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Acts Chapter 26, verses 19-23
“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”
With God’s help, Paul had survived all attacks and conspiracies to that very day, as the Lord promised (verse 17). Here he stood, testifying as the Lord said he would (verse 16).
How could Paul be guilty of a crime for saying that God fulfilled the prophecies that he made through the prophets and Moses? Here at last Paul had his opportunity to make the point that Christ rose from the dead, as the Scriptures foretold. Moreover, he made the point that Christ is only the first, that all will be raised from the dead. For teaching this, the Jews were trying to kill Paul. Just this teaching was what Paul wanted all those powerful people in the audience room at Caesarea to hear.
Acts Chapter 26,verses 25-27
At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”
Festus heard the call to repentance in Paul’s words. If Jesus rose from the dead, then he is the divine judge who will call men to account on the Last Day. Festus understood that but did not want to believe it or act in accord with that belief. He interrupted. He would not believe, but he could not refute Paul’s words. Not quietly, but with a shout, he tried to silence the apostle with a charge of madness.
Paul responded with calm courtesy that his words were true and sane and then turned again to the king. He assumed that in his heart Agrippa knew very well that the disciples had not stolen and hidden the body of Jesus. All that happened to Jesus, including the fact that he rose from the dead, had been proclaimed openly since the day of Pentecost. It was not a secret reserved for the few but a message to be shared with the many.
If King Agrippa believed the prophets, he could hardly deny the resurrection. If he did not believe the prophets, he could hardly continue as “king of the Jews.” What would he answer?
Acts Chapter 26, verses 28-29
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”
Agrippa answered Paul’s question with another question. His answer was really to the effect that he did not believe Paul’s gospel. He did not believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. He was rejecting the only Savior he could ever have.
Paul could not persuade Agrippa to be a Christian. Only God can do that. Paul’s prayer was that, no matter how long it might take, God would turn the hearts of all who heard him speak that day. He wanted them all to be like him: forgiven sinners and saints of God.
Paul did not wish his bondage on anyone. He used the word “chains” figuratively, referring to bondage, or imprisonment. A Roman citizen, even a prisoner, could not be chained.
Acts Chapter 26, verses 30-32
The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. They left the room, and while talking with one another, they said, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”
Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
The hearing was over. Did it help Festus in drafting the charges he would send to Rome concerning this prisoner? Probably not. Paul had preached law and gospel, repentance and faith. He had witnessed to the resurrection. He had not failed to present the Lord’s case. His hearers had failed to accept the salvation offered to them.
Privately, the Roman governor and the Jewish king agreed on what they lacked the honesty and courage to say publicly. Nothing in Paul’s life and nothing in his teaching made him guilty of any crime punishable by death or imprisonment.
It did not cost Agrippa anything to render this opinion. He did not risk the anger of the Jews by expressing it privately. Paul would have to be sent to Rome as a prisoner because he had appealed to Caesar, and so the Jews would be rid of him. Nothing that Felix or Festus had done in Paul’s case suggests that it would have ever been settled if he had not appealed to Caesar.
It seems like a tragedy that a man who could have been set free had to be sent to Rome as a prisoner. But in the providence of God, this sad affair would be turned into further opportunities for the spread of the gospel.
Paul’s voyage to Rome
Storm and shipwreck
Acts Chapter 27, verses 1-2
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.
“Imperial” was an honorary title often conferred on a Roman cohort, or regiment. A regiment of this type often consisted of soldiers who were not of Roman descent. It normally numbered six hundred men.
A centurion commanded one hundred men, but Julius was most likely one of those centurions who served as a courier or escort for prisoners. The soldiers who sailed with him were probably fewer than one hundred.
It is evident that Luke was with Paul when the ship sailed, for he begins another “we” section here. The person wh decided that the voyage would be made and that the prisoners were to be handed over to the centurion was Governor Festus.
The ship’s home port was Adramyttium, in the province of Mysia, in northwestern Asia Minor. It was on the Aegean Sea, southeast of Troas.
Aristarchus, like Luke, had accompanied Paul to Jerusalem with the relief offering (20:4). He was one of the men who, with Gaius, were rushed into the theater of Ephesus by a raging mob (19:29). In Colossians 4:10, written while Paul was a prisoner in Rome, the apostle refers to Aristarchus as “my fellow prisoner.” Luke does not report whether this coworker of Paul became a prisoner in Rome or while he was in Caesarea.
Acts Chapter 27, verses 3-6
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.
The ship was a “coaster,” taking cargo and passengers from port to port along the coasts of Judea, Phoenicia, Syria, and Asia Minor. Its first stop after leaving Caesarea was at Sidon in Phoenicia, about 70 miles to the north.
The friends whose hospitality Paul enjoyed were disciples, fellow believers. “The lee of Cyprus,” the side of the island protected from the wind, was the eastern coast. The prevailing winds at that time of the year (late August or early September) were from the northwest, making progress to the west very difficult for a sailing vessel. The ship sailed north on the leeward side of the island, heading for Cilicia. Along the coast of Asia Minor, an east to west current helped the vessel make headway.
Lycia was the name given to the projection of the southern coast of Asia Minor. The voyage from Caesarea to Myra would have taken about two weeks.
Grain ships from Alexandria in Egypt regularly sailed north to Myra before heading west to Italy and Rome. The centurion transferred his prisoners to one of these ships. A longer but safer way would have been to sail up the Aegean with the coaster and go overland from Macedonia to Rome, on the Egnatian Way. The centurion chose the more direct route, which, he hoped, would bring him and his prisoners to Rome much sooner.
Acts Chapter 27, verses 7-8
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.
Now the ship was heading into the wind, which made it impossible for the helmsman to hold a course. From Myra to Cnidus was about 170 miles, and it took the ship 10 to 15 days to make that distance. Cnidus was a city on the peninsula of the same name, in the southwestern corner of Asia Minor.
The northwest winds would have driven the ship ashore if those on board had tried to sail past Crete on the north. Therefore, they sailed to the south of Crete, passing Salmone, which was located on a cape at the southeastern corner of the island. Crete is situated south of Greece and Asia Minor, stretching about 160 miles in an east-west direction.
Lasea was about midway along the southern coast of Crete, about 5 miles from a bay that provided safe harbor: Fair Havens.
Acts Chapter 27, verses 9-12
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.” But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.
The fast to which Luke refers is the only fast day in the Jewish religious calendar, the great Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29,30). It is the day before the Jewish New Year, which comes in late September or early October.
In ancient times not much sailing was done in the Mediterranean after mid-September. Paul’s observation about what would happen if they continued the voyage was not a prophecy, but a commonsense warning that to continue to Sicily from Crete at that time of year was too dangerous. The possibility of shipwreck must have filled Paul with considerable anxiety, for he had already suffered shipwreck three times. (See 2 Corinthians 11:25, which was written before Paul went to Jerusalem and was arrested.)
The centurion took the advice of those who were supposed to know more about sailing than Paul did. For financial reasons many owners of these grain ships preferred to get their cargo to Italy even at some risk rather than wait for the safe shipping season in spring. The owner, who was sailing with them, was willing to take some risk, at least in order to find a better harbor than Fair Havens in which to spend the winter.
Phoenix was another 50 to 60 miles along the coast and should have been easily reachable.
Acts Chapter 27, verses 13-20
When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thoughtthey had obtained what they wanted; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the “northeaster,” swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure. When the men had hoisted it aboard, they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Fearing that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. 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.
The south wind meant that they would not have to head into the wind to make their way westward. That it was gentle promised that they would not be blown onto the coast.
The northeaster originated in the mountains of the island. Heading into the wind is one way of keeping a ship stable in a storm. It may be that they were also trying to return to Fair Havens. The wind was too strong, and they simply had to ride with it.
In a northeast wind, the lee of Cauda would be the south side of the island, which was about 25 miles off Crete. The lifeboat was usually towed behind a ship. Such a “trailer” would cause problems in a storm, as the wind and waves tended to dash it against the mother vessel.
After the lifeboat was secured, ropes were used to reinforce the ship’s timbers, so that the planks would not spring loose and the ship break up. The sandbars of Syrtis were located off the coast of Libya. The northeast winds could drive a vessel that far. To prevent it the crew lowered a sea anchor. This was a large piece of canvas, which was fashioned into a funnel and lowered into the water behind the ship. There it acted as a drag, slowing the vessel’s headlong flight before the winds.
The next day part of the cargo was thrown overboard to prevent the ship from being swamped. The day after that some of the gear of the sailing vessel, such as pulleys and spars, was thrown over the side, perhaps to add to the drag of the sea anchor.
Ancient sailors steered by the sun and stars. When these were hidden for several days during a raging storm, it was impossible to navigate intelligently. The situation seemed hopeless.
Acts Chapter 27, verses 21-26
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. 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.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”
The Greek of verse 21, and especially of verse 33, suggests that it was anxiety and seasickness that kept the passengers and crew from eating for a long time. Paul was not trying to make them more miserable by saying “I told you so” when he reminded them of his advice not to sail from Crete. His reason for the reminder was to get them to heed and believe his words of encouragement.
Paul belonged to God and served him, and God had promised Paul that he would be Jesus’ witness in Rome as he had been in Jerusalem (23:11). Now God reaffirmed that promise in a time of grave danger, with the added assurance that he would spare the lives of all aboard. Paul had prayed for all on the ship, and God would spare them all. That’s what the angel meant by “God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.”
Paul’s deduction that they would run aground on some island was based on the fact that they were not near the mainland of either Africa or Europe. The condition of the ship was such that they could not reach a mainland port.
Acts Chapter 27, verses 27-32
On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 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 thesoldiers, “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.
Today “Adriatic Sea” refers to the water between Italy and Greece. In ancient times the name was also applied to the part of the Mediterranean that is south of Italy and Greece. In terms of present-day geographical usage, we would say that they were still being driven across the Mediterranean.
Sailors sense the approach of land by smell and by the sound of breakers, which are waves striking rocks or reefs or the shore itself. The soundings confirmed what their noses and ears told them, so they dropped anchor to keep the ship from being driven shoreward in the darkness.
At this point the ship’s crew treacherously planned to save themselves by deserting the others. Perhaps Luke, whose language in this entire account of the voyage and the storm demonstrates a good knowledge of sailing, explained to Paul what the sailors were doing. Perhaps Paul understood it by himself. The apostle reminded the military men that, if the sailors were permitted to carry out their intention, no one would be able to bring the ship to the beach. The soldiers took direct action and made it impossible for the sailors to leave.
Acts Chapter 27, verses 33-38
Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Altogether there were 276 of us on board. When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.
It is remarkable how the prisoner, a man of faith, assumed leadership in the crisis, how he took responsibility for the safety and welfare of all aboard the ship. Even in taking some food, the prisoner acted the part of a leader. He took his own advice by eating, and he confessed his faith by giving thanks in the presence of all of them.
Lightening the ship would allow it to run faster and farther up the beach before it was finally grounded. The grain was the part of the cargo that had not been thrown overboard earlier.
Acts Chapter 27, verses 39-41
When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time 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 fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.
The storm had carried the ship well away from the usual shipping lanes, and the land the crew saw at daybreak was unfamiliar. Now all the preparations the crew made were carried out to help the ship run as far up on the beach as possible. The anchors that had been lowered to slow the vessel were now cut loose. The rudders were lowered to steer a straight course for the shore. The foresail was raised to catch the wind that, with the waves, would drive them to land.
In reporting the angel’s message, Paul had said, “Only the ship will be destroyed” (verse 22). The force of the surf broke the stern (the rear) of the vessel to pieces while the bow (front) was caught fast on the sandbar.
Acts Chapter 27, verses 42-44
The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety.
The soldiers did not want to pay for escaped prisoners with their own lives or freedom. They intended to do whatthey knew how to do to prevent any escape. Centurion Julius, who had shown Paul consideration at Sidon (verse 3), now saved the apostle’s life and the lives of the other prisoners. Paul was shipwrecked a fourth time (see 2 Corinthians 11:25), but he would live to preach in Rome.