Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Prisoner? Or Not?

"And as day was about to dawn, Paul implored them all to take food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day you have waited and continued without food, and eaten nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take nourishment, for this is for your survival, since not a hair will fall from the head of any of you.” 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat. 36 Then they were all encouraged, and also took food themselves. 37 And in all we were two hundred and seventy-six persons on the ship. 38 So when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship and threw out the wheat into the sea."  Acts 27: 33-38 (NKJV)

The kids and I have been reading the book of Acts for school the last few weeks.  When we read these chapters about the travels to Rome, I had to go back myself and read a few things, and see if that was really what was said.  In particular, these verses caught my attention, because I don't recall them ever being mentioned in a sermon or anything.

These verses are puzzling to me.  When I read through them again,and also go back and read a little further back, I get the idea maybe, that Paul might be fasting.  Paul is spending time in prayer and petition for this journey, and for the passengers.  They've had many troubles, and have thrown many things overboard in an effort to lighten the ship.  When Paul starts fasting, and not eating, everyone else on board follows suit and does the same thing... why?  The first time I read these verses, I thought that maybe there was a food shortage, and Paul worked a miracle and multiplied bread enough to feed 276 people, but then reading it again, I see that wasn't the case- at least, that's not what I'm reading here.   I actually think that all 276 of these people saw Paul fasting, and thought that they should do the same, to try and ensure their safety and their lives.

They had gone 14 days without food, and I'm sure were seriously languishing.  It would be pretty difficult to muster up energy to steer a ship with no energy going in, and Paul saw what a situation he had before him, so he broke his fast.  Since all these people were following his lead, he had to break his fast in order to get the sailors to eat as well.  So he did just that, he thanked God for food, and ate.  Encouraged by this, the men proceeded to eat heartily, and then, knowing that they would be reaching land shortly, tossed the rest of the food overboard, because they needed a light ship in order to run aground on an island.

Paul was a prisoner!  He was being escorted to Rome where he would stand before Caesar, and he was a prisoner on board this ship.  And yet, there are two very notable things here.  One, these sailors and soldiers obviously believed Paul when he told them they would be safe with him.  And two, though he was a prisoner, Paul was praying for, and petitioning God on behalf of his captors.

"But [even] now I beg you to be in good spirits and take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you but only of the ship.    23For this [very] night there stood by my side an angel of the God to Whom I belong and Whom I serve and worship,
    24And he said, Do not be frightened, Paul! It is necessary for you to stand before Caesar; and behold, God has given you all those who are sailing with you.
    25So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith (complete confidence) in God that it will be exactly as it was told me;"  Acts 27:22-25 (AMP)

What an example Paul is to us! In the midst of a great trial, he was praying for his captors, he was praying for the safety of every single person on that ship- I believe that is why we know specifically that there were 276 people on board.  I suspect Paul knew each and every one of them- and whether or not he did or didn't, God knew each and every one of them.

But what do we do in a great trial?  When there are those who come against us, what is our reaction?  We usually try to defend ourselves, we pray for deliverance, and we most likely kind of wish for something bad to happen to those who come against us.  Paul does none of this.  Paul takes on the responsibility of every single one of his captors, and more than that, he encourages them.  He would have every right to be angry with these people, but he isn't- not even a little.  He encourages them, he shares a vision he has, and tells them to keep up their spirits, because all will be well.  Honestly?  I think if I were in such a situation, I would be thinking that it would serve my captors right if they were swept overboard in a storm. 

Paul showed great love toward each and every one of these people- even going so far as to break his fast, simply to encourage them and get them to take in sustenance which they desperately needed themselves.   This here is a great example of loving our enemies- Paul didn't just do it in word, or just a little bit.  Paul went all out and showed great love to each and every one of those people on the ship- all 276 of them. 

Could you love 276 enemies?

Thank you God, for such a wonderful example of the love of Christ, working in Paul's life.  May we strive to learn to love like Jesus did, and like Paul so elegantly displayed for us.  May we learn from the example of Paul and show great love in our darkest days.

No comments: