SERMON DELIVERED ON 01-04-20   

       As you will recall, Paul was under house arrest in Caesarea and appeared in a trial before the Roman Governor Felix.  The Jewish high priest and other leadership of the Jews had come down from Jerusalem to Caesarea to present their case against Paul. As you may remember, Paul, while in Jerusalem, had been accused by some Jews from Asia of teaching against Jewish customs, the Mosaic Law and the temple and having brought Greeks into the temple area.  The Jews sized him and when Paul tried to defend himself before the Jews, a riot broke out and the Roman authorities came to Paul’s rescue and took him to Caesarea.

       In Caesarea, Paul appears before Governor Felix and defends himself against the accusations of the Jews.  After hearing out Paul, Felix adjourned the proceedings and advised that the Roman commander who had rescued Paul from the Jewish mob in Jerusalem was able to come to Caesarea; he would resume Paul’s trial.

       Well, two years went by with nothing new happening.  Paul continued to be held as a prisoner in Caesarea. In the mean time, Felix was recalled and replaced by Festus. As soon as this occurred, the Jewish leadership requested of Festus that Paul be returned to Jerusalem for trial but Festus denied the request when he learned that Paul had appealed to Caesar.  In the meantime, King Agrippa II and his sister Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. 

       Chapter 26 concludes with an account of Agrippa requesting to hear from Paul and Paul explaining his circumstances to Agrippa.  Chapter 26 ends with the governor, king and Bernice concluding that Paul wasn’t saying or doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment but because he had appealed to Caesar, to Caesar he would go.

       So today we will continue our journey through Acts beginning in Chapter 27.

       Acts 27:1-6: When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us. The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. 

        We see the centurion named Julius belonged to the Imperial Regiment. The Greek rendered “Imperial” here is actually the name Augustus who was Caesar at the time. A Regiment was 600 soldiers or one-sixth of a Roman Legion which consisted of 6000 soldiers. To be called an Augustan Regiment meant it was a Regiment of valor. This was an honorary title given to a Regiment that had shown above average courage and bravery.

       Aristarchus, which means “best ruler,” was an apparent friend of Paul’s from Thessalonica.  He is mentioned in Acts 19:29, 20:4, Philemon 1:24 and Colossians 4:10 where Paul speaks of him as a fellow prisoner. This indicates that this man was imprisoned with Paul in Rome. It is generally believed that Paul’s letter to the Colossians was written while he was under house arrest in Rome. We will discuss more on the matter of Paul’s letters from prison later in the sermon.

       It is recorded that they passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us.  To pass to the lee of something is to pass to the sheltered side of something.

       Acts 27:7-10: We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea. Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast.  So Paul warned them,  "Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also."

       Remember, these were sailing ships.  The internal combustion engine had not yet been invented.  Sailing a big ship was no easy matter. You had to have experienced sailors who could handle the rigors of shifting the sails to catch the wind. However the wind didn’t always corporate. Sometimes there wasn’t enough and sometimes too much.  It the wind was swirling, it could make sailing treacherous. It may have been a swirling wind they ran into as it is said they could not hold their course so they sailed to the sheltered side of Crete.  Apparently it was a north wind that was blowing and they made it to the southern side of Crete where they were shielded from the wind.

       It is pointed out that they had lost much time and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast.  The Fast is a reference to the Day of Atonement which was in the fall of the year.  Here again we see an Old Covenant Holy Day being used as a reference point.  Whither this meant Paul and others with him observed the Day of Atonement is unclear.  We know from our previous stops in our journey through Acts that Paul may have continued to observe the Jewish Holy Days.

       At any rate, it is apparent that entering the fall of the year and approaching winter is not the best time for sailing. The weather in this part of the world can turn very rainy and windy beginning in October.    

       Paul warns the crew that their voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to their own lives as well. We are not told whether Paul was given this outlook through revelation or whether he just was a good weather forecaster.

       As it turns out, the centurion did not listen to Paul but instead followed the advice of the ships pilot and of the owner of the vessel. Apparently the harbor at Fair Havens was not suitable to winter over at so a majority of the group decided to sail on in the hopes of reaching Phoenix and winter there.  Phoenix was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.

       So when they got a gentle south wind, they pulled anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. However, before very long, a wind of hurricane force swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind.  They were driven to the lee side of a small island called Clauda and had a very difficult time keeping the ship afloat  Fearing that they would run aground, they lowered the anchor and let the ship be driven along. Let’s pick up the narrative in verse 18.

       Acts 27:18-22:  We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard.  On the third day, they threw the ship's tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved. After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: "Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.

       Paul goes on to tell them that during the night an angel of the God he served stood beside him and told him not to be afraid and that he must stand trial before Caesar and none on board the ship will be lost. Paul tells them to keep up their courage because he had faith that all would be saved as God said.

        On the fourteenth night they were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight some sailors sensed they were approaching land. They began to do soundings which told them how deep the water is.  They found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. However, a short time later they took more soundings and found the water to be ninety feet deep.  This told them they were getting closer to land. They now feared they would be dashed against the rocks so they dropped four anchors from the stern.  Here is where some sailors became edgy and attempted to surreptitiously escape the ship.  

       Acts 27:30-32:  In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, "Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved." So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall away.

       It is interesting how the centurion and the soldiers came to put their trust in what Paul said. The centurion had initially ignored Paul’s advice not to sail and if they did disaster would befall them. Now he was very willing to believe Paul.  Apparently Paul’s fulfilled prediction had an impact on the centurion and the soldiers under his command.

       Paul goes on to urge them all to eat.  Apparently they had not eaten for fourteen days. Paul again tells them thy will all survive.  He even uses a little hyperbole in saying that not one of them would lose a single hair from his head. Paul proceeds to take some bread giving thanks to God in front of them all. He then breaks the bread and begins to eat and those on the ship joined him in having something to eat.  It is recorded that there were 276 on board.

       After eating, they lightened the ship by throwing the remaining grain into the sea. When daylight came, they saw land which they didn’t recognize but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could.  They cut loose the anchors and untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach.

       But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck in the sand and would not move.  The stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.  The soldiers decided to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul's life and so kept the soldiers from doing this. He ordered those who could swim to jump into the water and swim to land. Those that couldn’t swim were to use planks and other parts of the ship to paddle their way to shore.  Chapter 27 ends with everyone reaching shore safely.  Acts 28 begins with everyone reaching shore and discovering that the island they landed on was called Malta.

       It is recorded that the islanders showed everyone that came ashore unusual kindness. Because it was raining and cold, the islanders built a fire to provide some warmth.  Paul helped with building the fire by gathering a pile of brushwood.  As he put it on the fire a snake popped out of the wood and fastened itself to Paul’s hand.  Here’s what happened:

       Acts 28: 4-6: When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, "This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live." But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.

       It is always interesting to see how people will jump to conclusions when witnessing an event that may be out of the ordinary. When seeing the snake hanging from Paul’s hand, they concluded Paul must be a murderer and justice caught up with him.  When they saw Paul suffered no ill effects from the snake they concluded he was a god.  The narrative doesn’t reveal whether the snake was venomous or whether it bit Paul. But since Paul continued to live he went from being a condemned criminal to being a god in the eyes of the people, neither of which he was.  The lesson for us is to always examine the facts of a situation before drawing a conclusion.

       The narrative continues to show that there was an estate nearby that belonged to the chief official of the island. It is recorded that this man welcomed Paul and his companions to his home and for three days provided hospitably.  While there, Paul visited this man's father who was sick in bed with fever and dysentery.  After Paul prayed for him he was healed.  This resulted in the rest of the sick on the island coming to Paul for healing.

       It’s recorded that ships survivors stayed on the Island for three months and that the people of the Island honored the ships survivors in many ways.  When they were ready to sail, they provided them with the supplies they needed.  After three months they put out to sea in a ship that had wintered on the island.

       They left Malta and sailed to Syracuse where they stayed three days. They then sailed to Rhegium and the following day reached Puteoli.  They then sailed to Three Taverns where they found some brothers who invited them to spend a week with them after which they arrived in Rome. The total trip from Caesarea to Rome under normal sailing conditions would have been a little over 2000 miles. Being battered by the storm probably added several hundred additional miles to the trip.    

       When they got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.  Three days later Paul called together the leaders of the Jews and explained to them how though doing nothing wrong, he had been arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. The Jews Paul was addressing were not Christian Jews but leaders of the Jewish community that lived in Rome.

       Paul went on to explain how the Romans examined him and wanted to release him but because the Jews objected he was compelled to appeal to Caesar.  Paul concludes his presentation to the Jewish leadership in Rome by saying it was because of the hope of Israel that he was being held.

       The Jews replied to Paul by advising that they had not received any letters from Judea concerning him and that none of the brothers who have come from there have reported anything bad about him. They proceeded to say they wanted to hear his views because people everywhere are talking against this sect.

       It does appear rather odd that the Jewish leadership in Rome had not been informed by the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem about the charges brought against Paul.  Neither did any of the Jews that apparently had come to Rome from Jerusalem said anything bad about Paul.  They were aware, however, that the theology being taught by Paul was not well received and they wanted to hear straight from Paul what it was he was teaching. So they arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in large numbers to the place where he was staying.

       Acts 28:23b: From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.

       Well, as usually is the case, some were convinced by what was said, but others would not believe. It is recorded that they disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement:

       Acts 28:25-28:  The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet: "`Go to this people and say, "You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving." For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.' "Therefore I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!"

       I am sure Paul addressing them in this manner didn’t make him many new friends among the Jews. No one likes to be told that they are being obstinate which is pretty much what Paul was telling them. 

       This last chapter of Acts ends with telling us that Paul stayed in his own rented house for two whole years and welcomed all who came to see him.  Luke concludes this historical document by recording that Paul boldly and without hindrance preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

       What else do we know about Paul’s time as a Roman prisoner?  While there isn’t complete scholarly agreement on this matter, it appears that at least four of Paul’s letters that appear in the NT canon were written by Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome. These letters are Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians and Philippians. Some of these letters appear to be written with the help of others who were with Paul at various times while he was a prisoner.

       Colossians 4:10 Paul speaks of Aristarchus, his fellow prisoner, sending greetings. We saw in Acts 27 that Aristarchus was with Paul when sailing to Rome. In Colossians 4:18: Paul asks that his imprisonment be remembered. In Philemon 1:23, Paul speaks of a man named Epaphras as a fellow prisoner.  In Ephesians 6:20, Paul speaks of being in chains. In Philippians 1:12-14, Paul speaks of his imprisonment. There is good internal evidence Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus were also written while imprisoned in Rome.

       2 Timothy 4:6-9: For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

       When or how Paul died is not revealed in Scripture or in the secular writings of the time.  We must assume that Paul did eventually appear before Caesar. As already discussed, while riding out the storm at sea, Paul says an angel appeared to him and advised that he must stand before Caesar.

       Acts 27:23-24: Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, `Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.'

       It is generally believed Paul died at the hands of the Roman Emperor Nero. Nero blamed the Christians for the fire that he, himself set to destroy the city of Rome so he could have it rebuilt as a memorial to himself.  It is believed Paul was in prison at this time and would have been killed.  How Paul was killed is not known although beheading was a common method at the time.

        There is a non-canonical writing from the end of the first century by the church leader Clement that is instructive.  This is thought to have been written around AD 96 or 97.   

       “Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. Thus was he removed from the world, and went into the holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience.  1 Clement 5:5-7. 

       While this writing of Clement doesn’t identify how Paul died, it does identify him dying as a martyr which is usually seen as being killed for ones faith.  

       So this concludes our journey through Acts and what a journey it has been. We began this journey on 10-28-17 and 43 sermons and 27 months later we have come to the finish line.  We began this series by discussing the authorship and dating of Acts.  We moved to the tongues event on Pentecost and discussed in detail the tongues phenomenon as seen throughout the NT and as seen in some segments of the church today.  We covered events associated with the ministry of Peter, John, James, Phillip, Barnabas, Silas, Stephen, Apollos and of course Paul  

       We discussed in detail the Jerusalem Conference and the covenantal transition represented by that conference.  We placed ourselves at the feet of Paul and saw how he used the Hebrew Scriptures to prove Jesus was the promised Messiah to Israel. We traveled with Paul on his three missionary journeys and discussed all that happened to him on these journeys.  Finally we discussed the events leading to Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem, his transfer to Caesarea and his journey to Rome.    

       As mentioned at the outset of this series, The Book of Acts is a historical document that provides important information as to the development of the Church.  As such, it connects us with our Christian roots and heritage. Hopefully this series has sufficiently expanded your understanding of how the faith commonly known as Christianity came to be.  I know it has certainly done so for me.