Late in the New Testament book of Acts we find ourselves in a shipwreck, another potential barrier to stop the spread of the gospel. Shipwreck looks to be a real barrier. For nearly an entire chapter we are on our way down. The storm is severe. The temperatures are cold. Acts says they were literally trying to hold the boat together by tying ropes around it. They toss nearly everything overboard. They lose the lifeboat. Eventually the boat is destroyed by the pounding surf. Threats are made to kill some of the passengers. They are forced to either swim or float to shore.
Luke, the author of this account wants us to know that shipwreck presents a real chance of not surviving. He wants us to be aware of the stormy conditions and cold winter water. He wants us to think about the dangers of hypothermia and drowning. Luke is an adventure junkie. And he also wants us to know that surviving shipwreck does not remove them from danger.
The crew, all of them, survives only to find themselves on unknown shores. What dangers might lurk here? In Odyssey, Homer asks the question in a similar situation, “Alas, to the land of what mortals have I now come? Are they insolent, wild and unjust? Or are they hospitable to strangers and fear the gods in their thoughts?” (Does anyone else think Luke carried a copy of Homer’s Odyssey in his travel bag)?
Shore is a very real danger. When we meet the residents there, they are called “islanders” or “natives” or “barbarous people.” How will these barbarians treat the ship wrecked strangers? Has the gospel survived shipwreck only to be stopped by barbarians on shore? We know that Paul survived shipwreck only to be bitten by a poisonous viper. But Luke wants us to know he simply shook it off into the fire.
Luke wants us to know the barbarians not only spared them but provided a fire to warm them. They then offered generous hospitality and when they were ready to sail again, they furnished the shipwrecked strangers with all the supplies they needed. The kindness of the barbarian islanders is the highest kind. Shipwrecked strangers have no way to repay.
Luke wants us to know this is an adventure. But this is no mere exploratory voyage. What looked to be business of the state was instead the possibility of God. Even shipwreck, snakebite, and unknown strangers that at first look like barriers become opportunities for the gospel to spread. There is no doubt that when Luke thought gospel he thought about adventure.