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Acts 27:1-20 by Robert Dean
Cruise ship in trouble: Mass illnesses, blackouts, missing passengers. These stories have filled the headlines the last few years. Listen to this lesson to learn about the Apostle Paul's danger-filled, life-threatening cruise on his way to Rome as a prisoner. See how Paul points out that disaster is ahead as they face rough weather and strong headwinds. The crew ignores his warning and sets out. Encountering a typhoon, they frantically try to secure the ship. Hear how Paul relies on God's revelation to him and the doctrine he knows. Learn to apply the Word of God to your own experiences and adapt to changing circumstances even in desperate times.
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 3 mins 14 secs

Paul's Roman Cruise
Acts 27:1-20

Part of the challenge as we go through the last four or five chapters in Acts is that we are covering historical narrative. Historical narrative is handled differently than an epistle or a discourse or some specific prophesies that are given in the prophets in the Old Testament. When dealing with narrative there is just a lot of story. And it is important to realize that when the Holy Spirit slows things down and gives this much detail in a story that He is making some points, but they are not made in quite the same way that they are made in epistolary literature or some of the other forms of literature.

What we see in Acts chapter twenty-six is that Paul is speaking before Agrippa. And not only Agrippa but he is speaking before Festus, before the commanders of the five legions that are headquartered in Caesarea by the sea, and before political dignitaries, most of whom would come from the immediate Gentile city of Caesarea, and various other lower level political entities. Along with that there would probably be a number of other people from the local population who would want to come and hear what the apostle Paul was saying. So it is a tremendous opportunity for him to present the gospel, and he takes the opportunity to do that.

Acts 26:1 NASB "Agrippa said to Paul, 'You are permitted to speak for yourself.' Then Paul stretched out his hand and {proceeded} to make his defense". AS we have seen the verb here is apologeomai and it is related to the noun apologeo which is in, for example, 1 Peter 3:15, that we are always to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us. The word has a technical sense of presenting a legal case for a prosecutor, a judge, a jury; it also has the connotation in a more general sense of just presenting a logically thought-out case for whatever case a person is presenting. Even though this is not a courtroom situation, not a legal hearing, Paul is presenting a logical defense of his position and how he came to be who he is at this present time, and how God has worked in his life. And he uses this as an opportunity to present the gospel to all those in his hearing.

In previous verses, e.g. Acts 9:15, the Lord addressed Ananias: "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel". So God's intent in Paul's ministry as an apostle was to take the gospel across the social and economic spectrum of Gentile society as well as Jewish society. God has a similar intent for every one of us. He may not have articulated it as precisely but we all are beneficiaries of the mandate that Jesus gave to the initial disciples, and through them to everyone else in the church, that we are to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and "teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you". That is a broad mission statement for the Christian church and for the church age, and we all have a role in accomplishing that mission. Some of us play a more overt role; some of us a role that is more covert and in the background; some of us are in the front lines teaching, witnessing, teaching, evangelizing; other people are doing it in a more quiet and reserved situation. But we all play a role in that to one degree or another. One of the reasons we are saved is to carry out this kind of ministry. What we see in this chapter is the apostle Paul taking advantage of whatever opportunity comes his way.

We need to think about the apostle Paul's situation. This is sometime probably in the late summer of 59 AD (maybe 60). He was arrested approximately two years before when he was in the temple. At that time he received specific revelation from God that he would indeed eventually arrive in Rome in good health where he would present the gospel and teach the Word of God to the believers in Rome. So Paul has a specific revelation from God as to what God's specific plan for his life is. We don't have that. We have a blueprint. We are told that God has a mission for us in terms of being members of the body of Christ, ministering to one another, praying for one another, utilizing our spiritual gifts to the benefit of the body of Christ, that we are all supposed to play a part in the ministry of producing disciples, people who will pursue spiritual maturity. But we don't have the specificity that God gave to Paul.

But even though God told Paul he would go to Rome He didn't tell him when he would go to Rome. If you were the apostle Paul and God had told you this, that you would bear witness for the Lord in Rome, and it had come to this point where you had been rescued by the Roman cohort in Jerusalem, brought down to Caesarea, had had interviews with Felix, and at that point if we go back two years, Paul would be thinking he would be getting out maybe in the next week or two. But the months go by and there is no movement. Waiting is something we all enjoy, isn't it! It is one thing to wait when we know there is an end game and we have some sense of the time involved. It is a test when we don't know when that end game is going to come to pass. We just sit and we wait upon the Lord. In a sense that is a real parallel to our lives. We don't have a specific statement from the Lord, like Paul did—that he would take the gospel to Rome. We don't have specific revelation that we are going to live where we are now for the rest of our lives, that we are going have so many children, so many grandchildren, that we are going to retire at a certain age; we don't have that kind of specificity.

We have a similar situation as Paul did in that we don't know when the Lord is going to take us home or whether the Lord is going to come during our lifetime. We don't know when it is going to end. It could be tomorrow. Life can be surprisingly short and can end with great abruptness. All we know is that God has given us this mission. Paul has this same mission. He may have greater gifts, greater responsibilities, greater visibility; but we still have the same basic mission. So the mission for us is how responsive we are going to be until something happens for whatever takes place in our everyday life. Are we going to be responsive to whatever opportunities come our way to give the gospel to whomever shows up?

Most of us live a rather mundane existence. That is how the lives of most people run. But within that framework we have a responsibility to grow and mature as believers, to minister to one another, as well as to make disciples, to witness, to evangelize. Are we receptive and responsive to the opportunities that come our way? I would suggest that most Christians are so self-absorbed and so busy that they probably have hundreds of opportunities to witness, go right past them, and they don't even know it. They are so concerned about getting done what they want to get done right now. We get so consumed with our activities and working through our do-list every day, and we don't really pay attention to the opportunities that come along. And what we see with the apostle Paul is an illustration of how we can operate in this kind of a situation.     

Paul gets an opportunity to give the gospel and he does it in an organized manner. Let me suggest that you should think through some different ways that you can give the gospel to people. I don't mean just drive-by evangelism where as you run past them you say, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved", and then you move on down the road; but to stop and have a conversation with them. And be patient about it because sometimes it take multiple conversations; it involves building a relationship with people. With some people you may not ever directly talk about the things of the Lord for six months or a year, or two years, because it takes time to lay the foundation with some people. With other people they are ready to pray and trust the Lord right there on the spot as soon as you mention His name. It just depends on where they are in the process and what the opportunities are.

But like the apostle Paul we should think through how we are going to present the gospel, depending on the circumstance, so that we have a basic outline in our mind that can be compressed to one minute or up to one hour—what the basic elements are that we need to communicate in terms of the gospel.

One of the things that we should have in our arsenal is the ability to tell our personal testimony. A lot of people have never thought about that because for many of us there doesn't seem to be anything exciting, dramatic or interesting about how we came to know the Lord as our savior. Some people have a dramatic testimony, and these are the ones that are usually trotted out at some kind of a banquet or even where we hear how the Lord worked remarkably in the life of this really nasty, obnoxious sinner. The problem is that we are still looking at that from human viewpoint because every one of us is a really nasty, obnoxious sinner. We just might not have had those kinds of sins that this other person had but we were just as obnoxious and just as fallen and just as lost as anyone else. 

At some time in life we have to decide what to do with the fact that I was a believer. This is true especially of people who become believers when they are children and they grow up in an environment where they go to church every Sunday. They don't make volitional decisions to go to church; it is something that isn't up for discussion! But when a person grows up a little bit and leaves home and goes out on his own he has to make a decision as to how he is going to run his life, what the priorities are going to be, whether he is going to continue down the path that his parents provided for him, or whether he is going to go the way of the world. In many cases there is a struggle. They go out and all of a sudden they have freedom. They want to try this and they want to try that.

The apostle Paul uses his own personal testimony in a distinct way in being able to communicate the gospel to Agrippa and Festus and to the others in the crowd. He uses his own personal story because that engages people. People are interested and like to hear things like that. It is not that he is basing his salvation on an experiences but that he is using his experience within a framework of divine viewpoint to teach how God works through the ordinary, every day events of life, and how God worked to bring him to a knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ and understanding the grace of the gospel. So it focuses attention on how Paul knows how God is working in his life through the gospel. Paul uses his testimony in order to engage his audience at a different level to understand the gospel and to give him the opportunity to explain the gospel. It is not just a testimony of how he was saved, though he goes through that in details, but he is showing through that how God is directing his life and how God is protecting him in his mission. That is one aspect that we can learn from this and understand when we are witnessing to people. We should think through our own personal testimony and how to communicate that and use it with other people.

A second thing that we learn from this that has a great application is that Paul gives us a pattern for personal evangelism. As we have seen, Paul is responsive to every opportunity that comes his way. Every time he gets an opportunity to talk to somebody he is going to present the gospel. And in all of these trials and other investigations he always focused his presentation on the core issue of resurrection and that Jesus rose from the dead.

From this, too, we learn from his focus. Are we willing to think about how we can turn a conversation to the gospel, and just by asking questions? Some have a tendency more to want to tell people than ask people. It is very effective in personal conversation just to ask people questions and let them wrestle with the answers, and not give them the answer ahead of time. But when we do so we need to keep the focus on Jesus.

Another lesson that we learn from this is that Paul is incredibly successful at accomplishing his mission in this chapter. Success in witnessing isn't measured by the number of converts we have; it is not even measured by any converts at all. Noah preached for 120 years and didn't have any converts but he is listed in the hall of faith chapter in Hebrews chapter eleven. Who else could present the gospel more logically, more coherently or rationally than the apostle Paul? And he does this before this audience and there is not a single convert. In fact he gets interrupted at the end and has a kind of reaction that many of us are somewhat fearful of, and that is that he is rejected and ridiculed. Festus jumps up and say all of this learning has caused him to go crazy and he is actually insane of he thinks somebody rose from the dead. And Agrippa says, "You are trying to convert me". Agrippa doesn't want to have anything to do with it. So we see here that we need to get past that point where we think that failure or failure of a response is an issue. It is not; it is up to that individual. Our job is simply to as clearly and coherently as we possibly can proclaim the gospel to the person and answer whatever questions that we can.

We never know what the future is going to hold. Just because there is no immediate response doesn't mean they are not thinking about it. There may be no response right now but that doesn't mean the Holy Spirit is not going to use it. If that person is going to come to the Lord it may take them some time. There are going to be many people who we give a very clear presentation of the gospel to who will reject it. That is their decision, but that doesn't mean you weren't successful. Ultimately it is not up to us, it is up to the Holy Spirit to use what we give to the individual and it is up to the individual to make the decision. We can't make it for them.

Paul here is a great illustration for us in that he gives a great presentation of the gospel; he gives the gospel accurately; and yet he is ridiculed and rejected, but he is indeed extremely successful in accomplishing that.

Now in chapter 27 we don't know the time frame that has gone by. This probably is close to the end of the two-year imprisonment in Caesarea. Now they reach a decision because it has become clear to Agrippa and to Festus that Paul has to be sent to Caesar. And so we come to the next section, which is on Paul's cruise to Rome. He doesn't know how things are going to work out on this particular cruise. He knows that God has promised him that he will arrive in Rome to proclaim the gospel. He can count on that. So to a certain degree as we go through this story and we read about the storms and the delays and the eventual shipwreck Paul could really be relaxed because he knew that eventually he would get to Rome. But he had lots of other decisions to make in the course of this voyage.

That is important for us in terms of looking at it for application because many times event though we don't see the end game we go on and don't even know if we are going to be alive three or four years. Nevertheless on the assumption that we will be we need to live just as the apostle Paul lived on this voyage. He had divine revelation telling him what would happen at the end but he didn't have divine revelation to tell him how to make decisions in the interim period. He just had to rely on the doctrine that he already had in his own soul. He had to respond on the basis of the spiritual maturity that he had in giving guidance and answers to questions and responding to issues that came up. Even though he knew that he was headed to Rome he still had to live his life on a day-to-day basis applying the Word of God. God does not guide us by giving us direct revelation on how to handle the issues of life or make decisions. He is not going to move the circumstances in that particular way.

In fact, a lot of time the circumstances may be very negative. If you were the apostle Paul and you didn't have the confirmation from God, direct revelation that you were headed to Rome, and imagine that you think that is what God wants you to do, or you think that is what God wants you to do, or in light of everything you have been told, you think that it is a wise thing for you to do to go on to Rome and to witness there; if you got on a ship and had the kind of problems that this ship had, it may be that like most Christians, the way they are taught in modern evangelicalism, you would have landed at Malta and said: "It is pretty clear that God doesn't want me to go to Rome. If He had wanted me to go to Rome we wouldn't have had all these problems in the process. I am going to catch the next ship and go home because maybe I am like Jonah and am going in the wrong direction". That is what happens when we base out decision-making on circumstances. Often when we make the right decisions the circumstances aren't going to be the most pleasant, but that doesn't mean it is not the right decision. And that is why circumstances are not the ultimate criterion for making a decision in terms of divine guidance.

The voyage really is covered from 27:1 through 28:16. We will look mat it in terms of the initial departure, the first stage of the journey when they are on the first ship. It goes from Caesarea to Myra which is in Asia Minor. That is covered in the first five verses. The second part is the rest of chapter 27, a rather lengthy description of the voyage from Myra concluding with the shipwreck in Malta in verse 44. In chapter 28 we see their arrival in Malta and Paul's miraculous vindication by God through a couple of different events that take place. One focuses on the fact that he is bitten by a poisonous viper. Nothing happens to him and he survives it. The other thing that happens is when they go into the village where he heals a number of people of their various diseases and illnesses. This validates his position as an apostle and his message of the gospel. Then in 28:11-16 we are told about his final trip to Rome, which involves changing to another ship and going from Malta to Italy and from there he walks to Rome. 

The are some things that are very clear in this passage. We see that there are 44 verses describing this voyage. This is one of the longest chapters in the book of Acts, and one of the longest narratives related to a single event in the book of Acts. Why has God the Holy Spirit given this information to us? Why do much detail related to this voyage? It is important. If we believe that all Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, then we have to pay attention to the fact that these details are important. They are not important in the sense that every single word is as significant as if it were studying, for example, the Sermon on the Mount, the book of Romans, etc. It is telling a story, but the story is designed to illustrate the key principle that we keep seeing throughout Acts, and that is that God's sovereignty is the hidden hand guiding all of these events. Everything that happens is under the control of the sovereignty of God. Paul doesn't know how things are going to turn out. He knows what the end result is going to be but he doesn't know actually how things are going to work out in the process until later on when he gets some special revelation from an angel who tells him that everybody in the shipwreck is going to survive. But up to then there are a lot of opportunities that bring anxiety and worry and fear and caving in to different other sins.

The principle is that God's sovereignty is just as much behind the events of your life as Paul's life. God is directing all of the events: the good events, the bad events and the mundane events. So when things change from what we thought was going to happen we need to adapt mentally to the changed circumstances instead of moaning and groaning (which we all do). When we are really set on a course of action, we have a dream, we want certain things to happen a certain way in our life and they don't happen that way, we have to recognize that is the hand of God. Then we have to learn to adapt to the changed circumstances. God had a different plan for us and He is in charge of those circumstances even though we may not understand at all what is taking place. Now we have to ask the question: "How do I fulfill the mission that God has given me to grow to spiritual maturity, to minister to the body of Christ, be involved in the discipleship process through these new circumstances.

Secondly, Paul like every believer has the opportunity and privilege and insight to influence the events as they progress. God is in charge of the overall progress but in this voyage Paul has the opportunity to say things, to witness to others who are on the ship, he has the opportunity to exercise leadership and to give guidance and direction. And because of the doctrine that he has in his soul, which is influencing his decisions, by the time they land at Malta he has gained the respect of everyone on the ship. All of the soldiers and the commanders look to this prisoner now for leadership and guidance because of the way he has handled himself along the way. Just like us, he has no clue about the specific events or what specifically to do in each of these changing instances, he just relies upon the doctrine that is in his own soul and that is the same thing that we do. 

In the first five verses of chapter 27 we come to his travels.

Acts 27:1 NASB "When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, they proceeded to deliver Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan cohort named Julius." This is taking place around September of 59 AD. The voyage that they are anticipating under the best of conditions would usually take about five weeks. Julius is not under the command of Agrippa. Josephus indicates that this regiment was comprised of soldiers from Syria and Judea and that part of their responsibility was to handle prisoners. They have been given a title related to the Greek name for Augustus, which is Sabastus. Another thing to notice here is the pronoun "we". We now see that Luke has now joined Paul and is travelling with him. He will be with him all the way to Rome. In verse 2 we see they were also accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica.

In the ancient world when people wanted to travel by sea they would go down to the docks and find a cargo ship that was headed to their destination, or where they could shift to another ship.

The timing of this is rather late in the season. Starting in about mid-October the weather would shift, cold fronts would start down from the north-west, and this would make it difficult to sail across the Mediterranean. In fact, most shipping would shut down by the first of November and wouldn't resume until about the first of March. Most Jews would not travel from about the 1st October until the 1st of April. So we see that they are going to have some problems.

Acts 27:2 NASB "And embarking in an Adramyttian ship, which was about to sail to the regions along the coast of Asia, we put out to sea accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica. [3] The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul with consideration and allowed him to go to his friends and receive care." We see the respect that the apostle Paul has already engendered. They recognize and probably have been told that he is probably not guilty and that he is a Roman citizen so treat him with respect.

Acts 27:4 NASB "From there we put out to sea and sailed under the shelter of Cyprus because the winds were contrary." They are having to sail into the wind, so this is already going to slow them down. They slower they go the more they are going to spend time out in the middle of the Mediterranean and more inclement weather.  [5] "When we had sailed through the sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia."

Myra is identified with the modern city of Demra in Turkey. There they are going to change ships.

Acts 27:6 NASB "There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy, and he put us aboard it. [7] When we had sailed slowly for a good many days, and with difficulty had arrived off Cnidus, since the wind did not permit us {to go} farther, we sailed under the shelter of Crete, off Salmone; [8] and with difficulty sailing past it we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea."

Acts 27:9 NASB "When considerable time had passed and the voyage was now dangerous, since even the fast was already over, Paul {began} to admonish them …" The fast refers to the fast on the day of atonement. In 59 it would have fallen on the middle to late October.  

Acts 27:10 NASB "and said to them, "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."

Paul is simply deducing this from his own experience. We know from 2 Corinthians 11 that Paul had been on many voyages and been shipwrecked more than once. He is experienced with the sea and knew the problems and dangers, and here he is just voicing his own opinion. This isn't prophecy and there is no indication that it is a prophecy. If it were a prophecy there would be a problem because he is predicting that they might lose their lives, and at the end no one uses their life.    

Acts 27:11 NASB "But the centurion was more persuaded by the pilot and the captain of the ship than by what was being said by Paul. [12] Because the harbor was not suitable for wintering, the majority reached a decision to put out to sea from there, if somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest, and spend the winter {there.}" The harbor at Fair Havens isn't sheltered enough so they are hoping they can make it to Phoenix and shelter there. The problem is that they don't get there.

Acts 27:13 NASB "When a moderate south wind came up, supposing that they had attained their purpose, they weighed anchor and {began} sailing along Crete, close {inshore.} [14] But before very long there rushed down from the land a violent wind, called Euraquilo."

Two interesting words show up in this passage. The tempestuous wind is the Greek word tuphonikos, from which we get our word typhoon. Then the word Euraquilo, in the Greek eurakulon, basically means a nor-easter. So they are facing these north-easterly winds and are blown off course. 

Acts 27:15 NASB "and when the ship was caught {in it} and could not face the wind, we gave way {to it} and let ourselves be driven along." They just ran before the wind and are now being driven into the open Mediterranean, headed off further to the east in their direction. [16] Running under the shelter of a small island called Clauda, we were scarcely able to get the {ship's} boat under control." It is these little details that give us the sense of historical accuracy. An eyewitness is writing all of this down and telling us what happened along the way. They are having trouble stabilizing the boat. They don't want to get too far south because if they get too far south they run into a combination of shoals and sand bars that are very dangerous. 

Acts 27:17 NASB "After they had hoisted it up, they used supporting cables in undergirding the ship; and fearing that they might run aground on {the shallows} of Syrtis, they let down the sea anchor and in this way let themselves be driven along." They are trying to secure the ship with these rope cables and there are three suggestions as to what this could mean. The first is to a process called frapping where they would wrap the cables around the boat from side to side, going under it and pulling that tight in order to reinforce the hull better. Another option was to run cables from front to back, from the bow to the stern. This was known as hogging. The other option was running the ropes along the deck from one side to another, securing it from the top, as it were.   

Acts 27:18 NASB "The next day as we were being violently storm-tossed, they began to jettison the cargo; [19] and on the third day they threw the ship's tackle overboard with their own hands." This is the third day from when they left Cyprus and we are going to see that they spend about two weeks before they finally wreck on Malta. There is also a Targum from Ecclesiastes 3:6 that says that there is a time for throwing a thing into the sea, namely the time of a tempest. 

Acts 27:20 NASB "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."

They are in a desperate situation. There is no hope. Everyone on the ship except Paul is defeated. They don't believe that they will make it; they believe they are all about to die. This gives Paul a great opportunity to speak and to encourage them from the Word.