For many years, the apostle Paul had longed to go to the city of Rome to do the Lord’s work there (Romans 1:9-12). By God’s providence, Paul’s desire to make it to Rome was fulfilled (Acts 28:16). After being imprisoned in Caesarea (on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea) for at least two years, from there, still a prisoner of the Roman Empire, he was transported by ship to Rome.
Acts 27 gives a record of some of the events connected with the major portion of that sea journey toward Rome. This is a historical section of the Scriptures, yet there are numerous lessons which we can observe in the text. Let us take a look.
Passengers – There were a total of two hundred and seventy-six people on the ship (27:37). That number included those who were operating the ship, prisoners, and a centurion with his soldiers. Specific mention is made of three Christians: Aristarchus (27:2), the writer of the book of Acts (he talks about “us,” 27:2), and Paul (27:1,3). Paul counted himself as “the prisoner of the Lord” (Ephesians 4:1) because it was for his commitment to Jesus and the preaching of His gospel that he originally was imprisoned.
Purpose – In the big scheme of things, this voyage was for the purpose of getting Paul to Rome. On the human side, he was being ushered there by Roman authorities. Why? Because he had appealed to the emperor of Rome to hear his legal case (25:10-12), a right which was Paul’s as a citizen of the Roman Empire. On the divine side, God wanted to get Paul to Rome so he could preach and encourage the saints there (Romans 1:15-17). In fact, when Paul had been taken into custody a couple of years before this ship trip to Rome, the Lord promised His apostle, “Be of good cheer, Paul, for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome” (23:11). In view of all of this, to Rome Paul must go.
Perils – Paul and all others on board the ship faced some difficulties. Contrary winds (27:7,14), depressing weather conditions (27:20), and the ship running aground and breaking up (27:41) were some of the unpleasant situations that all those traveling on the ship faced. Let us be reminded: God never promised us that in our earthly lives, everything will be “smooth sailing, both literally and figuratively. There were children of God on board that vessel, but that did not exempt them from having to deal with trials and unpleasantries just like all other folks did.
Prediction – During the midst of some dangerous weather circumstances, an angel of God appeared to Paul and told him that the ship would run aground on a certain island, but there would be no loss of life (27:24,26). Do you recall how that all played out? Exactly as God said it would. Are you surprised?! The ship did run aground. It did run aground on an island (Malta, 28:1). And, all those on the ship did escape safely to land (27:44). Know this: the God of heaven sees the future, with all of its details, just as clearly as you and I see the present. Yes, our God’s infinite understanding is amazing (Psalm 147:5).
Paul’s personal dedication – When Paul shared with them God’s message about the safety of the passengers and destruction of the ship itself, he unashamedly, but not boastfully, expressed his devotion to God and whatever He says. Paul declared that (1) he belonged to God (27:23), (2) he served God (27:23), and (3) he believed God (27:25). In reference to believing God, Paul’s own words were, “. . . I believe God that it will be just as it was told me” (27:25). That is the kind of faith that you and I need to have: if God says it, then that settles it! When the devil and his deluded disciples speak blasphemous words about the Creator and His communication to mankind, we must not blink, blush, or abandon ship. We must stick with God’s unchanging truth. Why? Only it can make us free and keep us free (John 8:32).
Prayer – After Paul relayed the message about the upcoming peril of the ship, but without loss of human life, “he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all” (27:35). It always is right to be thankful for our blessings. It always is proper to express our gratitude to God in prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17,18). It is even appropriate to pray in the presence of others, like Paul did, as long as we are not doing it to draw attention to ourselves and receive the praises of men (Matthew 6:5). Giving thanks for the food which we consume may sound like an irrelevant, trifling matter to some, but, in God’s sight, thanking Him, even for “the little stuff,” is a big deal.
Plea – When some on the ship wanted to escape on a small boat, Paul’s plea was, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved” (27:31). When the Lord designates a place of safety, then that is the refuge spot into which we need to get and remain! Redemption is in God’s Son (Colossians 1:12-14), so that is where every person needs to be. If you are not yet in Jesus – God’s place of safety, why not submit to Him today by obeying the gospel (Romans 6:3-5)?
— Roger D. Campbell