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Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 27:39-44

The Shipwreck

39 Now when it was day, they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned if possible to run the ship ashore. 40 So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that tied the rudders. Then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach. 41 But striking a reef,[a] they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf. 42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. 43 But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, 44 and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.

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In last week’s entry, Paul brought the crew and prisoners together to share a meal — their first in a fortnight. Paul gave thanks to God in front of everyone.

Paul had been correct about every aspect about this horrific sea journey, therefore, the men trusted him, especially Julius the centurion.

So here they were nearing land. They had no idea where they were, only that there was a bay with a beach upon which they hoped to get the ship ashore (verse 39).

In order to get the boat ashore, they left the anchors in the sea and loosened the ropes around the rudders before raising the foresail to the wind, enabling them to reach the beach (verse 40). The weight they needed on sea was now unnecessary and, in fact, would inhibit them reaching shore had they kept everything intact.

Matthew Henry’s commentary sets the potentially perilous scene for us with no one on shore to help guide them onto land (emphases mine):

… here we are told, 1. That they knew not where they were; they could not tell what country it was they were now upon the coast of, whether it was Europe, Asia, or Africa, for each had shores washed by the Adriatic Sea. It is probable that these seamen had often sailed this way, and thought they knew every country they came near perfectly well, and yet here they were at a loss. Let not the wise man then glory in his wisdom, since it may perhaps fail him thus egregiously even in his own profession. 2. They observed a creek with a level shore, into which they hoped to thrust the ship, Acts 27:39. Though they knew not what country it was, nor whether the inhabitants were friends or foes, civil or barbarous, they determined to cast themselves upon their mercy; it was dry land, which would be very welcome to those that had been so long at sea. It was a pity but they had had some help from the shore, a pilot sent them, that knew the coast, who might steer their ship in, or another second ship, to take some of the men on board. Those who live on the sea-coast have often opportunity of succouring those who are in distress at sea, and of saving precious lives, and they ought to do their utmost in order to it, with all readiness and cheerfulness; for it is a great sin, and very provoking to God, to forbear to deliver those that are driven unto death, and are ready to be slain; and it will not serve for an excuse to say, Behold, we knew it not, when either we did, or might, and should, have known it, Proverbs 24:11,12.

They struck a reef — or a place between two bodies of water — and struck land. The bow could not be moved, and the surf broke up the stern (verse 41).

The place they landed is today known as St Paul’s Bay in Malta, as Wikipedia explains:

Saint Paul’s Bay (Maltese: San Pawl il-Baħar, Italian: Baia di San Paolo) is a town in the Northern Region of Malta, sixteen kilometres (9.9 miles) northwest of the capital Valletta. Saint Paul’s Bay is the largest town in the Northern Region and the seat of the Northern Regional Committee along with being the most populous town in Malta.

Its name refers to the shipwreck of Saint Paul as documented in the Acts of the Apostles on St. Paul’s Islands near St Paul’s Bay, on his voyage from Caesarea to Rome, which laid the foundations of Christianity on the island.

Burmarrad, Wardija, Qawra, Buġibba, Xemxija, and San Martin, as well as part of Bidnija and Mistra, form part of St. Paul’s Bay Local Council.[2] The area of the locality is 14.47 km2 (6 sq mi).

The population in 2018 was 23,112. This goes up to about 60,000 between June and September with Maltese residents and tourists lodging in hotels, especially in Buġibba and Qawra.

Heading north is Mistra Bay, its headland and St Paul’s Island. Going west and crossing the island towards Ġnejna Bay and Golden Bay is the scenic Wardija Ridge.

Afterwards, still in the days of the Roman Empire:

St. Paul’s Bay became an important harbour. Remains of a Roman road, baths and beehives, have been found at Xemxija, while Roman anchors were found on the seabed.

Oddly, St Paul is not the patron saint of the bay. Instead, the patron saints are Our Lady of Sorrows, the Sacred Heart of Mary and St Francis of Assisi.

Returning to Luke’s account of the shipwreck, the Roman soldiers were highly concerned about any prisoners escaping. This was because, under Roman law, a guard would be made to assume his escapee’s sentence. That could mean prison or death.

Therefore, the soldiers planned to kill the prisoners, thereby preventing any escape (verse 42).

However, Julius the centurion, their commanding officer, ordered them not to do that (verse 43). He wanted to save Paul, whom he liked from the time the Apostle was assigned to his ship to sail to Rome for trial.

Julius ordered those who could swim to do so and the rest could buoy themselves on planks or pieces of the ship.

In the end, everyone landed safely on Malta (verse 44).

John MacArthur elaborates on the concluding verses of Acts 27, which really describe a divine miracle, because the violent storm was still raging:

So they head in and they’re headed, supposedly, for a beachy area by a creek “and falling into a place where two seas met.”

That, friends, is a very difficult phrase. Dithalassos is the one word. The translation “two seas meet” may not even be an accurate translation. It probably means a shoal or a reef. They could have called it the dithalassos in this sense. In the middle of Saint Paul’s Bay, there is a small island called Salmanetta, and the waters from the west and the waters from the east meet behind this island. And it may have been that they assumed that the island was actually an extension of the mainland. And when they went into that area, they realized that there was water behind the island, and where those two seas met there had been the pushing together of sand that created sand bars. Whatever the significance of it is, they ran aground into the sand bars.

Verse 41 says, “Falling into a place where two seas met they ran the ship aground and the bow stuck fast and remained unmovable, but the stern was broken with the violence of the waves.” So here the bow is stuck in the sand bar, apparently a great distance from the shore and the waves, the tremendous hurricane waves are just smashing the stern of the ship and splintering it to pieces. And so there they are, stuck while the ship disintegrates.

That brings us to the fifth stage in this record, the safety. And here comes the great ending, verse 42. And notice, the soldiers were afraid of not only losing their own lives but of losing their prisoners, because when a Roman soldier lost his prisoner he had to take his prisoner’s sentence. Remember that? So he didn’t want to lose his prisoner. And so the soldiers panicked, verse 42, “The soldiers’ counsel was to kill the prisoners lest any of them should swim out and escape.”

So they were going to slaughter Paul and all the rest of the prisoners on the ship so they wouldn’t get away. But the centurion moves in and saves Paul’s life. And all the rest of the prisoners could thank Paul, too, for having their lives saved. Verse 43, “But the centurion, willing to save Paul,” – I mean he knew this. We – we’ve got to have this guy. Without him we have no chance. – “kept them from their purpose,” – He restrained the soldiers from killing the prisoners – “commanded that they who could swim should cast themselves first into the sea and get to land.”

You know, “everybody in the pool” was the call. And if you can swim, hit it. “And the rest, some on boards and some on broken pieces of the ship.” I mean that thing was disintegrating right there and they were just grabbing onto whatever they could if they couldn’t swim. Well, you can imagine the 276 people diving into a hurricane water, grabbing boards and floating debris and trying to make it to shore. But you know something wonderful? Verse 44 ends this way. “And so it came to pass that they” – What? – “all escaped safely to the land.” That is incredible. Absolutely incredible; 276 people jumped in the water and 276 people met on the shore in a hurricane.

God was at work accomplishing His divine purpose.

MacArthur describes how He used Paul as His instrument for all those survivors:

The first thought those people must have had is, “You know, that God that Paul worships, He’s right. His word is true. He said this would happen. Look, it has happened.” You see how God not only credibly establishes His own veracity, but He establishes the veracity of His leader, Paul, doesn’t He? God keeps His word

God’s word is reliable and God established that in this marvelous incident.

More will follow about Paul’s time in Malta en route for Rome.

Next time — Acts 28:1-6

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Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 27:33-38

33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength,[a] for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 (We were in all 276[b] persons in the ship.) 38 And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea.

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Last week’s entry described the ship’s approach to land and the sailors’ thwarted plan to escape by dinghy.

That was in the middle of the night. At daybreak, Paul encouraged everyone to come together for a communal meal after 14 days (verse 33).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that it wasn’t as if no one had eaten anything, but they had eaten during breaks when they were trying to save the ship — and probably not very much (emphases mine):

Not that they had all, or any of them, continued fourteen days without any food, but they had not had any set meal, as they used to have, all that time; they ate very little, next to nothing. Or, “You have continued fasting, that is, you have lost your stomach; you have had no appetite at all to your food, nor any relish of it, through prevailing fear and despair.”

Paul continued, saying that they needed to build up their strength and not to worry because nothing would happen to them even if no one was tending the ship during that time (verse 34).

John MacArthur points out:

He says in verse 34, “I beseech you take some food for your health.” This means for your wholeness. It’s a word that’s used of physical salvation and of spiritual salvation in Scripture. But here it means for your physical wholeness, for your safety. “For there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you.”

Now you say, “That’s a rather dumb thing. I mean who cares if you lose a hair on the way in?” But you see, that’s an old Jewish proverb. You can go back to I Samuel 14:45, II Samuel 14:11, I Kings 1:52, Luke 21:18, and in all those places you’ll find that old proverb. It meant that you’re going to be secure. It meant that you’d have complete immunity from harm. So Paul says, “You’re all going to make it. But that’s no excuse not to have a good breakfast.” So you see the balance is here between the sovereignty of God and the perfect planning of God and the responsibility of man.

Then Paul acted as priest, breaking the bread — hardtack — and giving thanks to God, breaking it and eating some (verse 35), suggesting a secular Communion.

Henry explains the importance of giving thanks by saying Grace before eating:

5. He was chaplain to the ship, and they had reason to be proud of their chaplain. He gave thanks to God in presence of them all. We have reason to think he had often prayed with Luke and Aristarchus, and what others there were among them that were Christians, that they prayed daily together; but whether he had before this prayed with the whole company promiscuously is not certain. Now he gave thanks to God, in presence of them all, that they were alive, and had been preserved hitherto, and that they had a promise that their lives should be preserved in the imminent peril now before them; he gave thanks for the provision they had, and begged a blessing upon it. We must in every thing give thanks; and must particularly have an eye to God in receiving our food, for it is sanctified to us by the word of God and prayer, and is to be received with thanksgiving. Thus the curse is taken off from it, and we obtain a covenant-right to it and a covenant-blessing upon it, 1 Timothy 4:3-5. And it is not by bread alone that man lives, but by the word of God, which must be met with prayer. He gave thanks in presence of them all, not only to show that he served a Master he was not ashamed of, but to invite them into his service too. If we crave a blessing upon our meat, and give thanks for it in a right manner, we shall not only keep up a comfortable communion with God ourselves, but credit our profession, and recommend it to the good opinion of others. 6. He set them a good example: When he had given thanks, he broke the bread (it was sea-biscuit) and he began to eat.

Those on board ship were duly encouraged and also ate (verse 36). The older translation of verse 36 better expresses their state of mind:

Then were they all of good cheer.

Luke was careful to tell us how many men were on the ship: 276 (verse 37), so Paul had persuaded a lot of people to have a good meal before the next set of events.

When they had their fill, they threw the wheat out into the sea in order to lighten the ship (verse 38). The wheat would have been from North Africa, destined for Rome, most likely. By then, it was probably soaking wet and of no use.

MacArthur explains that while they were at sea, they needed the extra weight. Nearing land, as they were at this time, they needed to dispose of it:

they never would jettison the entire cargo in the Mediterranean because they would use the remaining cargo as a ballast and to keep the ship down in the water to some extent. Also, I’m sure they felt perhaps they would be able to salvage a part of it. But by this time it was so totally sea-soaked, so totally salted that it was worthless. In addition to that, when you’re going to beach the ship you want it as light as possible so that it’s as high on the water as it can be so that you can get as close to the shore as you possibly can. So they jettisoned everything in verse 38, all of the wheat.

Let’s recap their journey so far. The first stage was setting sail from Caesarea and changing ships. The second was the stay in Fair Havens. The third was the violent storm. The fourth, coming up next week, is the shipwreck landing them on Malta.

Note that Paul has been leading them since the storm. He reminded them that they had ignored his advice to stay in Fair Havens. The centurion, Julius, and the crew had overruled him.

Once he told them how wrong they were, they put their trust in him to lead the way.

In closing, these are MacArthur’s thoughts on Paul’s leadership and what we can learn from his example today. He delivered this sermon in 1975, by the way, but it’s just as true in 2019:

… in terms of the principles that [have] here, you could title it “Leadership in Crisis,” because it really is a portrait of a man who is a leader just when he needs to be one.

It shows a man who comes through in the tremendous time of stress with all of the abilities that a great leader has to have. So it’s not just a narrative about a shipwreck. It’s also a portrait of a leader in the midst of a crisis. I was thinking, as I was thinking about that fact, that if there’s a premium on anything in our world today it’s a premium on leadership. And whether you’re talking about government or industry or economics or education or medicine or science or whatever, there’s a tremendous need for leaders or capable people who can make decisions, or people who are willing to let the buck pass to them and then handle the situation.

There was an interesting survey done in recent years of seminaries in America. And the determination of the survey was that the vast majority of all people studying for responsibilities in the church wanted to be no higher than second man because nobody wanted ultimate responsibility. And I think that’s not only true in terms of the church, but it’s very true in terms of the world. There is definitely a premium on leadership. And especially true, I think, since leadership is so susceptible to criticism.

But in the church, I think we face the same thing. There needs to be a rising up in the church of leadership and people need to accept the responsibilities that come with being a leader. Now, the world is really preoccupied with this. In fact, there is a rather constant stream of seminars and professional methodologies being presented to various and sundry communities of people to try to extract from those communities the leaders. And I’m sure they have their criteria for determining who is a leader.

The same thing is true, I think, in the terms of the church and in God’s kingdom and the things that God wants to do. There’s a real need for leaders. And I believe the Holy Spirit is seeking leadership. I believe God is calling out leaders. In all of God’s history, as you go back in the Bible, you’ll find that God moved through men. And that in every era, at every crisis time in God’s economy there were leaders that God used to bring about the effecting of His will. And whether it was Moses or Joseph or David or Abraham or Elijah or Elisha or Ezra or Nehemiah, or whether it was, in the New Testament, John the Baptist or Peter or Paul or whomever it was, at all points in time God had somebody through whom He could lead.

And the tragedy so often of the history of Israel was the tragedy of an inadequate leader, an immoral leader, an ungodly leader, or a leader who just failed to fulfill the obligations that are basic to leadership. I think that as you study the Scripture, the greatest view or insight you have of leadership is simply the example of lives of the men that are the leaders. And that is really the case here in Acts 27.

This is why it is important to pray for our current leaders as well as good future leaders, be they religious or secular.

The story continues next week as the 276 passengers reach Malta.

Next time — Acts 27:39-44

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 27:21-26

21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”

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Last week’s entry introduced the violent nor’easter that wrought havoc on the crew, the centurion, his troops and the prisoners on board the ship taking Paul, himself a prisoner, to Rome. Luke was among the passengers.

Nearly everyone was without hope by this time. They felt hopelessness to the extent that they could not eat.

John MacArthur also factors in seasickness and, more importantly, the constant activity involved in staying afloat which precluded them from taking nourishment (emphases mine):

It’s terrible. Seasickness. And, of course, in addition to that they probably had pretty salty food by this time with the – with the washing over of the sea. And on top of that, the fact that they had jettisoned the cargo may have limited the supply, but mostly they were too busy to eat. By the time it was over, 14 days they’d gone without eating. Fourteen days they’d fought that storm without any food.

Paul said that they should have listened to him when they were at Fair Havens (verse 21). He had told them not to set sail. He had been overruled.

He encouraged them to ‘take heart’, because, in the end, only the ship would be lost; they would survive (verse 22).

Verse 23 is beautiful. Paul said that an angel appeared to him, an angel:

of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship,

A man of faith cannot say better than that, can he? As in so many other Christian matters, Paul shows us the way.

In older translations, the wording is as follows:

of God, whose I am, and whom I serve,

Matthew Henry has an excellent analysis of Paul’s words, equally meaningful for us today in more ways than one:

He looks upon God, [1.] As his rightful owner, who has a sovereign incontestable title to him, and dominion over him: Who I am. Because God made us and not we ourselves, therefore we are not our own but his. His we are by creation, for he made us; by preservation, for he maintains us; by redemption, for he bought us. We are more his than our own. [2.] As his sovereign ruler and master, who, having given him being, has right to give him law: Whom I serve. Because his we are, therefore we are bound to serve him, to devote ourselves to his honour and employ ourselves in his work. It is Christ that Paul here has an eye to; he is God, and the angels are his and go on his errands. Paul often calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ; he is his, and him he serves, both as a Christian and as an apostle; he does not say, “Whose we are, and whom we serve,” for most that were present were strangers to him, but, “Whose I am, and whom I serve, whatever others do; nay, whom I am now in the actual service of, going to Rome, not as you are, upon worldly business, but to appear as a witness for Christ.” Now this he tells the company, that, seeing their relief coming from his God whose he was and whom he served, they might thereby be drawn in to take him for their God, and to serve him likewise; for the same reason Jonah said to his mariners, I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who has made the sea and the dry land, Jonah 1:9.

Paul told the group what the angel had told him: he would stand before Caesar and, to that end, the lives of those sailing with him would be saved (verse 24).

John MacArthur says:

Why would they believe him? Well, maybe they might believe him. You see how God had set up his credibility because he was right once, huh? I mean the foundation was there.

And look at this. “For there stood by me this night an angel of God” – I love this – “whose I am and” – What? – “whom I serve.” Don’t you love that? That guy knew who he belonged to. “There stood by me an angel of God whose I am and whom I serve.” There’s the first commercial for the Lord. God gets dragged in the situation. You see what God wants to do? God is introducing Himself to these people. He had to get them in a position to accept the introduction.

And now, they’re looking for a God, aren’t they? Because only a God can help them. “An angel of God whose I am and whom I serve appeared to me to me and said, ‘Fear not, Paul, thou must be brought before Caesar and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.” Paul you’re going to make it to Caesar and everybody with you is going to make it.

Paul repeated his message: ‘take heart’, explaining that his faith assured him of the veracity of the angel’s message (verse 25).

Then came the kicker. To reach safety, they would have to land on an island (verse 26). Imagine how that must have sounded to Paul’s listeners. They had been out in a stormy sea for nearly a fortnight and they were going to reach land? They must have been wondering how that was going to happen.

MacArthur tells us:

Well, you know that was like a needle in a haystack, hitting an island. I mean, as I say, look at the whole thing. There’s no island there but Malta. He says, “Don’t fear men, an angel came to me from God whose I am, whom I serve.” See he wants them to know that they can go to him to know about God. He establishes himself as the connection to God. And then he says, “God’s angel said to me you’re going to make it, Paul, and everybody with you is going to make it. The ship’s going to go, the cargo is going to go, but everybody’s going to make it.” Now, do you see what that is? God is setting Himself up to establish His credibility.

Now you know what happens? One of two things. That comes true or it doesn’t come true. If it doesn’t come true it wasn’t God. If it does come true, what? It was God. Do you realize that the obscurity of landing on an island, losing the ship, losing the cargo and everybody’s life being saved, could you chart the mathematical probability of that? Staggering! In the millions that all of those things would come to pass. You see, God is setting up the display of Himself. That’s the promise. But what happened? Well that’s for next week.

Indeed, it is for next week!

Next time — Acts 27:27-32

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Bible oldThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 27:13-20

The Storm at Sea

13 Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. 14 But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. 15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda,[a] we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. 17 After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear,[b] and thus they were driven along. 18 Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. 19 And 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 no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.

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Last week’s entry discussed the decision of the Roman crew to set sail for Phoenix — Phenice — in Crete to spend the winter. Paul had warned against it, but Fair Havens was not a place where they could spend the winter, despite its gentle name.

Therefore, centurion, crew, prisoners, cargo, Paul and Luke — with possibly another of their companions — set sail along the sheltered coastline of Crete, helped by a gentle southerly wind (verse 13).

Then, a violent wind from the north east struck (verse 14). The ship was no match for it, so they had no choice but to let the wind control the ship (verse 15).

Matthew Henry posits that they might have been near Phenice at the time but God had other plans for them (emphases mine):

It is probable that they were very near the heaven of Phenice when this tempest arose, and thought they should presently be in a quiet haven, and were pleasing themselves with the thought of it, and wintering there, and lo, of a sudden, they are in this distress. Let us therefore always rejoice with trembling, and never expect a perfect security, nor a perpetual security, till we come to heaven.

His description of the storm is excellent:

The ship was exceedingly tossed (Acts 27:18); it was kicked like a football from wave to wave; its passengers (as it is elegantly described, Psalms 107:26,27) mount up to the heavens, go down again to the depths, reel to and fro, stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. The ship could not possibly bear up into the wind, could not make her way in opposition to the wind; and therefore they folded up their sails, which in such a storm would endanger them rather than to them any service, and so let the ship drive, Not whither it would, but whither it was impelled by the impetuous waves …

John MacArthur says that the gentle southerly wind they encountered was often the precursor for a northeaster, the calm before the storm:

“Well the south wind is nice and we’ll at least stay along the edge of Crete and if we don’t get all the way to Rome, at least we can hang in there at Phenice. Then you have one of the biggest words in this whole story. Verse 14, “But,” – got to watch those gentle south winds. – “Not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind called Euroclydon.” That was the sailors’ term for a nor’easter. It comes from two words, one Greek, one Latin. The Greek word is Euros and it means an east wind. The Latin word is aquilo and it means a north wind.

It would come down from Asia, just blowing down and it was a severe wind. They gave it the name Euroclydon because it was so fierce and it was one of the greatest feared winds of all winds. It was a wind of hurricane or typhoon proportions. They were in a hurricane. They were in that little thing. It was like a pod floating on the ocean, bobbing up and down and being pummeled and beaten by the northeast wind. This was a typhoon. This was a hurricane with all of the concurrent airflow that comes together and swirls the clouds and swirls the sea. This is what they were in the midst of.

And you all have seen on television hurricane somebody, hurricane Bertha or Edna or Agnes or something and you know what it’s like. That’s exactly what this little wooden thing got trapped in. And the little gentle south wind wafted them on was replaced by a threatening treacherous, deadly nor’easter.

The wind drove them temporarily to a place of shelter, the island of Cauda — present day Gavdos, south of Crete — where they were able to secure the ship’s lifeboat with some difficulty (verse 16).

After hoisting the lifeboat successfully, they then secured the ship’s structure and lowered the ‘gear’ — whether anchor or mainsail — hoping to avoid the Syrtis (verse 17).

MacArthur explains verse 17 in more detail. At this point, they had sailed only 23 miles from Fair Havens:

there was a great fear among all those who sailed the Mediterranean. And the fear was of Euroclydon because Euroclydon sent ships to the graveyard known as the Greater Surtis.

The Greater Surtis – archeologists have studied and dug up there many things for many years – was the graveyard of ships. Whenever a great northeastern wind would come of hurricane or typhoon dimensions, it would blast ships into the Greater Surtis. And it would reef them there and shatter them and smash them, and lives would be lost there on the coast of North Africa. And so they were afraid. They had two options: if the hurricane didn’t dump them into the sea and capsize the ship, then the hurricane would drive them into the graveyard of ships known as the Greater Surtis.

Then they did three things.

The first thing they did was to secure the boat. Every sailing vessel had a dingy. And a dingy doesn’t have to be super small, but it was a small enough boat so that when you harbored a boat you could get in it and get to shore. It was a very important thing to have. It was also a rescue boat. In any case – in the case that the larger ship would break up, this was a lifeboat. It was very important to hang on to that thing. In sailing, normally, the dingy was attached to the stern of the boat by a rope and just pulled along. But immediately upon any stormy weather they would have to get that thing inside or it would be swamped with water and it would drag. And, eventually, it would sever the rope and it would be lost. And so with great difficulty they first thing they did was get the swamp dingy into the main ship. They probably swung the yardarm out and used it as a hoist. And they all worked hard, but they got it in.

The second thing they did – and this is something you may never have heard of – they frapped the ship … Verse 17 says, “When they had hoisted it,” – hoisted the dingy in – “they used fraps undergirding,” – or frapping – “the ship.”

… in the days that we’re talking about they built ships without the use of bolts. In other words, when the planks ran along the side, they couldn’t run large girders down and then bolt the planks to the girders because they didn’t have any bolts. And the only way they could really secure it, they used pitch. They would use anything they could. I was reading, recently, a tremendously interesting article in National Geographic about the Phoenician sailing boats and how they used to cover them with certain kinds of things that would seal them. Well, that’s fine until you get into a hurricane.

When you get into a hurricane and you’re in a single-masted vessel, there is no distribution of stress. That is in a multi-sailed vessel, the stress is distributed all over the entire hull. In a single-masted situation, the stress is directed at one area and it begins to split the ship. And it will literally splinter the entire hull unless something is done. So there were cables that were wrapped around these hulls. And when stress came they would winch these cables tight. Just like wrapping the ship up with rope in order to keep it secure. And so they diligently set about to frap the ship or undergird the ship.

The third thing they did, “fearing lest they should fall into the quicksand.” Now you say, “Wait a minute, quicksand in the middle of the Mediterranean?” Right. That’s another one of those terrific translations. The Greek word is Surtis. They were afraid of winding up on the Surtis. … Here’s it’s the form surtin, that ending, but the same word. And it probably means the reef, the shoal, the sandbar. It can have a reference to the sandy beach where it could be dumped and then smashed. And they had a fear of this.

So what were they going to do? It says, “They struck sail,” in the King James. What it literally says in the Greek is they lowered the gear. I think what it means is they dropped the mainsail. Well, whatever they did it worked.

Henry has a simpler explanation for undergirding:

They bound the ship under the bottom of it with strong cables, to keep it from bulging in the extremity of the tempest.

The next day, they jettisoned their cargo (verse 18) to lighten the ship. They kept some food with them, as we will see later in the chapter.

On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard (verse 19).

This was a desperate situation. Add to this the fact that the violence of the storm was such that, having seen no daylight or starlight for ‘many days’, they abandoned all hope (verse 20).

They were cold. They were wet. They could not bear to eat. Their nerves were frayed. They were afraid. They had no light. They could do nothing but allow this storm drive them to an unknown destination.

They were no longer in control — of anything.

Henry points out that Jesus might have chosen seafaring men as Apostles for a reason:

See what hardships those often undergo who are much at sea, besides the hazards of life they run; and yet to get gain there are still those who make nothing of all this; and it is an instance of divine Providence that it disposes some to this employment, notwithstanding the difficulties that attend it, for the keeping up of commerce among the nations, and the isles of the Gentiles particularly; and Zebulun can as heartily rejoice in his going out as Issachar in his tents. Perhaps Christ therefore chose ministers from among seafaring men, because they had been used to endure hardness.

He also puts forth an interesting question: why did Paul not quell the storm? He then answers it by saying that no apostolic miracle was ever wrought for personal comfort. All of their miracles gave glory to God:

Why did not Paul, by the power of Christ, and in his name, lay this storm? Why did he not say to the winds and waves, Peace, be still, as his Master had done? Surely it was because the apostles wrought miracles for the confirmation of their doctrine, not for the serving of a turn for themselves or their friends.

MacArthur says the desperation that the storm wrought showed that God was controlling everything here. It was probable that Paul, and possibly Luke, knew everything would turn out for the best, according to His will:

Now God says, “That’s exactly what I want. No one has any resource, no one has any hope, no one can turn to anybody or anything. You are hopeless. Now I will announce My presence.” Beautiful! One of the principles that God has used over and over and over again in the word is that God comes in response to man’s absolute hopelessness, right, and announces who He is. And He had just the man. He had his man, Paul, who was probably just going along with it all saying, “Well Lord when is the time? It’s going to be soon, I imagine.”

In fact, through the storm, God was leading them very close to Sicily — to Malta:

Isn’t it interesting that with the sail down, with the storm swirling about them everywhere and the inability to see the stars for the clouds, they couldn’t see anything day or night. Which means they couldn’t what? They couldn’t navigate, they sailed on a direct course to the harbor of Malta. Now, you look at that little dot there and you figure out who was steering that ship. Amazing. This is all in the plan of God.

Here is a map of Gavdos. Here is a map of Malta. If you look to the right — eastwards — on the map of Malta, you can see the southernmost Greek island of Crete, our Apostle’s starting point.

However, no one on-board knew that, and the sense of hopelessness continued.

Next time — Acts 27:21-26

Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 27:9-12

Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast[a] was already over, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.

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The first eight verses of Acts 27 describe the beginning of Paul’s and Luke’s voyage to Rome from Caesarea. Festus, the Roman governor, allowed Luke, the author of Acts, to accompany his good friend Paul on the journey. The centurion in charge of the ship, Julius, was also well disposed towards the Apostle.

The weather at this time of year, late summer, was unpredictable for sea voyages. In mid-September, seafaring became dangerous. By mid-November, sea voyages stopped until early the following year.

They had spent a few weeks at Fair Havens — Kalous Limenas — near the city of Lasea waiting for better prospects. Now, the Fast — the Jewish Day of Atonement — was already over. This would have been in the early autumn, and it was time to make a decision whether to stay or go (verse 9).

John MacArthur explains this next part of the voyage (emphases mine):

Now we come to stage two. If stage one is the start, stage two is the stay. Here they are in Fair Havens, taking on supplies and waiting for a change of winds. And they’re getting anxious to go to Rome. I mean they want to get to Rome, you see, before the season ends. They want to get to Rome before the winter comes. You see what happens is if they can’t get to Rome, then this fellow who is running the ship is going to have to take care of the whole crew for the winter. And that means three to four months in harbor before they can get off again.

In addition to that, to be stuck in Fair Havens would be absolute disaster. It was open, it was exposed to the winds of the sea. It was not a commodious harbor, as it says in verse 12. It wasn’t a good place to spend the winter. And nothing was happening there; no fun and games in Fair Havens. Plus there was a sort of a desire to make a little money on the deal. If the ship had been owned, indeed, as some indicate by its captain, he would have wanted to get his supplies there as fast as possible and get his money and not have to spend the whole winter paying these people for idleness. And so they wanted to gamble and they figured we’re going to try to make it. If we could just get a change of wind we’ll take off.

Now verse 9. “Now when much time was spent,” – Now, we don’t know how much time, but plenty of time. Maybe weeks went by, maybe more. Very likely at least a month – “and when sailing was now dangerous,” — Now notice. If they got there sometime at the end of August, and a month passed, the notation that Luke makes now is they’re in the dangerous season. They’re in the period of time when to sail is dangerous. Then he adds – “because the fast was already passed.” The fast is referenced to the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the Jewish fast.

If you know anything about Jewish history you’ll remember that Yom Kippur occurs on the 10th day of the 7th month of the Jewish calendar, which is the month of Tishri. That falls into the Roman calendar at the end of September or the beginning of October. In A.D. 59 we know, historically, that Yom Kippur was on October 5th. If this is the year, then A.D. 59, it is already after October 5th. They are well into the dangerous season for trying to cross the open sea. Any attempt now would really be a gamble.

Paul, having been a passenger on many ships during his ministry, warned them that leaving Fair Havens would result in a perilous voyage, causing not only injury and loss of cargo but also the ship — and lives (verse 10).

However, Julius, the centurion, was more interested in what the ship’s pilot and captain had to say on the matter (verse 11).

Matthew Henry’s commentary elaborates:

They would not be advised by Paul in this matter, Acts 27:11. They thought him impertinent in interposing in an affair of this nature, who did not understand navigation; and the centurion to whom it was referred to determine it, though himself a passenger, yet, being a man in authority, takes upon him to overrule, though he had not been oftener at sea perhaps than Paul, nor was better acquainted with these seas, for Paul had planted the gospel in Crete (Titus 1:5), and knew the several parts of the island well enough. But the centurion gave more regard to the opinion of the master and owner of the ship than to Paul’s; for every man is to be credited in his own profession ordinarily: but such a man as Paul, who was so intimate with Heaven, was rather to be regarded in seafaring matters than the most celebrated sailors. Note, Those know not what dangers they run themselves into who will be governed more by human prudence than by divine revelation. The centurion was very civil to Paul (Acts 27:3), and yet would not be governed by his advice. Note, Many will show respect to good ministers that will not take their advice, Ezekiel 33:31.

MacArthur explains the pilot and captain relationship. In his translation, the words used are ‘master’ and ‘owner’:

Now, those two words master and owner are very difficult to translate because they are obscure words. The best translation of the word master, in my mind, is sailing master or pilot. This is the man who was responsible for steering and navigating. And the word owner is not really the word for owner but probably should be translated captain. So that the thing would say the pilot and the captain. Now in some cases, the captain was an owner, if in fact it was a private vessel. But if it was one of the imperial fleet grain ships he would be simply the captain.

The word is used only here. It’s not the common word for owner, but has to do probably with him as the captain. And if he was the owner he probably was also the captain, but it seems best to see it perhaps as a Roman ship, and these two would be the sailing master or the pilot and the captain. And the centurion agrees with them. And you really can’t blame the guy. I mean they were the experts, right? You can’t blame the centurion for believing the navigator and the captain. And so he does.

Because Fair Havens was not a destination in which to spend the winter, the majority decided to sail to the port of Phoenix — Phenice, present day Lutro — on the island of Crete to spend the winter there (verse 12).

Phenice is a derivation of ‘palm tree’.

Henry says that the ship’s crew would have made the decision to set sail. He also has more information on Phenice and the appeal of Crete as a winter destination:

Some of the ship’s crew, or of the council that was called to advise in this matter, were for staying there, rather than venturing to sea now that the weather was so uncertain: it is better to be safe in an incommodious harbour than to be lost in a tempestuous sea. But they were outvoted when it was put to the question, and the greater part advised to depart thence also; yet they aimed not to go far, but only to another port of the same island, here called PheniceIt is here described to lie towards the south-west and north-west. Probably the haven was between the two promontories or juttings-out of land into the sea, one of which pointed to the north-west and the other to the south-west, by which it was guarded against the east winds. Thus hath the wisdom of the Creator provided for the relief and safety of those who go down to the sea in ships, and do business in great waters. In vain had nature provided for us the waters to sail on, if it had not likewise provided for us natural harbours to take shelter in.

MacArthur says:

Phoenicia is the ancient name of the coastline of Israel. That’s not the translation that’s best. It should be … Phenice, which was a port 40 miles down Crete. Forty miles further along the island was the port of Phenice …

Historians tell us that anciently the only place in the winter that was a comfortable place to stay was on Crete.

The story continues next week. Was there ever a time, post-conversion, when Paul erred in his speech? No.

Next time — Acts 27:13-20

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 27:1-8

Paul Sails for Rome

27 And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius. And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to 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 gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for. And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. And when we had sailed across the open sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing 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 did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.

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The Roman governor Festus had acquiesced to Paul’s request to go to Rome to have his case heard.

Festus had Paul put on board a ship to take him part of the way to Rome (verse 1). Other prisoners accompanied him. So did Luke, the author of Acts, and another Christian, Aristarchus (verse 2). It is possible that Festus, believing Paul was innocent, granted him permission to take two friends for mutual support.

Matthew Henry says that one more friend might have accompanied Paul:

Dr. Lightfoot thinks that Trophimus the Ephesian went off with him, but that he left him sick at Miletum (2 Timothy 4:20), when he passed by those coasts of Asia mentioned here (Acts 27:2), and that there likewise he left Timothy.

A centurion, Julius, was in charge of passengers and cargo. Julius was from the Augustan Cohort. Cohort in this context means legion or band of men. Some of his 100 men would have guarded Paul.

John MacArthur explains the role of the likes of Julius and his men in Roman history (emphases mine):

Now the Augustus’ band is interesting. I told you a couple of weeks ago that Augustus was a title for the emperor. This was a special band of men, a special cohort of men assigned to the emperor. They were special envoys. They were like special couriers. Their name – they were called frumentarii. Frumentarii means pertaining to grain. And the reason they got this name, pertaining to grain was because initially when the Roman government began to send its troops and garrison them and station them all over the imperial empire, they had to get food to their troops. And there were men assigned to the accompaniment of the food. They were men who were responsible for the transportation of the food safely.

These were the men who were the special food envoys and they were called frumentarii. That is they pertained to the grain. But as time when on, these special couriers also got into really becoming very sophisticated imperial agents. They were responsible for spying. They were responsible for transporting important political prisoners and personalities back and forth between Rome and its armies and its garrisons in its various provinces. And so they were set aside from the regular troop duty and assigned to this very important area.

Julius was a commander commanding a hundred such men. Now, how many of the hundred accompanied Paul on the ship we do not know. But with Julius and his men, the crew of the ship, Paul and the prisoners, there was a good group. Later on when they changed ships there was a total of 276 people. We don’t know how many on this first vessel, but at least 276 on the second as it’s indicated later on in the passage.

Acts 27 is about the entire journey to Rome, fraught with peril after an initial calm.

The first ship they sailed on was one registered in Adramyttium in Asia Minor (verse 2). It was a coastal vessel, which was returning with goods for the various ports of call in that part of the world. Henry’s commentary says that it would have picked up goods from Africa and made interim stops along the way:

this ship brought African goods, and, as it should seem, made a coasting voyage for Syria, where those goods came to a good market.

The next stop was Sidon, where Julius kindly let Paul and his friends disembark so that he could be ‘cared for’ (verse 3). As Henry stated above, Paul was ill and needed medical attention. Fortunately, Sidon also had a Christian community, as MacArthur explains:

In Sidon, apparently, there was a church. The believers were called Friends. And that didn’t come as any shock, I think. In reading that I thought back to John 15:15, where Jesus said, “No longer will I call you servants, but from now on I’ll call you” – What? – “friends.” And one of the terms that was used commonly for the designation of Christians was that of friends.

And there was a church founded in Sidon, most likely founded in the repercussions of the persecution of Stephen. You’ll remember back in the early part of the book of Acts that when the persecution broke out against Stephen, the church was scattered. And the scattering of the church Judea and Samaria area was pretty well evangelized. And, apparently, a church was begun in the area of Sidon, even as there was in the area of Tyre. Paul had visited that church on his trip to Jerusalem. Now he visits Sidon on the way from. And so he went there.

But an interesting thing to note is this. You say, “What did he do when he went there or why did he go?” Well I’m sure he went for the fellowship of believers because he loved that. I’m sure he did some teaching. I’m sure he did some ministering just because that’s the nature of the man, I mean you couldn’t restrain the man. He was too committed to those things. But it says here, “To refresh himself.” The interesting thing about this is the word refresh is a medical term. It has to do with medical care and it indicates that he was sick.

The apostle Paul at this particular point is a sick man. And it isn’t any wonder with all that he has endured in the time intervening since his liberty, having been a prisoner for two years. And so in his illness he is probably not able to gain the diet, the rest, and the care that he needed on shipboard. And Julius allows him the privilege of going to be with Christians who minister to him, equally, as he ministers spiritually to them.

When they left Sidon, they sailed under the ‘lee’ — shelter — of Cyprus, because the winds were against them (verse 4). The ship hugged the coastline.

MacArthur says that they were most likely on the sea in the late summer, a borderline season with regard to weather, not much different to hurricane season in the Caribbean and southern United States:

… when there was a problem with the wind, going along the coast was to the advantage because they could take advantage of land winds and, as well, the current of the Mediterranean runs that very route west. And so they took advantage of land winds, as well as the current to run them up around the island of Cyprus and to the west. The way the wind was blowing probably would have been very helpful to ships coming the opposite direction from, say Rhodes or Crete down toward Sidon. And that’s the way Paul came when he came. He came straight across south of Crete. But on the return, because of the winds, was unable to do that.

Now this is summer. It is estimated that Festus took office in early July of A.D. 59 or 60. And that means that if he took office in early July, by the time he went to Jerusalem, came back, heard Paul, had Agrippa come down, had that little thing with Agrippa and figured out what to do with Paul and waited for the proper ship, it is probably mid-August by now. And mid-August would be the time that Paul would be departing. The winds were basically westerly winds in the summer, blowing from the west. And they could easily tack against the wind and make good progress toward Rome.

But mid-August was pretty borderline. If you wait too long you get into a treacherous season. From November 11th on to the end of March, nobody crossed the Mediterranean. The winds were extremely strong and the sea was very rough and all shipping ceased from November 11th to the end of March. But from September 14 to November 11th, that period between the summer sailing season and the winter closed season was known as the treacherous season. You just really didn’t know. It was a gamble to sail in the open sea from September 14th till November 11th. So at this particular point, as they near the end of August, they are flirting with a borderline situation.

When they reached Myra, on the southwest coast of Asia Minor, Julius found a ship registered in Alexandria and transferred prisoners and goods to it (verse 6). Henry tells us this was a good decision because it would not have made many stops:

Alexandria was now the chief city of Egypt, and great trading there was between that city and Italy; from Alexandria they carried corn to Rome, and the East-India goods and Persian which they imported at the Red Sea they exported again to all parts of the Mediterranean, and especially to Italy. And it was a particular favour shown to the Alexandrian ships in the ports of Italy that they were not obliged to strike sail, as other ships were, when they came into port.

The winds were against them — again, part of the borderline weather situation for that time of year — so it took them longer than expected to get near the port of Cnidus. They then sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone (verse 7).

MacArthur explains:

Verse 7, “and when we had sailed slowly many days,” – they had westerly winds, that is winds blowing at them from the west against which they could tack and progress – “and scarcely were come off Cnidus. The wind not permitting us we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone.” Now look at your map. They left Myra and very slowly did they sail west the inside passage between Rhodes and the mainland there of Asia Minor, and they proceeded to the very last point, Cnidus. Now, they would at that point have harbored in Cnidus. Now, if you feel you’re really bogged down in National Geographic trivia, hang on. The Lord has a purpose in all of this.

But they had passed Cnidus and, of course, immediately when they did this they left the shelter of land. The gentle land winds ceased. The protection ceased and the wind became extremely strong as they ventured immediately into the open sea. And they were unable to harbor at Cnidus. They could not direct the ship into the harbor and so they had to let it go. They couldn’t handle the wind. What they did was they ran smack into the prevailing wind and they plunged right into the pressing plummeting headwaters, and they couldn’t handle it. And you’ll notice, the only thing they could do is let it go and try to get the ship down around the underside of Crete in order to be able to hide from the wind, to have some kind of a break from the wind that was blowing.

Now you know, perhaps a different kind of ship could have handled it. They say that a schooner or a sloop or something can take a six-degree angle into a wind and ride it in. But a great big thing like this; these Roman ships – and we have much information about them archeologically – were clumsy. Great big heavy – in fact, they could displace a tremendous amount of water, much tonnage. And, of course, as grain ships they would be loaded down.

They were clumsy, they had a single mast with a great big square sail on it. And they preferred, usually, to sail under just that one enormous sail and run before the wind. They just really didn’t handle themselves well when the wind was contrary. And so the wind wouldn’t let them get into either of Cnidus’ two harbors, and they did have two there. And so they had to go down around the treacherous Cape Salmone and try get on the back side of Crete and be sheltered from the wind. And once they got around it they would be secured from the nor’wester wind that was blowing.

Eventually, they came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea (verse 8). The name was deceiving. Henry says:

It was not a commodious haven to winter in, so it is said, Acts 27:12. It had a fine prospect, but it lay exposed to the weather. Note, Every fair haven is not a safe haven

MacArthur gives us a glimpse into the rest of Acts 27:

Verse 8, “And passing it with difficulty,” listen they didn’t have an easy time getting around that Cape Salmone on the east coast tip of Crete. It was tough. With difficulty means just that. It’s a 140-mile long island, Crete is, and they just wanted to turn the edge and get into shelter. With great difficulty they finally made it and came to a place called Kalous Limenas. That’s Greek for Fair Havens, near to which was the city of Lasea. Now, you say, “That’s a terrific place to be in a storm, Fair Havens.” Well, Fair Havens was really a hokey place. And they weren’t at all excited about being in Fair Havens, but at least they made it. And the first foreboding sign of a difficult trip had made itself known.

Some might wonder why Luke went into all this detail about this journey to Rome. Henry says it was documented proof for historical reasons:

What course they steered, and what places they touched at, which are particularly recorded for the confirming of the truth of the history to those who lived at that time, and could by their own knowledge tell of their being at such and such a place.

Henry draws a useful conclusion about the Christian life from this voyage:

Though the voyage hitherto was not tempestuous, yet it was very tedious. They many that are not driven backward in their affairs by cross providences, yet sail slowly, and do not get forward by favourable providences. And many good Christians make this complaint in the concerns of their souls, that they do not rid ground in their way of heaven, but have much ado to keep their ground; they move with many stops and pauses, and lie a great while wind-bound. Observe, The place they came to was called The Fair Havens. Travellers say that it is known to this day by the same name, and that it answers the name from the pleasantness of its situation and prospect. And yet, (1.) It was not the harbour they were bound for; it was a fair haven, but it was not their haven. Whatever agreeable circumstances we may be in in this world, we must remember we are not at home, and therefore we must arise and depart; for, though it be a fair haven, it is not the desired haven, Psalms 107:30.

Something to keep in mind.

Next time — Acts 27:9-12

Bible read me 1The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 26:30-32

30 Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. 31 And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed (E)to Caesar.”

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Last week’s entry was about Paul’s earnest attempt to convert Herod Agrippa II, the last of the Herods.

The Roman governor Festus and Agrippa did not give Paul any more time to speak. Agrippa rose, then Festus, then Agrippa’s sister Bernice, then the other dignitaries gathered there (verse 30). Matthew Henry posits that Agrippa was close to conversion but, like Festus’s predecessor Felix, backed off. As with Felix, that was the last of the matter. Felix had visibly trembled. We don’t know what happened with Agrippa. He probably did not want to wrestle with a guilty conscience, either. More’s the pity.

Festus and Agrippa remarked on Paul’s innocence (verse 31).

Agrippa said that if Paul had not appealed to Rome for trial he would have been set free (verse 32).

However, one must ask whether Nero — ‘Caesar’ — even knew about Paul, his imprisonment or his innocence.

John MacArthur says that he probably did not know (emphases mine):

They could have let him go. There wasn’t any reason to appeal to Caesar now. There wasn’t any case. Caesar hadn’t heard a word about it. There hadn’t even been a letter written, but they hide behind the appeal of Paul. Oh, too bad. Boy, we could have let him go if he hadn’t appealed to Rome. Opportunistic fool, coward! How stupid. You see how a man – even though he has the gospel directed right at him – unless he activates his will, is lost? You say, “What – what hindered, what hindered Agrippa? What hindered Festus?” I mean he was innocent. Why would they – why would they push this case hiding behind this phony deal about he appealed to Rome.

Personally, I do not think either man cared about Paul. According to their reasoning, if he wanted to plead his case as a Roman citizen in Rome, that was his right. They probably thought he had been prisoner in Judea long enough and they wanted rid of him. In addition, the Jews had wanted to kill Paul for two years. He was likely seen as being too much trouble.

MacArthur thinks it was a question of the two rulers’ egos:

Because the most important thing to them was popularity, right? I’ll tell you what hindered them. One, popular, big egos. Two, immorality hindered Agrippa. He was a – he was absolutely vile, self-centeredness, unbelief, pride, ignorance, indifference, all the same old things that hinder other people.

He says that Paul was not bothered:

But you know something. It didn’t discourage Paul. He had some people who believed and some people who cursed him, but he didn’t change did he? When he got to Rome, remember what he did the first thing he got there? He started preaching Jesus again.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that, at this point in history, the Romans had not yet begun putting Christians to death, therefore, Paul was innocent of any crime:

After this, Nero made a law for the putting of those to death who professed the Christian religion, but as yet there was no law of that kind among the Romans, and therefore no transgression; and this judgment of theirs is a testimony against that wicked law which Nero made not long after this, that Paul, the most active zealous Christian that ever was, was adjudged, even by those that were no friends to his way, to have done nothing worthy of death, or of bonds.

Contrary to MacArthur, Henry states that some historians believe that as soon as a prisoner appealed to Rome, he had to be sent there for trial, yet, Henry did not think this was relevant in Paul’s situation. Yet, he says that Agrippa and Festus likely used it as an excuse:

Some think that by the Roman law this was true, that, when a prisoner had appealed to the supreme court, the inferior courts could no more discharge him than they could condemn him; and we suppose the law was so, if the prosecutors joined issue upon the appeal, and consented to it. But it does not appear that in Paul’s case the prosecutors did so; he was forced to do it, to screen himself from their fury, when he saw the governor did not take the care he ought to have done for his protection. And therefore others think that Agrippa and Festus, being unwilling to disoblige the Jews by setting him at liberty, made this serve for an excuse of their continuing him in custody, when they themselves knew they might have justified the discharging of him.

Henry was clearly troubled by Paul’s request to be tried in Rome, wondering if it was a case of acting in haste and repenting at leisure. He offers this analysis:

And now I cannot tell, (1.) Whether Paul repented of his having appealed to Cæsar, and wished he had not done it, blaming himself for it as a rash thing, now he saw that was the only thing that hindered his discharge. He had reason perhaps to reflect upon it with regret, and to charge himself with imprudence and impatience in it, and some distrust of the divine protection. He had better have appealed to God than to Cæsar. It confirms what Solomon says (Ecclesiastes 6:12), Who knows what is good for man in this life? What we think is for our welfare often proves to be a trap; such short-sighted creatures are we, and so ill-advised in leaning, as we do, to our own understanding. Or, (2.) Whether, notwithstanding this, he was satisfied in what he had done, and was easy in his reflections upon it. His appealing to Cæsar was lawful, and what became a Roman citizen, and would help to make his cause considerable; and forasmuch as when he did it it appeared to him, as the case then stood, to be for the best, though afterwards it appeared otherwise, he did not vex himself with any self-reproach in the matter, but believed there was a providence in it, and it would issue well at last. And besides, he was told in a vision that he must bear witness to Christ at Rome, Acts 23:11. And it is all one to him whether he goes thither a prisoner or at his liberty; he knows the counsel of the Lord shall stand, and says, Let it stand. The will of the Lord be done.

Luke, the author of Acts, sailed with Paul to Rome. Acts 27 is all about that dramatic journey.

Next time — Acts 27:1-8

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 26:24-29

24 And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” 25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26 For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” 28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”[a] 29 And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”

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My last post, just before Easter, discussed Paul’s account of his conversion. He ended by saying that Christ was the first to rise from the dead.

That statement caused Festus, the Roman governor, to accuse the Apostle of having lost his senses through too much education (verse 24). Festus was a pagan and knew nothing of ancient Scripture, which mentions life after death in several places.

John MacArthur explains:

Festus couldn’t handle that resurrection idea. He – he thought there’s only one kind of person who would babble on about visions and about revelations and about voices out of heaven and about resurrections, and that’s a mad man. Paul, you’ve learned too much.

But, then, Jesus was also derided in a similar fashion. So were the prophets of the Old Testament (emphases mine):

Jesus spoke what He spoke in John 8 and they said, “You’ve got a demon”In chapter 10, verse 20 and 21 of John’s gospel they said, “You’re mad. You’re out of your mind talking like that.” Yes, and that’s what Paul said. In I Corinthians 1, he said, “The preaching of the gospel is to them that perish foolishness, foolishness, because the natural man understandeth not the things of God.” It isn’t even anything new. In Hosea 9:7 they said the prophets were mad.

Matthew Henry’s commentary takes Festus’s remark further, as an excuse not to condemn Paul. The reason Festus has Agrippa in attendance is so that Agrippa can work out a criminal charge that Festus can put on his report accompanying Paul to Rome, where he requested trial. Henry says:

he thinks he has found out an expedient to excuse himself both from condemning Paul as a prisoner and from believing him as a preacher; for, if he be not compos mentis–in his senses, he is not to be either condemned or credited.

Paul responded by saying he was speaking ‘true and rational words’ (verse 25). He responded to the charge with courtesy, by referring to the governor as ‘most excellent Festus’.

Paul then narrowed his focus to Agrippa, his primary goal all along. He told Festus that Agrippa knew about these events in the life of Christ, because news of them had spread everywhere; they did not happen in a vacuum (verse 26).

MacArthur provides this analysis:

Oh, the Jews had bought off the Roman soldiers and told them to tell everybody that the disciples stole the body. But still it was common knowledge that the Christians had gone everywhere preaching Jesus was alive. Here we are 25 years later and Agrippa is no dumbbell. He knows what the Christians taught. Common knowledge. “You know the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were common knowledge, you know that, Agrippa, don’t you? You know that what I’m saying is not the babbling on of a madman. You know there are people who believe there’s evidence for this.”

Beloved, you know how Paul – he is so brilliant. He has presented to Agrippa the whole gospel and now he just nails him against the wall and forces him to a conclusion that he probably wouldn’t have made on his own. And he forces Agrippa to be a silent witness to Festus. Agrippa hasn’t said a word, and yet Agrippa is standing there with his mouth shut attesting to what Paul has said as being true. You know this, don’t you, Agrippa? By the very fact that Agrippa didn’t say anything he acquiesced. The case is clear. The king knows it.

Anybody who believes the prophets, anybody who believes Moses, and anybody who believes historical fact must conclude that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. “And you know it Agrippa, you know it.” Ooh, that is – I mean going after it. That’s attack folks. He really tackled Agrippa head on.

Then Paul confronted Agrippa directly, first by asking him if he believed in the prophets then by stating he believed in them (verse 27). Recall that in addition to Festus and Agrippa, also listening were Agrippa’s incestuous sister Bernice and a roomful of local dignitaries. Everyone knew Agrippa and Bernice were adherents of the Jewish faith. Paul took clear advantage of that fact.

MacArthur explains:

He wants to do for Agrippa what he wants him to do for himself. Make the only logical conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah. Well Agrippa’s stuck. If Agrippa says, “Yes, I do believe the prophets,” then he has admitted that he believes Jesus is the Messiah and he’s in real trouble with his whole nation. If he says, “No, I don’t believe the prophets,” then he’s still in trouble with his nation. So he can’t say yes or no. “You believe, don’t you Agrippa?” Argh.

Agrippa knew where Paul was going with his rhetoric, so he asked Paul if he expected conversion in such a short time (verse 28). Agrippa’s question can be interpreted in a number of ways ranging from tongue-in-cheek to a serious response. Henry’s commentary posits that Agrippa was close to conversion, as Festus’s predecessor Felix was until he sent Paul away because the Apostle had disturbed his conscience:

Some understand this as spoken ironically, and read it thus, Wouldst thou in so little a time persuade me to be a Christian? But, taking it so, it is an acknowledgement that Paul spoke very much to the purpose, and that, whatever others thought of it, to his mind there came a convincing power along with what he said: “Paul, thou art too hasty, thou canst not think to make a convert of me all of a sudden.” Others take it as spoken seriously, and as a confession that he was in a manner, or within a little, convinced that Christ was the Messiah; for he could not but own, and had many a time thought so within himself, that the prophecies of the Old Testament had had their accomplishment in him; and now that it is urged thus solemnly upon him he is ready to yield to the conviction, he begins to sound a parley, and to think of rendering. He is as near being persuaded to believe in Christ as Felix, when he trembled, was to leave his sins: he sees a great deal of reason for Christianity; the proofs of it, he owns, are strong, and such as he cannot answer; the objections against it trifling, and such as he cannot for shame insist upon; so that if it were not for his obligations to the ceremonial law, and his respect to the religion of his fathers and of his country, or his regard to his dignity as a king and to his secular interests, he would turn Christian immediately. Note, Many are almost persuaded to be religious who are not quite persuaded; they are under strong convictions of their duty, and of the excellency of the ways of God, but yet are overruled by some external inducements, and do not pursue their convictions.

Paul answered Agrippa by saying that he did not mind a short or lengthy conversion. He would pray that Agrippa — and everyone else present — could enjoy the same experience in Christ, minus the persecution — ‘chains’ (verse 29).

MacArthur says:

You know, he wasn’t bitter. He didn’t say, “Ah, you ought to have these chains and I ought to be sitting up on that throne.” There wasn’t any of that brash talk. He just says, “I wish you had, I wish you had what I have. I want to give you my soul liberty. Oh I don’t mean I want to give you my physical chains. I just – I want to give you the freedom of soul that I know. There’s Agrippa in purple, Bernice decked out in all of her jewels. Festus is there in his Roman scarlet. All the dignitaries are there, and Paul looks at all this fancy group and he says, “I wish you were all like I am.” They’re looking at each other and he says, “Except for these chains. I’m talking spiritually.”

They had everything in the world but they had nothing, right? “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and loses his own soul.” What will a man give in exchange for his own soul? Jesus said. I will die to save Agrippa but I wouldn’t wish my chains on him. Yeah, because you know he could have died on the spot for what he said. He would die to save Agrippa. He was expendable. It didn’t bother him. But he wouldn’t wish his chains on Agrippa. That’s the heart of the Christian. That’s sincere evangelism. That’s evangelism with love.

How true.

Some might say this was another ‘loss’ for Paul, but MacArthur views the matter differently:

People say to me, “You know, I – I’ve tried to share Christ here, there, and everywhere and there doesn’t seem to be any response.” That’s all right. God didn’t call you to save people. He called you to preach Christ. He’ll do the saving. All He asks out of you is that you be faithful. You could not sublimate Paul’s passion. You could not catch his dominant spirit and squelch it. He just continued to be faithful. Why? … Because his orientation to service was toward God not based on the response of men.

Spread the Gospel and be faithful to the Lord. That is all He asks of us.

Next time — Acts 26:30-32

Bible and crossThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 26:12-18

Paul Tells of His Conversion

12 “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language,[a] ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

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Last week’s entry discussed the first part of Paul’s witness — and self-defence — to King Herod Agrippa II, the last of the Herods, who heard him in a grand assembly with his incestuous sister Bernice, the Roman governor Festus and local dignitaries decked out in their best finery.

Festus had to place a criminal charge on his report that would accompany Paul to Rome, to be heard, at the Apostle’s request, by the emperor — Nero, at that time. Therefore, Festus asked for Herod Agrippa II to hear what Paul had to say. Agrippa II, a Jew by practice but not by tribe, would know more about Jewish law than the recent newcomer from Rome.

Think of it. Paul believed he stood a better chance of justice in Rome, by a pagan court under a mad emperor, than in Jerusalem, where he was educated as a young Pharisee.

Paul explains his Damascene conversion, which really gives witness to the supernatural. Paul continued his defence by saying that he was going the Syrian city as as the chief persecutor of Christians. Not being content, he journeyed with all the authority provided by the Jewish hierarchy in Jerusalem (verse 12).

He then went on to say that at midday, a light immeasurably brighter than the noonday sun struck him and those travelling with him (verse 13). What else could it mean than a divine act, especially when that indescribable light caused them to be struck to the ground (verse 14)? As Matthew Henry’s commentary says, if only Paul had been struck to the ground by its brilliance, one might hold his testimony suspect. Yet, all his companions were similarly blinded and lost their balance, too (emphases mine):

… it shone round about those that journeyed with him: they were all sensible of their being surrounded with this inundation of light, which made the sun itself to be in their eyes a less light. The force and power of this light appeared in the effects of it; they all fell to the earth upon the sight of it, such a mighty consternation did it put them into; this light was lightning for its force, yet did not pass away as lightning, but continued to shine round about them.

Paul recounted that he heard a voice — Christ’s — speaking in Hebrew asking him why he was persecuting Him, noting that Paul was having a tough time kicking against the goads (verse 14). Goads are used to tame animals. They are strong restraints which they learn to accept. Restraint — as well as repentance and conversion — was what the future Apostle was about to experience in the three days to come, blinded and duly restrained from his zealous urge to persecute the faithful.

Paul said that he stopped kicking at the goads at that point, addressing Christ as Lord — unthinkable for such a puritanical Pharisee as he. Yet, there he was, blind, helpless — and, most importantly, powerless.

These three posts describe, scripturally and with theological sources, what Paul experienced, as recounted in Acts 9:

Part 1 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion

Part 2 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion (includes interesting info from John MacArthur on his own conversion)

Acts 9:10-19 — when scales fell from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus (final part of St Paul’s conversion story)

Paul then sped up the story for Agrippa II by giving him his ministry: to witness for Christ in having seen Him via that brilliant light, delivering him from the spiritually blind Jews of his day into giving him the power to witness to the Gentiles (verses 16, 17).

The message to Paul from Christ Jesus was that he would send him to open the eyes of both to turn from Satan — from ‘darkness to light’ — so that they might receive forgiveness of sins and sanctification by faith through belief in Him (verse 18).

Even reading this passage now, Paul’s fifth defence, it is equally as powerful when told it before and Luke, the author of Acts, recounted as the Apostle experienced it early on.

Paul was trying not only to defend himself and his scriptural beliefs. He was also trying to urge Agrippa — and, possibly indirectly, his incestuous sister Bernice (known throughout the ancient world as such) — to repent of his sins and embrace the risen Christ as Lord and Saviour. MacArthur posits this about Agrippa II and Paul’s discourse:

He doesn’t need more of God. He doesn’t need more information. He needs a total rebirth. And then, in addition he [Paul] says, “My message was this. To tell that they may receive forgiveness of sins.” Boy, I imagine old Bernice was wiggling around at that point. I imagine Agrippa was going, “Mph,” like this. Paul was a penetrating personBut when he said that they may receive forgiveness of sins, I can see a long stare and a long pause. Because Agrippa and Bernice knew enough to know that what they did was sin. They knew it not only because they knew the Scriptures, but – the Old Testament, but they knew it because they knew their conscience.

In a sense Paul was saying, “Forgiveness is available, Agrippa. Whatever you and Bernice have done, whatever you are, that’s our message.” I’m telling you that’s an exciting message to be able to give the world, isn’t it? To be able to say to somebody who is a Christian, “My little children, He has forgiven you all your trespasses for His name’s sake.” Oh what a blessed thought. That’s what Paul meant when he said, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impugn iniquity. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord charges no sin.”

Some might object to that, however, MacArthur rightly points out that we do not know who God’s elect are. And, as Sunday’s Gospel reading, that of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, teaches: those who repent at the eleventh hour are part of that elect. MacArthur tells us:

You say, “But surely even if you’re a Christian, God will lay some sin at your feet.” Not at all. “Who shall lay any charge to God’s elect? It is God that justifies. Shall Christ? Nay.” Shall Christ accuse the one He died to save? No. Shall Christ accuse you of the sin He died and bore? No. There’s no accusation against you. Forgiveness is full and free and complete. In addition to the moment transformation from darkness to light, power to Satan to God, forgiveness of sin, there’s the future. He gives you an inheritance among them who are sanctified. The word sanctified means holy. You know another marvelous thing about becoming a Christian is the future promise of an inheritance undefiled and reserved for us. Isn’t that marvelous? An inheritance with God.

And then he gives the way you can attain it. Look at the end of verse 18. It’s all yours Agrippa, by” – What? – “faith that is in Me.” Jesus said to Paul that day, Paul you go and you preach “to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the power of God, that they may receive forgiveness of sin and inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith that is in Me.” You tell them that if they believe in Me it is all theirs. And so Paul quotes to Agrippa the words of Jesus, the words of our Lord as they were given to him in Damascus.

There’s only one way to know those things and that’s by faith. The simple gospel of Jesus Christ that we’re called on to preach is the gospel of Ephesians 2:8 and 9, “For by grace are you saved through faith, that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” So he says, “Agrippa, look what happened to me. I was a Jew of all the Jews. I was zealous not only for Judaism, but I was killing Christians and trying to get them to blaspheme

Paul’s testimony continues next week.

Next time — Acts 26:19-23

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 26:1-11

Paul’s Defense Before Agrippa

26 So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense:

“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.

4 “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

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Last week’s entry discussed the pompous appearance of the Roman governor Festus, Herod Agrippa II, Bernice and the great and the good to hear Paul speak. It was an occasion to satisfy their curiosity and perhaps to spark amusement.

Festus needed Agrippa II to hear Paul so that he could write a credible accusation on the criminal report he had to send with Paul to Rome. Paul, having had no satisfaction in Caesarea, appealed to Caesar — the emperor Nero — via Festus.

Agrippa II understood the Jewish law, even if he, as an adopted Jew, did not follow much of it himself.

Agrippa granted Paul permission to speak, and the Apostle began his defence (verse 1).

Paul was gracious in acknowledging Agrippa’s permission and announced that he would defend himself against all Jewish accusations. He also mentioned that Agrippa understood Jewish ‘customs and controversies’, imploring the last of the Herods to hear him ‘patiently’ (verses 2, 3).

Paul then explained his early life, saying that the Sanhedrin knew his origins (Tarsus in Cilicia) and his education in Jerusalem (under Gamaliel). Members of the Sanhedrin — his accusers — would have known him from his years in Jerusalem (verse 4).

The Jewish hierarchy knew that he was a Pharisee. Pharisees were the strictest observers of the laws of Moses (verse 5).

He then alluded to the Jewish belief in the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead, lamenting that the Jews were accusing him believing those tenets of faith (verse 7). He pressed on by asking why they objected to his belief in the resurrection of the dead (verse 8), which is a belief rooted in the Old Testament. Only the Sadducees, who did not believe in the supernatural, disregarded it.

Students of Acts know that later in the chapter, it becomes apparent that Paul really wanted to convert Agrippa II. John MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):

And he’s saying, “Agrippa, I want you to know what this Jesus did.”

Now, Agrippa didn’t need to hear the facts of Jesus dying and so forth. He knew all that. He needed to hear what Christ had done in his resurrection power. And so that’s what Paul wants to tell him and everybody else who hears. So he begins with his conduct. Look at verses 4 and 5. He describes his early life. “My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews who knew me from the beginning, if they would testify that after the strict sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.”

Now, he says, “You know from the earliest years of my life I was educated at Jerusalem. And all the Jews know this. And if they had the courage to testify they would have to admit that I belonged to the strictest sect of our religion. I lived a Pharisee.” Now, Pharisee was the strict legalist and he was even at the strict end of the strict legalists. He was a right-wing, right-wing Pharisee. So he says, “My manner of life from my youth I was trained in Orthodox Judaism right here in Jerusalem and all the Jews know this. They know I sat at the feet of Gamaliel.

“They know that after the strictest sect,” – and Paul does something here in using the word “strictest” that Greek writers are allowed to, that you’re never allowed to do in English comp. He uses a double superlative. And a double superlative really lays heavy emphasis in the Greek. What he says is “I belonged to the most-strictest sect.” He is laying tremendous weight on this emphasis. He stresses that, “If anybody ever lived who was convinced that Judaism was the final word of God, it was me. I belonged to the farthest, farthest, farthest extreme legal view and everybody knows I did.”

And you see what he was doing? He’s setting them up for the transformation. He’s showing them how zealous he was as a Jew in order that they might understand the tremendous cataclysmic effect of the transformation that occurred at Damascus. And so Paul stresses, “I believed in the strictest way in all the facets of Judaism. I was a Pharisee.” Having talked about the conduct of his past life he now goes into his condemnation, verses 6 to 8. “And now I stand and am condemned or judged. I’m condemned for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers.” He says, “I was raised a Jew. I was a Pharisee and now I am being condemned. And you know why I am being condemned? I am being condemned for believing the promises that God made to the Jewish fathers.”

You say, “Well is this hope?” Look at it in verse 6. “For the hope of the promise.” Listen what was the Jewish hope? The Jewish hope is this, and this is the context here. The Jewish hope was the coming of Messiah. The hope of every Jew was Messiah would come and deliver Israel. Why Israel had been struggling against bondage from Egypt right up until this time. They were still under Rome.

Matthew Henry points out that a number of Gentiles were in the audience who no doubt struggled with the notion of the resurrection of the dead. They might have found it confusing — or amusing:

Now many of his hearers were Gentiles, most of them perhaps, Festus particularly, and we may suppose, when they heard him speak so much of Christ’s resurrection, and of the resurrection from the dead, which the twelve tribes hoped for, that they mocked, as the Athenians did, began to smile at it, and whispered to one another what an absurd thing it was, which occasioned Paul thus to reason with them.

He then went on to describe his adult life as a Pharisee persecuting Christians (verses 9, 10): namely Stephen the first martyr, but also many others. Stephen was put to death, others were scourged and imprisoned.

He described how he tried to make Christians blaspheme — still an instrument of spiritual and psychological torture used by totalitarian governments today. He concluded by saying that Jerusalem not was not enough to satisfy his violent zealotry, so he went to other cities to persecute Christians there (verse 11).

Henry describes the unimaginable hatred that raged through Paul’s body and mind during that self-righteous period immediately before his conversion:

His rage swelled so against Christians and Christianity that Jerusalem itself was too narrow a stage for it to act upon, but, being exceedingly mad against them, he persecuted them even to strange cities. He was mad at them, to see how much they had to say for themselves, notwithstanding all he did against them, mad to see them multiply the more for their being afflicted. He was exceedingly mad; the stream of his fury would admit no banks, no bounds, but he was as much a terror to himself as he was to them, so great was his vexation within himself that he could not prevail, as well as his indignation against them. Persecutors are mad men, and some of them exceedingly mad. Paul was mad to see that those in other cities were not so outrageous against the Christians, and therefore made himself busy where he had no business, and persecuted the Christians even in strange cities. There is not a more restless principle than malice, especially that which pretends conscience.

MacArthur reminds us of the pact that the Jews had with the Roman soldiers: deny the Resurrection. This is how Jesus became as hated as He is loved. MacArthur says that Paul knew the Jews’ anger revolved around Jesus as Messiah:

He knew that the Jews did believe in the resurrection but that they wouldn’t accept the resurrection of Jesus. And one of the most startling acts of willful rejection anywhere in Scripture, you have Matthew 28:11This is after the resurrection, “And when they were going behold some of the watch, some of the Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb, came to the city, showed the chief priests all that was done.” The Romans came in and said, “I hate to tell you this, but there was a resurrection.

And the chief priests got assembled with the elders and took much counsel and gave much money to the soldiers.” Now, if you know anything about how the Jews hated the Romans you know they wouldn’t want to give them any money. They would have despised the fact of giving them money. You say, “Why did they do it? What do you think it was?” Bribery! They said, “Say this. ‘His disciples came by night and stole him while we slept.’” Now that’s a real bright statement. If they were asleep, how could they possibly testify that while they were asleep the disciples came and stole the body? They bought them off. And if you get in trouble with the Roman governor for sleeping, we’ll take care of that. “So they took the money and did as they were taught and this is the saying commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”

They still believe it. And it tells in the Bible how it all started. The soldiers were bribed. Willful rejection. So it might have been fine for Agrippa to say, “That’s great, Paul. I believe in the resurrection. That’s a Jewish hope. That’s great, but we just don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead.” And so that launches Paul, that – knowing that Agrippa’s thinking that. Paul was the master of analyzing the response and then reacting to it. Look at the book of Romans. He answers all the questions that you were thinking but never asked. The same thing happens here. He knows that Agrippa’s question is regarding Jesus, not the totality of the resurrection.

The story of Paul’s defence continues next week, with his dramatic Damascene conversion.

Next time — Acts 26:12-18

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