Today we will complete the book of Acts. We see that as soon as Felix was replaced by Festus (24:27), the Jewish religious leaders accuse Paul once again (25:1-2) and ask that he be sent back to Jerusalem (v. 3). They did this because they wanted to kill him on his way back. Festus wants them to come with him to Caesarea to try the case there (v. 5). And the case begins (v. 6) with accusations against Paul that could not be proven (v. 7), which Paul points out (v. 8). Festus, however, wanted to win the favor of the Jews (v. 9). This was prudent as he was placed by Rome over Judea. There’s no reason to make his constituents enemies at the outset of his political career. So Festus asks Paul if the venue can be moved to Jerusalem, as the Jews requested. But Paul knows what will happen. He insists that he should be tried before the Romans, not the Jews (v. 10), and he appeals to Caesar (v. 11). A Roman citizen had the right to have Caesar hear a trial if that citizen found the local authority to be corrupt. So Festus will send him to Rome (v. 12). God uses all things.
During a visit by Herod Agrippa (v. 13), Festus discusses Paul’s case (vv. 14-21). Herod wants to hear Paul’s side of the story (v. 22). And Festus needs Herod’s help. He wants to send Paul to Caesar, but on what charge (vv. 24-27)? So Herod Agrippa asks Paul to give his side of the story (26:1). Paul is glad to tell him, because he was more familiar with the Jewish religion than Festus (vv. 2-3). Paul tells of his history as a zealous Pharisee (v. 5). Paul then speaks of the resurrection – a doctrine that the Pharisees already believe (vv. 6-8 – see 23:6-7). But while he was persecuting Christians (vv. 9-12), he met the resurrected Christ (vv. 14-18), Who sent Paul to the Gentiles. This was the real reason the Jewish leaders wanted him imprisoned or dead: he included Gentiles in the promises of YHWH (v. 21)!
Paul then testifies that it is God Who has placed Paul here before Agrippa to preach the Gospel proclaimed by the prophets (v. 22) who predicted that Christ would be the first to experience the resurrection – a resurrection that so many Jews already believe in (v. 23). Not only that, but the prophets predicted that the Gentiles would be included in this! Festus thinks Paul is crazy for saying this (v. 24). But Paul says that Agrippa knows the Scriptures and knows what the prophets predicted, and knows that Christ rose from the dead (vv. 26-27). Agrippa asks if Paul expects to convert him to Christianity with this short speech (v. 28). Paul says that he wants Agrippa and everyone present to believe (v. 29). Like Festus, Agrippa could find no wrong in Paul (v. 31). But Paul has appealed to Caesar, and as a Roman citizen, his appeal cannot be denied (v. 32). God uses all things.
So Paul is sent to Rome, and Luke and a man named Aristarchus join him (27:1-2 – note the “we” of verse 1 indicating Luke is with him). We see that Paul was not restricted while in custody (v. 3). The ship ultimately lands in Myra in southern Asia Minor (v. 5). From there, they board an Alexandrian (Alexandria was in northern Africa in modern-day Egypt) ship heading to Italy (v. 6). With some difficulty, the ship reaches Fair Havens, in the south of the island of Crete (v. 8). Since the voyage had already taken so long, it was now September (the Fast is the Day of Atonement v. – 9). The worst of the hurricanes in the Mediterranean happen from September to January. Paul warns of the danger of setting sail at this time (v. 10). But if they wait until January, they’d have to then wait through winter, and the harbor wasn’t sufficient to stay in through the winter (v. 12). So the pilot and the centurion decide to try to make it to a place they can wait through winter: Phoenix, a port on the western side of Crete.
So they wait for a calm day and set sail (v. 13). But they were all of a sudden stuck in a nor’easter (v. 14). The fierce winds blow them to Cauda (modern day Gozzo), a tiny island south of Crete, and they use the island to shield themselves from the winds of the storm (v. 16). After raising the anchor, they are blown further southwest, where they are afraid to run aground on the Syrtis, an area of sandbars off of northern Africa (v. 17). So they lower the main sail and just drift. They try to lighten the load by jettisoning some cargo (vv. 18-19). But after days of drifting in the storm, they lose hope (v. 20).
After a not-so-subtle “I told you so,” Paul tries to relieve their fears by prophetically assuring them that no lives will be lost, but only the ship (vv. 21-25). He suggested they run aground on the first island they find (v. 26). Two weeks later, they approach land during the night, and anchor to wait until day to try and land (vv. 27-29). Some try to leave the ship (v. 30), but Paul tells them that everyone must remain on the ship if they are to survive (v. 31). Note that God said they would all be saved, but Paul told the men if they leave they would not be saved. We see God’s sovereignty and human responsibility once again working together.
As dawn approaches, Paul encourages them all to eat, because it will give them strength to survive, which they will (vv. 33-34). Once again, God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. After eating, they dump the rest of the food in preparation to run aground (v. 38). They find their target spot (v. 39), disconnect the anchors (v. 40), then raise the sail and speed towards shore (v. 41). But they hit a sandbar and wind up stuck before they reach land (v. 41). So that no prisoners can escape, the guards plan to kill them (v. 42), but the centurion guarding Paul talks them out of it (v. 43). Instead, everyone makes their way to land (v. 44).
When they all reach land, they learn from some locals that they are on Malta, which is a small island to the south of Sicily (28:1). The locals help them by building a fire (v. 2). Paul grabs a bundle of wood and throws it in the fire, and a snake that was in the bundle jumps out and bites Paul (v. 3). Assuming this meant sure death, the island native think it is a sign that Paul is a criminal and the gods have punished him even though he survived the shipwreck (v. 4). They figure that the gods get their way one way or another. But Paul just shakes the snake off (v. 5). When he doesn’t die, the locals then think Paul must be a god himself (v. 6). He isn’t. He just serves the true God. And God has a plan for Paul, and nothing is going to stop it. God gets His way one way or another. His plan for His people can’t be stopped by any serpent. The symbolism here is obvious (see Gen 3, Rev 12:9, 20:2, Luke 10:19).
After Paul heals the father of the island’s leader (v. 8), everyone sick on the island came to Paul to be healed (v. 9). Because of this, the people give Paul and his companions everything they need for the trip to Rome (v. 10). God uses all things. After the winter, they find another Alexandrian ship that have images of the twin sons of Zeus: Castor and Pollux (v. 11). They were believed to be the patron gods of sailors. That Luke includes this and the story of the Malta natives’ ideas about the gods shows that they were in areas that the Gospel has not yet reached (see Rom 15:20). The mission is continuing to the end of the earth (see 1:8).
After a short sail, they arrive at Syracuse (in Sicily – v. 12). Then they get to Rhegium in southern Italy (in the tip of the boot – v.13). They sail with the help of the wind up the coast of Italy to Puteoli, very close to Rome. They found some Christians to stay with for a week before heading to Rome. Some of the Roman Christians come to meet Paul at Three Taverns (about halfway between Puteoli and Rome – v. 15). God uses all things – wind and people!
Paul finally reaches Rome. As is his modus operandi, Paul goes first to the Jews (v. 17). When he tells them why he is there in the hopes of heading off any of the false charges they may have heard (vv. 17-20), he finds out they have not heard anything about him (v. 21). But they do want to hear about this new “sect” that the Jews everywhere are speaking against (v. 22). This shows how even within Judaism, as it was with Rome in the first century, Christianity was originally considered a sect of Judaism. So Paul preaches the Gospel to them using the Old Testament (v. 23). And some believe (v. 24). But some do not. Paul tells the unbelieving Jews that they are exactly who Isaiah prophesied would not hear YHWH’s message (vv. 25-27 – see Isa 6:9-10). So, once again, Paul declares that since the Jews have (for the most part) rejected the Gospel, it will go to the Gentiles (see 13:46, 18:6, Romans 9-11). The history ends with Paul in Rome for two years proclaiming the Gospel. God used all things to get His way.