Skip to content

Shipwreck! Acts 27:39-44



Text: Acts 27:39-44. 

In our last study the sailors were sure they were near to land, – they heard surf, – but it was night and they could not see anything ahead.  But now dawn has broken and land is in sight.  Let’s learn the next part of the story…

Image by Tim Hill from Pixabay

1. The Plan. v39-41 

Let’s look at these verses:-

  1. They were lost. V39a. And when it was day, they knew not the land: As the sun began to rise, the seaman saw that land that they had heard overnight.  They had no idea where they were,  for they hadn’t been able to navigate for two weeks.   To be lost is a terrible state.  It is a fearful state. To be lost at sea is a dreadful condition.  Lost, hopeless, and afraid.  Now you know I’m going to apply this to our friends and loved ones, to the people who live around us who do not know Christ as Saviour.  They are LOST. Is it any wonder that there is a sense of complete hopelessness among the lost, fearful people of this world.  Ephesians 2:12-13 We have good news for those who are lost. READ Matthew 18:11, Psalm 119:175-176 
  2. They were looking for safety. V39. Ahead, the sailors could see a sandy beach, and they had hope! How many people long for a safe place, a harbour for the soul, in this life?  People who are lost, are often seeking for something to satisfy their soul, to give them peace or happiness, but because they are in rebellion against God, they always seek in the wrong places. Rom. 3:11
  3. They were led to urgent action.  V40 With Paul’s leadership motivating the sailors and having strengthened them with food and prayer and his Christian witness, the sailors went to work, to reach this safe harbour.  Look at the practical steps they took:- 
    1. Cast off the anchors.  Remember that they had dropped four anchors at the rear of the ship, to try to slow it down as they neared land, and when they were afraid that they would run onto rocks and be lost.  But now they had a goal, so they cut the ropes, or simply let them run off the capstans, and left the anchors on the sea-bed.  ESV So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea. Then…
    2. Prepare the steerage. The ship was steered by two large oar-like rudders at the stern, and while in port, and during a storm, these two rudders were lashed with ropes.  In the height of the storm, no-one could hold these huge paddles, – they would have been dragged overboard.  The sailors now released the rudders, and reassigned the helmsmen to their work, to steer the ship back to safety.
    3. Hoist a sail. Their third task was to hoist a small sail at the front of the ship. The AV translates it ‘mainsail,’ while the ESV is ‘hoisting the foresail to the wind.’  ἀρτέμων (artemōn) – The minor translation differences are irrelevant. The sail turned the ship toward the beach, and the helmsmen fine-tuned the course.  The ship was on its way to safety…

There is another application here. Those who had previously lost hope were now looking to a place of safety and were longing for home, for a peaceful shore and a safe harbour, and in the midst of life’s storms, when battered and blown by the adversities of life, the true Christian will fix his or her eyes upon Christ, upon our heavenly home and rest, and will long for our ultimate redemption from this wicked, sinful world.   

But it was not to be.  The beach lay in the distance, and to reach it they had to pass through a gap, between the mainland and a small island, but these sailors had no charts, and how were they to know that between the island and the mainland was an isthmus of sand and gravel, just below the surface. V41 The ship entered the shallow water over the isthmus, and with a sickening thud it hit the submerged ground. It was stuck fast – and now the wind and waves hitting the stern were taking their toll.  The ship, constructed of planks and timbers, started to break up.  

2. The Prisoners. v42-43a 42 And the soldiers’ counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape.It was at this point that the soldiers on board held a discussion on what to do next.  Prisoners usually have one driving ambition – to escape!  In the chaos of the shipwreck, it was likely that a gang of prisoners would make a run for it – or perhaps a ‘swim’ for it!  The Lex Romana was that in these circumstances, prisoners should be put to death, to prevent escape.  No risk of flight could be taken.  Here again the kindness of the centurion is seen in V43 

3. Their Preservation. v43b-44 and commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land: 44 And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship.

The seamen and crew were now within swimming distance of the shore. The centurion was in charge now, and he commanded everyone who could swim to make for land.  He gave the order, ‘Abandon ship!’ It was an orderly evacuation. But the real pint to note is that no one person, not one soul of the ship’s company was lost.  And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.

READ Psalm 145:9   We call this ‘common grace’ – the benign goodness of God to every part of his created world, even to those who are pagans, godless Christ rejecting sinners, like these sailors.  God allows the sun to shine upon both the righteous and the unrighteous and sends rain on both the just and unjust.  That’s the Common Grace of God, which extends to everyone.  Now, God had made promises to Paul, in this very chapter:

  • That no-one on the ship would be lost in this storm. In v22  
  • That the ship would perish in the seas. V22  
  • That Paul would stand trial before Caesar.  v24  

All of these wonderful promises, promises that Paul completely believed, made by the God on whom he trusted, were honoured, for God spared the seamen, allowed the ship to be lost, and brought Paul to Rome for trial.  The LORD truly IS, indeed, good to all.

Next time, we shall go to Chapter 28, the last chapter in the book, and we’ll see where these poor castaways found safety, and what happened next.  The story continues.  

© Bob McEvoy March 2022

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: