International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday November 11, 2012
Purpose: To recognize that firm faith in God empowers us to stay calm and decisively in the midst of crisis and upheaval
Scripture Text: Acts 27:1-2, 33-44 (CEB)
(1) When it was determined that we were to sail to Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were placed in the custody of a centurion named Julius of the Imperial Company. (2) We boarded a ship from Adramyttium that was about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia. So we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, came with us.
(33) Just before daybreak, Paul urged everyone to eat. He said, “This is the fourteenth day you’ve lived in suspense, and you’ve not had even a bite to eat. (34) I urge you to take some food. Your health depends on it. None of you will lose a single hair from his head.” (35) After he said these things, he took bread, gave thanks to God in front of them all, then broke it and began to eat. (36) Everyone was encouraged and took some food. (37) In all, there were two hundred seventy-six of us on the ship.) (38) When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.
(39 In the morning light they saw a bay with a sandy beach. They didn’t know what land it was, but they thought they might possibly be able to run the ship aground. (40) They cut the anchors loose and left them in the sea. At the same time, they untied the ropes that ran back to the rudders. They raised the foresail to catch the wind and made for the beach.(41) But they struck a sandbar and the ship ran aground. The bow was stuck and wouldn’t move, and the stern was broken into pieces by the force of the waves. (42) The soldiers decided to kill the prisoners to keep them from swimming to shore and escaping.(43) However, the centurion wanted to save Paul, so he stopped them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and head for land. (44) He ordered the rest to grab hold of planks or debris from the ship. In this way, everyone reached land safely.
My Thoughts by Burgess Walter
Our lesson this week is a continuation of last week's lesson. Paul had requested a hearing before Caesar, as he was entitled to because he was a Roman citizen. Even though he would have been set free if he had not done so, Festus and Herod Agrippa had no choice but to send Paul on to Rome as he had requested.
You may notice that this text reads a little different because it is part of what is called the “we” text. The writer of both the Book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke, are presumed to be written by Dr. Luke, a physician that traveled with Paul on several occasions. Several passages in the Book of Acts use this “we” text. (Acts 16:10-18, 20:5-15, 21:1-18).
Paul had been placed in the custody of a Roman centurion named Julius. Julius was in charge of about 600 Roman soldiers, which would represent an Imperial Company. Evidently Julius was also returning to Rome, maybe for retirement or maybe just a much needed furlough. Anxious to get home as well as to deliver the prisoners Julius took the first ship available. This ship was what we would call a “local” that is it followed the shore line and stopped at every port along the way loading and unloading baggage.
Paul had evidently gained some trust from Julius. Paul was allowed to leave the ship in Sidon and visit with some friends, after just one day’s journey; the words used in verse 3 indicates Paul may have been ill, (“so they could take care of him”). From there they sailed toward the Island of Cyprus, but they encountered head winds and turned back towards the mainland. They ended up in Myra, in Lycia not all that far from Paul's old stomping grounds.
Julius was looking for a faster way to get home so he took his prisoners and boarded an Egyptian grain vessel going from Alexandria to Rome. However the ship faced strong head winds and had to take refuge in a placed called Good Harbor. The delays had put the journey across the open sea at great peril. Because it was now late in the year and travel from Good Harbor to Rome across the open sea would be very risky for both the ship’s cargo of grain as well as the 276 passengers. Paul advised against setting sail to Rome, but the ship’s captain and Julius thought differently, so they headed out. The story told in Acts 27:7-32, is well worth reading and is one the most exciting stories told. After a lot of weather problems they ended up in a “nor’easter” not unlike our hurricane Sandy that just caused all of the destruction on the East coast. I have always called what happened next the first Army versus Navy game. On the one hand you have the precious grain cargo that the Navy (ship’s captain and sailors) needed to deliver for financial reasons and then Julius and the other guards were more interested in the cargo of prisoners they were assigned to deliver. As the storm worsens a decision is made to get rid of everything not needed, but try and save the ship and it's passengers. In verses 30-32 we have more of the Army/Navy game. “(30) The sailors tried to abandon the ship by lowering the lifeboat into the sea, pretending they were going to lower anchors from the bow. (31) Paul said to the centurion and his soldiers, “Unless they stay in the ship, you can’t be saved from peril.” (32) The soldiers then cut the ropes to the lifeboat and let it drift away.”
Our text picks up (verse 33) after all of the excess weight has been thrown overboard. They had been sailing without any food or provisions, and Paul has rubbed it in a little, “I told you not set sail,” but he also has good news that no one will be lost if they remain on board the ship. Paul's vision and testimony was well received by both the sailors, soldiers and prisoners. After the ship had been lightened by finally getting rid of the cargo, they cut loose the anchors and hoped to ground the ship on a sandy beach. The soldiers wanted to kill all of the prisoners when the ship ran aground, but Julius wanted to save Paul so he ordered everyone that could swim to swim and those that couldn't get on a board and surf to shore. In the end all 276 survived, and Paul gained more respect from both Julius and those that were aboard the ship.
Paul's faith never wavered, he trusted God in a time of crisis, and delivered a great testimony to all those on board. Are you still committed to following Jesus' plan for your life or have you decided to go your own way? God is in control even when we make mistakes, I urge you to adopt Jesus' plan and stick to it.