God’s Word for You
Acts 27:39-41 The shipwreck
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, March 10, 2021
39 When day came, they did not recognize the land, but they made out some bay with a beach where they resolved, if they could, to run the ship aground. 40 So they cut loose the anchors and left them in the sea, and at the same time they cast off the ropes lashed to the rudders. Then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach. 41 Striking a reef, they ran the ship aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern began to break apart because of the violence of the surf.
Here was the crisis for the ship. Verses 42-44 present the crisis for the men, soldiers, sailors, and prisoners. Presumably the sailors and perhaps some of the others might have recognized the main harbor of the island, but they had passed it to the right, and now they made out “some bay” with a beach. Today this is known as St. Paul’s Bay, on the northeast side of Malta. There was no hope of saving the ship, but by running her aground there was a chance that they might save their lives.
They cut the anchors loose. Probably there wasn’t time to hoist them in, and if the ship was lost there would have been no point in saving them. The ship did not have a dedicated rudder below the waterline, but rather was steered with two large paddles or oars tied to the port and starboard side of the ship’s stern (back end). The strong force of the water coming from behind them would do all sorts of unpredictable and undesirable things to the vessel had these rudders remained in place.
They hoisted a sail. Artemon (ἀρτέμων) might be related to the Greek word artios “now, first of all” (2 Samuel 15:34) in which case we would call it a foresail, but Luke might also mean a small jib sail; anything easily and quickly run up (or run out) to catch the following wind, turn them to port, and carry them a little farther into the bay. It’s not possible to say with certainty where they struck, but there are two likely places. The first is the narrow channel between the mainland and the little island of Salmonetta. The other is St. Paul’s Bank at the entrance of the bay. Wherever it was, one can imagine the sudden shuddering stoppage of the ship as all headway came to an end and everything left on deck would have heaved, rolled, careened and hurtled forward with the momentum of the shock. At once the back of the ship began to be ripped apart by the relentless surge of the surf. There wasn’t much time. It was the moment to abandon ship.
There comes a moment in life for many when the long path of human existence comes to a more abrupt end than was expected. When this happened to King Hezekiah, he said, “In the prime of my life must I go through the gates of death and be robbed of the rest of my years? I will not again see the LORD, the LORD, in the land of the living; no longer will I look on mankind, or be with those who now dwell in this world” (Isaiah 38:10-11). A Christian who faces this moment sooner than they thought they might will probably think, “I don’t want to die yet. I don’t want to leave my family and my loved ones so soon, I don’t want to say goodbye to my happy life on God’s good earth.” This isn’t a sinful thought. Yes, we long for the joy of eternal life in heaven, but a Christian can also appreciate and take delight in the pleasures and joys of God’s creation. To find ourselves suddenly in between these places, heaven on the one hand and earth on the other, we will feel a twinge of grief and regret for leaving the world behind. If such a day comes to you, when the ship of your life is suddenly taken by a storm into a strange bay and strikes in such a way that death seems both inevitable and also very close indeed, then take comfort in your forgiveness in Jesus. Do not be troubled if you feel regret. Jesus felt regret and asked for the cup of his suffering and death to be taken from him (Mark 14:36). Samson cried out for water to stave off his death (Judges 15:18). Jonathan questioned his death sentence (1 Samuel 14:43). No one knows how they will face their moment until their moment comes, but we don’t need to fear for our souls. God doesn’t want anyone to be lost, but gave up his own Son “that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In his final hours, Luther himself took those words to heart and remembered his saving God. God will send his angels to take care of whatever happens next. Your soul will be taken where it belongs, into the very lap of God. All of our human doubts and flaws will perish with our bodies, and all that will remain is eternal trust and faith in Christ, and the blessings he gives, all because he loves us. Do not fear the strange beach, the crashing waves, the howling wind. Step off into the arms of Jesus, and wait for the rest of us who will be following behind. You yourself will become an example for us, and for that—for you—we are grateful, and we praise God.
Pastor Timothy Smith