When it was decided that we were to sail for Italy, they transferred Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort, named Julius. Embarking on a ship of Adramyttium that was about to set sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul kindly, and allowed him to go to his friends to be cared for. Putting out to sea from there, we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. After we had sailed across the sea that is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship bound for Italy and put us on board. We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind was against us, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. Sailing past it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea.
As Paul sets sail for Rome the opening verses of Acts 27 set the scene for the dramatic events that will unfold as the narrative develops. Although held in the custody of the Roman authorities, this is a journey Paul has instigated by making an appeal to the Emperor’s tribunal. Paul is in prison not because of any crimes he has committed but because the chief priests and the elders of the Jews had points of disagreement with him. The local authorities realise the nonsense of Paul’s imprisonment but it’s too late as has he has already made his appeal to the Emperor.
Verses 1 to 8 of Acts 27 give us the facts as Paul sets out on this journey.
Although Paul is travelling as someone in the custody of the Roman authorities, he is not like the other prisoners. They would be condemned men on their way to face death in the arena. Paul has acquaintances on board, either travelling undercover as his slaves or as a paying passenger and a ship’s doctor. The centurion charged with this prisoner transfer recognises Paul’s status and is perhaps interested in his message so cuts him some slack. The detail of the route and mention of the ships taken makes it easy for us to plot on a map and appreciate the extent of this journey. The reporting of the wind conditions being against them hints of what is to come and emphasises that even on the first stage of this voyage to Rome it is no pleasant Mediterranean cruise.
Journeying is a common Biblical theme. In these verses we are reminded that we may be able to influence aspects of our life experience and have the support of those around us but we are not in control. Sometimes we have to just go with it, face the challenges and make the best of it especially when we are unsure or anxious about where this journey will take us.
Paul embarks on this journey with confidence as he has already disclosed in Acts 26 verse 22; “to this day I have had help from God”.
All knowing and ever present God, Give me the courage to face the journey ahead. Give me the confidence to trust in you. Enable me to make the best of whatever I face. And flood my heart and my mind with your grace. Amen
David Scott is an ordinand at the Scottish United Reformed Church and Congregational College.