It’s Acts 27:38-44 today.
John Bunyan’s great work, Pilgrim’s Progress, is an allegory of the Christian life. It tells the story of ‘Christian’, the main character, and his journey from the ‘City of Destruction’ to the ‘Celestial City’. At one point ‘Christian’ and his companion, ‘Helpful’ leave the Kings Highway’. Below is a summary of the incident taken from Wikipedia;
“Along a rough, stony stretch of road, Christian and Hopeful leave the highway to travel on the easier By-Path Meadow, where a rainstorm forces them to spend the night. In the morning they are captured by Giant Despair, who is known for his savage cruelty and his wife Diffidence and takes them to his Doubting Castle, where they are imprisoned, beaten and starved. The Giant and the Giantess want them to commit suicide, but they endure the ordeal until Christian realises that a key he has, called Promise, will open all the doors and gates of Doubting Castle. Using the key and the Giant’s weakness to sunlight, they escape.”
It’s a good picture of the Christian walk in my view. We too can be imprisoned in Doubting Castle by Giant Despair but every Christian carries the key of promise; God has given us his word. We can rely on it and build our lives upon it. That is what Paul has been doing throughout this terrible trial.
For the 276 people on board the ship, their terrifying ordeal was almost over but they were far from being safe. The run for the shore was their only hope, but if it didn’t work, there could be no second attempt. We get some idea of the ferocity of the storm when we learn that when the ship ran aground some distance from the beach, the waves quickly smashed it to pieces. This was in fact the most dangerous part of the whole voyage and that was especially true for the prisoners.
The Roman Empire worked on ruthless, uncompromising, brutal, discipline. It is difficult for us, living in a liberal democracy, to grasp just how cruel this was. For example; we get our word ‘decimate’ from a practice used in the Roman legions. If a unit was considered guilty of cowardice or desertion; the unit was divided into groups of ten, each group would then draw lots and the one who had drawn the short straw was executed by the other nine soldiers. The word ‘decimate’ means the removal of a tenth. Another example; this time from Acts, was where the jailor in Philippi was about to kill himself following the earthquake. He knew that if any of the prisoners escaped, he would be executed, probably in a very cruel way so he was about to take matters into his own hands when Paul called out to him (16:27-28). When we consider all this, it made perfect sense for the soldiers to kill the prisoners before they had a chance to escape, after all, their own lives were at stake.
The fact that the commander protected the prisoners at such a dangerous and chaotic time says something about Paul. During the journey the commander had grown to respect and value him. It shows us that Paul, who taught that Christians should respect authority and generally respect those who were not Christians, not only taught it, he actually lived it out as well. The commander may not have been asking ‘what must I do to be saved’ but he had come to respect Paul, to see that he had a very real faith and that he knew, through the Holy Spirit, what was about to happen.
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2:14-16)