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Last week, Pastor Mike told us of Paul’s meeting with King Agrippa and all the people that were in that meeting. Paul boldly shared his personal testimony with Festus and Festus concluded that Paul was out of his mind. But after Paul asks Agrippa a question about the prophets, he said that he was almost persuaded to follow Christ. They conclude that Paul has done nothing to deserve death or imprisonment, but since he appealed to Caesar, that’s where he had to go. This morning, we’ll look into the journey to see Caesar.
We’ll start with Acts 27:1-6.
We begin Chapter 27 with a detailed account of the first few legs of Paul’s journey from Caesarea to Italy. They delivered Paul to a centurion named Julius along with some other prisoners. They embarked on an Adramyttian ship. Adramyttium was a Mysian seaport southeast of Troas. This ship was likely designed for coastal use putting into ports along the way to the final destination. Luke takes the time to mention Aristarchus joined the voyage as well. Aristarchus was, “a Macedonian from Thessalonica.” They get underway from Caesarea and arrived at Sidon the next day. In Sidon, Julius allowed Paul to receive care from his friends. The names of those friends are not specifically mentioned by Luke. I think mentioning that Paul was treated with “consideration” is important. We can only speculate why Paul was shown this kindness, but perhaps Paul demonstrated love for Julius and the favor was returned. Paul’s friends likely gave him food and other supplies necessary for the trip to Italy. Shipboard passengers often had to provide their own provisions for trips on the sea. This was no prisoner transport ship – it was a ship that anyone could get on, as long as they had the money to book passage. V. 4 has Paul setting to sea from Sidon and sailing, “under the shelter of Cyprus because the winds were contrary.” They sailed around Cyprus on the lee side. That means the island provided some protection because the winds at this time of year typically came out of the north and northwest. They went out of their way in order to have better wind to reach the next port. It’s like traveling US 17 to avoid the traffic on I-95.
“We had sailed through the sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy, and he put us aboard it.” Myra was apparently the destination of this first ship so they needed to find a connecting vessel to take them to Italy. Julius found a ship that was heading to Italy and so he got Paul and the others on this ship. Myra was nearly due north of Alexandria and was on the route that Alexandrian ships would take to deliver grain to Rome. Finding a ship there was probably pretty easy. Julius secured passage on the ship, but the voyage was about to take a turn for the worst. If you have served in the Navy or Merchant Marines, you can testify to the power of the ocean. For those fool hardy souls that choose to sail on top of the water, life can get very challenging on the sea.
Things are about to get dicey. Look at vs. 7-8. The winds were against them. Sailing was difficult, even for these experienced sailors. The distance from Myra to Cnidus was about 130 NM. Even sailing at a modest 4 knots, the journey should have taken just over a day, not many days as Luke says. In the sailor’s minds, they were off course. The voyage should have taken them north of Crete, but they went south of Crete. They arrive at a place called, “Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.”
The tide turns in v. 9. Look at vs. 9-12. The best comparison I can make to this discussion is a Department Head meeting or leadership meeting. What’s curious is who participated. Julius the Centurion, the pilot, the captain, some or maybe all of the crew, and Paul. Do you remember what Paul did for a living? He was a tentmaker. However, he did do quite a bit of sailing so his input would not be like the Hollywood celebrities of our day weighing in on immigration. Paul said, “Men, I perceive that the voyage will certainly be with damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” Sea travel was growing increasingly dangerous due to the time of the year. The fast, or day of Atonement had come and gone. This day was linked to the moon phase and varied from year to year, but fell in late September or early October. With that information, it is not difficult to determine, with relative accuracy, the date for this voyage. Most scholars put the year as A.D. 59 and some at 60. In 59, the Day of Atonement was on Oct. 5th. In first century sailing on the Mediterranean Sea, mid-September to early November was a very dangerous time to sail because of the prevailing direction of the winds. Paul “perceived” that the voyage would be difficult, but Luke doesn’t tell us how he came to perceive that. Was it the Lord telling him? Was it based on his knowledge of sailing? At this point, we don’t know. What we do know is the argument to sail on was more compelling and “the majority reached a decision to put out to sea from there.” Majority rules. Don’t you just hate when the majority makes a decision you believe with all your heart is wrong? You’re the lone voice crying in the wilderness. In this case, it wasn’t really majority rules because Luke says, “The centurion was more persuaded by the pilot and the captain of the ship.” Based on this, it looks like the centurion had decision making authority for the vessel. In fact, the Roman Navy was an extension of the Army.
20:13 says, “When a moderate south wind came up, supposing that they had attained their purpose, they weighed anchor and began sailing along Crete, close inshore.” Paul is underway and I wonder if he is feeling queasy. The plan was to winter in Phoenix, a place about 36 miles from where the decision was made to sail on. Continue reading vs. 14-20. If you’ve ever been in a storm at sea, it can be a frightening thing. These were experienced sailors. The gentle south wind changed to a violent or tempestuous wind called a Euraquilo. This is a strange word that is sailor’s slang. It comes from the Greek euros meaning east and the Latin aquilo meaning north. This phenomenon still occurs to this day and we call it a Nor’easter. It was a violent wind of hurricane force that is consistent with the topography of where they were sailing. The crew attempted a number of things to combat the violence of the wind. With the ship on the lee side of an island named Clauda, the crew was able to haul in the little boat they towed behind the ship, but it was very difficult. Then they used cables or helps underneath the boat to minimize the chance of the ship breaking up from the power of the sea. Then the crew lowered the sea anchor, better translated equipment or gear. What that specifically was Luke doesn’t say which leads me to believe he was not much of a sailor. He was probably not familiar with the proper nautical terms and used whatever words made sense to him. It is likely the gear has something to do with the sails. There are a number of sails on a ship like this. The main sail was the largest of the sails capable of catching a lot of wind. If the main sail was up which seems likely since they started with a gentle southern wind, they would need to lower it to prevent the ship being driven into the shoals. No sailor or captain want their ship to run aground. Fighting against the sea into the next day, they began throwing the cargo overboard. Still fighting the sea, on the third day, the crew threw the ship’s tackle overboard. Again, it’s not certain what exactly the tackle refers to. Suffice it to say, the crew was doing all it could to save the ship, the crew, and the passengers. Look at the sobering conclusion that Luke gives, “Since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned.” The crew is exhausted, probably sick, perhaps injured or hurt. Too stormy to serve food or perhaps too sick to eat, Paul stands up.
Paul gives an impassioned speech in vs. 21-26. Paul has not forgotten what the Lord told him in Acts 23:11: “You must witness at Rome also.” Remembering the promises of God should serve as great comfort to us. Far too often, we focus on the circumstances that surround us and forget the promises. Somehow, we believe our circumstances override God’s power. Paul was in a desperate situation with all indication that he and the others on the ship were facing certain death. Each soul is just as precious to God as Paul was. In the midst of the sailor’s ineffective attempt to gain control of the ship, Paul gives them a pep talk and shares what God told him through an angel: “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.” When Paul perceived in v. 10, that was several days ago. He says, “Keep your courage men.” Keep going, keep fighting; don’t give up. We will not die! Oh, by the way, “We must run aground on a certain island.” These were professional sailors. They’ve probably spent their entire lives on the sea so running aground, on purpose, might have raised a few eyebrows. Look at vs. 27-32. The sailors suspected they were getting close to land because they could hear the waves crashing against the rocks. They cast four anchors from the stern. Some men feared certain death so they made a plan to escape by saying they would let down the little boat to cast some anchors down from the bow. Paul recognized this and reminded the Julius, “Unless the men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved.” The soldiers quickly cut away the “boat and let it fall away.”
Look at vs. 33-38. Paul encouraged them to eat something since they had little to no food for the past two weeks. We now find out that the ship has 276 souls on board. In preparation to land the ship, they throw their cargo of wheat into the sea.
In this exciting conclusion to the story in vs. 39-44, the sailors spot a good place to run aground so they cut away the anchors and hoisted the foresail. The foresail would catch the wind in which the sailors could better control the landing. They hit a reef and put the bow of the ship into a sand bar. The waves continued crashing into the stern causing it to break apart. Remember, there were other prisoners besides Paul and the soldiers did not want any of them to escape. As part of Roman law, soldiers could be held personally responsible for allowing a prisoner to escape. Killing them would prevent the prisoners from escaping. Julius intervenes and tells the soldiers that if any of them could swim, go first and get to land to secure the prisoners. It happens exactly as it should with some people swimming ashore, others holding onto planks from the ship, and still others, holding to various other things from the ship.
Why include this harrowing experience in the story of Paul? There is no sermon recorded by Luke; there’s not even any specific mention of Paul sharing the gospel to anyone on board. I think a major lesson to learn is that the promises of God are sure. When God tells you something, you can absolutely count on it to happen. You might be thinking, “Well, if God spoke to me like He spoke to Paul, I would have that confidence too.” All I can tell you dear saint, is God’s promises are recorded for us. We can read them over and over again. We can memorize them, meditate on them, and even remind God of what He said when we pray. Have confidence in God. Know that He loves you and will never leave you. Many promises are reserved for those that have made a decision to follow Him. Have you made that decision?