“These are no gods” (Philemon’s salvation story)

What little light had come from the hatch was suddenly snuffed out when the hatch door slammed shut. Cries once again filled the air as voices summoned the help of the gods. What good will that do? The thought brought images of the idols in Athens to his mind as well as images of their own god, Diana. These are no gods, my friends, but only wood and stone. Paul’s words came to Philemon through the darkness, only making the inky blackness drown his soul.

         The storm continued to rage, and the shouts of the crew were swallowed up in its eerie cries. Philemon could stand it no longer. He shifted Diana to her mother and began to crawl across the floor in the direction he thought would take him to the ladder.

         “What are you doing?” Appia cried above the din, her heart in her throat.

         “I told the captain that I would help.”

         “But you know nothing about sailing,” she reasoned.

         He stopped momentarily. “I have got to go, Appia. I will be alright.” She continued to protest, her screams mixing with the cries of the wind or gods, Philemon was not sure which, but he had reached the steps and was determined to go on deck. When he reached the hatch, he feared it would be locked, but it was not. It protested his pushing, as though something or someone was sitting on it. He repositioned himself and pushed with his shoulder. Suddenly, it gave way and seawater poured down upon him. The force of his thrust upon the door drew him out onto the deck as much as the raging wind. He held firmly to the hatch ring, slamming it shut, lying on the deck. What he saw, he would never forget.

         The rain was pelting the deck in sheets of water, which washed over him as he clung to the ring. Timbers creaked and groaned. and ropes, which had worked loose, lashed the air like bullwhips, while ropes which were taut snapped and hummed in low voices. He tried to lift his head and see if he could see anyone, but the deck was deserted. That is when he realized his mistake. I will get you if I need your help, the captain had said. The crew was riding out the storm, safely inside their quarters.

         “Oh god, help me,” he cried, but even his own ears could not hear his cry. He lay, head down, on the sodden boards, willing the storm to cease, when he realized what he had just said. Oh god, help me. Oh god, help me. When had he ever cried out to god? Never.

Once again, he pictured his gods. They are only wood and stone. They can neither see nor hear. Paul’s words whispered in his mind as the storm raged on. He recalled his last conversation with the man. I am a Gentile, Paul. This is all so new to me. I can see my god. I can offer sacrifices. “And will those gods and your sacrifices assure you a place in heaven and cleanse your soul from sin?” Paul had asked.

         His hands were numb from the cold and exertion. His clothes clung to him as the rain pelted his back. I will wait out the storm, and then I will believe, he thought. Suddenly, as though a hand gripped his wrists, his hold on the ring gave way, and he went skidding across the slick deck. “No,” he cried, twisting and looking for anything to grasp, but there was nothing. He would die; being swept overboard and drown in the sea, and nobody would ever find him. He was lost.

         Just as he reached the edge of the deck, the ship dipped in the other direction. That is when he saw it—the ship’s railing! As the shifting deck caused his momentum to decrease, he reached out and grabbed the railing before he started slipping the other way. Slipping his feet through the rail and stretching himself flat against it, he wove his arms around the rungs and hung on, hoping the railing did not give way.

         Over and over again, the railing dipped into the water, and Philemon came up sputtering. Philemon, you can truly know the true meaning of faith. To believe only because He deserves our faith is true faith, my friend. Will you believe? Tears choked his eyes as the salty water choked his throat. He thought of the shepherd and the peace that laced his every word.       He tried to imagine a man on a cross—an innocent man. No, not just a man—the Son of God! He remembered the shepherd’s words, telling him to make sacrifices in his heart. At the time, it made no sense, but now, in the fearful darkness of this storm, everything was making perfect sense. God wanted his heart, his devotion, much like he wanted Appia’s heart. He pictured her beautiful face, awash with fear. He thought of Archippus, on the verge of a wonderful new life’ but what did it all mean without the security of eternity?

         He closed his eyes and wept. God of Paul, I believe. Those simple words suddenly stilled the raging storm in his soul. Jesus, Your Son, died in my place. Another wave nearly toppled him over, but he did not seem to notice. You allowed Your Son to die in my place! He thought about his sons. Would he wish them to be in his place right now, to perhaps die in his place? NEVER! And yet, God had given His Son to die in his place, a miserable sinner. Oh God, forgive my stubborn pride! Forgive my foolish thoughts. Thank you, for Your sacrifice for me!

         Philemon rested in the arms of his heavenly Father. As the waves continued to wash over him, the blood of Jesus washed over his soul. Though his life was hanging by a thread, his feet were anchored on the Rock! He buried his head in his arms, praying for strength and for the storm to stop. One giant gust of wind nearly sent him overboard, and the shrieks of the storm sounded like angry demons cursing their loss. And then it stopped. The storm moved on. The ship began to roll more gently. The rain ceased. Philemon looked up in amazement, half expecting to see a shimmering apparition of his new God standing before him, but instead, the clouds parted, and a brilliant moon shone down through the rain-washed atmosphere.

         His arms ached as he tried to straighten them, and his legs seemed to be permanently bent around the rails. As he pushed himself away from the railing, he lay for a moment on his back, staring up at the moon. “The God of the Universe,” he whispered. A smile broke upon his lips. “I am a servant of the God of the Universe.”

         As he lay there basking in the newness of his faith, the crew emerged from their quarters. Debris littered the deck, useless treasures dredged up from the sea. Their voices echoed with relief as they busied themselves with the tasks at hand.

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