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PAUL’S VOYAGE TO ROME

Acts 27:1-27:44
Key Verse: 27:23-24

As we studied, Paul was tried five times before the authorities of the world. Each time no guilt was found in him. Paul’s defence was more than just defending himself. Rather, through testifying to the grace of Jesus, in keeping with his faith and hope in Christ Jesus, he advanced the gospel. Although he was innocent, he was not declared free in the unjust system of the world. It was God’s will for him to be brought to Rome for world salvation purpose. Paul knew the will of God and appealed to Caesar believing God’s words of promise in his heart. In today’s passage Paul is now finally heading to Rome. Strikingly, Luke wrote about this voyage in great detail as one who was with Paul on the ship. This is an excellent description of God’s providence and of Paul’s shepherding in the ship.

First, God’s providence. Look at verse 1. “When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment.” Paul was going to Rome as an ambassador of Christ, yet he was not treated specially but as one of the prisoners. According to a historian these “some other prisoners” were those who were in all probability condemned to death, and were going to be human victims to amuse the Roman populace by their death in the arena. It is noted that the centurion Julius belonged to the Imperial Regiment. “Regiment” translates usually “cohort”, which consisted of six “centuries” (100 men), each under the command of a “centurion”. Ten cohorts made up a legion. As one who belonged to the Imperial Regiment, Julius must have related to (or: had connections with) the Emperor.

Look at verse 2. “We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica was with us.” Aristarchus was a member of Paul’s world mission journey to Jerusalem (Ac 20:4). He had been persecuted in the riot in Ephesus (Ac 19:29). He was a faithful coworker to Paul, following him even when Paul was in a prisoner status. In Colossians 4:10 Paul called him “my fellow prisoner” and in Philemon 1:24 Paul recognized him as a fellow worker. How encouraging it was that now Luke and Aristarchus were with him!

Now let’s trace Paul’s voyage. The voyage must have started from Caesarea, where Paul had been in custody more than 2 years. They took a ship from Adramyttium there. Adramyttium was situated on the north-east shore of the Aegean Sea, not far south of Troas. They landed at Sydon, where Julius showed his kindness to Paul, allowing him to visit his friends. From there they passed to the lee of Cyprus because of the winds blowing against them. Having sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, they landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy. The ship was carrying a cargo of grain (see verse 38) and came from Alexandria, Egypt being Rome’s main granary (grain warehouse). Now seafarers consisted of prisoners, merchants and soldiers. From the beginning they had trouble in sailing in this ship. They made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. Because of the contrary wind they sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. They moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.

Now much time had been lost and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast (the Day of Atonement, October 5 in A.D. 59). So they had entered the dangerous season for sailing, which was limited, for these safety reasons, until the beginning of November. Paul, who had had a lot of experience of the Mediterranean Sea, warned them that to sail any further would bring loss to cargo, ship and life. But the pilot and the ship-owner thought differently, and the centurion agreed with them on the ground that Fair Havens was not a sufficiently protected harbor to winter in. The majority decided to sail further forty miles (64 km) to Phoenix.

Then they really had a hard time. At first there was a gentle south wind and so they sailed along the shore of Crete. Soon after a wind of hurricane force, called the ‘northeaster,’ swept down from the island (Cretan mountains). The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so they gave way to it and were driven along. They were hardly able to make their lifeboat secure at a small island called Cauda. Then they held the ship and lifeboat together with ropes. Fearing that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtia, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. They took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard by their own hands. For many days they could see neither sun nor stars, only the storm continuing raging. They were in that situation for fourteen days. After this hard and disastrous voyage they arrived safely on an island on the way to Rome.

Here we see that Paul’s voyage to Rome was not an easy one but was full of difficulties even to endangering lives. Why was it not easy and smooth sailing, particularly since Paul was moving according to God’s promise? It was because although God was in control over all, still the invisible demonic forces were working to thwart in the compass of God’s allowance God’s plan for Paul to go to Rome. We have seen this through the Jews repeated attempts to kill him through setting ambush. Even at this last stage of Paul’s going to Rome Satan did his best to devour Paul into the sea through the storm. Even at the very moment of reaching land, the evil one tried to kill Paul through the soldiers who wanted to prevent any of the prisoners from escaping. However, Paul was rescued by divine overrule. It was because God’s purpose had to be fulfilled despite the spiritual forces of evil. He had to stand trial before Caesar. God’s providence according to his promise given to Paul was to be done in Paul’s life. As Paul underwent this extremely difficult journey to Rome and finally made it according to God’s promise, his life in Rome would also be the fulfillment of God’s promise in his providence however hard it would be.

Scripture is full of examples of the devil seeking to thwart God’s saving purpose. When the baby Moses was born, Pharaoh issued an edict that every baby boy had to be thrown into the Nile River. The target of this edict was none other than the baby Moses, who would grow up to be a deliverer of the Israelites for God’s grand purpose. In the book of Esther, Haman the Agagite and enemy of the Jews, had an evil scheme to annihilate all the Jews, even setting a date on which to kill them. At this all the Jews were crying, since Haman was a powerful man next to the king. Then Queen Esther, with the faith, “If I perish, I perish", challenged the situation by approaching the king although it was against the law. The king came to know the whole situation and accepted Esther’s request to save the Jews. According to the description of Esther 9:1, “…the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them.” When the baby Jesus was born, King Herod the Great ordered that all the baby boys in Bethlehem be killed in an attempt to destroy the infant Jesus. Of course, God completely protected the baby Jesus. As we studied in Acts, Satan worked diligently through the Sanhedrin to smother the church at birth by stifling the apostolic witness. But God gave the church birth church and allowed it to flourish through the persecutions.

We should know that our life journey in Christ is not always a favourable one. We cannot expect a smooth sailing at all times. In fact, it is particularly when we strive to live a life of faith according to the promise of God that our sailing seems to be tougher. Yet, God wants us to firmly believe that his promise is to be accomplished and he wants us to see the fulfillment of his promise. At each difficult time we should know that tables can be turned for his purpose in the providence of God.

Second, Paul’s shepherding on board. In this passage the words “driven along” are repeated three times. In verse 15, “…we gave way to it and were driven along”, in verse 17, “…they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along”, and in verse 27, “…we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea…” There was a gentle wind blowing for a moment. Then soon after the hurricane swept down and the ship was caught by the storm. Since then the ship was being driven along in the vast sea. They were unable to make their lifeboat secure. In the life-threatening situation they had to throw away all they had one by one, cargo and ship tackle. They tried their best for their survival by using anchors (17, 29, 30, 40). The word “anchor” is written four times: in verse 17, “…they lowered the sea anchor…”, in verse 29, “…they dropped four anchors from the stern…”, in verse 30, “…pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow,” and in verse 40, “cutting lose the anchors, they left them in the sea…” These anchors would not work to save them. Especially verse 20 says, “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” This describes life without a true anchor.

In this totally hopeless situation, Paul stood up. Before, Paul tried to help them by giving a proper advice, but they did not listen, regarding him as a mere prisoner and forming the majority’s decision. Now Paul stood up before them and said, “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss.” Paul said this not to point out their wrong but to help them to recognize their failure, the result of their choice before God. Then he said continually, “But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because none of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.” How could Paul give such positive and sure advice? In the Old Testament false prophets said, “Peace, peace,” when there was no peace (Jer 6:14; 8:11). God said that they were prophesying the delusions of their own minds (Jer 14:14). They spoke out of false visions and their delusion. But Paul was not like them. How could Paul predict the sureness of their not being lost, not even one, while there was no human hope of being saved at all? Where did this sureness come from? The sureness came through his personal relationship with God.

Look at verses 23 and 24. “Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar and God has graciously you given the lives of all who sail with you.’” The God Paul believed was a faithful God, who sent his angel to Paul at the crucial time. First, the words are, “Do not be afraid, Paul” In that situation Paul was also fearful. God knew this and spoke to him not to be afraid. When Paul engaged in the gospel work in Corinth, the Lord appeared to him in a vision and said, “Do not be afraid” (Ac 18:9). Next, the words are, “You must stand trial before Caesar.” This was God’s unchanging direction to Paul. And the words of promise for the saving of all those who were sailing with Paul were given. The God Paul believed was so loving and caring, all knowing and all powerful. Paul said, “…the God whose I am and whom I serve.” Paul was happy and proud to belong to this God and to serve him. Paul had such an intimate relationship with God. Receiving these words Paul could share the message of salvation and hope with all the hopeless in that situation. When Paul shared the message that God had gracious given him the lives of all who sail with him,” it could mean to him that they would be the gospel coworkers in Rome after experiencing God’s salvation. Paul continued to speak in verse 25, “So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.” Paul helped them to look up at God and believe the words of promise. They would be able to keep up their courage when they put their faith in God and his words of promise. The situation would not be changed right away. Their faith in God by believing the words should come first. Paul also let them know that they must run aground on some island, although it could be different from what they expected.

Here we see that what matters and remains in the end is one’s personal relationship with God. This is the true anchor in life. In that personal relationship we can truly help others: only when we have clear words of the promise of God in our hearts. We can help others with faith in God, not with any human method, title or position.

Now let’s see Paul’s next step of shepherding. About the midnight on the fourteenth day, the sailors sensed they were approaching land. They measured the depth of the water by soundings. When the situation was getting better, the sailors attempted to escape and survive by their own effort using the lifeboat and abandoning the ship. At this moment Paul saw what the sailors were doing and said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” Paul knew that God’s promise meant all had to stay on the ship and be saved together. At this they listened to Paul and the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall away. It was the midnight before the dawn. But Paul watched over what was going on on the ship and acted promptly for the sake of all. He was a shepherd who cared and kept watching over the people around him.

Next he practically helped them to eat. They had not eaten for 14 days. We know that it is not easy to eat when in deep despair. He said, “Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” Eating seems to be completely unrelated with God’s promise of saving. But eating can be an act of faith. After saying this Paul took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Altogether there were 276 of them on board. When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.

Then indeed they were all saved: everyone reached land in safety. Only the ship was destroyed, just as God said. When the soldiers planned to kill the prisoners, the centurion protected them, because he wanted to spare Paul’s life. It was certainly God’s sparing and the prisoners were also spared again because of Paul.

It is true that what matters in the end in our life journey in this world is personal relationship with God, and this is the true anchor. We can truly help others when we have the words of God’s promise in our hearts. God’s providence in the promise of God will stand. May we put our faith in God, cherishing his words in our hearts and live a life of faith and shepherding.

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