Through many dangers, toils, and snares, having faced arrest, opposition, and riots, Paul now faces a natural catastrophe.
Escorted by centurion, Julius, Paul and his companions board a ship to Italy. It is late in the sailing season and dangerous to travel (v. 9), but Paul’s warning is disregarded (v. 10). Instead, Julius listens to the owner of the ship and sets sails (v. 11).
A great storm hits and batters the ship. Luke the eyewitness says, “We finally gave up all hope of being saved” (v. 20).
Paul now takes the lead. God spoke to him directly in Acts 18:9–10. Now an angel appears to him (v. 23). Though hazy on the details, Paul confidently reassures everyone that the ship will run aground (v. 26) but none will be lost (v. 24). They must stay with the ship in order to be saved (v. 31).
Luke tells us the exact number of people on board: 276 (v. 37). The ship is wrecked (v. 41), but all are kept safe (vv. 43–44).
We see both parallels and contrasts between these events and the experience of Jonah. Jonah disobeys God, but Paul is obedient to the Word of God. Jonah escapes to sea, but Paul takes to sea. Jonah knows the only hope is for him to leave the ship and the crew reluctantly throw him in to the sea. In contrast, Paul knows the only hope is for all to stay on board—but some of his companions lose hope and try to abandon ship (v. 30). Ultimately, however, the compliance of Jonah’s and Paul’s fellow travellers ensures their safety in both cases.
Both Jonah and Paul face impossible obstacles. Both are in the company of Gentiles, but God is sovereign and in perfect control. God sending Paul to the Gentiles is a continuation of what was begun in the past through Jonah. Paul’s ministry is not a departure, but an affirmation of God’s expressed will for all humanity.
No raging tempest can thwart God’s plan—not even the murderous intent of the panicked soldiers (v. 42), thwarted by Julius (v. 43). As events unfold, Julius’s leadership recedes as Paul’s becomes more dominant.
John Newton began his career as a sailor on board his father’s ship in these same Mediterranean waters. On 10 May 1748, he captained another ship struck by a great storm off the African coast. He later wrote of this experience in the hymn “Amazing Grace”, perhaps recalling Paul’s experience:
Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come:‘tis grace has brought me safe thus far,and grace will lead me home.
In what ways does Acts 27:25 reveal the key to Paul’s steadfastness?
Compare and contrast Paul’s demeanour with that of the sailors and the soldiers on board the ship.