New Life Bible Chapel – Friday Bible Study – The book of Acts
by Ritchin Sen
In Acts 26 we saw Paul presenting his case before Herod Agrippa II and recounts his early life as a Pharisee and presented the gospel of Jesus to all those present there using dominant Jewish themes and history and presented the choice of either accepting or rejecting the gospel message to Agrippa. Though Agrippa did not accept the gospel, he came to the conclusion that Paul was innocent and had done nothing wrong. Had he not appealed to Caesar, Paul could have walked out of the court as a free man.
I The Journey To Rome (Acts 27:1-12)
a.v.1-2 In this chapter we see that Luke joins them again after the events from Acts 21:18 and we do not know what Luke’s activities were at that time. Since Paul appealed to Caesar, the governor made preparations to send him to Rome. He was to be escorted to Rome and so Paul was placed into the custody of a Roman centurion named Julius who belonged to the Augustan Cohort. In English, it means “His Imperial Majesty’s”, and it was a title of honor bestowed on several cohorts of the auxiliary troops. The ship they embarked on, had Adramyttium (modern day Edremit) as it’s home port which was a seaport of Mysia in northwest Asia Minor. The boat they got on was a coasting vessel, which meant that it would sail only close to the coast and would make frequent stops along different seaports till it reached its destination. Along with Paul, there were other prisoners under Julius’ charge.
b.v.3-5 The next day, they arrived at Sidon and we see that the centurion Julius was kind towards Paul. The centurion allowed Paul to go and visit other Christians in the area and to enjoy their hospitality. There are early records to indicate that Sidon had a Christian community that came up after Stephen’s death. After this, from Sidon, they set sail towards the Rome and went on the north-east side of Cyprus during their journey. Sailing under lee was a term used to explain that ships sailed under the cover of a particular land from the harsh winds that blew against them. Then the crossed the open sea and came off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia after which they came to Myra which was in Lycia.
c.v.6-8 At Myra, the first part of the journey came to an end and the centurion found a vessel that was from Egypt (Alexandria) and that it sailed to Italy. They got on that ship and set sail towards the west and with the difficult winds they sailed at a very slow pace. After a number of days, they reached Cnidus and once at this port, they had two choices. One was to stay at Cnidus until a favourable wind prevailed for them to sail or to set sail towards the south and take lee of some island so that there was no delay for the ship and the journey can continue uninterrupted. The latter plan was what happened. They sailed from Cnidus and went south towards the eastern side of Crete and went along the south-eastern corner to take lee of the island so that they could proceed in a westerly direction. Travelling along the coast of Crete, they came to a place called Fair Havens which was near a city called Lasea. Once there, they took shelter and the waited there for the wind to change since the trip from the island of Crete would be in open waters which was dangerous as there would be no islands to protect them from harsh winds that could blow.
d.v.9-12 The time they spent at Fair Havens, waiting for a favourable wind, made it clear to the sailing party that the journey towards Rome would be very difficult to complete at that time because winter was just beginning to set in. The Fast that is referred to is the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) that took place in the fall, when Mediterranean voyages became too dangerous to for sailing vessels. The dangerous season for sailing began about September 14 and went on until November 11. After November 11, all sailing ceased and resumed only once winter was over. The Day of Atonement falls on Tishri 10. So in A.D. 59 it fell on October 5th, which was well within the dangerous sailing dates. Because of this danger, Paul tried to warn the group and advised them that it would be better to stay at Fair Havens for the Winter and then resume the journey than to risk the harsh climatic conditions which would result in great loss of the cargo and also of the crew. Paul made his plea to the centurion but a council might have been held with the shipping party and because the harbour wasn’t suitable to spend 3 to 4 months in, majority of the people, including the ship’s captain decided to go ahead with the journey. They hoped to sail westward to Phoenix which was on Crete itself and hoped to spend the winter there.
II The Storm At Sea (Acts 27:13-38)
e.v.13-17 After the decision was made, the wind changed and the group set out from Fair Haven and traveled along the coast of Crete, trying to get to Phoenix. After sailing for some time, almost immediately the wind changed and became violent. The Greek word for “tempestuous” is typhonikos. From a south wind it changed to a northerly wind and is a common occurrence in those waters. The ship got caught up in that wind and could not resist its power so they gave in and were forced to be driven along the path of the wind. They were pushed towards a small island by the name of Cauda where the ship sailed under the lee of the island under the southern part of Cauda. The dinghy (small boat) was usually tied to the side of the boat in good weather but in this case, it was hauled into the ship when they were sailing by Cauda in bad weather. It was difficult for them to pull the boat in because it might have been filled with water at that instant. Here Luke writes this account in first person plural indicating that he was also involved in hauling the boat. [v.17] After pulling the boat in, the crew members used supports to undergird the ship which was a safety measure used in ancient vessels. The procedure involved cables running across and under the center of the ship to brace and hold the hull together so that it could withstand the destructive wind. The crew were also under the fear that they would run aground and so the let down the anchor so that they would reduce their speed.
f.v.18-20 The next day the climatic conditions did not improve and it was getting worse which resulted in them throwing most of the cargo. Being a grain transport vessel and the cargo being the means of livelihood of the ship’s crew, this scene must indicate the desperate situation they were in. The next day, even more severe measures were taken. Some of the spare gear of the ship (maybe the mainsail) was thrown out if there was to be any chance of survival. After many dreary nights, when the storm kept raging on and blocked out the sun and the stars, the ship lost hope for any chances of survival because before the compass was invented, sailors used the sun and the stars to navigate and know their position. Without them, sailors were lost in the open sea.
APPLICATION QUESTION 1: What important lesson can we learn from the situation in Acts 27:21-32?
g.v.21-26 Being in such a depressing state, no one on the ship ate food for quite a long time. At this time, Paul stood up one morning and spoke encouraging words to all present there after reminding them that they should have listened to what he had to say before the left for Fair Havens. He told them to not be discouraged because no one was going to lose their life but the ship would be lost. He continues to tell them that he was sure of this because he had divine reassurance, a supernatural revelation that was conveyed to him by an angel of God during the night. The God to whom he belongs and worships. He conveys the message informing the people that the angel told him to not be afraid because he had to stand before Caesar. That was the ultimate reason for Paul’s deliverance. In a similar situation in Jerusalem (Acts 23:11), when Paul’s life was in danger, the Lord assured Paul that he would survive so that he could bear witness at Rome. The same assurance Paul received when on the ship. He told them that the angel of God even said that the people who were with him on the ship would have their lives spares for his sake. Having received this divine message, Paul was completely convinced that everything would happen as per what was told to him and said the exact same thing to the ship’s travellers and that the ship has to run aground on shore on an island.
h.v.27-29 During the night of the fourteenth day of their journey, the sailors aboard the ship suspected that they were approaching some land and wanted to be sure and so they checked the depth of the sea using sounding. They understood that they were getting to shallower ground with each depth check and in fear of running aground or hitting the rocks on the shore, they let down four anchors from the rear or aft part of the ship and they waited till daybreak to see where they were. Letting the anchors down was to endure the ship would come to standstill and to ensure the ship still faces its current heading, that is land.
i.v.30-32 Then the sailors of the ship, thinking that land was close by, attempted to leave the ship for safety. Under the pretense of lowering the anchors from the front end of the boat or the bow, the sailors lowered the dinghy into the sea so that they could escape. Paul on seeing this, informed the centurion and the soldiers that it would be in everyone’s best interest if the everyone remained on the ship. For everyone to be saved, the everyone including the sailors had to remain on the ship. Reason could have been because, the ship was left in a compromising position (anchors from the stern was not the norm) and the ship needed skilled hands to operate the ship. On hearing Paul, the soldiers cut the ropes connecting the dinghy to the ship and let it drift off into the sea.
Paul’s action shows the compatibility of divine sovereignty (see vv. 22–24) with human responsibility. God will fulfill his promises, but that doesn’t negate the importance of human actions as the means God uses to carry out his promises (cf. Acts 18:9–11)
j.v.33-34 Just before dawn, Paul encouraged them to eat food as they hadn’t eaten anything for the last fourteen days and they needed energy for all the work that lay ahead of them that was involved in them rescuing themselves. He assured them again that no harm would come to anyone of them.
APPLICATION QUESTION 2: What do you think was the implication of Paul breaking bread in v.35?
k.v.35-36 Paul encouraged them to eat by setting himself as the example. He took bread and gave thanks to God in front of all the people there, broke it and then ate. Some scholars believe this to be a eucharistic meal while some scholars don’t see it as such. Per logic, even if it was a eucharistic meal, the people who might have eaten it with that intent would be the Christians who were on the ship with Paul. The others just ate bread as a normal meal. The point Paul was trying to make at this instant, whether it was to be a eucharistic meal or not, was to be a testament to his faith in God, who was about to deliver them. Paul wanted to make them remember when they come to safety, that it was the one whom he thanked at their meal who was responsible for their safety. In a way it was to show who was boss. When the ship’s crew went along with what they knew best, ignoring Paul’s advice, they ended up being in a violent storm and thrown of course. But now, when things were to go smoothly as per what was planned, they would have to look back and acknowledge that it was indeed what Paul knew, that was best for them. And because he prayed aloud before eating, they would know who the source for his wisdom was, God.
After hearing Paul’s prayer and seeing him eat, all the people there were encouraged and proceeded to eat food.
l.v.37-38 Here Luke gives the exact number of the people who were on the ship, which was 276 persons. After eating and regaining their strength, the people threw out the remaining of the cargo, wheat, into the sea so that the ship could be as light as possible which would result in the least amount of water drawn into the ship.
III The Rescue Attempt (Acts 27:39-44)
m.v.39-40 By the time all this happened, it was day and the sailors looked at the land they were at and could not recognize it. They noticed a sandy beach and decided to run aground the ship there. Then they cut the anchors and left it in the sea as they did not have any use for them any more. Then they loosened the ropes that held the rudders up. The rudders were used to steer the ship in the desired direction. Because they were in a storm and couldn’t steer, the rudders might have been tied up and stored out of the water. Then the foresail was cast and they headed towards the beach.
n.v.41 But there was something else which they noticed at the last minute because it could be seen only once they entered the bay. There was a giant reef that they hit and the ship ran aground on it. The bow of the ship ran aground on the reef and could not be moved further while the stern was being broken up to pieces by the pounding surf. After the long battering the ship endured over the past two weeks, the stern could not take anymore torture and so gave way to the forceful crashing of the waves against it. So what happened here was that only the front half of the ship was held together until all the people got to safety on dry land.
o.v.42-44 Per Roman discipline, Roman soldiers were responsible for their prisoners’ safety but in this situation, it would be easy for them to escape in the midst of so much confusion. The soldiers decided that before these prisoners escaped, they would kill them. Nipping it in the bud, so to speak. So that they wouldn’t have to deal with the added responsibility of making sure they wouldn’t escape. But the centurion forbade them to kill the prisoners because he wanted save Paul and maybe because of all the good that has happened until this point because of Paul’s presence. The centurion commanded all those who could swim to jump into the sea and to swim to shore while the others could grab planks of wood and float ashore. After all this, every person was brought safely to shore. The divine assurance that Paul received was fulfilled to the letter. He was told that the ship and it’s cargo would be lost but every one of the people on board would be saved.
APPLICATION QUESTION 3: List out some of the different ways Acts 27 shows God’s providence during Paul’s journey towards Rome?
APPLICATION QUESTION 4: What were some of Paul’s character traits that he exhibited in the crisis he faced with other people? Do you think you can respond like Paul did in difficult situations?