Friday, February 10, 2012

February 10 - Paul, Martyr, Apostle, Preacher

Paul knew sailing would be rough and so he told his captors--Roman soldiers transferring him as a prisoner to Rome for trial--that it would be a costly trip because of a storm. But the pilot said differently and the centurion was convinced that the pilot was right. The harbor wasn't a good place to be in the winter and so the crew felt pressure to get out on the water and arrive in a different port--maybe Phoenix?--to weather the winter. So, they disembarked and began their journey when a decent wind blew from the south and they became confident that they could make it to the next stop. Yet, they stayed close to the shore.

Soon after, the wind picked up and changed direction. The crew fought with the wind but were unable to gain control and were forced to go where the wind willed.The storm beat upon the poor boat for days and drove it a great distance. They began throwing cargo overboard like Paul had predicted but it wasn't enough. Each hour their hope for escape weakened until eventually the crew had given up any hope for safety. At this time, Paul came to the crew and said, "I told you that we shouldn't have sailed but it's okay. Don't worry--we'll lose the boat but nobody will lose their life because of this storm." The crew was convinced that they were facing the end and so they laughed at him and asked why he was so confidence since he was in the same place as them. Paul replied, "Last night an angel of God--whom I belong to and whom I worship--appeared and said, 'Don't be afraid, Paul, you'll make it safe to Rome where you will be tried. God is protecting the people on the ship.' So, don't worry friends--I have faith that God will do this thing that God has promised. We'll end up shipwrecked but we'll be alive."

After two weeks of persisting in the storm, Paul noticed that some members of the crew were anxious about how close they were getting to the land. They began testing the depth of the water compulsively and eventually determined that it wasn't safe to continue in their boat. They tried to deceive the rest of the crew and the prisoners by releasing anchors and saying they would wait for morning to determine what to do. Under the cover of night and storm, they also released a raft and were preparing to get into it when the centurion stopped them because Paul had said any who did not stay with the boat would die. They cut the raft loose and remained on the boat. Before morning broke, Paul was found eating while the crew continued to be anxious about what they would do. Paul encouraged them to eat and stop worrying because soon they would wreck and the food on their stomachs would be more valuable than the work they did to save a boat destined for wrecking. So, all 276 people ate while Paul broke bread and gave thanks to God for God's blessings in the midst of the storm.

In the morning, they saw land and rejoiced. Though they did not know precisely where they were the crew was prepared to land at all costs. So, the sailed the boat toward the shore. As they drew closer, they struck a reef and the ship was immobilized upon it.The waves beat against it and they were forced to abandon their boat and swim for land. The soldiers knew their duty and so they drew their swords with the intention of killing the prisoners so that none might escape. The centurion stepped in and stopped them, though, and ordered all people to swim for the shore if they were able. Those who weren't able picked up pieces of the boat to float upon and made their own way to land at a slower pace.All 276 of them made it safely to land just as Paul had insisted they would.

Upon the shore, the crew and passengers were cold and wet but greeted warmly by the native people of the island they learned was called "Malta." The Maltans built a fire and gathered the shipwrecked passengers and crew around it. Paul wanted to do his part in helping to sustain this generous act and so he gathered a bundle of wood. The warmth of the fire had roused a viper and when Paul released the wood, the serpent struck out and bit his hand. It held on and released its poisonous venom with speed. The Maltans began to speak under their breath about Paul that he must be some terrible murderer if justice would pursue him so far as to strike at him with poison after he survived a shipwreck. All eyes were on Paul as he shook off the serpent and went about his business with no anxiety of fear. All those gathered on the beach waited for Paul to succumb to the terrible venom and became increasingly surprised as Paul remained healthy and fine. They insisted he was a god. He insisted he was God's. He didn't see the big deal--God had promised he would be safe and he had no reason to doubt the one who had called him on that road to Damascus. He preached the faith that gripped him and many were converted from among the Maltans and the boat's passengers and crew.

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