Paul’s legal questions have finally reached an end and it is time for action once more. Last week in Acts 26, Paul stood before King Agrippa, not to defend himself of legal charges but simply because the man was interested in hearing Paul and Festus was interested in Agrippa’s interpretation of Paul’s case. As it was, Paul had appealed to Caesar and there was nothing more to be done legally at a local level. However, Festus still had to figure out what to say as to why Paul was being sent to Rome. Paul had appealed, but the bigger question was what was Paul appealing and why was he being held to begin with.
In explaining his actions and giving his testimony to King Agrippa, Paul is ever mindful of the gospel and presents if clearly to the King. However, Agrippa acknowledges the prompting of the Holy Spirit to become a Christian but rejects it. Paul is undeterred however, praying that whether it be a short or long time, that Agrippa and all who heard him would accept the gospel.
While Festus thought that Paul was mad for his beliefs, both he and Agrippa agreed that Paul was innocent of wrongdoing. If he had not appealed to Caesar, he could have been set free. This is all part of God’s plan to bring Paul to Rome however.
Paul is finally on the move again in Acts 27. After waiting under arrest for more than two years, he will draw closer to one of his long term goals. Even though the Lord has been with him the whole time, this still doesn’t make the journey easy and it won’t be smooth sailing – literally – all the way to Rome.
27 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. 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.
If you pay close attention, you’ll note Luke’s use of the word we in this chapter. That’s because he is along for the trip. While some of the book of Acts is a second hand historical account based upon diligent research, this section is something that the man experienced.
What is recorded in this chapter is several locations that are of little consequence to the typical reader but they serve as what amounts to a sailing log that would have been indicative of a typical route that would have been sailed at the time. This happens to be one of the most detailed logs that has survived from this time period and is thus an important historical reference aside from just being scripture.
Joining Paul and Luke is a man by the name of Aristarchus. While this name probably isn’t as familiar as Timothy or Barnabas, Aristarchus was a common companion of Paul and is mentioned in Acts 19 & 20 as well as Colossians 4 and the book of Philemon.
Seeing as Paul is a prisoner, you might guess that it is not common for prisoners to be allowed to bring friends along with them during transport. Paul is apparently being given special treatment. He is likely being given the treatment that a wealthy person would be extended and Luke and Aristarchus would not be viewed as companions so much as attending slaves. It is also possible that given the agreement on Paul’s innocence, that Festus has gone out of his way to see that Paul is well treated because it would reflect poorly upon him if a clearly innocent man were mistreated while awaiting appeal of false charges. Whatever the case, Paul is fortunate to have companions with him but this would not have been the typical experience of the other prisoners traveling with him.
3 The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. 4 From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. 5 When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia.
Additional courtesies are extended to Paul as he is allowed to visit friends in Sidon who attend to his needs.
The route that the ship takes hugs coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It bounces around a few ports but ultimately stays near the shoreline. Because Cyprus is mentioned, it’s possible that in better weather the ship may have docked somewhere there of sailed to the south of it but because of the prevailing winds, it is apparently better to stay near the coast.
Years ago I actually had the opportunity to do some sailing in the Florida Keys. We were on little two man boats and we were just joy riding around and were never in any kind of rough water. Nevertheless, the principle remains the same. When the wind is at your back, sailing is quite easy. All you need to do is open up the sail and let the wind take you where you want.
However, if you are going in the opposite direction of the wind, it is something different entirely. You can’t sail directly into the wind. Instead, you have to zig zag. If you want to go west into the wind, you instead have to go northwest, then southwest, then northwest, back and forth. As a novice sailor, this technique proved quite frustrating to me and since I was going into the wind to come back ashore, I eventually just got mad and jumped out of the boat and pulled it the last hundred feet or so.
All of this is to say that this technique was difficult in a small boat where I was making small maneuvers and I could see where I was going the whole time. In a large boat, I can understand how even experienced sailors would want to stay close to shore and not risk tacking against the wind in open water where it would be easy to get off course. You might be able to determine that you’re still traveling west but assuming that you are aiming for a certain destination, one mile off may as well be 100 miles off in the open sea.
6 There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7 We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. 8 We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.
In Lycia they switch ships, finding one that was headed for Italy. Based on some details that we discover later, this ship is apparently a grain ship which would have been government’s fleet that was used to supply Italy. Because of this, the centurion as an officer of the government would have outranked both the ship owner and the pilot.
Another thing we know about these ships is that they were large. While they were privately owned but government contracted, they were thus not all the same size. However, they could be as large as 140 feet long, 36 feet wide, and 33 feet deep. We don’t know the exact size of this ship but it is large enough to hold 276 men and a substantial amount of cargo.
Finally, as luck would have it, these large ships did not sail well going into the wind as they were not very agile. Likewise, they did not handle storms very well. This is why the ship creeped along the coast with great difficulty.
9 Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement. So Paul warned them, 10 “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” 11 But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. 12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.
Ultimately it is the centurion’s call on whether to press on or remain where they are at. He does seek the advice of others though and apparently Paul is included in the process. This wouldn’t have anything to do with the previous privileges that he had been given but probably based on the fact that Paul was a world traveler. He had been in similar situations before and would have valuable knowledge.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:25 “…three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea…” This was written before this trip, so Paul isn’t even including this soon to be disastrous experience at sea in his letter.
Paul is not relying on just a gut feeling based upon the previous difficulty in sailing this far. Luke makes note that sailing was already dangerous because it was past the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement is in October and sailors considered it dangerous to sail between September 14 and November 11. After that date sailing wasn’t attempted at all. So Paul, along with any experienced sailor, know that this is already well into the dangerous season. However, where they are at is not a good place to spend the winter, so the decision is made to go around to the other side of the island about 40 miles away. It seems like an easy task but it won’t be.
13 When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. 14 Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. 15 The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, 17 so the men hoisted it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. 18 We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. 19 On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.
The ship doesn’t make it far before a storm is upon it. It’s not just any storm but this must have been a terrible system that remained in place for a long time. It is not long before the ship is swept out to sea and well away from their destination. By the third day of the storm the crew gave up hope of survival.
21 After they had gone a long time without food, 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. 22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”
We are not told what Paul was doing during the storm but we might assume he was slightly Christlike, sleeping while the storm raged and others feared death. Despite being shipwrecked three times before, this is probably the worst storm he’s ever encountered. But Paul has been told by the Lord that he would testify for Him in Rome. Paul has two options – he can either believe the promises that God has made before, or he can believe that God will not keep His promise and thus his death is likely.
The application of this passage is all about faith. Ironically the word faith appears only once in this chapter. Do we have faith that God will keep His promises, or do we not? Even as Christians, it is our nature to fall apart over some of the tiniest little things. We worry and fret over stupid things that we have no control over. And we make small problems into huge ones in our minds.
God has made us promises that we should hold on to when we face storms in life. Jeremiah 29:11 is an important verse to remember.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Likewise, we have Paul’s words which he previously wrote to the Romans in Romans 8:28.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Now, these are not guarantees that lousy things won’t happen in your life. Faith in God does not make you immune to sickness. It does not guarantee that you won’t lose your job. It doesn’t mean that your marriage will be easy. If these verses were guarantees of what we might consider an easy life just as long as we claim the promise of God and have faith, then you know you must have been a lousy Christian? Paul!
Paul was beaten, imprisoned, and shipwrecked. None of these things are what we would consider good. Now you might make the argument that these were all sacrifices that Paul made for the sake of the gospel and that is true. But Paul also suffered from some sort of health problem that had nothing to do with his personal choices and sacrifices.
1 Corinthians 12:7-9
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
Paul not only dealt with some sort of physical problem but it was so difficult that he begged the Lord to take it from him and the Lord would not.
My point in reminding you about Paul’s life is that we misunderstand God’s promises sometimes. And because of that, it can really hurt our faith. If you take God’s promises to mean that you won’t have difficulties in your life, then your faith is going to take a major blow the first time that you have difficulties. Because there will be difficulties whether it is a health issue, a financial issue, a relational issue or whatever else.
When those troubles come, if you expected God to shield you from them, then your faith isn’t going to be very great the next time around. But if you read the promises of God and you understand that they are talking about the big picture, it makes a lot more sense. Just because you go through some kind of difficulty doesn’t mean that God abandoned you or that His plan for you was thrown off track. That difficulty may very well have been part of the plan because it made you stronger and opened up doors that wouldn’t be opened otherwise.
The loss of a job may force you to look for a new job that is better for you. Or maybe financial hardships cause you to evaluate the way you’re living and you discover a more fulfilling life through cutting back on material things.
When we say we have faith in God, we need to trust in the destination that God wants to take us to. The journey might be bumpy along the way but that doesn’t mean that we’ve been abandoned. Paul’s destination was secure but he’s got quite a rough landing awaiting him before he gets to where the Lord is taking him. We shouldn’t think that we’re any better of different.
You know how this ends. I’m just going to finish up by reading the details of the shipwreck.
27 On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic[c] Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. 28 They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. 29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. 31 Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.”32 So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away.
33 Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. 34 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.” 35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. 36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 Altogether there were 276 of us on board.38 When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.
39 When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. 40 Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. 41 But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.
42 The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. 43 But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land.44 The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely.
Paul isn’t the only one who has faith in this passage. The men had to trust Paul to cut loose the lifeboats and any hope of escaping the ship. They did this despite the fact that the storm had raged to 14 days and there didn’t appear to be any hope of it stopping.
In the end, everyone makes it safely to shore. The storm blew them 500 miles off course and away from their intended destination. In the end, it doesn’t matter where they come ashore, just that they are safe.
In life, both our journey and our destination are important. It’s not just where we arrive, it’s how we get there. The good thing for us is that God is there to guide our journey and steer us to the best destination for our lives.