The Most Crucial Hour: Acts 27:27-32
“27) But when the fourteenth night came, as we were being driven about in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors began to surmise that they were approaching some land. 28) They took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and a little farther on they took another sounding and found it to be fifteen fathoms. 29) Fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak. 30) But as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship and had let down the ship’s boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, 31) Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, “Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved.” 32) Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it fall away.” Acts‬ ‭27‬:‭27‬-‭32‬
One fathom is a unit of measure of about six feet. It is commonly used to measure the depth of water. As the storm raged through the fourteenth night, the sailors began to surmise they were getting close to land because it started getting shallower.
Soundings were taken by lowering a rope with a weight at the bottom over the side of the ship. When the rope hit the bottom, it went slack. These ropes had markings every fathom (six feet) to easily measure depth.
In short order, the depth had gone from twenty to fifteen fathoms. This marked a steep climb of five fathoms. It meant they were approaching land fast, most likely heading straight for a reef or rocks. If they did not slow the wooden vessel down, it would likely smash into a reef and be broken apart. If this happened at night, it would have been disastrous.
The first recourse for the crew was to throw four anchors from the stern of the ship to slow its progress. Then the sailors pretended they were going to use the landing boat to secure more anchors. Their real plan was to escape to shore and abandon the passengers to fend for themselves and face near certain doom.
In the face of danger, Paul showed keen discernment. He warned the soldiers that if the experienced sailors abandoned ship, the rest could not be saved. They needed the whole team working together on a plan for survival. At this point, the soldiers heeded Paul’s warning and cut away the landing boat.
This move to prevent mutiny by the experienced crew ensured that all were equally committed to an attempted rescue plan. It leveled the playing field. It was now everyone or no one. I like that mindset.
In this story, the contrast between worldly wisdom and godly virtue becomes clear. 1) The world looks after self while the Christian should be concerned about the welfare of others. 2) The world acts under false pretense while the Christian should be committed to truth. 3) The world is ready to abandon ship while the Christian should be loyal to serve others at all costs.
Your true character always comes out in the midst of the storm. The only way you can serve Christ and others is to die to self. In John 15:30, Jesus said; “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
Paul had become a friend and protector of all on the ship. He was shepherding the 276 as if they were his flock entrusted by God to his care. Unlike the sailors, his mind was not on his own welfare, but rather on those God had given to “sail with him.”
Paul stepped up to assume responsibility while the crew abandoned their responsibility in an attempt of reckless mutiny. Paul stepped into a void of leadership. God wants His people to step up in the midst of the crisis to love, lead and serve the most vulnerable.
Sadly, today on many fronts, it is the church heading for the landing craft and abandoning the most vulnerable. Voids of leadership abound. The world has no answers. These are the most crucial hours of the night.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global