Study 30: The long and exciting trip to Rome
Paul had been in prison for at least two years, awaiting the governor’s pleasure. Actually, he had been in prison awaiting two governors’ and one king’s pleasure! Or so they thought. The reality of the facts are that Paul had been in prison with all his needs met by his friends, while the Jews tried to kill him. The Romans tried to use him to placate the Jews and those who didn’t care much either way had the opportunity to hear the gospel of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Paul was a prisoner for the sake of the gospel. He was in there just as long as Jesus needed him to be there – not a moment longer – then he was on his way.
If you are a Christian who is walking closely with God but going through circumstances that you don’t understand and in a situation that seems more than difficult, then take stock of your surroundings and see Jesus for who He is in the circumstances. Now is not the time to be having a “pity party”. Now is the time to be sharing what He has done in your life at every opportunity, knowing that God will use your testimony in even the direst of circumstances to reach those whom He wants to reach.
Of course, during his time in prison, Paul had the opportunity to feel sorry for himself… but he didn’t! The conniving, money-grubbing, smarmy Felix and his Jewish wife Drusilla had the opportunity to hear the gospel first-hand. (Acts 24:22-27) Then Festus (who had wanted to hand Paul over to the Jews and had been thwarted by Paul’s appeal to Caesar – God’s plan to get him to his rightful destination – Rome) had his opportunity, as did King Agrippa and his wife Bernice, to hear the truth of the word of God. Each in his or her turn, as far as we know, delayed a decision and we will only know where they went after their deaths – heaven or hell – when we, as Christians, arrive in heaven. It is so important that people hear of the grace of God. (Acts 26:19-32)
So it was that Paul found himself booked on a one-way, free passage to Rome. His work in Caesarea had been done and the work of the Lord had been enhanced. Philip, who had been the one the Lord used to lead the treasurer of Ethiopia to Himself, had settled in Caesarea and had four daughters who were prophetesses. What a wonderful opportunity it must have been to have been able to visit Paul in prison and to learn of the goodness of God from such a man. There are many men and women today, who are walking with God because of the amazing obedience of Paul. All of them have had the opportunity to read the Bible – the word of God – because Paul wrote a substantial part of the New Testament while he was in prison or on his travels. Paul’s journey was hardly direct. The boat made stops all along the Turkish coast, loading and unloading cargo as it went. Neither was he alone on this trip. Luke, at least, was with him and there were others too. Luke writes that Aristarchus from Thessalonica was with “us“. This was a place that Paul had visited and preached in. He wrote letters, in which, amongst other things, he instructed the Thessalonians about the return of Jesus, at the end of the age of the Church. Jude, John (who wrote the book of Revelation) and Peter were others who wrote about this subject. It would have been an interesting time of reminiscence as it had not been many years earlier that Paul had sailed the other way on his return voyage to Jerusalem, following his second and third missionary journeys. Julius, into whose custody Paul and other prisoners were placed, was a member of the Imperial Guard – not a man to be messed with! (A modern equivalent of this military unit would be something like the British Special Air Service.)
In Sidon, Julius was kind to Paul and let him visit his friends. (See Acts 27:3.) It is an honour to be able to rest in the arms of such a loving God. He will provide for us, even when we doubt Him and don’t understand what the events in our lives mean. The trip was not at all smooth. The winds blew against them, slowing them down and blowing them off course, so that they were forced to go north of Cyprus (the island where Paul had spent time on his journeys, telling people of the wonderful love of Jesus) and the mainland of Turkey. (Acts 27:4-6)
Do you and I ever stop to think of the times when we have gone to this or that place – perhaps on holiday, perhaps on business or for some other reason – when we can remember the opportunities we have had to speak to others of the amazing love that Jesus has for them? Do places bring back memories of amazing times when God has poured out His love on others as we have shared of the way that Jesus has helped us through times of trial?
Or perhaps our memories consist of the times we went to a place to meet with friends and drink the night away, forgetting our responsibility to share our friendship with Jesus before waking up the following morning, full of the embarrassment of the night before. Our time for excess is well past. Our lives are worth more than the memories of a few drinks, whilst the lives of others, who are hell-bent on destruction, are worth whatever it takes to get the message across. It cost Jesus the ultimate price. Surely nothing is too much for us to pay?
Paul could – and did – remember amazing times that he had shared with friends and acquaintances that would stand beyond the test of time and into eternity. He wrote as much to Timothy and to the churches at Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi and Thessalonica, telling of the mighty outpouring of God on their lives, straightening out for them some point of error in their lives or instructing them in something that they needed to know that would help them.
By this time, it was approaching winter, when ships sailed on long voyages at their peril. It would have been inconvenient and the soldiers stood a chance of losing their prisoners. Those sailing at this time of year would be accustomed to wintering in a port, safe from the winds and squalls that could so easily wreck a ship in the Mediterranean at that time of year. (Acts 27:7-12) We all know by now that Paul was a man who trusted God, who had a close relationship with Him, and who spoke with Him on a regular basis. So it is no surprise that Paul would speak to the captain of the ship about things which appeared to be outside his intimate knowledge.
When you and I trust God, He will often tell us things which we need to know for the good of others. We need faithfully to pass on the word that He gives us, to those for whom it is intended. If we do not, then the fault is ours. If we warn them of impending danger and they do nothing about it, then the fault and the consequences rest squarely with those for whom the word was intended and was made clear. (Ezekiel 3:17-21) People can so easily shipwreck their lives, their families and their churches. They need to be warned of the consequences. Sin enters all too easily. When it does, it must be dealt with decisively and clearly. If you have been appointed as a watchman, do the work diligently so that, when God calls you to account, you will be able to rejoice with Him that you did what He asked you to do.
Things may look set fair for the voyage of life. “What could possibly go wrong?” people ask, but God can see the end from the beginning! His warnings need to be heeded. In this case, it looked like great weather for a short trip to Rome. But those who were experienced sailors and should have known better, were fooled by their own thinking. Who created the weather systems? Who created the financial structures that hold the business world together? We need to believe that God is in control. (Acts 27:13-15) Their lives were now set on a course that they would not have been on if they had listened to the voice of God through Paul. There was now no going back, so they let the ship run before the gale. Sometimes, humanly speaking, there is nothing in our lives that we can do, except to let them run before the gale of deception and consequential trouble that has begun to howl through the very fabric of our existence. It is at times like this that we need to find the solace of God. It is a time for repentance – a “face-down-on-the-floor” time, asking for forgiveness and seeking a new direction in our lives.
Like the men on the boat, we try to save what we can so, firstly, we take on board all the things that we have gathered loosely round our lives in case we hit trouble: things or money we have saved in case we might need them! We take no notice of these “provisions” (the lifeboat) until we need them! But, when trouble really hits, we hold stuff tightly to us. Perhaps in a church situation we might resort to doing the things we have always done: those things that have served us well in the past. We run the “right” meetings, encourage people to give more, tighten our financial belts, lay down the law about attending more meetings; but the real fact is that it is too late! We are running before the gale, grabbing what tenuous shelter we can.
The only way out is to repent and get before God. Perhaps, in His mercy, He will save us.
The next thing the men did was to get rid of all their possessions – the things that were valuable on board. They threw the cargo overboard. Everything that was of no use to their immediate situation in the storm went. It’s amazing how danger and destruction focus the mind. Physical things that we take for granted and enjoy in our homes or places of business are suddenly seen as having comparatively little value. Perhaps we still prioritise them and the most valuable are last to go but, when it comes to it, life is far more important than things. We might look on our possessions as a safety net, thinking that we could always sell them if things became really bad. That may or may not be true. These men did not have either the time or the opportunity to sell anything. They had to discard them to lighten the ship in order to avoid sandbanks and shoals. Everything went and, at that moment, I believe they were happy to see the things go. What is important in our lives? Perhaps it is time for us to review the trappings that we gather around us and weave into the fabric of our existence?
Finally, all hope was gone. They had lost everything and the external problem was still there. Perhaps they thought back to the time when they had the opportunity to shelter in the lee of the land, in a safer harbour, staying there for the winter. However, those in charge of the prisoners had preferred to listen to the master of the vessel than to Paul (who, after all, was only a prisoner). They had made a decision to ignore sound advice from someone who knew God and who spoke the truth. (Acts 27:9-12) Sometimes, wise advice comes from a person we would not normally consider as an adviser. That is why religion will never help us, because it is merely a set of rules, whereas a relationship with the living God will revolutionise every part of our life.
A relationship is something to be sought out, something to be cherished and protected. When all hope is lost, that is a good time to have a relationship with God. Paul had such a relationship and he used it. Everything would be lost, but lives would be saved. How did he know this? A relationship with God gives you access to the spiritual realm to which, otherwise, you would have no access. Angels have work to do for believers. (See Hebrews 1:14.) So, when Paul told them that an angel had appeared to him, this would not have been a major surprise to him. Paul knew what angels were supposed to do. The question that we should ask ourselves is this: “Do we expect angels to come to our aid when things are getting tough?”
As a result of the disobedience of the crew and his jailers, Paul’s own life was put in danger. There are consequences to decisions and, where rash and ill-advised decisions have been made, those consequences can be dire. As members of churches and communities, we need to learn how to hear from God when making decisions. The consequences of bad decisions may not show immediately. They may take months or even years to develop their potential but, when they do, the results can be catastrophic.
In Acts 27:21-26, Paul was not taunting them with an “I told you so”, but was reminding them that, with God’s guidance, he had predicted this very problem. In the future, they would listen to him and their lives would be spared because of it. The crew of this ship lost everything but the clothes they swam ashore in. To live with having made those decisions would have been horrific. God prevented it from being worse because of Paul. He was destined to go to Rome to preach God’s word to the highest and mightiest in the land and the crew and some people from the island of Malta were to go through the situation with them.
Good came from the evil that Satan intended as we shall see, but the traumatic effects of the shipwreck were there for all to see. After fourteen days in the storm, they approached land. (Acts 27:27-32) These hardy and hardened sailors had no idea where they were. All they knew was that there was one lifeboat and too many people to fill it! So a group of them got together to save themselves. It is a sad fact that, in times of crisis, people think only of themselves. These men were no different. They had families and lives of whatever sort to lead so, when the ship was obviously going to founder, a few of them went to the lifeboat and selfishly decided to save themselves.
But when God is at the centre of things, they don’t follow established patterns. In this case, the obvious route to save themselves would have led to their death, so Paul declared the plan to the soldiers. This time, we discover that they had learned their lesson: whatever Paul said, do it! So they cut the ropes separating them from the obvious way of escape.
No matter what difficulties you are going through at the moment, even if the situation is self-inflicted, hold fast to God’s word and His guidance. There is no other safe way through the problem. You might lose (or have already lost) everything, but God knows of your plight. He is the only One who can bring you through. Your faith in others might have been severely shaken. Your faith in other believers might have been tested beyond what you think is your endurance. Do NOT be tempted to “do your own thing”. It will only result in further loss. God is faithful. He is faithful to His promise that He will “never leave you nor forsake you” and, furthermore, out of the problem will come amazing and powerful victory: a broadening of your understanding of God and victory over Satan that you or those who are to be blessed through you would otherwise never experience.
The only disaster in failure comes if you refuse to get up and keep going. Rise into the victory that He has prepared for you and for all those who will never give up. Get alone with your family or with other Christians and break bread – take communion amongst yourselves. Remember why Jesus died for you, and why He rose from the dead. Share together the amazing things that God has already done in your lives; plan on Him continuing to do so – because that is His will for you. Paul encouraged all two hundred and seventy-six people on the ship to eat: “he gave thanks to God before them all, and broke off a piece and ate it.” (Acts 27:33-38) The Lord will do amazing things when we break bread together. It is His instruction that, whenever we meet together, we should remember Him in this great feast.
So the time came to abandon ship. They did their best to try for a soft landing by surfing the boat in, but, just as Paul said, everything including the ship was to be lost – with the exception of the people; not one of them would lose their lives. The soldiers had one last try at disobedience but now the commanding officer firmly adhered to Paul’s recommendations and the prisoners were spared. (Acts 27:39-44)
Everyone made it to shore. Some swam and some floated in on planks and bits of wood. That ship would never sail again. Perhaps the ship that you have invested your life in will never sail again. Do not worry. God already knew that this would happen before you were born and He factored it into His plan for you!
“Lord, how you have helped me before! You took me safely from my mother’s womb and brought me through the years of infancy. I have depended upon you since birth; you have always been my God. Don’t leave me now, for trouble is near and no one else can possibly help.” (Psalm 22:9-11)
“And now,” said the Lord – the Lord who formed me from my mother’s womb to serve Him who commissioned me to restore to Him His people Israel, who has given me the strength to perform this task and honoured me for doing it! – “you shall do more than restore Israel to me. I will make you a light to the nations of the world to bring my salvation to them too.” Isaiah 49:5-6
He is faithful and full of mercy. His plan is to prosper you and to give you a hope and a future. Don’t listen to anyone else’s plan, not even your own. ONLY listen to God’s plan for your life. You will never, ever be disappointed! Let us watch together as God reshapes our lives, redirects our purposes and unites us in His love and direction.
You will be amazed at the result. Revival in the United Kingdom and Europe will happen, and happen soon – in God’s timing!
Study 30: The long and exciting trip to Rome – Challenge Questions
Please complete all questions marked with * and then complete the rest of the study. The more you look in God’s word, the more you will get out of it.
Read the chapter at the beginning of the week then you have time to meditate on it, rather than rushing! Make God’s word your number one priority.
1. *Read the notes and the Bible verses referred to in them. Highlight the points that “speak” to you and share with the group.
2. *Paul had spent time with God finding out what was to happen to them in their danger on the ship. How can you and I apply to our own lives what happened on that ship, as a result of what Paul told them from God?
3. What sort of friends do you have? Are they ones who will build you up, or ones who will not support you spiritually? How do they speak about problems and difficulties in their own lives or in the lives of others? Do you think you need to challenge their thinking? Why would that be?
4. *Is there any time in your life when you have shared in the breaking of bread outside church? Was it for a certain occasion or a spontaneous response to the leading of the Holy Spirit? Do you believe this is beneficial and, if so, in what way?
Read Acts 28:1-16
5. *Which island had they reached? What did the inhabitants do for them? How should we treat people who have been through a storm in their life? Would we treat them differently if they were not Christians? Explain. How would you advise them (1) if they were Christians? And (2) if they were not?
6. *What happened to Paul as he was lifting a bundle of firewood? Can you think of an appropriate verse of scripture that speaks about protection in such circumstances? What did the islanders expect to happen to Paul? Why didn’t that come about?
7. *What happened to all the sick islanders? Do you think this would have happened if Paul had not had the snake problem? In what way does the sick islanders echo what happened in the gospels? Write down two references from the gospels which show evidence of this fact.
8. How long did they all stay on the island? What happened as they left? Do you think that the people wanted them to leave? Explain your answer.
9. *They sailed north towards Rome. When they landed at Puteoli, what happened? Why do you think this would encourage them? How would you recognise another believer if he or she had not told you that they were Christians? Is this important for us to know? Why?
10. They then travelled North again and were met by believers some thirty or forty miles south of Rome. Where did Paul live in Rome? Was he made to feel welcome? Did Paul have a purpose in being in Rome?
11. *Reflect on Paul’s journey from Caesarea to Rome. What do you think were the high spots for him and what were the low spots?
Read Acts 28:17-31
12. How did Paul deal with the Jewish leaders? Did he waste time in contacting them? What did he say to get them to listen to him? What reaction did they have to what he said? What reaction did he have to their response?
13. *What do you think about the abrupt end of the Book of Acts? Was that the end of the supernatural miracles? Was it a time only for living right and obedience?
14. What does Acts 29 say? Can you find it? As you live, you are still writing it! If you are a believer, you will be able to read it in heaven. Give some examples of things that you would be able to read in it when you arrive in heaven. Is there any doubt about the outcome of the battle between God and Satan? Explain your answer. Which battle has already been won? Why does Satan continue to fight?
15. Jesus likened leaders and churches to shepherds and sheep. List the things that a good shepherd would do for his sheep. How would you liken these things to what a good church leader would do for his followers today?
Now look at the time line of Paul’s life. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)