Greetings in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (Acts 23:11)
Can we go to Rome? Of course, for us, it is just a matter of buying a plane ticket, and flying to Rome. That’s about it. Of course, if you are in Europe, you can drive to Rome.
How about Apostle Paul? At that time, no way to fly to Rome because airplanes were not invented yet. Even no car was available. For Paul, it was a long and tedious trip to Rome. It took months to get to Rome, and it was more than year after he heard from Jesus Christ – “Take courage! A you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” For us, it would take a day or so, but for Paul, it was a real long journey. Additionally, he had to confront huge challenges and dangers that were waiting for Paul.
People, who did not like Paul, plotted to kill Paul in the following morning, but Paul’s nephew heard of this plot, and told to the commander. The commander hearing from the Paul’s nephew, moved Paul during the very night against the plot to kill Paul. How serious was the matter? The commander prepared and sent 200 soldiers, 200 spearmen and 70 mounted troops to protect one single man, Paul from the mob to kill Paul. Paul was safely moved that night to Governor Felix in Caesarea. Paul, then, was under the Governor’s direct jurisdiction. As a result, those who tried to kill Paul had to go through the Governor.
Five days later, Ananias, the high priest, arrived with some of the Jewish elders and the lawyera Tertullus, to present their case against Paul to the governor. Paul was brought in too. They did everything that they could, but the Governor was not convinced. Ultimately, Paul was under God’s protection. The next Governor, Festus succeeding Felix, continued protecting Paul. Later King Agrippa visited Festus, and Festus brought in Paul. Before the king, Paul gave one famous sermon to King Agrippa and Governor Festus. In his sermon, Paul testified his conversion from one who persecuted believers to a new person who preached Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. He proclaimed the Gospel that saved in Christ both Jews and Gentiles.
After hearing and interacting Paul, King Agrippa found nothing to hold him anymore as a prisoner. King Agrippa said to Festus, “He could have been set free if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar.” Yes, Paul already made up his mind to go to Rome, and as a mean to go to Rome, he appealed to Caesar because Paul was a Roman citizen, and he had a right to appeal to Caesar. Thus, Paul was sent to Rome, and his long journey to Rome was started as a prisoner, not a freeman. (This reminds us: a journey to God is not necessarily easy and comfortable.)
The following day after leaving Caesarea, which was the prospering harbor city at that time as a center of ocean trades, the ship docked at Sidon. With God’s generosity, Paul was allowed to go ashore to visit with friends. The first day was a good day, but the situation quickly changed. As soon as leaving Sidon, strong headwinds made it difficult to keep the ship on course. (Again, we sometimes puzzle why we are up against strong headwinds when we work for God in pure faith. Here it happened to Paul. He was faithfully following what was told by Jesus). With struggle, they barely arrived Myra. Then the commanding officer found an Egyptian ship from Alexandria to Italy, and put his prisoners including Paul on board.
Several day slow sailing and after great difficulty, the ship arrived Cnidus. The wind was continuously against them, they struggled along the coast with great difficulty and finally arrived at Fair Havens. They lost a lot of time. The sea became dangerous for sea travel. It was so late in the fall. Then Paul, moved by the Holy Spirit, open his mouth: “Men, I believe there is trouble ahead if we go on—shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to our lives as well.” (Acts 27:10) The commanding officer, instead, listened more to the ship’s captain and the owner than to Paul. How many times have we experienced? Although we say the truth from God, the person who are in charge listens to the rest more than to us. Of course, as the commanding officer, he would have said there were lots of logical reasons why he listened more to the ship’s captain and the owner than to Paul as follows:
1. Fair Heaves was an exposed to harbor – a poor place to spend the winter.
2. Most of the crew wanted to on to Phoenix and spent the winter there, which was good harbor to spend the winter with a favorable southwest and northwest exposure.
3. A light wind began blowing from the south, which was the sign for them to get to Phoenix.
Three things that we can observer:
1. The current choice is truly unfavorable.
2. A perfectly logical alternative is available.
3. A favorable situation surfaces up that encourages to choose the logical alternative.
Following the commanding officer’s decision, the sailors pulled up anchor and sailed close to the shore of Crete to reach Phoenix. But the weather changed abruptly, and a wind of typhoon strength (called a “northeaster”) burst across the island and blew us out to sea. The ship facing strong storm was blown out to sea. Then the ship was under mercy of the wind. The sailors couldn’t turn the ship into the wind, so they gave up and let it run before the gale. All of the above rational thinking and convincing reasons were immediately evaporated. They thought that they could make to Phoenix and the situation was favorable, but it was not the case. The truth did not change, which was foretold by Paul.
They did everything that they could. All of the experiences of the skillful sailors were applied. They bounded ropes around the hull of the ship to strengthen it. They lowered the sea anchor to slow the ship not to be driven further before the wind. All these measures were not enough. The next day, as gale-force winds continued to batter the ship, the crew began through the cargo overboard. The following day they even took some of the ship’s gear and threw it overboard. The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone. God let them suffer to the limit. No one was eating either for a long time.
It was about fourteen night in to the storm. When all hope was gone. There was no sign that the storm would stop. The ship was continuously beaten by the storm. The people and the equipment (anything on the ship) were tossed by the wind. (I was once on a ship when 10+ ft, i.e., 3+ meter waves were hitting the ship, which could carry about 100 people. I was literally tossed around. I was on bed, but I was literally suspended on air briefly and then pushed down to my bed. The downforce was so hard that I thought that I was buried in the bed. Standing was very difficult, without grabbing anything attached to the ship. Eating was completely out of question. We tossed around all night. Then the sea became calm the following morning. I was able to see very few people showing up at the breakfast table. It was a really terrifying experience. I think it must have been much more terrifying during the terrible storm for 14 days and nights.)
The Holy Spirit again moved Paul, who encouraged the people to eat. Then he comforted by telling that not a hair of your heads will perish. They could endure the night. When morning dawned, they could not recognize the coastline. Suddenly, they saw a bay with a beach, and wondered if they could get to shore by running the ship aground. However, they hit a shoal and ran the ship aground. Then the ship was broken off due to the force. The water gushed in the ship, and people abounded the ship. It was a chaos. Per the standard operating procedure, the soldiers tried to kill the prisoners not to be releases during the chaos. However, the commanding officer prohibited to save Paul. (God was in charge even during the chaotic situation.) As a result, all 276 on the ship were able to escape safely to shore, which was foretold by Paul.
Let’s examine what had happened. The initial hope kindled by Paul was not directly translated to a safe rescue from the storm. Instead Paul, the fellow prisoner, the Roman officers and soldiers had to go through a series of disappointments and unexpected challenges. It would be easier to be crushed by the continuously unfolding challenging events. However, Paul was not crushed. Yes, Paul could have been killed by the Roman soldiers, but God did not allow it. As God told to Paul, all 276 people, who struggled in the terrible storm, were saved because God was with Paul and the rest of the people although they did not know at that time.
The shore belonged to Malta Island, Paul spend the next three months while healing the sick, and evangelizing the Island people. Then Paul arrived in Rome after a couple of stops on the way. When he arrived in Rome, he was allowed to live in a rental home. He freely evangelized the people in Rome for the next two years. Yes, Paul’s journey to Rome was not easy and full of unexpected events and dangers although Paul faithfully followed what Jesus told to him. Paul was also a man of zeal for God. Whenever and whereever he had a chance, he shared the Gospel.
Is our journey on earth in Christ easy? Does the world around us suddenly turn into a promenade with roses alongside? Not really. Instead, unexpected turmoil and hardships find us from time to time. What can we learn from Paul? Continuing keeping faith in God under all circumstances, and share the Gospel whenever opportunities presents before us. This is what God wants from us. Why do Paul and we respond in a unique way different from the rest? This is our humble response to the love of God shown on cross by making our Savior, Jesus Christ died for our sins. Also God prepares our eternal home, and every day, this home is getting closer, which makes exciting in this world. This is our hope and faith. Praise God, who gives faith, hope and love in our heart to know and experience Him!
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:17)