Acts 27: Passing Through the Waters

Unlike the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Greeks, the Jews were not seafaring people. In fact, they had a very ominous view of the sea: a dark abyss of chaos representing the antithesis of their God of order and light. That is why the Hebrew scriptures often depict the Lord as mightier than the sea. His Spirit hovered over the waters of chaos at creation to bring order, and when he delivered his people from slavery in Egypt he did so by parting the sea. Even the rite of baptism practiced by Jesus and his followers draws on this Jewish imagery of the sea. Being lowered into the water was symbolic of death—a surrender to the abyss—only to be “reborn” as one who is raised up again.

Knowing this helps us understand why Luke, the author of Acts, ends his book with a detailed account of Paul’s sea travel and shipwreck. There are very strong parallels between Luke’s account of Jesus’ journey in his gospel and his account of Paul’s journey in Acts. Both Paul and Jesus go to Jerusalem despite the pleading of their friends not to. Both were arrested by Jewish leaders and handed over to Roman authorities. Both were interrogated by the Roman governor and then taken before the Jewish king. From there Jesus was sent to his death on the cross while Paul was sent on a boat to Rome.

At the end is where the pattern changes, or does it? In Luke’s gospel, Jesus faces the cross and “the hour when darkness reigns,” but God’s power is greater as he raises Jesus from the grave. In Acts, Paul faces the abyss of the sea but God’s power is displayed by preserving Paul and his shipmates through the storm. In both stories, the cross and the sea represent the forces of evil, chaos, and death aligned against God and his servant. And in both stories, God and his servant triumph over them.

Paul’s journey is a reaffirmation of the truth we’ve already learned through Jesus’—there is no power in all of creation that can thwart the purposes of God, and the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is now within us, his people. 

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Acts 27: Passing Through the Waters