The Centurian Comes Through Again

39 When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. 40 Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. 41 But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.

42 The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. 43 But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely. Acts 27:39-44

When your ship has run aground, the best thing to do is to abandon ship quickly. Nobody knew how much damage there was or how long the ship would stay intact and afloat given the storms they had just gone through.

The soldiers’ first thought was to take out the prisoners. Perhaps it was for self-preservation, i.e., if the prisoners had escaped, it was the soldiers’ neck on the line.

But the centurian had found favor with Paul and called off the soldiers.

The centurian himself did what the soldiers were trying to do: save their own lives. He told them to get to land by any means necessary. While he didn’t say “don’t worry about the prisoners”, it was implied.

Julius – the centurian – was a man who tried to do what was right. He had heard Paul preach numerous times so he knew the truth. We don’t know if Julius ever believed the Gospel message. We do know that he prevented Paul’s certain death. In that sense, he unwittingly expanded the kingdom of God because it enabled Paul to visit many more places to teach and preach.

Sometimes the most unlikely person will be your ally when you need it the most.

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The Journey

33 Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. 34 Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” 35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. 36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 Altogether there were 276 of us on board. 38 When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea. Acts 27:33-38

I suspect the crew aboard the ship were exhausted as they fought the storms for 14 days. Were they so busy they forgot to eat or were they rationing it? We don’t know but Paul encouraged them to eat. Again, it seemed as if Paul was in control of the situation even though he was still a prisoner. That’s what you call a true leader.

At this point in the story, they had no idea when they would find shore. It could be another 14 days or it could be the next day. They were still going on the faith of this crazy preacher that they would make it to land safely, but they had no idea.

That’s the essence of faith, isn’t it? You know God wants you to do something but there’s not a lot of feedback on the way. Was it the right choice? Should I turn back? What if I missed the mark completely? You’d think the older you are as Believers, the easier the journey would become.

Far from it.

They don’t call it a journey because of what you’ve already seen. It’s a journey because you’re experiencing everything anew.

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Take the Lifeboat

27 On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. 28 They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. 29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. 31 Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away. Acts 27:27-32

Imagine for a moment you were one of the soldiers on board that ship. You know the bottom of the sea is getting more shallow, which means you could easily run aground. All kinds of problems occur when your ship runs aground. So you do what you think is logical: drop a lifeboat overboard and prepare to jump in.

But as you start to get in, the crazy preacher on board tells you to stay with the ship. What do you do?

This was no small dilemma for the centurian and the soldiers. The soldiers, of course, would do what the centurian commanded them, but Julius the centurian had to go with his gut feeling.

We know that Julius chose wisely because the story ends well.

We’ve all been in the middle of two contradictory choices. We never know the outcome so we have to make our best guess and pray it’s the right one. And there aren’t any wild buzzers and lights going off after you make the choice saying it was the right one. God has given us a mind and intellect to make the best and wisest decision based on current knowledge and understanding. God wants us to think it through and pray about it. Usually the decisions we make are not life and death situations.

If we need to step back and regroup, we can do that as well.

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I Told You So!

21 After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” Acts 27:21-26

If you were the ship’s captain, you’d be depressed after hearing this lecture. Lives will be saved but the ship? Not so much. Those who had traveled with Paul earlier would have known Paul’s “track record” for these kinds of predictions: 100%. He certainly had a direct line to God.

And so do we.

Same God the Father. Same Holy Spirit. Same Jesus Christ.

Will you get extra-biblical revelations about your life? Maybe, maybe not.

Notice that Paul (and others) received those revelations when their lives were in jeopardy and when there was no other way to convince them of the truth (Joseph and Mary come to mind, as does Moses). They needed that reassurance and understanding.

If we aren’t receiving extra revelation, does it mean that mean that God is not communicating with us? On the contrary. He speaks to us daily through the Word of God, that is, if we’ll listen.

If we’ll listen.

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Not All Smooth Sailing

3 The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. 4 From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. 5 When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. 6 There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7 We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. 8 We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.

9 Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement. So Paul warned them, 10 “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” 11 But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. 12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.

13 When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. 14 Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. 15 The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, 17 so the men hoisted it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. 18 We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. 19 On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved. Acts 27:3-20

Presumably those sailing this ship were hardened sailors. They knew the seas and the winds like we know how to drive. It was a difficult and dangerous business to be in. They knew the risks going in and they knew the rewards when it was all done. But in this instance, it seemed like they were confused and unprofessional. Surely they would have known to do the things Paul suggested. After all, he wasn’t a sailor at all. He was merely a preacher.

Perhaps that’s the point. He wasn’t one of them but he was telling them what to do. Their pride forbade them from accepting his advice.

Recall that some of the disciples were in an empty fishing boat when Jesus told them to cast to the other side. The difference, of course, was that the disciples reluctantly did what the Creator of the Universe suggested they do.

What’s your ship like these days? Stormy, turbulent seas? Calm, smooth sailing? Having trouble with fellow sailors?

Fortunately, in all of those scenarios we can call out to Christ.

Yes, even in the smooth sailing. Especially in the smooth sailing.

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Of the Mundane

When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. 2 We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us. Acts 27:1-2

Even though this seems like two mundate verses in an otherwise exciting chapter, if we wanted, we could dig a little deeper and ask a few questions along the way. For instance,

  • Why is this centurian named?
  • Why was it important to know he was from the Imperial Regiment?
  • Why is it important to know where this ship was from?
  • Why was a Greek named Aristarchus important enough for Paul to mention?

If you dug a little further we might be able to answer those questions…or maybe not. Is it so important for us to know all of these details? It certainly paints a fuller scene than we would otherwise get.

More importantly, though, we get to glimpse a little more into God’s character as He tells us about normally nameless people doing mundane jobs. They had no idea their names would be forever written in a book that billions would read. They just happened to be in a place where one of God’s “main” characters was on display for the world to see.

Explore the text further. Why was Adramyttium mentioned? Who was Aristarchus? What else do we know about Julius?

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The Curious King

24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

30 The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. 31 After they left the room, they began saying to one another, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”

32 Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar. Acts 26:24-32

King Agrippa was curious. He wanted to know more about this Jesus Christ. He liked what he saw in Paul, and invited him to tell him more. Throughout this ordeal, Paul had been a respectful, polite prisoner. Just from his words alone, he didn’t seem to be bitter or angry about being falsely accused.

What would you say to King Agrippa’s request? Based on what Paul said, how would you convince King Agrippa?

Paul knew that it took time to process these things. Plus he knew that he had time to spend. There’s no doubt he’d be praying hard for his next visit with the king. Before that, though, he still had several prison guards to speak with. Whether in the jail or in the king’s court, Paul’s mission field was where he was at any point in time.

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Be Content

9 “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.

12 “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’

” ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. 21 That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” Acts 26:9-23

In five minutes, Paul laid out his salvation journey and the Gospel message to Jewish and Gentile men. He didn’t pull any punches, nor did he worry about offending his listeners. That was his story as only Paul could tell it. No one else had that same journey and experience with Christ.

Likewise, and it will seem like it’s a bit of repetition over the last few posts, no one else has walked the same walk we have or done the things we’ve done. Similarly, no one can reach the same people we reach.

It’s easy, especially for men, to compare yourself to others in a lot of areas. But as the late Dr. Howard Hendricks of Dallas Theological Seminary was fond of saying, “Comparison robs your joy.” You are who you are and the unique person God made you.

Be content.

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Acknowledging the Holy Spirit

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”

So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: 2 “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, 3 and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.

4 “The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. 5 They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee. 6 And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. 7 This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. 8 Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead? Acts 26:1-8

Paul was preaching to Agrippa and to the Jewish leaders. He knew everyone would be leaning in to hear what he had to say. The Roman leaders seemed to be curious while the Jewish leaders were waiting for Paul to slip up.

Even so, the Holy Spirit was working in and through Paul, as well as in the lives of those Paul was preaching to. Were they close to salvation in Christ? Who knows the hearts of men and women except for God? Paul was there for a reason, and the Holy Spirit was with Paul.

Standing in line at the store, sitting in rush hour traffic, talking to your boss about work performance, and playing with your children and grandchildren are all very common scenarios we find ourselves in throughout any given day. The Holy Spirit is with you as you go about your day. We know that on an intellectual level, but sometimes we need to acknowledge it on a personal level.

Paul knew this. That’s why he was confident that God would give him the precise words to say to two very different sets of people. That’s also why he knew he was in God’s will despite his circumstances.

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