To Rome – Part 1

Acts 27:1 – 27:44

Finally, after two years of confinement at Caesarea Paul’s situation changes; he requested a change of venue, the request was granted, and now things are put in motion to actually make it happen. It seems, though, that Paul may have moved from the frying pan into the fire, leaving a place of relative safety for one of great danger to himself and his companions. In this portion of his journey only the first 80 miles or so were uneventful; the remaining miles to Malta were fraught with danger and difficulty.

A. Difficulty

Caesarea to Sidon – 80 miles vv. 2-3

no difficulties cited on this leg of the journey

Sidon to Myra – 450 miles vv. 4-5

traveled the long way around to stay on the leeward side of Cyprus because of contrary west to northwest winds

Myra to Cnidus – 180 miles vv. 6-7

slow sailing for many days, the wind direction preventing further progress in a westerly direction so they barely made it as far as Cnidus; they didn’t attempt a landing but continued south and west to Crete

Cnidus to Fair Havens – 250 miles vv. 7-8

only with great difficulty, managed to sail to the lee side of Crete and arrive finally at Fair Havens; they waited there for the winds to change, each day putting them farther into the winter season and the time when navigation on the Mediterranean would be too dangerous to attempt.

Fair Havens to Malta – 600 miles (direct) (1600 miles so far, 550 to go!) v. 9, 13ff

intention was to move 40 miles to Phoenix and winter over until February/March. A change to a south wind, weigh anchor, blind-sided by a hurricane-strength Northeaster that drove them off course. Unable to head into the wind, they were forced to run before it south of the island of Cauda. No safe harbor in which to anchor, driven by the furious storm for a total of fourteen days.

Struck sail, perhaps threw out a sea anchor, used ropes or cables to reinforce the ship so she wouldn’t break apart from the force of the waves, lightened the load, throwing overboard nonessentials, ran at the mercy of the wind and storm without any way to navigate and totally clueless about their true location. Malta – 8 miles wide, 18 miles long; if they missed it, the next land fall would be Tunisia on the north coast of Africa.

The Psalmist described their experience this way: Psa_107:23-30 Some traveled on the sea in ships, and carried cargo over the vast waters. They witnessed the acts of the Lord, his amazing feats on the deep water. He gave the order for a windstorm, and it stirred up the waves of the sea. They reached up to the sky, then dropped into the depths. The sailors’ strength left them because the danger was so great. They swayed and staggered like a drunk, and all their skill proved ineffective. They cried out to the Lord in their distress; he delivered them from their troubles. He calmed the storm, and the waves grew silent. The sailors rejoiced because the waves grew quiet, and he led them to the harbor they desired.

Luke was at his literary best in this account, building up suspense in his dramatic portrayal of the violence of the storm, the desperation of the sailors, the abandonment of all hope. But at each point when the situation seemed most desparate, there came a word of encouragement from Paul – his God would not abandon them, take heart, eat, be of good cheer. Then final deliverance came. All were saved. Paul’s God had indeed not abandoned them to the anger of the seas. One cannot miss the emphasis on the divine providence, and it is precisely through the detailed telling of the story that the lesson has its greatest impact. It is “narrative theology” at its best. John Polhill, Acts (New American Commentary)

B. Providence

faithful traveling companions v. 2

at least two:

Luke, as evident by the use of the pronoun “we”; the one who had accompanied Paul from Troas to Philippi and back, now going with him to Rome

Aristarchus, a companion of Paul’s since the uproar in Ephesus; he was joined in Troas by Paul, then accompanied him to Jerusalem; here he is with Paul on his way to Rome. According to Paul’s letter to the church at Colosse (Col_4:10) Aristarchus was imprisoned with him in Rome and identified by Paul during his imprisonment as a fellow-laborer (Phm_1:24)

a kind and considerate military escort vv. 3, 43

Julius – treated Paul with philanthropy, concern for his welfare. Paul had the freedom to visit his friends in Sidon but probably was still chained to a soldier. Paul was responsible to provide for his own personal needs – food, clothing, any supplies he might need for his journey.

The Roman judicial system provided no more than shelter for prisoners; since Paul’s departure appears to have been rather sudden, probably because of the time of year, he would have not had opportunity to inform his friends in Caesarea and receive supplies and perhaps funds from them. Julius graciously granted Paul the liberty to attend to his needs while the ship’s cargo was being transferred.

an encouraging nighttime visitor vv. 23-24

an angel – God sent his messenger with a message of hope for those who had lost hope (v.20). Some time in the midst of their tumultuous journey, between day three and day fourteen, God provided encouragement first to Paul and then through him to the rest of the passengers.

Often in life encouragement does not come in the form of instant relief; here it took the form of promised future deliverance. Following a period of perseverance and trust in God’s promise, they all would be delivered from danger. As He does so often, God blesses the unregenerate along with His own children: through Abraham God would bless all families of the earth; He blessed Potiphar’s house for Joseph’s sake; all the passengers aboard the doomed ship would be saved for the sake of Paul and his fellow believers.

landfall with no loss of life v. 44

It is obvious from Luke’s account that the ship’s progress and guidance was entirely out of the sailors’ hands. They had only poor quality maps and relied on the sun and stars to set their course. However, they drifted for two weeks at the mercy of the storm without being able to determine their direction or position. In that time they traveled approximately 600 miles guided only by the hand of God until they reached an 8 mile by 18 mile by 750 foot high plot of dry land. An error in navigation of + 34.3″ (+0.57°) would have resulted in their missing Malta altogether.

Yet making landfall did not mean their troubles were over; they still had to make the actual transition from aboard ship to land without loss of life. On Christmas
Eve, 1886, the Annie C. Maguire ran aground on the rocks next to Portland Head Light. The lighthouse keeper and his family were able to rescue the 18 crew members on board and the ship succumbed to the waves on New Year’s Day.

Paul’s shipboard experience was not nearly so pleasant – anchored overnight offshore, loss of the ship’s boat, an attempt to make safe harbor after daylight resulted in grounding on a reef, immediate danger from the ship’s stern starting to break up; cold temperatures (December overnight low – 51 average, water – 63); swim if you can, ride a plank if you can’t. Yet in God’s providence “all escaped safely to land”.

C. Character

At the beginning of the voyage Paul was at the bottom of the social pecking order, on board as a suspected criminal facing a hearing before Nero. By the end of the journey Paul was the one giving instruction to soldiers and passengers. Several aspects of his character are evident in this passage, traits that emphasize his leadership ability and made an impression on his traveling companions.

trustworthy (v.3) – not a flight risk

Perhaps on the recommendation of Festus and Agrippa, but certainly after a day spent with Paul, Julius was convinced that Paul could be trusted not to try an escape. Just as significantly, Paul had conducted himself in such a way that Julius felt kindly toward him. Paul had done nothing to antagonize his keepers, either by way of arrogance or being demanding or difficult. In fact, Julius would have been completely justified in requiring Paul to send either Luke or Aristarchus to get supplies.

knowledgeable (v.9) – about the dangers of wintertime shipping

Paul had enough credibility or rapport with the crew, military, etc., to be included in the discussion about the appropriate course of action. Phoenix was a much better location for wintering over than Fair Havens because it offered greater protection from damaging winds. The distance was only 40 miles but Paul seems to have had a premonition about the danger in attempting the journey. The ship was likely in the employ of the Roman government, transporting grain from Egypt to Rome, and thus the centurion had the final say in what happened. Paul’s caution influenced Julius somewhat but issues the sailors brought up influenced him more.

plain-spoken (v.21) – to the point without being harsh

Paul knew he had to get everyone’s attention; their lives depended on following the heavenly instruction given to him. If they were to survive the upcoming ordeal, everyone had to stay with the ship. The fact that events had turned out the way Paul predicted gave what he had to say great weight in the eyes of the other passengers. If his only purpose in making the statement had been to say “I told you so”, he would not have continued on with words of encouragement nor would he have warned the sailors not to leave the ship.

encouraging (v.22, 25, 34-36) – take heart, take heart, take nourishment

Paul had good news for the passengers and crew – there would be no loss of life. That should be cause for taking courage, serving to cheer up his hearers who were still in the midst of the tempest. More importantly, Paul had a word from God: that its source was divine rather than human is an even greater source of encouragement for the weary and disheartened travelers. As evidence that their deliverance would be from God, Paul gave details of their journey’s abrupt ending so they would recognize it when it occurred.

What seems to have carried the greatest weight with those on board was Paul’s final encouraging words and actions. Having dropped anchor so as not to run aground in the middle of the night, and as dawn approached, Paul strongly encouraged them to enjoy a good meal. During the tempest preparing a meal would have been nearly impossible; probably seasickness discouraged many from wanting to eat much. Now, especially since Paul knew the ship would be destroyed, he encouraged them to fortify themselves for the remaining ordeal of making it safely to shore. It was his example of giving thanks and eating a meal himself that finally the others to do likewise.

D. Tempests

They will come – it’s just a matter of when. When they do come, does our theology depend on our circumstances, our feelings, or is it founded on the character of God? Is it only intellectual, a mere collection of factoids we can recall at a moment’s notice, or is it practical and experiential, equipping us to live Christianly in a rough world?

Biblical theology is not disconnected from experience, it does not deny the reality of circumstances, it doesn’t try to spin hardship into good. It is the tempests in life that produce the greatest growth; good times are a wonderful blessing but they don’t build character the way hardship does.

Some of the most durable metals used in harsh underground environments must go through a lengthy heat treating process in which the parts are heated to several hundred degrees, held at temperature for several hours, then cooled in stages, reheated to a lower temperature, and finally cooled. This treatment enhances both strength and toughness in the material, enabling it to perform well in tough situations.

Proper theology recognizes that God has a good purpose even or especially in the tough things. He has not promised to make the tough things good, to somehow magically turn evil into good; He has promised to use those tough things in our lives in such a way as to bring good from them. We don’t need to understand God’s reasons for our circumstances, we do need to understand that we are absolutely secure in Christ.

May we like Paul bless both a taking God and a giving God, living in Him and depending on Him when all other resources have dried up. Then our experience will be as those 276 passengers – “they all escaped safely” as the angel of the Lord had so declared. We can be certain that the captain of our salvation will bring us safely and surely home through all the tempests of this life.

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