Rome: Facing Limitations

Explore the Bible Series

August 31, 2008


Background Passage: Acts 27:1-28:31

Lesson Passage: Acts 28:16-25, 28-31


Introduction: Some years ago, as I finished my graduate classes at UT Dallas, one of my professors asked me about reading the Greek New Testament together.  He knew of my limited background with Koine Greek, and his Classical studies had honed his outstanding abilities as a skilled Greek scholar.  We agreed to meet on Thursday afternoons to read the New Testament.  After translating through the Gospel of John, we turned our attention to the Acts of the Apostles.  Frankly, I really struggled with these last two chapters of Acts—all of the nautical and geographic terms really tested my patience.  To this day, I have an ill-defined queasiness when I read these chapters!  In addition to my graduate reminiscences, I have not seen these chapters as particularly well-suited for preaching value, that is, until now.  Thankfully, the discipline of studying for this lesson has reopened this section of the Bible for me.


During twenty years on the mission field, no doubt, Paul had grown accustomed to great liberty to travel and preach as he saw fit, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.  Paul’s tent-making skills afforded him economic flexibility, and his unmarried status meant he had few family constraints.  However, all of that changed with the apostle’s incarceration in Jerusalem and Caesarea.  More than two years of imprisonment in Caesarea served as an unfortunate prelude to extended confinement in Rome.  Twenty years of considerable liberty were followed by about five years of incarceration.  This must have proved a great test to Paul. 


Most of us will never serve prison time for our faith; however, many may experience seasons of apparent restriction in usefulness in the Kingdom of God.  Life has many “prisons.”  For Paul, this restriction was confinement under Roman authority.  For others, their usefulness may be hindered by failing health or advancing years.  Sadly, the body does, in time, fail all of us, and an active, willing heart may find itself encased in a broken “clay vessel.”  Providential circumstances may seem to limit the service of others.  Many pastors, willing and able to serve, have found themselves without a place to preach, and, in moments of weakness, may question the Lord’s gracious care for his servants.  Still others may finds themselves trapped in seasons of severe depression or mental illness, and usefulness in the Lord’s work seems, for these folks, a remote possibility.  Some find themselves under the crushing weight of family problems or financial constraints and the distraction of these problems make service seem an impossibility.  Yes, life does have many “prisons.”


Paul’s circumstances, as he neared the end of life, prove most helpful in helping Christians deal with the “meanwhile” of the pilgrimage to the Celestial City.   Sometimes our progress seems meager, and we feel confined and useless.  Paul must have felt some of these same emotions as he awaited trial before Nero. Nevertheless, when Paul could not do all the things he wanted, he did what he could.  He continued to preach from his rented quarters, and he wrote letters.  Four of these epistles made their way into the New Testament canon: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. May God help all of us to use our “meanwhile” moments to do what we can for the Lord’s glory.



Lesson Outline:


I.                   Paul’s Journey to Rome (27:1-28:15)

A.    Caesarea to Myra (27:1-5): Luke apparently accompanied Paul on the journey to Rome.  In addition to the Beloved Physician, a man named Aristarchus (of Thessalonica) traveled with Paul.  Julius, a Roman centurion, booked passage on a ship that planned sail to Cyprus and then to follow the coast of Asia Minor.  The first leg of the trip ended in Myra, a city of Lycia.

B.     Myra to Fair Havens (27:6-8): Julius booked passage on an Alexandrian ship, headed for Rome.  Weather conditions prevented the vessel from making much progress, and the ship’s crew sought some relief from the difficult conditions by sailing to the Island of Crete.  This portion of the journey ended at a place, on Crete, called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea.

C.     Fair Havens to Malta (27:9-28:10): Paul warned the sailors about the dangers of leaving Fair Havens, but the men refused to follow the apostle’s counsel.  Strong wind currents drove the vessel south of Crete and threatened to ground the crew and passengers on the sand bars of Syrtis, off the northern coast of Africa.  The situation grew so dire that the crew jettisoned the ship’s cargo and bound the vessel’s hull with strong cable.  For many days the darkened sky concealed the sun and stars, the men did not eat, and the crew began to lose hope of survival.  Paul assured the beleaguered crew that they would survive this ordeal, and, in time, the ship ran aground on the Island of Malta.  Julius thwarted a plan to execute all of the prisoners, and all of the crew and passengers made a safe escape to the island.  Two miraculous events occurred while the travelers sojourned on Malta.

1.      Paul’s deliverance from a viper’s bite (vv. 3-6): This miracle caused the men to conclude that Paul was a god.

2.      Healing of the father of Publius (vv. 7-10): Publius, a prominent citizen of Malta, showed great kindness to the refugees.  Publius’ father grew very ill with dysentery and a fever, and Paul healed the man. Other sick persons came to the apostle to be healed of their illnesses. 

D.    Malta to Rome (28:11-15): After a three-month stay on Malta, Paul set sail, on an Alexandrian ship, for Italy.  After a circuitous voyage, the vessel landed along the western coast of Italy, at Rhegium and then Puteoli, the chief port city south of Rome.  Disciples from the region met and encouraged Paul, and in a few days, the apostle finally arrived in Rome.


II.                Paul’s Sojourn in Rome (28:16-31)

A.    The apostle’s living arrangements (v. 16): The Romans allowed Paul to rent a home where a guard attended him.  It is possible that Paul earned a living by making tents, but some of his friends also provided funds for the imprisoned apostle (See Philippians 4:10-20). 

B.     Paul’s meeting with the Jewish leaders (vv. 17-29): The apostle asked local Jewish leaders to meet with him concerning the charges brought against him in Jerusalem.  He recounted the Lord’s dealings with him, and he bore witness to the Lord Jesus.  Some of the hearers believed Paul’s preaching, but many did not.  As a result of hearing the gospel, a great dispute erupted. 

C.     Paul’s continued ministry in Rome (vv. 30-31): Luke ends the Book of Acts with a brief summary of Paul’s preaching while incarcerated in Rome.  Despite his imprisonment, Paul enjoyed great liberty in proclaiming the glory of the Savior.