I. The Story
A. Sailing to Rome (27:1-38)
- As we open the story in Acts 27 we are confronted with the statement, “we were to sail to Italy.” This suggests that Paul did not travel alone to Rome, but that Luke and perhaps other disciples accompanied Paul on his journey. We know of one more disciple who traveled with Paul was Aristarchus, who was later mentioned by Paul in Colossians 4:10 as “a fellow prisoner.” From the record it seems that Festus placed Paul and the Roman escorts on a freighter ship that would make many stops along the way to Italy, dropping off and picking up goods. While unloading cargo at Sidon, Paul was allowed to go see his friends in that city.
- The story continues as Luke recounts for us the difficulty of their travel. It was the time of year when the winds had shifted and made sailing a long and dangerous task. Verse 9 indicates while they were traveling at a dangerous time, things were about to get worse. In ancient times, sailing the high seas after September 15 was not advisable. Cloudy weather set in making navigation difficult since sailor were able to navigate by using the position of the stars. In fact, from November 11 to March 10 all seafaring ships stayed in port (New Testament Commentary, pg. 921).
- Based on this information, Paul addresses the crew stating that it seems clear that their voyage is headed for disaster. However, it seems the captain believed he could get them to Italy without harm. Therefore, the centurion listened to the advice of the captain rather than to the words of Paul. Since they could not stay at Fair Havens, they set sail for Phoenix on Crete to winter there.
- In verse 13 a favorable wind helped them on their way to Phoenix. However, the weather quickly changed as a violent northeast wind rushed upon them. In fact, commentators agree that this storm is a typhoon, or what we understand, a hurricane. Luke even used such language as he literally writes that the ship was, “unable to face the eye of the wind.” The ship became unmanageable and they had to ride it out as the wind took the boat wherever it pleased. As the wind drove the ship out to see they were able to get some shelter, providing the crew enough time to bring the lifeboat aboard the ship, which usually drifted behind. Next, the crew used tied ropes to the ship to help keep it from breaking apart in the violent storm. The crew then lets down the anchor to help keep the ship from drifting to far out to sea. The storm is so bad that the crew must jettison any extra cargo from the ship. Things are so bad that the crew must throw overboard the ship’s gear which would have included the main mast and its rigging. By verse 20 we see that hope becomes lost upon the crew. They do not believe they are going to make it through this storm.
- It is in the midst of this despair that Paul reminds the crew that they should have heeded his words. However, Paul is able to offer encouragement because an angel of God told Paul that he must stand before Caesar and all people on the ship will not lose their lives. But they are not going to immediately get to their destination for they will run aground on some island. We do not read that the crew believed the words of Paul. Fearing that they would run aground in a rocky place, some of the sailors tried to escape the ship by getting on the lifeboat. Paul warns the centurion that unless these men stay on the ship, he would not have his life spared. The centurion wisely listens to Paul this time and cuts the ropes holding the lifeboat to prevent anyone from escaping. At this time we learn that there are 276 people on the ship. Knowing shipwreck is imminent, the crew throws the grain overboard to lighten the ship.
B. Shipwreck (27:39-28:10)
- Not knowing where they are, the crew sees a bay with a beach and attempts to run the boat ashore there. Running into a reef, the ship becomes jammed and the waves begin to break up the stern. The soldiers planned to kill all the prisoners so that no one would escape. However, the centurion wants to save Paul, and he keeps the soldiers from carrying out their plan. Those who could swim were ordered to swim to shore while the rest would float on the planks and debris from the shipwreck to shore.
- Once ashore, the crew finds out that they are on the island of Malta. The local people show kindness to the shipwrecked crew, providing them with a fire and hospitality. While Paul was gathering wood, a viper came out and fastened on to his hand. The immediate reaction of the local people was that Paul was a murderer and justice is coming to find him. However, Paul shook the viper off of his hand into the fire and suffered no harm. The locals expected Paul to have his hand swell up or to be killed by the snake bit, obviously showing that this viper was poisonous. Seeing that nothing happened to Paul, the local people changed their minds and believed that Paul was a god. While on the island, the father of one of the leading men on the island suffered from fever and dysentery. After praying and laying his hands upon him, the man was healed and many others on the island with illnesses came to Paul and were healed.
C. On to Rome (28:11-31)
- After waiting out the winter months, they set sail in another Alexandrian ship which had wintered there. Finally, after much turmoil, Paul reaches Rome. Once in Rome, Paul was permitted to stay by himself with the Roman soldier who guarded him. After three days, Paul summoned the Jewish leaders and gives an explanation as to why he has come to Rome and why he is in chains. This gave an opportunity for Paul to preach all day long concerning the kingdom of God and to persuade them concerning Jesus. Some were persuaded but others did not believe. Paul concluded his teaching to those who were leaving by saying that they were fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, being unwilling to see and hear about the great work God had done through Christ. Therefore Paul would preach this message to the Gentiles.
- For two more years Paul welcomed all who visited him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without any hindrance.
A. Trusting God in all circumstances
- One of the first lessons we clearly see in this story is the disciples’ ability to trust God at all times. Paul went from the Jews plotting his death in Jerusalem to the foolishness of the captain sailing in bad weather. All that Paul had to hold on to was God’s promise that he would testify about the Lord in Rome. But those would have been difficult words to believe when one is on a ship in the midst of a typhoon! In Acts 27:20 we see the hopelessness of the situation. We are told, “finally all hope that we would be saved was disappearing.” The hopes that they would get out of that mess were lost. They believed there were going to die. Paul stands up and declares that there will be no loss of life because God said so. As we noted in the story, we are told that the crew believed Paul’s words, took courage, or brushed him off. But we see the confidence of Paul that God was going to bring him through.
- We cannot overemphasize the confidence that we must develop in our faith in God that no matter how difficult things get, God will remain with us. We cannot forget and must always believe that there is nothing that we are experiencing that is not common to others as well. “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13; NRSV). We have many people at this very church who have shown great strength. If God will not allow us to go through more than what we can handle, then brethren, we have some very strong Christians in our midst. If we are not that strong yet, we can become that strong in the faith. We can take strength from the faith of those who are here. We are an encouragement to each other as we go through our difficulties. We feel the pain together but we share in the strength of each other’s faith.
B. Preaching in all circumstances
- How about Paul preaching in every circumstance he found himself in? What an amazing man that it did not matter what was going on his life, his first thoughts were to be evangelistic. Just days after arriving in Rome, Paul calls for the Jewish leaders of the city to begin to teach them. While under house arrest, he proclaimed the kingdom of God and teachings of Jesus to all who would visit him while he was under guard.
- “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me actually resulted in the advancement of the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is for Christ. Most of the brothers have gained confidence from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the message fearlessly” (Philippians 1:12-14). While Paul was under house arrest, he preached not only to the people who would come visit him, but even to the Roman guards to whom he was chained. Every soldier that was chained to him would hear about the kingdom of God and the message of Jesus Christ. Finally, Paul had run through every guard so that he could say that his imprisonment had actually furthered the cause of the gospel and that the gospel had been spread through the whole imperial guard.
- His preaching in these conditions had gone so far that he could end the letter to the Philippians with these words: “All the saints greet you, but especially those from Caesar’s household.” How did Caesar’s household know about those great Christians in Philippi? Paul told that household all about those Christians and the great works that God had done for those people. Thus, Paul told Timothy in his final letter: “Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not” (2 Timothy 4:2; HCSB).
- We must preach the word of God in all circumstances. We must persist in proclaiming the gospel message. Can you imagine teaching the Caesar’s household? Can you imagine preaching to the imperial guard of Rome? Unfortunately, our motto has become “preach the gospel under no circumstances.” We come up with excuses not to speak about the word of God in nearly every instance that arises. We assume someone does not want to hear. We think that it is not a good time. Is it ever a good time or are we just soothing our consciences because we know we need to be workers in God’s kingdom? Preach and teach in all circumstances. Let nothing hinder us from the work of the Lord.
C. Encouraging others in all circumstances
- What an encourager Paul had become! Barnabas was known as the son of encouragement, but Paul did a great work of encouraging the saints and the unbelievers. It is from this house arrest that we believe Paul wrote many letters, including Colossians, Philippians, and Ephesians. Listen to some of Paul’s words that Paul gives while under arrest.
- Paul does not complain about his circumstances nor suggest that people should be upset. Rather, he wanted the saints to take courage and only gives a small reminder of where he is at the time of the writing. “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1). “For this reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles-” (Ephesians 3:1). “…giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).
- “It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, and you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and establishment of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I deeply miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment” (Philippians 1:7-9).
- “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last you have renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me, but lacked the opportunity to show it. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. Still, you did well by sharing with me in my hardship”(Philippians 4:10-14, HCSB).
- Do tough times stop us from being the encouragers of others that we ought to be? Paul would acknowledge his condition but turn his attention to the needs of others, encouraging them to be strong in the Lord and never turn away from the truth. We, too, can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. In all circumstances, let us always trust God, preach God, and encourage others in the faith. As Paul said, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).