ON TO ROME Acts 27–28
“When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him” (Acts 28:16).Even a prisoner who knows God can influence others.
Paul joined a group of prisoners being transported under guard to Rome (27:1–8). He warned futilely against sailing from Crete (vv. 9–12), and their ship was caught in a severe storm (vv. 13–25). Though the ship was wrecked, all aboard survived (vv. 26–44). Paul healed the chief official on Malta, where they wintered (28:1–10). Arriving in Rome, Paul was allowed to live in a rented house (vv. 11–16), and to preach Christ to the Jewish community and his visitors (vv. 17–31).
The Book of Acts closes with Paul in Rome awaiting trial. While there he wrote several of the letters found in the New Testament, including Colossians, Philippians, Ephesians, Philemon, and the first Letter to Timothy. Scholars believe that Paul was set free after his trial, and spent several more years as a missionary, probably in Spain. But the political climate was changing. Nero, whose first years were marked by excellent rule, gradually became more and more erratic. When a great fire struck Rome, Nero blamed the Christians in order to divert criticism from himself. As official hostility developed, Paul was arrested again and faced another trial. During this second imprisonment he wrote his second Letter to Timothy. As that letter implies, Paul did not survive his second trial, but was executed in Rome. One of the purposes that Luke had in writing Acts was to demonstrate through his story of Paul’s ministry that the Christian faith was no threat to the Empire. Paul had friends among the Asiarchs in Ephesus. When he was examined by Felix he was cleared of any criminal activity. King Agrippa, a close friend of the Emperor Claudius, agreed that Paul had done nothing to merit arrest or trial. Whenever the facts were examined by an impartial Roman administrator, Paul and the Christians he represented were cleared. While the evidence Luke presented was compelling, it was not enough. Hostility to Christianity was not rooted in a knowledge of the facts of our faith, but in the prejudices and moral turpitude of its enemies. Despite the fact that some today who claim to be Christians have given the faith a bad name, it remains true that any hostility to our faith is not rooted in what Christ taught or what Christians believe. It is rooted in the fact that Christianity functions as a light shining in a dark world. The darker the society, the brighter that light must shine. And the more those who cower back into the darkness will hate and resent it.
Understanding the Text
“We boarded a ship” Acts 27:1–9. This is one of four “we” sections in Acts. Most scholars believe that Luke was with Paul, and described the events of these sections from eyewitness knowledge. Those who have studied Luke’s account of the voyage find it a totally accurate portrayal of first-century ships, ports, and trade routes. Even more important from Paul’s point of view, the use of “we” here indicates that Paul was not alone. Friends went with him on the journey to Rome. Any time we face an uncertain future, having friends with us for support is vitally important. Are there people you know who would like you to serve as their Luke? First-century cargo ships carried grain from the East to Rome. Some were large enough to also carry several hundred passengers. However, the passengers slept on deck and provided their own food for the journey. Thousands of tourists frequented such ships, though travel on the Mediterranean was dangerous. “So Paul warned them” Acts 27:9–14. Paul had not yet had time to establish that “personal power” needed to influence the centurion who guarded them and the ship’s captain. Now he would win their sudden respect. The two ignored his advice and set out to sea. Before they were out of sight of the island they were struck by winds of “hurricane force.” Perhaps as a prisoner Paul had no right to speak up. But he did express his convictions. His confidence, plus the fact that his advice was quickly shown to have been right, established a personal power he was able to use later to influence the centurion and save lives. Don’t hesitate to speak out for what is right. Ultimately your influence depends on you, not on your position. “God whose I am and whom I serve” Acts 27:15–25. Paul spoke confidently out of the assurance rooted in his relationship with God. If we trust God, as Paul did, and are committed to Him, we too can speak out with confidence and be heard! “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved” Acts 27:27–44. People in panic are nearly uncontrollable. Yet by this time Paul’s personal power and influence were so great that he was able to get the soldiers to cut away the ship’s lifeboats and what seemed their best chance of escape. Even more, he was able to quiet the terror of the sailors and passengers enough so that they actually took a little food. Paul’s own confidence in God’s commitment to save the ship and crew were communicated by his voice and demeanor. If we have that God-based confidence, we will be able to influence others for their own good too. “They changed their minds and said he was a god” Acts 28:1–10. People have a tendency to jump to extreme conclusions. Seeing Paul bitten by a poisonous snake, the people of Malta assumed he was a murderer. When he didn’t die, they assumed he was a god. Paul was neither. He was just a human being committed to the Lord. You and I can be comfortable being “just folks” too. God can and does take ordinary people and through them do extraordinary things. “With a soldier to guard him” Acts 28:11–16. Soon after this Paul mentioned believers in Caesar’s own household in his letter to the Philippians. The chances are that these believers were soldiers in the Praetorian Guard, the regiment assigned as the Emperor’s. And most likely the soldiers detailed to guard Paul in his house! How Paul must have looked forward to the changing of the guard, and another soldier to speak to about Jesus Christ. “He explained and declared . . . and tried to convince them” Acts 28:17–29. As always Paul showed special concern for his brothers, the Jews. An intense effort to evangelize the local Jewish community saw some respond to the Gospel message, but the majority rejected it. There are limits to what I’ve been calling “personal power.” Those with personal power can influence others up to a point. But when we speak about Jesus, there is a point at which the other person will commit to Christ or reject Him. We have to respect the right of others to make that decision. We should speak with confidence. But we must not manipulate others into a decision they are not ready to make. “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house” Acts 28:30–31. Paul’s life and ministry falls into periods of one or two years, but seldom more. He was probably in Corinth longer than two years. But he spent two years at Ephesus, two in Caesarea, and now two more years in Rome. Didn’t all that moving around bother Paul? Paul realized something that is true for each of us. We are soldiers, God is our Commander. We never know when we put down our tent how long we’ll stay. Let’s be good soldiers, ready to move or stay at God’s command. And always ready to speak up for our Lord.
Personal Power (Acts 27)
My wife has it in her classroom. She has no problems maintaining order among her 11th-graders. She doesn’t even raise her voice. But when she uses it, her quiet “power” voice creates dead silence. I’m not planning to market a psychological seminar guaranteed to give those who pay some astronomical sum an edge in negotiating. Or a fast trip up the corporate ladder. I’m simply noting a reality that at least one critic of Acts overlooked. The critic, a scholar named Haenchen, pooh-poohed the notion that a person who was a prisoner, being conveyed to Rome under guard, could possibly have been given special favors or listened to with respect by his captors. The details Luke gives of the voyage are undoubtedly accurate. But the idea that Paul played the role described is, to Haenchen, beyond belief. I suspect this scholar, based on his reasoning, would also argue that Lech Walesa must be something of a fictional character too. After all, what pipe fitter from a Polish shipyard could form a union, be outlawed, and then silenced for years, and play a critical role in the fall of Poland’s Communist government? What Haenchen failed to realize was that the personal power of a human being is not related to his or her social position. People with position can be utterly ineffective. And others with no position at all can change the course of history. Paul had an advantage—the confidence and the assurance that come with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul knew Jesus and lived in close fellowship with the Lord. When Paul spoke, that personal power rooted in his relationship with God shone through. Others sensed his personal power. And responded to him. What excites me is that Paul’s source of personal power is available to every Christian. If we know Jesus, and live close to Him, we too will have that calm assurance that translates into personal power.
Live close to Jesus, and when you speak, everybody will listen.
“If you are a Christian in small things, you are not a small Christian.”— Walter B. Knight