Acts 27–28. What Can a Helpless Prisoner Do?

Key Notes: A two-week-long storm at sea.Two-hundred seventy-six people on a big ship loaded with wheat. A centurion in charge. Paul's leadership. Ship-wreck: all saved. The Gospel comes to Malta. Paul's healing work. Paul in Rome with an active prison-ministry. Why the storm?

Paul appealed to Caesar's jurisdiction to escape the Jews, and now he was to go to Rome. Today's lesson is mostly an account of what happened on the journey. The account is an extraordinary story of a disastrous storm at sea. Why it occurred and why it is so detailed is not entirely clear but there are applications to be made.

27:1–12 Paul, with Aristarchus and Luke {"we"}, and other prisoners were assigned to a centurion, Julius, who was in charge of the ship that was intended to take them to Rome. The captain and owner were also on board (27:11). The cargo was wheat (27:38), and centurions were known to be assigned to escort shipments of vital foods to Rome.

From Asia Minor, they sailed to Cyprus and then with difficulty to Crete. The voyage was becoming dangerous because of traditionally severe storms between Sept.14 and Nov.11. “The fast had already gone by." (Day of Atonement, ?October 5). They were not content to stay at Fair Havens and tried to reach Phoenix, a more suitable harbor on Crete. Paul warned them of trouble but the captain and the owner prevailed with the centurion.

27:13–26 After an easy start, a violent storm, a "Nor-easter" (Gr. "Euraklydon") blew down on them and they lost control of the ship. There were 276 people on board. (27:37). They brought the dingy on board (27:16), probably full of water , secured cables under the ship (27:17), dropped the sails to prevent being driven on the shoals off the Libyan coast, threw cargo overboard, and the third day threw over ship's tackle. (27:19). [Ship's tackle includes pulleys, ropes, sails, and belaying pins.] They had given up hope for their lives when Paul came forward with advice: I told you not to do this. But we will all be saved--minus the ship. God's angel has told me that I must stand before Caesar. We have got to run onto an island.

God was with Paul . "Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar, and lo, God has granted you all those who sail with you."

27:27–44 At midnight on the 14th day, the sailors found shallow water. They put out four stern anchors to stop the ship from hitting land until they could see it in daylight. The sailors tried to escape in the dingy, but Paul said they were necessary to help save the passengers, so the centurion had the boat cut loose. Then Paul urged everyone to eat. After 14 days they must have been utterly exhausted, almost helpless. [A mere twelve hours in a lake storm left us limp for most of the next day.]

After everyone had gotten some nourishment, even the wheat was thrown out. At dawn they recognized a bay, cut the anchors, used the rudders and ran the boat onto a shoal. Then the back of the boat (stern) broke away. [The surf must have still been a threat.]The centurion saved all the prisoners from being killed by the soldiers because he wanted to save Paul. Those who could swim went first, the non-swimmers floating to shore on pieces of wood from the ship. They all made it safely to land. Paul's prophecy was fulfilled. Two-hundred seventy-six human beings survived the savage sea.

28:1–10 They had landed on the island of Malta. The natives were considered barbarians because they were Phoenician but they were friendly to this ship-wrecked company. Hospitality began with a fire to help them dry off. Paul was helping load kindling when a viper in the wood bit him. The natives thought God's judgment was on him, but the viper did not poison him, and then they thought he was a god.
The chief's name was Publius and Paul healed his father. (?"Malta Fever" ?brucellosis) Others of the island then came and Paul healed them as well. They wintered on Malta, and were ready to go on in the Spring with many gifts and provisions.

28:11–15 Their new ship was called "The Twins". Castor and Pollux, the Gemini of the Zodiac, were protectors of sailors. The ship stopped in Syracuse in Sicily for three days, then Rhegium and Puteoli on the west coast of Italy. Christians were there and cared for Paul's group for a week. On their way up to Rome, Christians came down from Rome to the "Three Taverns" to meet them and Paul was encouraged.

28:17 After 3 days in Rome, Paul assembled the Jewish leaders. They had not heard of him but were very wary of his "sect". Nevertheless they heard him from morning to night talk about the Kingdom and Jesus from the Old Testament. Some believed, but there was much disagreement. Paul finally quoted Isa.6:9–10, citing God's judgment on Israel from Isaiah's prophecy and applying the message to the Jewish leaders. He announced that salvation had been delivered to the Gentiles. For two years Paul was confined by one soldier's manacle (28:16) but preached Jesus and the Kingdom without other hindrance.


Note a new theme that Paul introduced to the Jewish community: Jesus and the Kingdom, more familiar to us than to them. Our major NT source of data on the Kingdom is in Matthew but likely it was not available to Paul. One Old Testament outline that Paul might have used reads like this:

The King ("the scepter") will come from Judah. Gen.49:10
The King will come from David's House. IISam.7:11–17
The King, the Son of David, is David's Lord. Psa.110:1
The King is God Himself. Psa.45:6; Isa.9:7
The King will be opposed by the nations. Psa.2:6
The Kingdom is universal. Psa.72:8
The King and the Priest are the same person. Psa.110:2,4

Acts ends here, the story incomplete, perhaps intentionally. Scholars studying the epistles believe that Paul was released for lack of evidence and went on preaching and teaching for 4–6 more years before he was recaptured and executed by Nero. Luke leaves us with the summarizing message: the Gospel is going to the Gentiles, that is, into all the world.

Paul appears to have been a victim of a series of bad circumstances. Where was God?
•He was a prisoner going to Rome (27:1), but he was treated kindly (27:3; 28:16) by the centurion. His personal strengths distinguished him.
•He was concerned for the ship and cargo as well the passengers, but his advice was ignored. (27:9–11) Was he knowledgeable about the sea? He had already  been shipwrecked 2–3 other times. (IICor.11:25). Later he emerged as the leader (27:21–26; 27:33–36) and gave direction to the captain and crew.
•He was not spared 14 days of storm battering but was able to prevent great loss of life,
           a). by preventing the sailors from getting away;
           b). by being hostage for all the other prisoners;
           c). by getting everyone ready for concerted action and assisting in the beaching of the ship.
The prisoner saved his captors.

•He escaped the sea only to be bitten by a viper (28:3). But the viper did not kill him, and called attention to his healing powers. 28:6
•He was discouraged (28:15) but took heart when he saw the Roman Christians who came out to welcome him.
•He was still a prisoner in Rome, but had freedom to preach to anyone who visited (28:31). "...the word of God is not fettered." (IITim.2:9.) He had the involuntary audience of Caesar's picked guards. "All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household." (Phil.4:22)

We can make some applications from Paul's experience.

1. Warn responsible parties about the direction they are taking.
2. Do not sulk when your advice is ignored. Pray and wait.
3. When the storm roars on, do not conclude that God does not care.
4. Take courage in God's promises. Reassure others.
4. Rebuke those who would run away to escape responsibility.
5. Remember that God orders your ways in spite of wrong decisions of leaders, bad weather and dubious associates. God controls the sea and your soul and even the snake.
6. God may use your restriction, your limited access, to reach those that otherwise could not be contacted.

Why the storm? Although none of my commentaries raise the question, we must believe that this is not a random event.
1.) God directs the weather, the rain, the storms, and the droughts to accomplish His purposes.

"Some go down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
they saw the deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep.
For he commanded, and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble
and He delivered them from their distress;
...he made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed." (Psa.107:23–32. This psalm gives cases of being lost in the desert, languishing in prison, being sick or in storm at sea to teach that God uses adversity to turn people to Himself. )

For a specific example of an intended storm we turn to Jonah.
"But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. "(Jon.1:4)

2.) Paul emerged as leader--physically and spiritually--over a battered and exhausted group of 276 passengers, prisoners and crew, ready to do whatever he said. One of the class said they were "softened up".

3.) God said I have "granted you all those who sail with you." (27: 24). Their lives were given to Paul, but are not their spiritual destinies granted as well? "He is not wiling that any should perish" refers to spiritual rather than physical life.

4.) Paul was saved from the viper and did miracles of healing for people on Malta. (28:3–9). He had to dissuade them from thinking of him as a god, and opened the way to the true God. We are not told that he preached to the passengers and the Maltese, but if he did not, it would be the first time. "Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel." I Cor.9:16

In conclusion, I believe that God used the storm to to redeem the passengers and get the Gospel to Malta as well.

Blessings to you in the storms of life.