of the hope of the Gospel as " an anchor of the soul...which
entereth into that within the veil, whither the forerunner is for us entered,
even Jesus" . The idea of Christ as a forerunner, the firstfruits,
is surely to be connected with " the forepart" of the vessel
remaining unmoveable. As they crawled up the shore on Malta, Paul and
the others would have looked back to that unmoveable bow of the ship;
perhaps they went to see it the next morning, as it stood proudly amid
the calmed waters. That sight would have stayed with Paul; perhaps the
Spirit used that memory when it inspired Paul to use the same Greek word
(the only other occurrence in the NT) in Heb.12:28: " We receiving
a Kingdom which cannot be moved , let us hold fast
" (AVmg.), as the bow of the ship " stuck fast" . This
is all further proof that we should see the incidents of Acts 27 as parabolic
of deeper spiritual things.
As always with this kind of thing, just one or two connections don't
clinch the point. But what we want to do this morning is to go through
this chapter, looking at the more evident pieces of evidence, pausing
to draw the exhortations. So let's start in v.2. " Adramyttium"
means 'the house of death'. That speaks for itself. You can easily jot
that in the margin of your Bibles. Now down to v.9: " Sailing was
now dangerous, because the fast was now already past" . Pliny records
that long distance sailing was supposed to finish on the Day of Atonement;
and seeing that this was the only Jewish feast which involved fasting,
it is likely that they set sail just after the day of Atonement (so the
Greek implies). The day of Atonement was on the 10th day of the seventh
Jewish month. We can assume that they left Lasea (v.8) on about the 12th
day of the seventh month, just after the day of Atonement on the 10th,
when navigation was supposed to cease. But three days later (v.19), Paul
and Luke were throwing overboard the loose tackling of the ship, in the
midst of the storm. This would have been the fifteenth day of the seventh
month; exactly when the feast of Tabernacles began. This feast lasted
seven days (Ez.45:25 styles it " the feast of the seven days"
). During that period, Paul and Luke were probably fasting, and doubtless
sharing in the fear which gripped that vessel. It was obviously impossible
to keep the feast. The sensitive Jewish-Christian mind of the first century
would immediately have picked up on this; and if he (or she) grasped the
idea that these events were parabolic, they would have seen in this the
powerful demonstration that in Christ it is impossible to go on keeping
the Mosaic feasts.
Paul was clearly held in some esteem on that ship. Even as a prisoner,
he was able to muscle in on the discussions about whether or not to go
on sailing: " Paul admonished them" (v.9) implies
that he knew that he commanded enough respect to put his point quite forcibly.
And v.11 is written in a rather strange way. It doesn't say that the Centurion
disbelieved Paul; but rather that he believed the shipmaster more than
Paul's words . He evidently had a great respect for Paul
as a person. And as Paul stood on that cold, windswept deck, shouting
above the noise of the wind (v.21), you get the picture of a man whose
magnetism was fully effective on that rough crowd of seamen and prisoners.
Such was his authority that a word from him resulted in them ditching
the lifeboat; the only human chance of salvation. Once they did that,
they were completely dependent on the spiritual vision of this extraordinary
man Paul. His repeated exhortation " Be of good cheer...be of good
cheer" (v.22,25) was taken to heart by them: " Then were they
all of good cheer" (v.36). And like a father with sick children,
Paul got them, against their will initially, to sit down to a good wholesome
meal. The uncanny appeal of Paul is brought out when we consider the implication
of v.35: Paul prayed in the presence of them all , all
275 of them, presumably mustered on the deck, and then solemnly ate in
front of them, passing the food on to them. Paul's magnetism is most clearly
shown by the Centurion being willing to allow all the prisoners to make
their own way to land, rather than allow Paul to be killed (v.43). Of
course our mind goes back to how the jailor at Philippi was literally
on the verge of suicide because he just thought that his
prisoners had escaped (actually, none of them had). Yet among those 276
desperate men, there must have been some who secretly despised Paul. The
Centurion " kept them from their purpose " of
killing Paul (v.43). This may suggest that even in their personal desperation,
some of the men on that ship were prepared to kill Paul, due to their
own sense of inadequacy, and jealousy of his spirituality.
In all this we have a cameo of the position of the Lord Jesus amongst
them who are called to salvation. We should be sensing, here and now as
we face the emblems of his sacrifice, as we sense his presence in the
midst of us this morning, something of his magnetism, something of the
feeling of the disciples on Galilee when they muttered: " What manner
of man is this" ; something of the wonder of those soldiers when
they returned to their C.O. with the quiet comment: " Never man spake
like this man" . Or the wonder of another Centurion: " Truly
this was the Son of God. Truly this was a righteous
man" (Mt.27:54; Lk.23:47; imagine his tone of voice, and which
words he emphasized in that sentence). Now each of us here ought to know
this feeling. But I fear that we come here, to this table of the Lord,
week by week, and somehow the sense of marvel, the sense of wonder,
at the personality of the Lord Jesus, just isn't there. Do we really know
him as we should? Do we really feel and respond to that spiritual magnetism
which exudes from him, now just as much as in the first century? Are we
really metal to the spiritual magnet of his perfect personality? These
are things which no magic set of words from me can put right. Do you
know Christ as your personal saviour? Well hacked, well worn
words, I know. But they are right at the crux, at the very heart, of our
spiritual lives. This ought to make us really sit up, take a hold on ourselves,
realizing that time is so short to improve our knowing
Now let's get back to the story. But let's not forget the spirit of what
we've just said. We are talking about serious stuff. We've been touching
the sky, as it were, without being unrealistic, speaking of heavenly things,
striving to reach out of our own humanity, thinking of spiritual reality.
Verse 12 says that their temporary harbour " was not commodious"
to stay in, so they left, " if by any means they might attain to
Phenice" . Now I just don't think it's accidental, or irrelevant,
that this very phrase was used by Paul a few years (or months?) later,
once he got to Rome and sat down to write to the Philippians. He wrote
of how he struggled to know the real spirit of Christ's self-crucifixion,
having counted all the things of this life as dung, losing them all so
that he might know the real mind of the crucified Christ, " If
by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead
" (Phil.3:11). The horrific memory of the shipwreck would have stayed
with him all his days. Under the Spirit's guidance, he would have recalled
the spirit in that ship, as they all set sail if by any means they might
attain unto Phenice. That run down old town of 'Fair Havens', its name
promising what it certainly wasn't, full of lonely old men sitting in
cheap tavernas...it must have been some depressing place, to make the
sailors take the risk of sailing further on in such unpredictable weather.
We might be able to imagine or remember towns like that which we know.
And that run down ghost-town, Paul said, was typical of how we should
see our lives in the world, worth making any sacrifice to leave, if by
any means we might attain to a better resting place.
Fortnight of Fear
It is difficult for us to imagine what that fortnight in the storm was
like. Verse 21 speaks of the " harm" which they experienced,
using a Greek word which is usually used about mental harm or damage.
They were deeply perplexed in mind and body. Their helplessness amidst
the fury of those winds is brought home by the Spirit: " We let (the
ship) drive...and so (we) were driven...being exceedingly tossed with
a tempest...no small tempest lay on us (i.e. smothered us)...we were driven
up and down in Adria" . Our brief life of probation is described
in widely different terms by the Spirit. Here we get the idea that it
is a totally horrific experience, full of fear, first of one thing (e.g.
of grounding on quicksands), and then of another (being broken on rocks).
In other places our experience of life now is likened to a plodding on
through the wilderness, in others to a short sharp battle, in others to
the monotonous tramping out of corn by an ox, the patient waiting of the
farmer, or the lonely, dogged endurance of the long distance runner. And
in yet other passages we are promised a life of " all (possible)
joy and peace through believing" , dashing on from victory to victory,
more than conquerors, caught up with the ecstasy of the triumphant march
in Christ, all our lives long. We must see our experience of spiritual
life in holistic terms, we mustn't just emphasize one of these aspects.
The way these different aspects all merge together in our spiritual experience
is, to me, one of the most wonderful things about a balanced life in the
Truth. An unbalanced approach will lead to us doggedly clinging on to
the doctrines of the Truth, rejecting any suggestion that there should
be an element of spiritual rapture and ecstasy in our lives. Or it may
lead to an over emotional, watery sort of spirituality which reacts against
any hint that we ought to be gritting our teeth and holding on to our
faith, fearing the ferocious satan of our own evil natures.
In our own strength, we really are like those sailors. " All hope
that we should be saved was then taken away" (v.20). When they waved
goodbye to the lifeboat, that really was the end of even the wildest dreams
of salvation. They fixed their faith on the serene old man who spoke in
calm confidence of his deep relationship with the true God. It has been
said, quite rightly, that a healthy fear of the judgment seat is vital
if we are to be saved. " Let us therefore fear "
, Paul wrote (Heb.4:1), and later in Hebrews he holds up Noah as our example,
in that he was " moved with (motivated by) fear" in working
out his own salvation (Heb.11:7). The parable of the shipwreck certainly
brings home to us this aspect of fear in our spiritual journey. So, there
should be some element of fear in our spirituality. It is sometimes said
that fear just means respect. This is sometimes true, but not always.
The fear of the men in that boat was real fear, not just respect. Of course
we must be balanced; a life of excessive fear of being spiritually drowned
does not consider those other aspects of our walk in Christ which we mentioned
earlier. But this morning, as we face the supreme holiness of the Lord
Jesus, the Son of God, and the supreme justice and righteousness of the
Most High God, Yahweh of Israel, a righteousness which is absolute and
cannot be compromised at all; and as we consider the filth of our own
natures, the endless list of failure, half hearted spiritual effort, even
at times wilful ignorance of God's ways; there must surely be a significant
element of fear within us, of panic and desperation as we sense the cage,
the trap, of our own sinfulness. Do we really love righteousness?
Do we so hate sin? So love God, so hate our sins, that
we can enter into the feelings of those men in the storm, as they were
driven up and down by the Mediterranean winds? We noted earlier the way
in which the record stresses the power of those winds; and winds are a
fairly common symbol of the pressure upon the believer from the surrounding
world, and from the innate, sinful promptings of our own natures (Eph.4:14;
James 1:6; 3:4; Jude 12). The howling of those winds must have militated
against their having a total trust in Paul's words. When he spoke of how
the Angel had appeared to him, no doubt they kind of believed him. But
the record shows that in practice they tried to work out their salvation
their own way. Despite having been told that they would all be saved if
they stayed with Paul, some of them tried to escape using the lifeboat.
The soldiers' suggestion that they kill Paul and the prisoners shows a
like lack of appreciation. Yet they all took Paul's exhortation to "
be of good cheer" . Psychologically, he did cheer them up. They felt
better after breaking bread with him and hearing his words. But they still
tried to get out of that mess their own way. You can see the similarity
with us this morning, as we sit here in the presence of the Lord Jesus,
hearing him speak for these few moments, above the winds of temptation
and this world. The words of the hymn come powerfully to mind: "
O let me hear thee speaking / In accents clear and still / Above the storms
of passion / The murmurs of self-will" . O let us hear him speaking
, not just now, but day by day, hour by hour, as we cling on in our
fortnight of fear, our desperate spiritual struggle through this life.
Loving his appearing
The description of Malta as a “land which they knew not” (Acts 27:39)
is evidently similar to the account of Abraham going to a land which he
knew not (Heb. 11:8,9). The land was a “strange” land, just as Malta was
perceived as a “barbarous”, i.e. pagan, land (Acts 28:2). The desperate
situation of Paul and those with him therefore points forward to
an awful time of tribulation for the believers just prior to being ‘saved’
into the Kingdom. This climaxes in coming to the place where two seas
meet (Acts 27:41)- surely a reference to the judgment seat. There, it
becomes apparent what is to ‘remain unmoveable’ and what is to be ‘broken’
or dissolved. These very same Greek words occur in 2 Pet. 3:10-12, about
the breaking up or dissolving of all things at the Lord’s return; and
of the unmoveable quality of the Kingdom which we shall receive, when
all other things have been shaken to their destruction and dissolution
One of the signs that they were nearing the end of their ordeal was that
" neither sun nor stars in many days appeared" (v.20).
Now this sounds very much like Lk.21:25-27: " There shall be signs
in the sun and in the...stars...the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts
failing them for fear...then look up...then shall they see the Son of
man coming" . As soon as it was day, we read in v.39, they grounded
the ship and swam to land, reaching their salvation at daybreak. This
fits in to place alongside the many links between the second coming and
daybreak. The men somehow sensed (" deemed" , v.27) that they
were approaching land. It is quite likely that the spiritually aware will
have a sense of the nearness of Christ's return. Christ too referred to
this when he spoke of how in the Spring we have an innate sense that Summer
is coming; so, he reasoned, you will be able to sense my return. Now if
we really know Christ, have a real two-way, ongoing relationship
with him, as a pupil-disciple to his teacher-master, then we will surely
have this sense. " They drew near to some country"
really implies that they were being drawn near; the Greek word is always
used elsewhere about the believer drawing close to the Lord. 1 Pet.3:18
is the best example: " Christ also hath once suffered for sins...that
he might bring us (same word) to God" . Now in our
typology that would suggest that in some way Christ guides us into the
Kingdom, helps us through the last lap. Watch out for other types and
hints that this is the case. And talk about it to some dear old brother
in his late eighties whose known the Lord all his days.
On that last night, the sailors prayed for the day to dawn (v.29 Gk.,
RVmg.). " The day" is an idiom for the Kingdom in Rom.13:12.
This fits in alongside the many other connections between intense
prayer and the second coming (2). If we know
Christ, as we've been saying, then we will long to share his glory,
we will long to see his beauty with our own eyes. So are we
praying earnestly for the day to dawn? Or are we just content with
the knowledge that it will come, like a slow train coming? Those
men prayed for the dawn so intently because they knew that if the
winds blew for much longer, they just couldn't hold on, they would
be swept away. They feared “lest we should be cast on rocky ground”
(Acts 27:29 RV)- replete with reference to the parable of the sower.
There are many indications that the body of Christ will be weak
and sickly when he returns. The sailors [=us] even at the very end
disbelieved the prophecy that the ship would be destroyed- for they
sought to “bring the ship safe to shore” (Acts 27:22,39 RVmg.).
Even for the wise virgins, the coming of Christ awakes them from
their spiritual slumber. Unless the days are shortened, even the
elect will be carried away with the ways of the world (Mt.24:22).
If we can really see the spiritual dangers of the last days, if
we can sense our real spiritual state, we will realize that we urgently
need the coming of Christ, for the simple reason that we are all
so weak spiritually that we will effectively lose our faith unless
he's back soon. And in response to the elect's prayers, the days
will be shortened. The Lord will help us through the final lap.
It was on the very last, fourteenth night, that some in the ship lost
their faith in Paul. They tried to get away from the ship in the lifeboat,
" under colour as though they would have cast (more) anchors out"
(v.30). The Greek for " under colour as though" is always used
elsewhere in the context of spiritual pretence, especially in prayer (Mk.12:40;
Mt.23:14; Lk.20:47). Under the appearance of trying to make the salvation
of the others more certain (by casting more anchors), these men were trying
to leave the ship because they honestly thought that the rest of them
stood no chance. Is there here some prophecy of how just prior to the
Lord's return, some will try to leave the body of Christ, under the appearance
of spiritually strengthening the rest of us? But the watchful Paul spotted
what was going on, and somehow got them to abandon it. What this typifies
is beyond even my imagination. " Except these abide in the ship,
ye cannot be saved" (v.31) sounds like Christ's words of Jn.15:6:
" If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth..." . But there
is a twist here in v.31; as if our all remaining together in the Christ-ship
is somehow related to our collective salvation.
And so finally, there they were, crawling up the shore on Malta, the
waves breaking over their heads, the backwash pulling them back, but struggling
on up the beach in the early hours of that morning, cold and soaked, perhaps
with hypothermia setting in, but brimming over with the joy of their miraculous
salvation. Now that is the picture, in this type, of our salvation. As
we enter the Kingdom, we will be at our most bedraggled, the weakness
of our natures will then be made fully apparent to us. " They knew
not the land" , only once they were saved did they know the name
of it (27:39; 28:1). The total foreigners who gave them such a warm welcome
perhaps point forward to the Angels welcoming us into the Kingdom. As
Abraham went forth into a land which he knew not, so in many ways we do
not know much about the Kingdom, our salvation. Remember that the 1000
years of the Millenium is just going to be a speck of a few millimetres
in the infinity of our salvation; let's not think that the Kingdom is
just the Millenium. We simply lack the ability to really understand what
God's nature is really going to be like. We can only describe things with
words and colours, perhaps words aren't enough to describe it, language
is too limited, there must be other paradigms beyond words to express
God's nature, the nature of our salvation; yet we now just cannot enter
into them. We know that the arena of our salvation will be this earth.
But if I point to say that square meter over there, all I know is that
it will one day be in the Kingdom, I have some idea what might go on there
during the Millenium, but through eternity, no. It's like if I gave you
some Chinese writing to read, you wouldn't know how to pronounce the letters,
whether to start reading from the top or bottom of the page, to start
from the left or the right. So we would be with information about the
Kingdom. But like those sailors, we are driven on by our desperate fear
of our own sinfulness, of the eternal death which we are so close to,
yet captivated by the words and assurance of the Lord Jesus in our midst,
knowing that where he is, both physically and spiritually, indeed in whatever
sense, there we earnestly wish to be for eternity.
So in the midst of this spiritually difficult life, a world which daily
buffets us with its winds, which continually says to us " Where
is thy God?" , we are to break bread with the Lord Jesus.
As God gave Paul all the men who sailed with him, so we have been given
to the Lord Jesus (v.24). Of those whom God gave Jesus, He lost none (Jn.17:12).
In many ways our lives are a case of hanging on, of hanging in there with
Christ, abiding in him and he in us, through our constant meditation upon
him and his word. We are all lacking in this; so let's be fired up this
week to do something about it. But in the midst of their horrific experience,
those mixed up men became " of good cheer" on account of doing
this. And so it is with us. Week by week, we are throwing overboard the
human things upon which we lean, upon which we hope, those things which
promise us a Kingdom in this life; and more and more we fix our gaze upon
the Lord Jesus, upon his assurance in the midst of this storm: "
Be of good cheer" . So let us now be silent for some minutes, to
fix our minds upon him, to know him, to look ahead to hearing
those simple words from his lips as we tremble before him at the judgment,
our love and joy blending with our fear: " Fear not, little flock,
for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom" .
(1) See Harry Whittaker, Studies
In The Acts Of The Apostles (Cannock: Biblia, 1996) .
(2) See The Last Days