Rome at Last!
Main Idea: God keeps his promises, so we should trust him and give thanks to him.
- Tracing the Narrative (27:1–28:16)
- All aboard (27:1-5)
- All change (27:6-12)
- All over (27:13-20)
- All listen (27:21-26)
- All stay (27:27-32)
- All eat (27:33-38)
- All survive (27:39-44)
- All warm (28:1-10)
- All arrive (28:11-16)
- Thanking God and Taking Courage
Many people book cruises on the Mediterranean Sea, and for good reason: it’s beautiful. The cities along that coast are fascinating and historically significant, and the Mediterranean cruise ships themselves are luxurious. In Acts 27 Paul sails on the Mediterranean, but his trip is nothing like a modern cruise! His traveling companions are mainly prisoners, and their vessels hardly qualify as luxury liners. Worse, this group of men is about to be tossed in a violent, life-threatening storm without the benefits of life vests and antimotion sickness tablets.
We should take care to avoid two extremes when considering this story. One extreme is to assert that this story didn’t really happen. Some suggest that Luke essentially took a preexisting storm narrative and inserted Paul into it. This view should be rejected outright (see Witherington III, Acts of the Apostles, 757–58). The other danger is to turn this story into an allegory in which every person and thing becomes a symbol representing some hidden meaning. People have tried to make the four anchors mentioned, for example, stand for certain things like trusting in reason, religion, luck, or self. Anchors are anchors. A ship is a ship. This story really happened. And if we can simply read through the narrative and get caught up in the story, we will find great encouragement from it. We don’t need to take away from it or add to it.
The trip involves three main sections: (1) Caesarea to Myra (27:1-5); (2) Myra to Malta (27:6-44); and (3) Malta to Italy (28:1-13). The visit to Rome is then fulfilled in 28:14-16. From the drama that unfolds along this route, we see a wonderful picture of the seamless integration between God’s providence and human responsibility. Indeed, the most important lesson related to this passage is that God keeps his word (see 27:4-26).
God told Paul that he would reach Rome. He did. In the story God tells Paul that none of the prisoners will be lost. They aren’t. God tells Paul that the ship will run aground. And again God’s word proves true, just as it always does! At work here is the theme that God will accomplish his purposes, so we should obey and trust him.
In order to help us trace the drama of this passage, I’ve built on Alistair Begg’s three-part outline (“He Plants His Footsteps”). I’ve added six more “Alls” to his list. In the last chapter, a lead-in to a section said there would be 9 item. And those following subheads were numbered. These are not.
Tracing the Narrative
All Aboard (27:1-5)
The story begins with a reference to “we.” As we’ve noted previously (e.g., Acts 16; 20), the narrator who is present is Luke. Dr. Luke proves an intelligent, diligent, and accurate historian. He reports as an eyewitness about the stops along the trip, the nature of the ships, the sailing practices, and the sailors’ experiences.
The final destination of this trip was “Italy” (v. 1; cf. “Rome,” 28:16). In Paul’s day Gentiles saw Rome as the center of the earth (Bock, Acts, 726). It was a strategic place to get the gospel out to the nations because everything went in and out of Rome—hence, Paul’s desire to go there (Rom 1:10-16; 15:22-23). In the first century Rome was the most powerful political center in the world, and Paul was a Roman citizen. The apostle had spent over twenty-five years of ministry in the eastern part of the Roman Empire (Rom 15:19-20), but he had dreams of taking the gospel as far west as Spain, using Rome as a launching pad (Rom 15:22-29). About three years before this trip, Paul had written his letter to the Romans preparing them for his visit. Later, in a time of crisis, the Lord assured Paul that he would indeed testify in Rome itself (23:11).
Under the best of conditions, and sailing straight to Rome from Caesarea, it would take five weeks to transfer Paul to his intended destination. But when this trip is over, the journey will have taken well over four months (Bock, Acts, 746).
Other prisoners were with the group, along with a centurion named Julius, who will display a spirit of generosity and kindness in his leadership throughout the trip. Importantly, these prisoners may have been going to Rome not to stand trial, but to serve in the arena as part of entertainment for the emperor and the citizens (Keener in Witherington III, Acts of the Apostles, 758n17).
Julius and the prisoners boarded a ship that was apparently returning to its homeport in “Adramyttium,” east of Troas. This first ship appears to be a coastal vessel, traveling close to the shore and putting in at the various ports along the way (Polhill, Acts, 516). These ports offered a good prospect for finding a more suitable vessel for the trip to Rome (ibid.).
Aristarchus also made the trip (v. 2). Later, when Paul writes to the Colossians from the Roman prison, he mentions the presence of both Luke and Aristarchus (Col 4:10,14). Aristarchus had been traveling with Paul for some time and was caught up in the persecution Paul faced in Ephesus (cf. Acts 19:29; 20:4). Paul describes him as his “fellow prisoner” (Col 4:10), and in Philemon (another prison letter) he calls him his coworker. Kenneth Gangel suggests Julius and others probably viewed Aristarchus as Paul’s servant, but we know him better as a member of the missionary team (Acts, 446).
The coastal vessel sailed about seventy nautical miles north to the ancient city of “Sidon” (v. 3). While there, Julius kindly gave Paul permission to go enjoy the fellowship of “his friends”—that is, some Christians in the area (cf. 11:19). Julius, then, didn’t see Paul as dangerous. These friends cared for Paul, providing essentials for his trip. There were no restaurants or vending machines on this vessel.
Christian friendship is an important theme appearing throughout the book of Acts. Some suggest that Christians in the first century commonly used friends as a term for themselves (Gangel, Acts, 446). Paul definitely had some wonderful friends, like Aristarchus and Luke, and he also shared relationships with other believers scattered throughout the world—like those in Sidon. Important to this discussion is the fact that John ends his third epistle by referring to fellow Christians as “friends”:
I have many things to write you, but I don’t want to write to you with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
Peace to you. The friends send you greetings. Greet the friends by name. (3 John 13-15 ESV; emphasis added)
Christian friendship is a gift of God that’s rooted in our relationship with Jesus, who calls his disciples “friends” (cf. Luke 12:4; John 11:11; 15:13-15). Thank God for Christian friends.
At times we, like Paul did, must say good-bye to friends. Nevertheless, we can have the assurance that true Christian friends will have eternity to hang out together in the presence of the glorified Jesus. This fact really encourages me when I think about my friends who are laboring among the nations and in other states for the sake of the gospel. I would love to see them more often! But we know that for now we must sacrifice for the King’s sake. Soon we can forever enjoy one another’s company in a renewed world. And I suspect that thoughts like that encouraged Paul throughout his ministry.
Due to the western winds, the ship sailed north and east of Cyprus (v. 4). Sailing literally “under the lee” means sailing in such a way that the island protects the vessel from the winds. Then they sailed “through the open sea off Cilicia and Pamphylia,” before reaching “Myra in Lycia” (v. 5).
All Change (27:6-12)
In Myra, Julius finds a ship from Alexandria that is “sailing for Italy,” so he brings the passengers on board (v. 6). John Stott notes that this vessel was a freight ship used for transporting grain (v. 38), with Egypt being Rome’s main granary (Message of Acts, 387).
In verses 7-8 Luke describes the “difficulty” of the next part of the trip as conditions deteriorated. Progress was slow due to the contrary winds. The passengers and crew were no doubt relieved to stop at Fair Havens to rest and make further plans.
Fair Havens, or “Good Harbor,” sounds like a nice place to stay, but it wasn’t a suitable spot to face the winter season. The group had already been delayed: “the Day of Atonement” (lit. “the Fast”) was already in the past (v. 9). The Day of Atonement was observed in late September or early October (Polhill, Acts, 518), and this fact is important to the story because the time between September and November was particularly dangerous for sea travel. In fact, it ceased entirely between November and mid-February or mid-March (cf. 28:11; Bock, Acts, 733). Paul’s counsel reflected this understanding: thinking it unsafe to venture out west to find another place to endure winter, he warns the men in what seems to be a meeting with his own personal advice rather than a word of prophecy. He tells them that if they proceed, they are likely to lose cargo and lives (v. 10).
Even though Paul was an experienced traveler, having already endured three shipwrecks (2 Cor 11:25), he was outnumbered by the majority. The crew determined to travel about forty miles or so west to a better harbor at Phoenix (Acts 27:12). Paul’s counsel, however, turns out to be true in that the crew did lose the ship and the cargo. Fortunately, however, no lives were lost (Polhill, Acts, 519). Later, Julius learns from this mistake and listens to Paul (v. 31).
All Over (27:13-20)
Initially the journey goes smoothly. In fact, things move along so well that it’s easy to imagine the sailors making fun of Paul for giving them the unnecessary word of caution. But then things change, A violent storm nicknamed with a hybrid formation of the Greek term euros, the east wind, and Latin term aquilo, the north wind (eurakylon or “northeaster”), comes down from the mountain and takes over the ship. The sailors are unable to do anything to fight the wind and are forced to let the ship drift southwest toward the African coastal city of Cyrene (v. 15)
Verse 16 mentions the small island of Cauda, about twenty-three miles away from Crete. There the ship ran under the lee; it sheltered on the side of the island. Luke describes the sailors’ attempt to secure the ship. First they hauled in the ship’s lifeboat, and then they tried to undergird the ship itself (v. 17). Next they attempted to lower “the drift-anchor,” hoping to slow progress in case this great storm blew them toward the deadly shoals.
We can only imagine what the next two weeks must have been like (cf. v. 27). Verse 18 reports that the men jettisoned at least part of “the cargo,” and the ship’s “tackle” was thrown overboard in verse 19. Discarding any unnecessary equipment was a technique used to make the ship float higher on the water. These efforts had little effect, however, and soon great panic filled the ship. Despite all these efforts to survive the storm, “all hope was fading.” The men were left with no gear, no stars, and no hope (Bock, Acts, 736).
This point in the narrative reminds me of the story of Jonah. That Old Testament prophet too encountered a violent storm while out at sea, and during it another ship’s crew was forced to jettison equipment and despaired of life itself. In that case the prophet and the crew were delivered, but for a different reason than Paul and his crewmen. Jonah’s presence in the ship caused the storm, and in his absence the others were saved. Here it’s Paul’s presence in the ship that leads to safety for all (Polhill, Acts, 522).
All Listen (27:21-26)
It’s in the midst of great crisis that Paul gives his first of three intervening words, which will help bring everyone onboard to safety (vv. 21-38). John Stott summarizes,
So far in the Acts, Luke has depicted Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles, the pioneer of the three missionary expeditions, the prisoner, and the defendant. Now, however, he portrays him in a different light. He is no longer an honored apostle, but an ordinary man among men, a lonely Christian (apart from Luke himself and Aristarchus) among nearly three hundred non-Christians, who were either soldiers or prisoners or perhaps merchants or crew. Yet Paul’s God-given leadership gifts clearly emerge. “It is quite certain,” writes William Barclay, “that Paul was the most experienced traveller on board that ship.” . . . Yet it was more than mature experience at sea which made Paul stand out as a leader on board ship; it was his steadfast Christian faith and character. (Message of Acts, 389–90)
This first word from Paul is a word of encouragement, rooted in a word from the Lord. In the middle of the storm, everyone was hungry, hopeless, and directionless. Then Paul “stood up” to speak (v. 21), reflecting the posture used to deliver previous authoritative messages (e.g., 2:14; 17:22). His first words seem at first to be an “I told you so” speech, but I think he was simply encouraging the group to listen to him as a credible speaker. He tells them good news on this occasion, saying that no one will die as a result of their predicament, but their ship will be lost (v. 22). He attempts to lift their spirits with this word.
How could Paul be so confident on this point? This time his word to the crew came from the Lord, who had advised him through an angel in the night (v. 23). That means that what the apostle shares here was more than Paul’s opinion or wish. The angel gave Paul two promises: (1) Paul must appear before Caesar; and (2) all aboard the ship would be graciously delivered with Paul (v. 24). Because of these promises, there was no need to fear.
Paul’s first speech in this narrative is central. He and the others will make it safely through the storm because of the providence of God. The Lord will keep his promises. He will see to it that Paul gets to Rome. Even so, Paul still warns his audience that there remains more storm to endure and that they will run aground on some island before final deliverance (v. 26). Thus, human responsibility is also in view.
In the storm narratives of the Gospels, Jesus addresses the disciples’ fear (Mark 4:35-41; 6:45-52). In these moments, Jesus shows the disciples that he is Lord of the storm. His words, “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (Mark 6:50), are words of comfort for all his saints. We are prone to have “little faith” (Matt 8:26). But Jesus can be trusted even when waves crash around us. The Lord said these reassuring words through Isaiah: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine. I will be with you when you pass through the waters” (Isa 43:1-2). What set Paul apart from the others on the ship was his assurance of the presence of God and the promises of God. And that’s what we have too.
Fight fear by remembering God’s faithful promises. Rest in his comforting presence.
All Stay (27:27-32)
Verses 27-30 set up Paul’s next intervening word to the crew. We read that they were drifting in the Adriatic Sea on the fourteenth night since the storm first struck (v. 27). Luke’s reference to the “Adriatic Sea” used a first-century name for the north central Mediterranean between Crete and Malta (Gangel, Acts, 451). The seasoned sailors sensed that land was near, so they dropped anchors and prayed to their gods for daylight (vv. 28-29). But the pagan sailors apparently didn’t trust in their gods very much: some of them tried to escape under the pretense of letting out anchors. (These anchors would have to be set out at a distance from the bow using the lifeboat.) The sailors’ real plan was to row the lifeboat to shore (v. 30).
Paul discerned their plan and reported it to Julius and the soldiers (v. 31). They listened to Paul’s advice this time and let the lifeboat go free, ensuring that everyone stayed together (v. 32). This action reveals how respected Paul has become during the course of the journey, even though this particular course of action appeared reckless. God’s promise to preserve everyone seems to have presupposed that all stay with the ship (Stott, Message of Acts, 391).
All Eat (27:33-38)
As dawn drew near, Paul gave his third word of instruction to the group, urging them to eat. Their failure to do so prior to this point probably had to do with the craziness of the situation and seasickness. If you’ve ever been in a hospital waiting room during a crisis situation, you know what this is like. We lose our appetites when under stress and fear. But Paul used good common sense when he noted their need to eat in order to have the strength to reach land. He again assured them of God’s protection, using a biblical metaphor: “none of you will lose a hair from your head” (cf. 1 Sam 14:45; 2 Sam 14:11; Luke 12:7; 21:18). Once again providence and human responsibility are intermingled.
The occasion to eat gave Paul an opportunity to give a visible display of his devotion to the Giver of all good things. Taking the role of a father or a host, he offered the blessing, distributed the food, and began to eat (v. 35). This description reminds us of the feeding of the five thousand (Luke 9:16), Jesus’s meal with the Emmaus disciples (Luke 24:30), and especially the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19).
The men aboard the ship, however, were not taking the Lord’s Supper; they were eating for the sake of nourishment. Paul knew that hungry men are useless men. Nevertheless, “Paul’s calm consumption, and especially his public thanksgiving to the God of all grace, bears witness to the peace amid life’s storms that Jesus gives through the new covenant” (Johnson, Let’s Study Acts, 335). It wasn’t a sacred meal the men shared, but it was indeed a “sacred moment” (Bock, Acts, 740).
The crew of 276 men was “encouraged” (v. 36; cf. vv. 22,25) and followed Paul’s example by eating (v. 36). After the meal, they jettisoned the rest of the grain in order to lighten the ship (vv. 37-38). Buoyed by Paul’s words, they were confident that they would obtain access to food again; it was time to lift the boat higher in the water as they were drawing near to the shore (Bock, Acts, 740).
In looking back over Paul’s exemplary guidance, what can we learn about leadership in secular situations?
First, Paul was a man of both spiritual depth and practical wisdom. Paul wasn’t a wild mystic. He had a real faith in the living God that gave him the confidence he needed to stay calm and to lead. But he also had Proverbs-like wisdom that enabled him to give basic instructions to those in need. In secular situations we really need leaders who are both wise and in step with God, men and women who will serve as agents of hope in a world of darkness. John Stott says, “[Paul] was a man of God and of action, a man of the Spirit and of common sense” (Message of Acts, 392).
Paul also gave a clear and appropriate testimony in the situation (Fernando, Acts, 620). While we don’t see aggressive evangelism at work in this story, we do see Paul taking opportunities to point people to God. He spoke of his God in verse 23 before speaking God’s promise, and later he gave thanks to God in prayer in front of others before taking something to eat (v. 35). Paul spoke and prayed in the midst of hopelessness, giving the crew an alternate perspective, a ray of hope, and something important to ponder. We too should look for clear and appropriate ways to bear witness to Jesus in the public sphere.
All Survive (27:39-44)
As the sun appeared on the horizon, the crew could see a place to run the ship ashore. With the storm still blowing, they cast off the anchors, freed up the rudders, and went straight for the beach. That’s when the ship struck a sandbar. The bow was hung up on the sandbar, and the stern was exposed to the pounding waves. Soon the ship would be totally shattered, as Paul had warned.
At this point Julius’s soldiers faced a double threat. To stay alive, they needed to swim to shore. But if they make it to land and some prisoners escaped, the guards would face execution for those losses (cf. 12:19; 16:27). In light of this fear, the soldiers prepared to kill the prisoners before jumping overboard themselves. But Julius intervened because he wanted to save Paul. This move shows that Julius’s respect for Paul had grown, and he may have believed Paul’s prophecy. Julius ordered everyone to head for the land by swimming or floating to shore. Luke concludes, “In this way, everyone safely reached the shore” (v. 44). All survived!
Once again God’s word proves true. We can trust him.
All Warm (28:1-10)
The survivors must have breathed a massive sigh of relief when their feet hit the sand. Upon arriving on an island, they received some warm hospitality by some “local people” (v. 2)—that is, some non-Greek-speaking people (barbaroi, cf. Rom 1:14-15). They were rustic, preferring their own dialect, but the Maltese people weren’t barbaric in their character. They displayed “extraordinary kindness” to the survivors. They kindled a fire and welcomed everyone. I can only imagine how wonderful that fire must have felt to those men who had been in an open boat on a storm-tossed sea for so long.
Right away Paul, as a servant leader, began gathering sticks for the fire. His actions remind us that no job was beneath Paul. During the whole trip he displayed a servant lifestyle. William Barclay helpfully comments: “It is only the little man that refuses the little task” (quoted in Stott, Message of Acts, 621).
In his search Paul picked up more than sticks. A poisonous snake bit down on his hand! From this the natives drew the conclusion that Paul was guilty of a great crime, like murder (v. 4). “Justice” in this passage is personified as a goddess, the daughter of Zeus and Themis (Bock, Acts, 743). But to the natives’ surprise, Paul suffered no harm from what should have been a deadly bite. They thus concluded he was “a god” (cf. 14:11).
While Paul was certainly not a god, the God who rules heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in it, was with Paul. And the islanders received a visible display of God’s power through his servant’s immunity to the snake’s venom. As we have noted previously in our study, God often revealed himself to various groups of people in Scripture in ways that got their attention and helped make his saving message known to them (cf. Acts 19). What happened to Paul, then, was an act of God’s kindness displayed to the superstitious islanders. They were surprised by the event; Paul was probably surprised at the ministry opportunity the snake’s bite afforded him. Since the shipwrecked group stayed on the island for three months during the winter (v. 11), Paul had time and opportunity to make God’s truth known to the barbarians.
The leading man of the island, Publius, hosted the visitors for three days (v. 7). His mention provides another example in Acts of Paul’s establishing a relationship with the leading figures in an area (cf. 13:7; 16:22; 17:19; 18:12; 19:31). It also serves as an example of a pagan displaying kindness and warm hospitality and of a believer receiving it! We should notice that Paul didn’t act like a Pharisee and try to distance himself from those on the island who shared neither his beliefs nor his traditions. Instead, he acted like Jesus did and became a friend of sinners.
Scripture’s mentions of Julius and Publius—whose combined names sound like the name of a great hip-hop group—illustrate how, in God’s common grace, even unredeemed humans can display lovely virtues. While every human is sinful and in need of redemption, unbelievers do have an innate capacity to do good. Believers, then, should compliment unbelievers when such acts of kindness are displayed, perhaps even using those acts to draw attention to the characteristics of our Savior. Jesus, love itself, invites everyone—Jew, Greek, Barbarian, slave, free, educated, uneducated, kind, and unkind—to his banquet (cf. Luke 14:21-24; Col 3:11).
In verse 8 we learn that Publius’s father was sick with fever and dysentery (v. 8). This kind of fever could last for months or even a few years (Bock, Acts, 744). Paul, apparently without invitation, visited the sick man and prayed, making clear to everyone that healing power comes from God (cf. 3:12; 9:34,40). He laid his hands on him (cf. 9:12,17; Jas 5:13-14) and healed him (cf. Luke 4:38-39). And in doing so, Paul—though held unjustly as a prisoner—proved a blessing to everyone (ibid.).
News of what happened traveled quickly, and soon sick people from all over the island flocked to Paul and received cures. They displayed their gratitude not only with words but also in deeds, offering provisions to the crew for the rest of the voyage. I love to hear about creative ways the Lord provides for his people!
All Arrive (28:11-16)
Had my kids been traveling on the journey to Rome, they would’ve been asking, “Are we there yet?” by verse 11. To this Paul might have responded, “Almost.”
The ship that took Paul on the 210-mile journey to Italy in mid-February was also a ship from Alexandria (Bock, Acts, 745; v. 11). On its bow it had a figurehead of the “Twin Gods,” Castor and Pollux, who were seen as protectors. It was the Lord of all creation, however, who was the real protector of those onboard. Once the travel was underway, the crew first stopped at Syracuse for three days and then went on to Rhegium, at the toe of the Italian mainland. Not long after that they finally reached Puteoli, the port of Neapolis—present-day Naples, which sits about 130 miles south of Rome.
Paul was invited to stay with the Christian brothers there for seven days. This stop was probably due to Julius’s wanting to rest before making the remainder of the trip by foot. The freedom given to Paul was probably due to the level of respect Julius had for Paul and was another display of the man’s kindness. It’s possible that the church provided fresh provisions for the rest of the trip.
Luke’s premature comment, “And so we came to Rome,” in verse 14 rather than in verse 16, is explained in various ways. It may be that Luke is eager to get to the climax of the story, as he anticipates their actual arrival in Rome (Fernando, Acts, 615). That is, he may be saying something like, “Here’s how we came to Rome . . .” (Witherington III, Acts of the Apostles, 787). Or he may view Puteoli as part of greater Rome. Or better yet, related to this second option, he probably is saying that for all practical purposes, the goal for reaching Rome is as good as attained (Polhill, Acts, 536–37). To this idea John Polhill adds, “In a real sense, v. 14b can be considered as the climax to the entire Book of Acts” (ibid., 538). We can’t read of Paul’s arrival in Rome without reflecting on Jesus’s plan for his witnesses to go “to the ends of the earth” (1:8).
After resting, the men had before them about a five-day walk to Rome by means of two well-traveled roads, the Companion Way and the Appian Way (Bock, Acts, 746). Word reached the church in Rome that Paul had arrived in Italy. His magisterial letter—Romans—had reached them three years earlier. Some of the Roman believers thus decided to meet Paul along the way (v. 15). Some others met him at the famous Forum, or market of Appius, which was about forty-three miles from Rome and lacked a great reputation. Others met Paul at Three Taverns (a settlement that had grown around an isolated inn by that name), ten miles closer to the capital. Cicero mentions both locations as resting places along the way (Witherington III, Acts of the Apostles, 787). When Paul saw these men who shared his faith, he “thanked God” and “took courage.”
Here once again we can observe how sweet Christian fellowship is. The sight of other spiritual brothers and sisters in what was once faraway Rome must have filled Paul’s heart with delight.
Nearly two and a half difficult years had passed since Paul was given divine assurance in Jerusalem that he would reach Rome (Fernando, Acts, 614), but finally he made it. Though Paul was a prisoner, he had some freedom to minister.
Thanking God and Taking Courage
Back in 27:23 Paul told the distressed ship’s crew that the God to whom he belonged and whom he served assured him of safe arrival to Rome. In saying this, Paul identified what it means to be a Christian. Christians know they belong to God through Jesus and have the indwelling Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:20; Gal 5:24). Christians also worship and serve God, through Jesus, by the Spirit. We don’t serve the idols of money, pleasure, or success. We serve and worship God in easy times and in difficult ones. So, if you aren’t certain that you are serving God in this way, it’s time to ask, “Do I really belong to God through Jesus?” (cf. Rom 8:9). If you can’t answer in the affirmative with absolute certainty, then embrace him. Trust him. He is the Savior of all types of people (cf. Col 3:11). He will not turn you away.
Those who belong to Jesus can take courage and be thankful as they consider Paul’s story. Let me encourage you with three applications from the current passage.
First, you can trust in the providence of God. God is at work, accomplishing his purposes and conforming us into Christ’s image (cf. Rom 8:28-30). God keeps his promises. William Cowper reminds us in his classic hymn of these sweet words:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face. (“God Moves in a Mysterious Way”)
Though you may not understand everything that’s happening when you consider the twists and turns of your life, know that God is working for believers’ good and for his glory. You can always trust him.
Second, you can rejoice in the saving grace of God. Think about it. If you’re a Christian, you are among the reached. The gospel came to you. That’s a beautiful miracle you should never get tired of pondering! Paul wanted to get the gospel to Rome and then to Spain. Just as it took a lot for Paul to get to Rome, it took a lot for the gospel to get to you. Marvel at God’s grace.
Third, you can align yourself with the mission of God. Acts 27–28 remind us of 1:8. Jesus has a mission that extends to the ends of the earth. And what a mission it is! Let’s not waste our time on earth. We must use it wisely and missionally for the good of the nations and for the glory of our great King.
Reflect and Discuss
- Have you ever been in a life-threatening situation? If so, how did you react to it? How might this passage encourage someone facing a great trial?
- How does this narrative highlight the truth that God keeps his word?
- Why are Christian friendships important? How do we see Paul valuing friendships in this narrative?
- How does this narrative display both the sovereign providence of God and the responsibility of humans?
- Explain some ways Paul displays great spiritual and practical leadership in this story.
- Identify some of the ways unbelievers display kindness in this narrative. How should we respond to such displays from the unbelievers we encounter?
- Explain how Paul gave an appropriate and clear witness on this trip. How might you apply some of these methods in your own interactions?
- How did Paul respond to Julius’s hospitality? What would you do if invited to spend time with unbelievers? How should Christians view such invitations, and how should we respond to them?
- At the end of the narrative, Paul thanked God. Think about some of the ways God has provided for you in recent months and give him thanks.
- Take a few moments to pray for God to grant you—and others—peace in the midst of great trials.