A FREE TRIP TO ROME
27:1 And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius. 2 And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. 3 The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for. 4 And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. 5 And when we had sailed across the open sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. 6 There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7 We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. 8 Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.
9 Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.
13 Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. 14 But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. 15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship's boat. 17 After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. 18 Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. 19 And on the third day they threw the ship's tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.
21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”
27 When the fourteenth night had come, as we were being driven across the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. 28 So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms. 29 And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. 30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship's boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship's boat and let it go.
33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) 38 And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea.
39 Now when it was day, they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned if possible to run the ship ashore. 40 So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that tied the rudders. Then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach. 41 But striking a reef, they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf. 42 The soldiers' plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. 43 But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, 44 and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.
28:1 After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. 2 The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. 3 When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. 4 When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.
7 Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. 8 It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. 9 And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10 They also honored us greatly, and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed.
— Acts 27:1-28:10, ESV
If the Apostle Paul had been a contestant on a game show, he would have been thrilled. He’d just won a free trip to Rome! In his day, Rome was the most popular, populated, powerful city in the world. All roads led there, almost everyone wanted to go there, and Paul had expressed earlier it was God’s will and his desire to get there.
But Paul was no contestant on any game show. He was a prisoner of the state, a defendant in five trials, a semi-convicted felon. He was going on a sea cruise in chains. As the maritime physician and inspired writer Luke gives a blow by blow account of the trip, we learn more about the character of Paul. In doing so, we learn even more about the character of God.
God keeps His promises.
While the five trials certainly had their suspense, and the sea journey has its perils, there should be no doubt that Paul will reach Rome. God promised he would go there. And God, the good Father, never breaks a promise.
God, in Christ, had given this general promise during the Messiah’s ministry: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). Paul proved to be the beginning of this end, with three missionary journeys accomplished and two trips in his future to the most populated city on the planet. Paul was predestined to reach his end in Rome, too, but it would not be during this first imprisonment.
God, through a special appearance of Christ, had given a specific promise to Paul. It came during the second of his five trials, while awaiting the verdict from the Jewish Council. “The Lord stood by him and said, ‘Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome’” (Acts 23:11). When God says, “you must,” you must!
Unlike Paul, Jesus nor “an angel of God” (27:23) are not going to appear to you in the night and make a promise. We should accept that Paul and the other Apostles received epiphanies and had abilities that were special, limited, and with their deaths they ceased. But when they died, something else was born, namely a completed New Testament, providing us with a complete Bible.
Like Paul, all Christians can stand on the promises of God. They come to us from the infallible word of God, the Bible. God promised Paul a trip to Rome. He will get there. God has promised those of us saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ a trip, too, to Heaven. We will get there. God always keeps His promises.
God gives us the desires of our heart.
A trip to Rome was not just something God wanted to do for Paul. It was something Paul wanted to do for God. Paul did not plant the church there. Someone beat him to it, probably Simon Peter or perhaps some other persecuted Christian. But Paul had a burning desire to go there and strengthen the saints in the most strategic city in the world.
First, Paul wrote to the Romans. We call it “Romans” in the New Testament. He penned that epistle while revisiting Corinth, a church he founded on his second missionary journey, during his third missionary journey. Among the first lines is this expressed desire:
So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:15-17).
Paul’s desire was to make God and the gospel great in Rome, and beyond. That’s a great desire and a grand design. You and I, as Christians, should have such desires and designs. Here is how it works:
“Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart”
This verse, often misused by false prophets, is not a promise of health and wealth. It is a command and a cause. The first part is an imperative to put the Lord on the pedestal of your life, love Him, value Him, truly worship Him, publicly and privately. When you do, He will cause you to desire something, do something, for Him.
For Paul, it was to go to the people in Rome. For you, it could be to go to a person in Hot Springs. For all Christians, it will be to make much of God and the gospel wherever God puts us.
God shelters us in the storms.
Now, with promises and desires intact, it is on to Rome! Paul would have preferred a first-class ticket from Jerusalem to Rome. What he got, however, was worse than third-class service from the Jews and the Romans. He was beaten, arrested, tried five times, chained, guarded, then sent on a ship through stormy winter seas. At least it was a free trip?!
The text tells us it is most difficult in every way. “The winds were against us” (vs. 4). “We sailed slowly … with difficulty (27:7). “Coasting … with difficulty” (27:8). “The voyage was … dangerous” (27:9). “A tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down” (27:14). “We were violently storm tossed” (27:19). “We feared we might run on the rocks” (27:29). “Striking a reef, they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and the stern was being broken up by the surf” (27:41).
Anyone seasick? Wait, it gets worse. After the shipwreck, when Paul finally made it to land on the isle of Malta, soaking wet and freezing cold, “a viper came out of the fire … and fastened on his hand” (28:3). If the storm didn’t kill him, it seems the snake would.
Remember God’s promise. Remember Paul’s desire. This was Malta, not Rome. Paul could not die in Malta because he had not lived to see Rome. God would not let anything happen to Paul until he accomplished his purpose.
Of course, God could have just calmed the storm. He could have killed or relocated the snake before it bit Paul. But then the story would be boring. Do you want a boring, or blessed life? The blessed life is filled with bumps. They get our attention, and the attention of others, so we can make much of God and the gospel.
God surrounds us with good people.
Bad things do happen to good people, but good people are always around God’s people. In other words, as a Christian goes through life, God sovereignly puts people in our lives who help us and encourage us in our mission, both believers and unbelievers.
Consider the people in Paul’s life who made his imprisonment bearable and his mission possible. The humble writer of Acts, Dr. Luke, is with Paul on this journey. So is Aristarchus (27:2), whom Paul refers to as a “fellow prisoner” (Colossians 4:10) and a “fellow worker” (Philemon 1:24). Obviously these were stout-hearted believers who bore Paul’s misery and bolstered Paul’s ministry.
God even put good unbelievers (this is not an oxymoron) in Paul’s path to help him. Even unbelievers can be blessed by God with common grace, fair minds, and kind hearts. Such were Julius, the Roman centurion assigned to keep Paul a prisoner and deliver him to Rome. Paul would have been killed without Julius’ help. Also, Publius, the mayor of Malta, honored Paul and provided him food and shelter to recover from the shipwreck.
In this life we either use people to obtain treasure, or we treasure the people God uses to help us in our mission to make much of God and the gospel.
God provides us with whatever we need.
Paul ministered to the people God put in his life, and they in return ministered to him. At the end of the day, it was Publius of Malta who provided Paul and all of his companions everything the needed to continue the rest of their journey to Rome. “They honored us greatly,” Luke wrote, “And when we were about to set sail, they put on board whatever we needed” (28:10).
Hear the profundity of The Rolling Stones:
You can't always get what you want.
You can't always get what you want.
You can't always get what you want.
But if you try sometimes, well, you just might find,
You get what you need.
Even heathens have a better sense of the wisdom and goodness of God than televangelists. If God always gave us our will, His will would not be done. His will is sovereign, fixed, holy, righteous, and it will be done. In the process, God makes sure we have everything we need.
Paul’s needs included a free trip to Rome in chains, complete with danger, shipwreck, snake bite. They included people, godly people and good people, all kinds of people who needed his preaching. Paul had everything he needed to do God’s will, to glorify God’s name, to share God’s gospel, and to enjoy a godly life.
You and I are on a free trip as well. We paid nothing to be born, or to be born again. If life is a journey, God has ordained ours and predestined all the stops along the way. They are places, filled with people, who need to see Christ in us. If we make much of God and the gospel, as Paul did, then they will.