(Again, there will be a lot of narrative in these chapters, much of which will be read without comment.)

First read Acts 26:1-24 (It may be best to share this reading among those happy to read.)

1Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You have permission to speak for yourself.’

So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defence: 2 ‘King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defence 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?

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.’

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

As Paul himself had written (1 Corinthians 1:23) this message of Christ crucified and risen again would be a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. Festus, who had only recently been involved in Jewish religious problems, really could not grasp it at all and thought that this obviously intelligent man must have lost his mind.

Now read and comment as appropriate:

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.’

Many openly accepted that Jesus was a modern-day prophet sent from God. Paul was pointing out that if King Agrippa was happy to believe in the prophets of the past, why not believe in Jesus?

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.’

Was Paul making a legal defence or actually evangelising?

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.’

Now they were in great confusion. It was obvious that Paul was not a criminal and he could not be held on any charge under Roman law; but having appealed to Caesar, they were legally bound to take him there. It now seemed that the only way out of their problem was to send him to Rome. It may well have been the autumn of AD59.

Read chapter 27:1-12

1 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.

When Paul set sail, some of his previous travelling companions went with him.

It is obvious from the writing style that Luke was one of them, but Aristarchus we have met before (Acts 19:29, 20:4) and he is mentioned again in Philemon 24 and Colossians 4:10 (Here he suggests that Aristarchus was actually with him as a prisoner). Possibly those who had travelled with Paul, bringing the offering for the Jerusalem church, now also took the opportunity to return with him.


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.

As the other prisoners were also being sent to Rome for trial, they too must have been Roman Citizens. It seems that many people knew about Paul and that he was hardly a hardened criminal, nor was he likely to attempt an escape. As we will see in verse 43 the Centurion favoured Paul, but at the same time it is still odd to allow a prisoner to go ashore to spend time with his friends!

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.

Weather around the Mediterranean was predictably unpredictable! Sailors knew that it was foolhardy to sail after the end of September as the autumn storms could be severe. Normal practice was to moor in a safe port for the winter. Obviously ‘Fair Havens’ wasn’t.

 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 harbour was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbour in Crete, facing both south-west and north-west.

Sailors of small ships in those days liked to be in sight of land. Larger ships (we are told later in Acts 27:37 that there were 276 people on board) were more capable of crossing the open sea, but at this time of year it made sense to follow the coast to Phoenix.

Now read chapter 27:13-26

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 ‘North-Easter’, 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.

Now heading towards a small island 25 miles to the south of Crete.

 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 sand-bars 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.

It has been suggested that this was one of the large grain ships that regularly traded in the Mediterranean area. If so, the cargo of grain sacks would start to swell once they had become wet and would eventually burst the ship open.

The other aim was to lighten the ship so it rode higher in the sea in the hopes that fewer waves would break over it. By now they had been blown several hundred miles to the west.

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.’

Paul had had a vision which had encouraged him, and he was quick to share it with his fellow travellers. The ship, their wealth, everything they trusted in – would be lost, but their lives would be saved.

Now read the final verses, 27-44

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 forty metres deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was thirty metres deep. 29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight.

How many sermons have been preached on that final phrase!

The sailors had done all they could but they still faced certain shipwreck.

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.

The sailors hoped they could row the smaller boat to land, avoiding the rocks. Paul had been told all would be saved, so they must all stay together.

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.

Again, Paul demonstrated his faith, and encouraged everyone else.

What can we learn from that?

39 When daylight came, they did not recognise 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 sand-bar 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.

It was a simple rule for a Soldier guarding a prisoner – his life or yours. If he escaped you would pay for it. They just couldn’t afford to risk letting them free in the hopes they would catch them again later.

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.

Safe, but cold and wet, on a deserted rocky shore.

Acts 28Acts 24

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Acts 26:1-32 and 27:1-44 Paul tried by Festus and King Agrippa. Paul sent to Rome. Wrong time of year to sail. Weather deteriorated. Shipwrecked on Malta.