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In this section of the book of Acts, you can travel with the Apostle Paul as he is transported to Rome as a prisoner. Just before the last part of the trip, Paul warns the crew to wait for better weather. They proceed anyway and get caught in a storm that destroys the ship near the coast of Malta, where everyone makes it ashore. While they are there, Paul is bit by a poisonous snake, but God miraculously heals him. When they are able to get another ship, they go on their way and arrive in Rome.
I. PAUL'S VOYAGE BY SEA, 27:1-28:13
A. Background For The Journey
B. The Voyage to Fair Havens, 27:1-8
C. The Storm at Sea, 27:9-26
D. The Shipwreck on Malta, 27:27-44
E. The Ministry on Malta, 28:1-10
F. The Voyage from Malta to Puteoli, 28:11-13
G. Paul's Journey Along the Appian Way, 28:14-16
Lesson 13: Paul’s Journey to Rome Part 1
Hi, I’m Carl Laney and it’s my privilege to give you this introduction to the New Testament. Do any of you have any travel plans ahead? Maybe you have plans to go to Israel, that’s a wonderful experience. Or maybe you want to go to Europe and explore some of the European countries. Or maybe you’d like to see Greece where Paul spent time on his second and third missionary journeys. Or maybe go to Turkey, a beautiful land where Paul spent time during his first journey. I’d like to get back to the Netherlands, I’ve had a number of opportunities to teach in the Netherlands in a little community just outside of Amsterdam and I’d like to get back to the Netherlands someday and enjoy those bicycles paths and the beautiful white clouds and blue sky in the summer in Amsterdam.
Well, Paul had some travel plans as well. What Paul wanted to do was to get to Rome. He wanted to go to Rome to that very center of the Roman Empire and have an opportunity of ministry there. He mentioned those plans in his letter to the Romans in 15:23-24. But while Paul had some plans he didn’t know how God was eventually going to get him there.
Let’s have a word of prayer and then we’ll begin our lesson. Heavenly Father thank you for the Apostle Paul and for your work in his life and for your eventually getting him to Rome where he wanted to be and how you worked through those circumstances to provide some letters to the churches that he had ministered in and to encourage us through these writings. Bless our time of study together we pray in Jesus Name, Amen.
I. PAUL’S VOYAGE BY SEA, 27:1-28:13
We are looking at Paul’s journey to Rome and you can see his travels on this map. As Paul was in Caesarea where he had been imprisoned after his arrest in Jerusalem. Then his ship took him north toward Tyre and Sidon and then west across the Mediterranean Sea eventually to the island of Crete. Just off the island of Crete Paul was involved in a great storm and eventually a shipwreck on the isle of Malta. He spent the winter on Malta and then eventually went on north to Rome.
A. Background for the journey
Let’s get a little background on this journey before we look at the journey itself. Paul had been in prison in Caesarea, Caesarea on the sea since June of AD57. His arrest was the result of a riot that took place in the temple area. No formal charges had ever been brought against him, so he made his defense there before Felix and Festus and King Agrippa there at Caesarea, but they had not granted his release. Finally, Paul exerted his right as a Roman citizen and he appealed to Caesar, “I appeal to Caesar I want these charges either applied or dropped.” This required that Paul’s case would then be transferred to Rome where he would make his case before Caesar. Paul begin his voyage after two years of imprisonment at Caesarea he began his voyage to Rome in the late summer, probably around August of AD59 after two years of imprisonment in Caesarea.
Paul was escorted in this journey by a Roman centurion by the name of Julius the centurion at the Augustan cohort. Centurion was the commander of 100 soldiers in the Roman army and the cohort had 600 soldiers. Luke apparently accompanied Paul on this journey because as he recounts the journey itself he mentions “we”, we did this, we did that, so Luke was part of this journey. Aristarchus whom Paul later designates as his fellow prisoner in Col. 4:10 also traveled with Paul on this journey.
They set out from Caesarea on a ship and the ship was from Adramyttian, an area in Turkey near Troas. This was one of the ships that would carry grain from the Delta of Egypt eventually to Rome. The vessel would be stopping at various ports along Asia Minor and Julius knew that eventually at one of these ports they would find a ship that would carry them to Rome.
Their first stop along the way was at Sidon, a Phoenician harbor about 70 miles north of Caesarea. There Paul was allowed to go to shore, and visit his Christian friends there at Sidon. You can see that Julius was very gracious in giving Paul this opportunity.
From Sidon the ship sailed north and east to Cypress. They were seeking some shelter from the prevailing winds that came out of the west during the summer. And then the ship moved its way slowly along the south coast of Asia Minor and landed at Myra. Myra was one of the chief ports of the grain fleet that brought this wheat from Egypt to Rome. Egypt’s delta was considered the bread basket of the ancient world, and it was a chief source of grain for Rome. Myra is not only an important port city in ancient times, but it was also the hometown of a bishop who became famous for his gifts to the poor. His name is Nicholas and we know him today as Saint Nicholas. Stories about Saint Nicholas abound and his gifts to the poor, and it’s from the stories about this Saint that we eventually have the story of Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, a man who is noted for giving gifts. Julius eventually found at Myra a ship that was headed to Rome. These ships were loaded with grain from the Egyptian Delta and this ship was headed to Rome loaded with grain. But the ship also had passengers as well as cargo and according to Luke there were 276 passengers on this ship in addition to cargo. So, this is a fairly substantial ship, sailing the Mediterranean Sea.
B. The voyage to Fair Havens 27:1-8
From Myra the ship continued on to Cnidus, and the going was slow at this time because the prevailing winds late in the summer and early fall were coming out of the west. At Cnidus the sailors had to make a choice. Would they wait for better sailing conditions or would they sail south of Crete along the lee side of the island where they could get a little bit of shelter from the prevailing winds. They chose to do the latter and so they sailed south and with some difficulty made their way to a place called Fair Havens, and there they laid anchor at the harbor at Fair Havens waiting for more favorable winds to carry them further.
Now you need to know a little bit about the background of sailing in the Mediterranean Sea. The safe season is in the late spring and summer. That’s when it’s pretty safe to sail in the Mediterranean Sea. It gets dangerous in the transitional seasons from February to March, late winter and from mid-September to mid-November, late fall. During these transitional seasons it’s dangerous to sail on the Mediterranean Sea, because of the sudden winds that can come up on that Sea. During the winter, mid-November through January it’s off season for sailing on the Mediterranean Sea. It’s just too dangerous for small sailing vessels of the ancient times to get out on the sea. All navigation on the open sea would cease in November until the winter was over and the winter storms.
According to the chronology here it was already October for the Day of Atonement had already passed. They wondered what they should do, should they sail on in the dangerous season. The seamen held a council, and they held this council to determine what to do. Should they sail on or winter on the island of Crete. Paul advised them to stay at Fair Havens. But what did Paul know about it? He wasn’t a sailor, a navigator. What did he know about it. We read in 2 Cor. chapter 11 that Paul had already been shipwrecked three times by the time he started this voyage. So, Paul had had some experience on dangerous seas, and it was his advise to wait out the winter on the island of Crete. But the captain and ship owner decided it would be best to sail toward a better port a little further west. Fair Havens was a bit of a misnomer, it was a way to attract people to the harbor, but it wasn’t that well protected. The Captain wanted a better and safer harbor for the winter. So, they decided to push on to Phoenix, a better harbor on the southwest coast of Crete. This harbor faced west and would offer better protection for a ship that was anchored during the winter, protection from the easterly late winter winds.
C. The Storm at Sea 27:9-26
Eventually they got the wind that they needed and were able to leave the harbor of Fair Havens and sail further west. But the Mediterranean Sea has winds that can change rather rapidly and that’s what happened on this occasion. Suddenly the wind changed, and in the midst of this rather dangerous season this ship was caught in what was known as the Euraquilo, the northeaster. The ship was caught in this gale and was pushed away from the shores of Crete. Finally, under the shelter of a small island, the island of Clauda about 23 miles south of Crete, they were able to get the situation under control. The sailors took three precautionary measures as they encountered this great storm in the Mediterranean Sea. The first precautionary measure is mentioned in 27:16, where is says they were able to get the ship’s boat under control. The ship’s boat would be the dinghy. Kind of the life boat that they would retreat to in a bad situation. This boat was normally towed behind the sailing vessel, but during bad weather it would be dragged onto the deck and latched down on the deck. They were barely able, in the midst of this storm, to save the dinghy and get it latched down.
A second thing they did also mentioned in verse 17 is that they used supporting cables to undergird the ship. This was designed to protect the hull as it would be pounded against the waves during this stormy situation. I recall doing some fishing deep sea fishing out of Winchester Bay in Oregon some years ago, and a ship, a boat that was crossing the harbor hit some heavy waves and as a result there was a crack in the hull. In a short time that fishing boat was under water. Fortunately the fishermen were able to get off the boat onto another boat nearby. The undergirding of the ship’s hull with cables was designed to protect it from breaking apart in the storm.
A third thing that is mentioned in verse 17 is they let down, and it says the sea anchor in the NASB, it’s literally the gear, it could be the sea anchor, it could be the sails, or the rigging. They were taking some action to prevent the boat from being damaged, in the midst of this storm and they were just going to let it drift during this storm.
The next day the storm didn’t let up and the sailors took further action to lighten the ship to prevent it from being engulfed by the heavy seas. On this day they started to jettison the cargo, verses 18-19, they were throwing some of the grain overboard, in order to lighten the load and to help the ship ride a little bit higher, so it wouldn’t be engulfed by the waves.
On the third day they took even more drastic measures. A ship in ancient times would usually carry some spare gear, maybe some spare sails and tackle and a mast. But on the third day the tossed this gear overboard. This was a drastic measure. They were basically going to try to let the ship drift until it came to shore and hoped to get off the ship before it wrecked on the shore.
We see just a little bit of Paul’s humanity at this point. After eleven days and nights of being tossed about on the Mediterranean Sea, in the midst of this storm, Paul could not resist the temptation to say, “I told you so.” Notice in verse 21 Paul said, “Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss.” But having said I told you so, Paul went on to give the ship’s crew and the passengers a word of encouragement. Paul adds this in verse 22, “Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, 24 saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.” So, Paul was able to give them a word of encouragement that their lives would be spared. Who can provide a word of encouragement in difficult times? Well it’s the man of God, who with the Word of God, is able to provide a word of encouragement. Paul promises, you’re going to lose the ship but you won’t lose your lives, and angel had revealed this to him.
The ship was adrift for fourteen long days and nights. Experienced Mediterranean navigators tell us that a ship, adrift in the midst of a Mediterranean storm, would travel about 36 miles every 24 hours. At this rate a ship would drift from the island of Crete to the island of Malta in about 13 days. That’s very close to Luke’s account where he mentions 14 days adrift in the sea. Pretty soon, the sailors at the end of this 14 days they could hear, at night, breakers off in the distance and the breakers crashing on the beach warned them that they were approaching land. Some of the sailors decided that the best thing for them to do was to abandon the ship. They wanted to make it ashore in the dinghy. Paul detected their plan and warned them not to do so. He warns that they needed all the crew members together, in order to get the craft safely to shore. So, Paul warns them not to abandon the ship.
The crew and the passengers had not eaten for 14 days and they were undoubtedly weak. If you’ve ever been out fishing on the sea, or traveling on the sea, and gotten seasick you know how you just can’t eat when you’re seasick. So, these people in this rough storm hadn’t eaten for 14 days, they were weak. But Paul took some leadership at this point and encouraged them. He encouraged them to take some food, and Paul was an example to them as he gave thanks for the food, and for the safety that God had given them thus far. Strengthened with the food they began to lighten the cargo of the ship throwing the remaining cargo, the remaining grain, overboard to lighten the ship so that it would draw as little water as possible as they approached the beach. The plan was to beach the ship and then to be able to get off the ship on land.
D. The shipwreck on Malta 27:27-44
Eventually when they accomplished their goal of lightening the ship, they cut the sea anchors, hoisted the sail, and expected to sail on to the beach. But what happened is that they didn’t realize that there was a reef, and Luke describes this reef, as where the two seas met, verse 41, where the bay and the Mediterranean Sea met, there was a reef and the ship ran aground on the reef. I remember a summer when I was down in Santa Cruz CA working at a church down there as a youth minister, someone had loaned us their beach house for a week. So, we enjoyed a beautiful week out there on the Monterey Bay looking at the water in the evening. One evening I noticed that there was a lot of commotion down the beach and I hopped on bicycle and bicycled down the beach to discover that someone had rented a sailboat, and they weren’t too skilled at navigating, and they had gotten a little close to shore and the sailboat had run aground. There were people down there trying to get this boat either out to sea, or they even brought in a crane to try to lift the boat onto a flatbed truck, so they could get it out of the danger of the waves. Well they were unsuccessful. The next morning, I went back to the site again and the back of that sailboat had been totally destroyed. It was full of sand and water as the waves were just rushing in to the back of the boat as the waves had just crashed against the boat and destroyed the back of the boat. That’s what was happening in this situation the boat ran aground, and the waves were crashing against the back of the boat. The Roman soldiers considered killing the prisoners to prevent their escape, but Julius prevented such action and he commanded that those who could swim should jump into the water and swim ashore. The others should follow when they found something to float on.
E. The Ministry on Malta 28:1-10
In the end all made it to shore just as Paul had promised. The small harbor that they landed is known today as Saint Paul’s Bay. The passengers soon discovered that they were on the Island of Malta and there they experienced the kindness of the native people there. Luke records in 28:2 that they natives showed us extraordinary kindness. Because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold they had kindled a fire to receive us all. You can imagine the group gathered there on the beach in this winter storm cold and wet and they had kindled a nice fire on the beach to warm up the people who had escaped from the ship. Paul was not averse to do a little hard work. While people were warming themselves, Paul went out and started to gather some more fire wood. Inadvertently as he gathered this fire wood he had picked up a viper, in the midst of this firewood. When he took this wood and was to put it on the fire the snake bit his hand. Paul shook it off into the fire. The people, having witnessed this, thought justice, divine justice had been done. They said “Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, [Dike the God of Justice] justice has not allowed him to live.” They concluded that Paul was going to die because the God of Justice was going to make sure he paid the penalty for his sin. But he shook the creature off and he suffered no harm. They expected him to swell up, or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting awhile they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god. This had happened before when Paul and Barnabas were in the area of Lystra and Derbe and they thought that he was a god. Paul was not a God, but God had protected him. God had protected him because God had a work for him to do there in Rome.
Paul suffered no harm and continued through the winter on the Island of Malta having a ministry. It doesn’t state in the text itself that Paul was busy evangelizing the people on the island of Malta, but I think the implication is there, because we have a reference to Paul healing a leading man of the island, his father-in-law, healing Publius’ father was done in connection with Apostolic preaching. Here was a miracle of healing, why did Paul do that? Not just to help this man out, but miracles are always designed to authenticate a message or a messenger. When we see the reference to this healing we must conclude that Paul was evangelizing, and the healing was a means of authenticating the message and the messenger. Paul spent the winter on the island of Malta witnessing to the people and evangelizing them there.
After spending three months, most of the winter, on the island of Malta, Julius the centurion found another ship that was headed to Rome. This was actually the third of the ship that Paul was on, on this journey. This ship is noted as having a figure head that had the image of Gemini, the Gemini twins. Now the Gemini twins are the sons of Zeus, Castor and Pollux. These twins were regarded as the patrons of navigation. This particular ship is noted of having the Gemini twins the patrons of navigation as their figure head.
Viewing the stars, the Gemini Constellation was supposed to bring good luck to sailors as they sailed on the Mediterranean Sea and this ship commemorated that with the twin brothers, Pollux and Castor on the ship, the figure head of the ship.
F. The Voyage from Malta to Puteoli, 28:11-13
Well they continued on in their journey, sailing from Malta to Syracuse, on the island of Sicily and then on to Rhegium at the toe of Italy. Then on up the coast, the west coast of Italy to the Bay of Naples to the port Puteoli, which is the principle port of southern Italy, and it was a great emporium, a great market place in Paul’s day. It was the place where the wheat fleet from Alexandria would bring their wares, their goods ashore. This site is located on the Bay of Naples, and just across the Bay of Naples is Mt. Vesuvius, the mountain of volcano that erupted in AD79 covering Pompeii and Herculaneum with debris and killing the population there. Paul no doubt would have seen Mt. Vesuvius, as he came into port there at Puteoli.
G. Paul’s Journey along the Appian Way, 28:14-16
Paul was on the peninsula of Italy, but it was still some distance to the city of Rome. Leaving Puteoli, Paul continued north along the famous Appian Way, the route that would lead eventually to the city of Rome. Some of the Christians of the city of Rome had heard about Paul’s arrival and came south to escort him into the city of Rome. Some of them met him at the Appii Forum about 43 miles south of Rome. Others meet at the Three Taverns about 33 miles south of Rome. Paul eventually traveled up this Appian Way and he came to the city of Rome. When Paul entered into the city of Rome, he reached the very heart of the ancient world. As a missionary strategist Paul had longed to visit this eternal city on the Tiber. This hub, this focal point of the Roman Empire. Although he was a prisoner at this time, nevertheless he would now have an opportunity to witness and to minister in ways that would radiate out into all the Roman world.
In the second half of this session we are going to learn a little bit more about Paul’s situation in Rome and the opportunities of ministry that God gave him as he spent the next two years in the city of Rome.
1. As you have thought about this incredible journey of Paul, what have you learned about God?
2. What was Paul's situation like in Rome?
3. Compare the description in Acts 28 with the description of Paul’s circumstances in 2 Tim. 4:16-18. Are they the same or different?
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