google-site-verification: google3e8cc4742c5fd8a2.html The Spirit Explodes 22
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The Spirit Explodes

Part 22 of 22 - The journey to Rome – at last.

Acts 27:1 – 28:31


by Roger Kirby


It really is rather puzzling that Luke spent so much space on his precious scroll describing this sea journey from which we, like everybody else, are not going to be able to get much spiritual nourishment.

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There are at least 3 possible reasons:

  1. this sort of exciting sea voyage complete with shipwreck was commonplace in Greek literature and Luke wanted his work to fit the normal pattern to make it as acceptable a read as possible;
  2. this is a ‘we’ passage, indicating that Luke himself was on this voyage and so was complying with the expectation of those days that historical writers should have had some involvement in the events they described;
  3. Luke wanted to set Paul’s journey to Rome and his death there in parallel to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and his death, thus showing how the life of a Christian should imitate that of Jesus.

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Read Acts 27:1–12.

Sea voyages around the eastern end of the Mediterranean in those days were difficult and dangerous. Most ships hugged the coast, putting into a safe harbour every night if they could. The date of the Fast, mentioned in this passage, was variable but it probably fell in October, by which time sailing had become very dangerous because of the autumn storms. Paul was an experienced sea traveller and clearly had as good an idea of what was safe as the sailors and a better one than the centurion. There is a good example of Luke’s accuracy here: Paul suggested there might be loss of life, and there wasn’t. This is presumably a bit of everyday advice rather than prophetic insight. Getting Egyptian grain to Rome was such a high priority that the Caesars promised to reimburse the owners of any ships lost on the passage, hence the willingness of the owner to take the considerable risk of proceeding.

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Read Acts 27:13–26.

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Paul even says ‘I told you so’ which cannot have endeared him to the sailors. But his general sense of optimism based on his certainty through visions that he would reach Rome would have helped everybody aboard the stricken vessel. The Syrtis mentioned is off the coast of Africa so a long way from the course they intended to sail, which is an indication of how panic struck they were.

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Read Acts 27:27–44.

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By this time it seems that Paul was effectively in charge of events. It is easy to imagine that, prisoner though he was, everyone was looking to him for wise guidance.

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Question 1: What was Paul’s attitude to his fellow travellers and the ship’s crew?

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He showed great sympathy to them as fellow human beings. He did not start trying to ‘save souls’ in this dire emergency!

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Read Acts 28:1–10.

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It would seem that Julius, the centurion, had by now given all control over to Paul. There was a widespread belief in paganism in those days (and perhaps in Judaism too – think of the story of Jonah) that those who were guilty of crime would not survive a sea voyage. It is interesting, therefore, that Luke says it was the islanders who thought Paul must be a murderer getting his just deserts from the snake. Those who had been in the ship with him clearly had a very different view of him. By the time they left the island when the better weather came in springtime the islanders respected him as well. The whole episode is a great example of how a Christian should carry him or herself in times of difficulty and adversity.

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Question 2: What, therefore, is Luke suggesting by the way he described this voyage?

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In the eyes of his fellow travellers, perhaps even including some of the less perceptive Christians, Paul was innocent of any crime. To them trial before the Emperor was unnecessary as he had already been judged by the sea and found innocent.

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Throughout the story there is a wonderful blending of natural wisdom on Paul’s part and the open statement of occasional visions from the Lord that directed them all to safety against all the odds.

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Question 3: What picture of the relationships between Christians and non-Christians do the events on Malta place before us?

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There is a remarkable sense of friendship and mutually beneficial relationships presented here. The islanders show ‘unusual kindness’ to the shipwrecked folk, the local big man is friendly towards them, Paul is ready with help to sick people, and the islanders honour the disciples when they come to leave. It is a reminder that although we may think theologically of non-believers as sinners they are also our fellow human beings and we should relate to them as such.

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Read Acts 28:11–16.

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The last part of Luke’s ‘we’ passage is first an easy trip by ship from Malta, round Sicily and up the west side of Italy to Puteoli some 200 rough Kms south of Rome. Then something of a triumphal procession for Paul by land, meeting various Christian groups on the way. The ‘we’ passage ends as they reach Rome so Luke presumably left them at that point.

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Paul’s treatment in Rome was very relaxed. There is good reason to think that he met up with a high Roman official and was placed under only a form of house arrest with a soldier keeping an eye on him. This all suggests that the documentation about Paul sent from Caesarea did not contain a serious case against him.

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Read Acts 28:17–31.

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Paul’s explanation to the Jewish leaders that he had done nothing, and did not intend to do anything, contrary to their interests suggests that the case against him had been dropped by the Jews of Judaea. He did not intend to bring a counter case of wrongful arrest. What follows is a repetition of events in many cities in the east when Paul started to preach, but without the rioting and general antagonism evident in so many of them. Presumably the presence of the Roman authorities in this great city had a quietening effect on their sensibilities.

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The great unsolved mystery about this final chapter is what happened after the two years of house arrest. Did Luke write another scroll that has since been lost? We have no evidence to that effect. Was Paul acquitted after the two years and go on mission again? That is what an historian called Eusebius thought writing 250 years later. Did he reach Spain as he had hoped? We have no solid evidence of that? Was he eventually martyred in Rome? There is a strong tradition that he was.

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Question 4: Triumph or tragedy? What do you think of what Luke says happened in Rome to summarize his long and vivid account of the acts of the apostles?

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There is much more triumph than tragedy here. Luke started off his scroll by emphasising the way that the good news of Jesus was to be taken to the ends of the earth. A necessary step in that direction was to take it to the centre of the earth. The saying is ‘all roads lead to (and from) Rome.’ Even today if you live anywhere in the southern half of Europe you will probably have seen how true that was. Their roads were so well built they still exist in many places. Paul had used them to best advantage for the message of Jesus. Paul must have been approaching the end of his natural life span anyway. He would be happy to die, especially if that was in the service of Jesus. To him it was a triumph indeed.

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There was, of course, some tragedy mixed in as well. Paul’s comment to the Roman Christians a little earlier had been “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart … for those of my own race, the people of Israel.” Once again here, in the heart of Empire, the Jewish population was split right down the middle, as it had been nearly everywhere Paul had been.

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For one last question think back over the way Luke has described the work of Paul in all these many places he visited. He has consistently described Paul as starting with the Jews and the Gentiles associated with the Jewish faith.

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Question 5: What does that imply for the work of the gospel today?

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It seems to suggest that the right place to start with the preaching and teaching of the gospel is with the nature of God, the Law and our struggles with it. So much modern preaching starts with the benefits of following Jesus as a way to a more satisfactory sense of personal fulfilment. That does not seem to be the place where Paul started. Should we copy him rather more than we currently do?

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Luke had given Theophilus an exciting and challenging story to read, as he has us. I hope it has excited and challenged you as you have read or listened to it. His very last sentence captures so well the whole story “he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus – with all boldness and without hindrance!” We, you and I, cannot do anything about the “without hindrance “ bit. The rest we can! Let’s do so. May the Lord bless you in your endeavours to that end.

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