Read: Acts 27
Luke invites us to join him on Paul’s voyage to Rome. The detailed account of this story is probably based on Luke’s experience with Paul on this journey. In the narrative, we read many nautical terms that demonstrate their familiarity with traveling by sea. I’ve heard sermons in the past from retired Navy Captains that are incredibly enlightening in this context. I’m not a sailor myself, but even I can feel the tension that’s present in this chapter.
It’s a great story that continues to show Paul as one who is constantly focused on his ministry. There are many actors in the drama including the ship’s captain, a Roman centurion, sailors, prisoners, Aristarchus, Luke, and Paul. All set out on a journey that will be fraught with trouble from the beginning because they chose to sail at a time when most would have waited.
Julius the Centurion
Julius is the Roman leader responsible for delivering Paul and the prisoners to their final destination. It’s interesting the Luke and Aristarchus are included in the narrative since they were obviously not prisoners. One sermon I listened to compared the ship to that of a modern city bus, stopping at ports along the way, some passengers got on and off as desired. Julius made sure his people were accounted for.
For some reason, when they get to the port in Sidon, Julius allowed Paul to visit his friends.
Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. Acts 27:3
I believe this was synonymous with ministering to a church he planted in that city or surrounding areas. Whether Julius was a Christ-follower or not is pure speculation, but he was certainly committed to ensuring Paul would complete his journey…even if he didn’t always agree with Paul.
…instead of listening to what Paul said, [Julius] followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. Acts 27:11-12
Julius wasn’t always right, but he was definitely in charge.
The Storm Rages On
For 14 days they were tossed about, a frightening time at sea, even for the most experienced.
On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved. Acts 27:19-20
All hope was lost, except for Paul. At the beginning Paul provided his recommendation to stay put, to avoid sailing at this time of year. He reminds them of this advice when he tells them about a visit from an angel. This is significant:
21 …Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” Acts 27:21-16
His advice was not prophetic, but the rest of what Paul has to say is from the angel. Not one will perish, but the ship will indeed be lost.
Paul said they would be saved, he did not promise it would be easy.
Julius is on Paul’s side now and prevents the soldiers from killing the prisoners. He believes Paul completely at this point. Though God’s providence, they are indeed shipwrecked, all make it to the shore successfully. All 276 people. When I read this number, my perspective changed quite a bit. This was not a small little boat being tossed about. Even if the prisoners made up the majority of the count and were bound in close quarters, this was a sizeable vessel.
Paul’s Ministry Continued
Through it all, we see Paul consistently stayed on mission. I can’t imagine after 14 days of being tossed about with no sun and no stars that I could stand among starving people and suggest,
Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” Acts 27:33-34
Paul was obedient and one hundred percent sure that they would all arrive in Rome. Jesus told him he would. There was no room for doubt.
Is there something you’ve heard from God that leaves you without a doubt? Have you been able to quiet your mind long enough to let your heart feel the presence of the Holy Spirit? I’m not going to lie and tell you I have complete clarity, but I will keep praying, meditating, listening, and seeking Jesus with all of my heart until I come face-to-face with my Savior. I hope you will too.
The journey is not safe, but the destination is worth it. Sail on people, sail on.