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A Sovereign Dangerous Voyage - Acts 27

t is Friday and we are nearing the end of our time reading the book of Acts. Today, our reading is in Acts 27:1-44. It is the dramatic story of Paul's journey to Rome. Take your time and take in all of the descriptive things Luke records. When you have finished, please return here and we'll take a second look together. It was time for Paul to "stand before Caesar". Festus had told Agrippa (last time) that he was innocent, but he had appealed to Caesar - therefore he would go to Rome. Jesus had stood before Paul early in his arrest - in Jerusalem - and told him that no harm would come to him, he was to stand before Caesar. It was time. Luke was with him ("we", vs 1), as well as Aristarchus, a disciple of Jesus we first met in Ephesus when the near-riot broke out in the city over Paul's teachings (Acts 19:29). There were other prisoners also - it was a prison ship. A Centurion named Julius was in charge, and one can assume that a large contingent of soldiers - perhaps as much as 100 - accompanied the prisoners. Luke even tells us where the ship they sailed on came from - Adramyttium - a port city in the northern Aegean sea, just south of Troas. The ship was merely a transport to a larger vessel at a more advantageous time. The ship, in all likelihood, was returning to its homeport for the winter and became available for the Roman governor to use to transport Paul and the others to a sea-port further into the Mediterranean that was destined for Rome. The geography of the voyage is interesting to "nerds" like me who love geography. They sailed north from Caesarea, passing within visual distance of the coastal area that led to Paul's home in Tarsus. They sailed on the Northside (leeward) of the island of Cyprus because in the Fall the prevailing winds were from West to East. One can sense in the narrative Luke records that things were favorable for all in this first couple of weeks at sea. The Centurion took Paul and the rest of the prisoners, as well as his soldiers who guarded them, and they boarded a larger Alexandrian ship that was capable of carrying a large number of people, supplies, and equipment. Documents from this era describe these ships as capable of carrying 300 people. They could be as long as 150 feet. They were grain ships that carried goods from Alexandria in Egypt to Rome. (There's an interesting article on these ships and the account of Luke written in Trinity journal if you're interested in knowing more about this at - https://digitalcommons.trinity.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1041&context=class_faculty). They were following a well-established trade route that would carry them close to the islands and mainlands of Greece and Italy in order to arrive at Rome before winter set in. Luke gives us notice of the first of the problems that would occur: "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 (27:7). Paul spoke to the Centurion to advise him to "winter" as they had already passed the Day of Atonement (Luke's reference to "the Fast was over"), which meant it was early October. Fair Havens was on the southern coast of Crete and as such wasn't the most suitable harbor, but it was safer than being on the wild Mediterranean seas of Autumn. The Centurion had the final say, and along with the Captain of the ship decided to keep the voyage going. The Captain (in all probability) decided to head to Phoenix, a harbor also in Crete, but one that was more suitable to spend the winter in. Now, from vs. 13 - 20, Luke describes how dangerous the voyage had become. The winds turned against them - a "Noreaster" - which blew them towards the coast, not into the sea. The crew had to do several things to save the ship from becoming a shipwreck. Alexandrian ships had ropes that undergirded the hull of the ship and they had to pull them up - which ultimately slowed the ship down, but saved it from the waves battering the hull. It was safe to say they were in much danger and did not know where they were at, as Luke describes it: "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" (27:20). Paul is not driven by circumstances - which were indeed dire - but by revelation. He saw the dangerous place they were in but stood before the ship's crew and officers to tell them "...I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 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.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island" (27:22-26). Paul's revelation came directly from an Angel sent from God - a reminder that God is the one overseeing this voyage. His assurance from God is that no one will be lost at sea. He urged them to believe, trust, even as he does in God's word - yet Paul's advice is also practical - the ship needs to be aground - which in all likelihood is why the ship itself would eventually be lost. Vs 27, it was the fourteenth night they were being driven by and hammered by, the winds and the sea. They were somewhere in the Adriatic, i.e., between the western coast of Greece and the boot of Italy. The crew couldn't see, but they were taking depth measurements (soundings) and discovered they were at 20 fathoms - a fathom being about 5 - 6 feet, they were in 100 - 120 feet of water. Then a second measurement brought them to 75 - 90 feet. It sounds plenty deep, but the hull of these Alexandrian ships was heavy and deep underwater. They threw out anchors to slow the ship's progress, and Paul spotted the nervousness of the crew who were ready to abandon the ship (vs 30). Paul reacted quickly, going to the Centurion he reminded him of the revelation and the consequences of disobeying it (vs 31), "unless these men stay, no one will be saved". The soldiers cut the ropes to the escape boat. Paul acted with conviction concerning the need, but also with compassion. It was near dawn and after fourteen horrendous days, he knew the crew and soldiers, as well as the prisoners, felt hopeless. Paul is a pastor at this point - "you are tired, you are hungry, stop, get something to eat, rest in what God said he would do". He "took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat." Strengthened by the food, and more hopeful, the crew knew that they needed to lighten the ship so that the hull would not lay so low in the water. The new day gave them a vision of land ahead, and a bay, and a plan to sail the ship into it and run it aground. They didn't make it. As Paul had said, the ship hit a reef and stopped aground on it. The waves would batter the ship to destruction and they had to abandon the ship. The immediate crisis was "we need to kill the prisoners lest they escape". The Centurion, now fully aware of Paul's stature and faith said "No". Luke's concluding sentence gives one pause to breathe: "And so it was that all were brought safely to land." They landed on the island of Malta. 276 souls were on that grain ship when it left Crete. They were trying to sail 40 miles to a harbor they could spend winter at, but none of it was to be. We discover this all of the time. We make our plans and God makes his. Our plans are fine most of the time, but when God changes them what can/should we do? First, we do not doubt that God is with us...for he said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you". Second, we recognize that the difficulties, struggles, pain, are there for a reason. "My strength is made perfect in your weakness". I know it, you know it, but none of us want the weakness, we want the strength. God gives it to us to remind us that we have to put our trust and faith in Him alone. Lastly, Faith...Faith is the absolute necessity in our lives. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of which is not seen". A Pandemic hits and we're all in the same boat. What do we do? Paul tells us what he told them: "Be courageous, for God is still here and knows what he is doing"(vs 25). "Stick together, for you are stronger together than when divided" (vs 31). "Eat, break bread together, and not only do you strengthen yourselves in body but also in Spirit" (vs 34). Courage, Unity, Worship - they are all necessary ingredients to survive the storms of life. Peace

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