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To Rome! The Journey Begins


To Rome! The Journey Begins

Text. Acts 27:1

The passage we have read is an account of the beginning of Paul’s last journey, the journey between Caesarea and Rome. Let’s just enjoy the history lesson, and let the Lord speak to us through what he has decreed will be preserved in his sacred word.  Let’s see:-

1 The People on the Journey.

The narrative tells us about three special people who were on the journey with Paul. Let’s see who they were, and find out why they are mentioned…

  • The gaoler. V1   This regiment was an interesting, specialist group of soldiers.  FF Bruce talks of their special responsibilities – to guard and preserve the delivery of grain, from the wheat-fields of Egypt, to the Imperial City of Rome. The responsible centurion is called Julius. Of course, there is a down-side to this commission. All these ships were travelling to Rome, and there were always prisoners and appellants going to Rome, and they needed a guard – so Julius is that guard.  He would have been accompanied by a detachment of Roman soldiers.  
  • The servant.  V2 The next name we find is Aristarchus.  We met him in Acts 20:4.  Do you remember also that we contrasted the two names, Aristarchus, the name of a high-born man, and Secundus, a slave, – ‘number two slave.’  So, what’s he doing on this voyage?  As a free citizen of Rome, Paul would have been entitled to bring along a servant – and the only way that Aristarchus could be on that ship was if he had volunteered to be Paul’s slave during the journey.  Think of the consequences for him, personally of this course of action.  As the slave of a prisoner, Aristarchus was a prisoner too.  When Paul wrote to the Colossians, he confirmed this in, Colossians 4:10   
  • The historian.  Luke is there too. We don’t see his name here, but the narrative shifts again into the first person, an indicator that the writer is a personal eye-witness of the events he is writing about. Luke may have signed on as the ship’s doctor for the journey – and I’m sure that when he arrived at the quayside Paul was heartened to find Luke was going to be on that ship too.

Ok, let’s see some application:-

  1. The kindness of a stranger.  V3 This centurion was kind to Paul.  He didn’t have to be.  But when the ship docked at Sidon, a town close to Tyre on the Phoenician coast, Julius allowed Paul to go ashore, and to meet with some friends who lived there, and for those friends to tend to his needs.  There must have been a church at Sidon, perhaps formed when Paul was in those parts, based at Tyre, in Acts 21:3-7  That was extraordinary kindness and trust.  I winder did Julias recognise in Paul a man who was extraordinary, a learned man, a cultured man, who spoke excellent Greek, a religious man – or perhaps he was impressed that this prisoner was different, a man who was under arrest for standing up for his principles, for his faith in God?
  2. The commitment of a friend.  We have speculated about how Aristarchus got on that ship.  What a self sacrificial act that was. To give up his high status, as a Greek aristocrat, to lower himself to take the form of a slave, – so that he could serve someone else. Perhaps he was simply putting into practice what Paul wrote to that other Macedonian church, in Philippians 2:4-8 For Aristarchus, and for us all, Jesus gave up his kingly majesty, and came into this world, and became a servant – a slave, took the lowest possible position in life, dying the death of an accursed criminal, and he did it for Aristarchus, and for me, and for you.  Aristarchus, was simply putting his Christian faith into practice, laying aside his high status, and becoming a slave, to serve Paul, even if that meant become a prisoner himself.

So, Paul is on his way, with a kindly guard, a Christlike servant and a companion who will faithfully record the events that are to follow.  Now, let’s see:-

2 The Passage of the Journey 4-7 

Now, some more history.  And a very brief look at the voyage itself. The ship that sailed from Caesarea would have been a small coastal vessel.  It sailed along the coast, northwards to Sidon, where Paul disembarked to have fellowship with the local Christians, then after replenishment, it sailed along the southern coast of Turkey (Asia) until it arrived at Myra, where they joined up with the regular grain ship sailing from the port of Alexandria, in Egypt, to Rome.  The voyage would have taken it around the southern coast of Crete, except that it didn’t quite make it that far.  Finally, look at:-

3 The Peril of the Journey.

Ancient mariners were a brave and courageous breed of men.  Going to sea was always fraught with danger, and this journey would turn out to be especially hazardous.  Let’s see why…

  • The shelter. V7-8 The ship had arrived at Fair Haven, καλός λιμήν – a small port – hardly a port at all – on the shore of Crete.  It was close to the town of Lasea, but that was hardly a town at all!  
  • The season.  VThis was the autumn of AD59, and the ‘feast’ referred to here is Yom Kippur, – the  Jewish Day of Atonement, and on that year, we can work out that it fell on 5th October.  If the ship sailed straight away, it might just get a little further, otherwise Fair Haven would be their home until springtime, when the winter storms would end and ships could sail again.  Until then, the sailors would normally haul the boat up onto the beach, and find lodgings in a nearby town,
  • The session. V10   But, who wants to spend the whole winter in Fair Haven?  It’s a dump!  So the centurion gets everyone together, including Paul, and everyone gives their opinion.  Paul warned that to travel further would be dangerous.  The cargo, the ship and the crew were all in danger.  Paul is a seasoned traveller but he’s not a seaman – and the sailors certainly don’t want to spend a winter in a town that’s totally dead all winter long, and there’s a nice southernly breeze.  Everyone has had their say – and Julias must make the final decision.  He decides to side with the ship’s captain and the crew. V11 -12 
  • The storm.  It was not a good decision, as we shall discover next week.  The balmy southern breeze soon veered north east, and began to blow stronger, and the ship ran into nightmarishly bad weather.  C/w 2 Corinthians 11:25 

We’ve seen some interesting historical details, carefully recorded for us by Luke, and preserved in God’s Word for us to read, another guarantee of the historical accuracy and trustworthiness of Acts, and we have learned about the blessing of the kindness of strangers, and found an example of Christlikeness in practice.  In our next study, we will find help for when the storms of life come against us!

© Bob McEvoy February 2022

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