Paul was transported from prison in Caesarea to Rome via the Mediterranean Sea on a small cargo ship. He wasn’t alone. Julius, a Roman centurion, was tasked with guarding the prisoner. “Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica” and faithful Doctor Luke were also in Paul’s company. “We had boarded a ship… we put to sea” (Acts 27:2). Notice Luke’s plural pronoun “we”.
It wasn’t smooth sailing!
“A fierce wind called the ‘northeaster’ rushed down from the island. Since the ship was caught and unable to head into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. After running under the shelter of a little island called Cauda, we were barely able to get control of the skiff. After hoisting it up, they used ropes and tackle and girded the ship. Fearing they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the drift-anchor, and in this way they were driven along. Because we were being severely battered by the storm, they began to jettison the cargo the next day. On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands” (Acts 27:14–19). Can you sense the panic in Luke’s words?
The sailors did all that they could to save the ship and its passengers.
Many years earlier, but maybe in the same proximity, “the Lord threw a great wind onto the sea, and such a great storm arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break apart. The sailors were afraid, and each cried out to his god. They threw the ship’s cargo into the sea to lighten the load” (Jonah 1:4–5). Jonah, and those with him, knew that God controls the wind and the waves. The professional seamen “rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they couldn’t because the sea was raging against them more and more” (Jonah 1:13).
Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen who had grown up on Galilee. Once, when Jesus was in the boat with the disciples, “a violent storm arose on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves” (Matthew 8:24). Though Jesus was present, He was sleeping. The professional fishermen woke Him saying, “ ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to die!’ He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him!’ ” (Matthew 8:24–27).
Another time, when the disciples were alone on a stormy sea, “Jesus came toward them walking on the sea very early in the morning. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost!’ they said, and they cried out in fear. Immediately Jesus spoke to them. ‘Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid’ ” (Matthew 14:25–27). Again, the One who created the seas, calmed the angry waves with a word.
This wasn’t Paul’s first rodeo. Writing a few years earlier, Paul remembered the challenges of extending the Gospel. “Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea” (2 Corinthians 11:25). On three earlier occasions, God had saved Paul from probable death on the stormy seas. Paul trusted God then, and he knew that he could trust God now!
In fact, while the ship was being tossed about by angry waves, God sent a messenger from heaven to comfort and reassure Paul. “Don’t be afraid, Paul. It is necessary for you to appear before Caesar. And indeed, God has graciously given you all those who are sailing with you” (Acts 27:24).
Like Paul, are you adrift on stormy seas? “Don’t be afraid!”