January 24, 2016.
Reading: Acts 27-28.
Background: Acts 23-26.
Concepts and Connections.
Shipwrecked on the way to Rome: After a long period of prison and trials, the time finally came for Paul to go to Rome just as the Lord had told him. His journey to Rome, however, had probably not gone the way he would have expected it to, nor would it do so in the future. In the beginning of this chapter, Paul is escorted onto a ship to set sail for Italy with some other prisoners, and he is given liberty throughout the trip to meet with his friends when they stopped at ports. It seems that Luke is accompanying Paul as they said, as he uses a personal pronoun in writing this section. Luke’s detailed account of their voyage with the locations where they stopped and the weather he records gives great validity to the story that he is writing, as his geography and account has been well respected by those who have studied the area, noting that his account is highly plausible. If he were making up a story, he would dare not go into the amount of detail that we find here, and if he did, we would likely find many errors in it. The voyage goes through different cities and ports, and when they got to a place called Fair Havens, the captain of the ship decided that they should set said for Crete to winter there, as Fair Havens was apparently not a good place for them to winter in. Paul warns the centurion and the crew that if they set sail from there they would run into deadly trouble. The centurion, however, takes the captain’s word over Paul (in all fairness, the captain would have had more experience than Paul), and they set sail.
Thus they set sail from Fair Havens and sailed close to the shore along Crete journeying towards Phoenix. Not long after, however, a tempestuous wind blew and the ship was overtaken by a tremendous storm, just as Paul had warned. As the days went on in the storm, more and more hope was lost by those who were on the ship, as they had not seen clear skies in many days. After many days, Paul tells them that they should have listened to him, reminding them of his foresight (and perhaps giving him credibility in the eyes of the centurion), but that they shouldn’t fear, for the Lord had sent an angel to him once again confirming that he must give testimony before Caesar, and that he and those on the ship would be delivered. Even in our darkest storms, the Lord will go with us (see Psalm 23:4). Yet, there was a condition, as Paul tells the centurion that they could not be saved if the sailors abandoned ship as they planned to do. Likely trusting Paul finally, the soldiers cut the ropes of the lifeboat so that no one could use them. On the 14th day, he encourages the people to eat something to give them strength, and he takes bread and gave thanks to God in their presence, and they began to eat.
When day neared, they say a beach and lifted the anchors and set to run the ship ashore. However, the ship struck a reef and began to be torn apart. The centurion told the soldiers not to kill the prisoners because he wanted to save Paul, and they jumped overboard, swimming and hanging on to parts of the ship, trying to get to shore. In what should be seen as divine protection and deliverance, remarkably all 26 passengers of the ship make it safely to shore. Trusting God is not always easy, but we must remember that He is sovereign over all.
Malta, Rome and beyond: The island that the passengers of the ship had made it too was called Malta, and there were indigenous people on the island that showed Paul and the people on the ship great hospitality and kindness. Here we see that Paul even uses a shipwreck as an opportunity. As they were gathered by the fire, a venomous snake bit him and the people thought that he was a murderer to whom Justice (which may have been a form of deity in their eyes) would not let escape. However, when Paul did not die, they thought he was a god. Further, when the father of the chief of the island lay sick, Paul prayed for him and healed him, which caused all the sick to be brought to him. We are not told what kind of evangelism he did here, but it is probably safe to assume that he used his three months here wisely.
When winter was over, they boarded a ship that had wintered in the island and set sail for Rome. Again, Luke records a detailed record of the journey they take, giving accreditation and validity to his account (see previous chapter). Note here the encouragement Paul gets from believers along the way, showing the importance of visiting and community. It is apparent that the gospel had spread pretty far by this time. When he got to Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself with the soldier who guarded him.
In Rome, Paul gathers the local leaders of the Jews and lays his case before them. It seems that his accusers did not care enough to even send letters to Rome to accuse him, for the leaders in Rome said they had heard nothing bad about Paul. They had, however, heard a lot about this ‘sect’ of the Way, and they wanted to hear Paul concerning this teaching. Thus they appointed a day for Paul to speak to them, and he expounded from morning til evening trying to show to them that Jesus was the Messiah that the prophets had foretold. Note the passion that Paul has for telling the good news- his whole life revolved around it. This was what he lived for (see Philippians 1:12), and he indeed testified in Rome just as the Lord had told him. Some people believed, and some didn’t, especially after he quoted Isaiah as the prophet when he was sent out to proclaim the word of God (see 6:9-10). Paul made it clear that salvation had been brought to the Gentiles (see also Acts 13:46).
An interesting thing about the book of Acts comes from these last couple of verses. Paul spends two full years in Rome with liberty and no hindrance teaching the word of God, proclaiming the kingdom of God and welcoming all who would come in to him, telling them about Jesus Christ. And then the book just stops. There is no conclusion, no ending. It is abrupt. Many see this as an indication that the book of Acts is not finished; the history of the church is still being written. The book begins with witnesses to Christ, shows this witness throughout, and in the end, the call to be witnesses is still open. May we joyfully continue to answer this call, continuing on the book of Acts and being His witnesses to all the world (see Matthew 28:18-20).
Next Reading: Revelation 6-12.
Hear, all you people.