30 YEARS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD
Acts of the Apostles for Today
STUDY 10 - When in Rome. Acts 27 & 28
The Journey to Rome
Paul is finally on his way to Rome, sent by Governor Festus. The first part of the trip is slow going because of the weather.
After a long two year wait, with trials under Governors Felix and Festus, Paul is at last going to Rome. He had 'appealed to Rome' (25:12), arrangements had been made, and he is finally making the trip. There were a number of other prisoners who needed to be escorted under armed guard (either to Rome or one of the cities on the way) and Paul joined them aboard ship (v1). Festus handed Paul over to Julius, giving him his written report on the situation (cf. 25:26, 27).
Luke joins Paul on the ship (v2 'we') which is heading back to its base in Asia Minor. Aristarchus travels with them (cf. Col 4:10), perhaps as an aide for Paul, perhaps as another prisoner who gets converted on the voyage, we cannot know for certain. What we do know is that this section of Acts reflects Dr Luke's eyewitness account of the journey. Here we have descriptive history at its best - written up later from the journal Luke would have kept, day by day. His description of the trade winds, general weather conditions, local ports, etc. is amazingly accurate – in a style almost like a modem documentary.
After a seventy mile journey north they dock at Sidon (v3) where Paul is allowed to meet with local Christians. No doubt he encouraged them in their faith just as he had at Tyre, Sidon's sister city, on his way to Jerusalem (21:3-5), and they gave him food and other necessities for a long sea voyage. On leaving Sidon, they began a frustratingly slow journey north and west (the wind was in the wrong direction (v4))
Eventually they made it to Myra, 150 miles to the north west of Cyprus (v6) Julius had no difficulty finding a ship going to Italy in this busy port, and had his party transferred to it (v6). Once again sailing conditions were difficult, and progress very slow. (A 350 mile journey - Myra to Fair Havens - apparently takes weeks, instead of days, on a route which is almost twice the normal distance (verses 7, 8)).
As autumn becomes winter (the day of Atonement had passed, so they may have been sailing In October) sailing becomes hazardous in this part of the Mediterranean (v9). Paul advises them to wait in port (verse 10) but the owner obviously wishes to deliver his cargo promptly (‘time is money’) and the pilot thinks it may be risky but not impossible (v11), They decide to sail for Crete, and harbour there for the winter (v12).
Questions to consider:
1.This journey must have frustrated Paul. How do you cope when progress (in church? at work?) is slower than you want? Why is patience so essential in the Christian life? How can we develop patience?
2.Notice how kind Julius is to Paul (verse 3). How do we relate to those we have authority over? at home? at work? How would we like to be treated by those who have authority over us?
A Violent Storm and Shipwreck
Acts 27:13 – 28:10
Ignoring Paul's advice, the ship sails straight into a storm! God shows Paul that despite the awful sea conditions, none of their lives will be lost.
Paul was a seasoned traveller, with some experience of Mediterranean conditions, despite this, his advice was over-ruled by an impatient ship-owner and an over-optimistic pilot (v11). A light breeze from the south (v13) tempted them out of the harbour, along the Crete coast ... straight into a hurricane (v14)! They were completely at its mercy, driven south and west across the sea towards Africa (v15). They managed to drag the small lifeboat which they were towing, on board; thanks to an amount of shelter from a little island (v16).
Once away from the island, back in the full force of the hurricane, they secure the ship as best they can. The cargo is tossed over-board and a day later they even get rid of all the ship's equipment which was not absolutely essential (vv 17-19). It was not possible to get their bearings from the sun or stars (blotted out by the storm) and even the most experienced sailor had given up hope (v20).
Paul must have shared the general view that things were pretty bleak, although he would have been trying to hold on to what he believed God had promised him (23: 11). In confirmation of this, an angel appears to him, repeating God's promise and also guaranteeing the safety of all the crew and passengers (verse 24). The Apostle, encouraged and strengthened by the angelic visitation, stands to speak to his travelling companions (v21a. Paul urges them to put their trust in God (vv22, 25); as a result they end up shipwrecked on a remote island (v26) Everyone made it safely to the shore.
It turns out they have been shipwrecked on Malta having been blown off course about 500 miles west from their last harbour.
Once all 276 are accounted for, the Governor of the Island (Publius) welcomes them onto his estate until accommodation can be found on the island. Meanwhile the father of Publius had been confined to bed with a serious illness. Paul offered to pray with the sick man and he was healed (28:8) The healing prompted others on the island to be brought for healing prayer!
Despite all the tiredness from the long journey to Rome, a strange island, an exhausting storm, a brush with death in the shipwreck and a snake-bite …
Questions to consider:
1.The passage describes kindness to strangers (verses 2, 7). Who are the 'strangers' in our community? Would you use your home for homeless people, on a temporary basis? Would you let someone borrow your car? Share your food? Take your coat? (cf Luke 6:30, 31).
2.Notice Paul's humility (verse 3a). Why is humility so important? Why do we like to be noticed? How can we kill our pride, and so become usable by God.
3.Paul is always on duty. Do we take our Christian commitment seriously, 'in sickness and in health'? On holiday? In very busy periods ? When we are tired or fed up? Don't you think Paul had earned a rest?
Arriving in Rome
After spending the winter on Malta, Julius and his prisoners set sail for Italy. Paul is warmly welcomed throughout southern Italy, and arrives 'safely in Rome.
Wasting no time, Paul asked to meet with the Jewish leaders to explain his presence in Rome. They are not openly hostile, more curious to hear from Paul first-hand.
Questions to consider:
1.Paul had support from Christians (verses 14,15). In what ways is the help we get from other Christians different from any help we might get from non-Christians? How can Christians who have never met before have such close relationships so quickly?
2.Paul arrived in Rome at last (verse 16). Do you think there was any sense of anti-climax? How do you feel after achieving something important - let down? Bored? Empty? Why do we sometimes feel like this, after getting what we thought we wanted?!
The Gospel is Preached
Paul explains his position fully to the Jewish leaders. There is a mixed response. Paul continues to preach to everyone who wi11listen!
The leaders of the Jews arranged to come back to hear Paul on a more convenient occasion. When they returned, the delegation had increased in size; interest in this 'Christian', this leading light of a new 'sect' (verse 22) was obviously substantial. Paul must have been staying in in some spacious accommodation, in order to entertain them all. For a whole day he tried to persuade them about life in God's kingdom (v23). This was also the theme of the risen Jesus to the first disciples (1:3). He worked hard to demonstrate that Moses and the Prophets had all pointed to Jesus as Messiah; that he was not a believer in a new religion, simply that he was enjoying what God had promised would happen.
It would have been a great delight to Paul that some of these men of authority in the Jewish synagogue, came to faith in Christ (v24 cf Crispus in 18:8). Of course, there were some who refused to believe because of stubbornly closed minds ... and perhaps the majority were just unsure what to make of it all. Certainly there was division among them, just as there had been at the Sanhedrin trial in Jerusalem (verse 25a d. 23:9). The final straw for many of them came when Paul made his closing two points.
Firstly, he quoted Isaiah 6:9 to them. The prophets had always known how stubborn the Jews would be and how they would fail to recognise the Messiah (verses 26, 27). Secondly, this meant that Paul now had the freedom to take this message to the Gentiles, so that they could enjoy all the benfits of God’s salvation (verse 28 cf. 9:15,13:46--48). This was more than the Jews could take and they slipped out before they heard anything even more shocking.
For two years Paul was allowed to live comfortably in his rented accommodation and had no problem receiving visitors whenever they came (v30). Luke concludes his book with a verse of encouragement and confidence. Paul's physical confinement did not mean that the preaching of the gospel was inhibited. Far from it. He was able to speak without fear, boldly explaining his beliefs and pointing his visitors to the Jesus, who was both Lord and Christ (v31 cf 2:36). This truth was proclaimed to Jew and Gentile alike. It was a message which would be preached all over the world (1:8) until the Jesus Paul loved returned (cf 1:11).
Questions to consider:
1.Are there any individuals (or groups of people) who we do not really want to hear the gospel (cf 'Gentiles')? Should we evangelise people of other religions or just those with no faith? Do we need foreign missionaries anymore? Why?
2.Paul got a mixed response (v24). What kind of response do we get? What should the church do to encourage those who believe? How can we respond to those who don't? Should we move on to other people or keep trying?
3.Paul took every opportunity to evangelise (verse 31). Why was evangelism such a priority for him? How can we make it more of a priority for ourselves? Why should we? How can we go about it?
Bob Kiteley, 23/07/2013