NTiR: Is Paul cursed? Death imminent? (Acts 25-28)
By now, Paul has to feel like he is totally cursed. Everywhere he goes, he tells people the truth, and no one wants to listen to him. He says he is a Pharisee, but the other Pharisees don’t want to hear it. He tells everyone he was going through the purification ceremony, and they scoff. No matter what Paul says or does, he ends up in chains and in prison. Little does he know that he is going to meet and dine with kings, nor that a shipwreck lies in his destiny.
We pick up the story with Paul still being in a Roman prison, and a new Roman governor, Porcius Festus, in Caesarea. Festus (not to be confused with Uncle Fester) takes a tour around the towns that are now under his province, and ends up in Jerusalem. There, of course, he runs into everyone’s favorite High Priest. Ananias wastes no time petitioning Festus to turn over Paul. Festus wants to mollify the Jews since it is his first week governing them, so he agrees to hear everyone’s concerns.
Everyone meets up back in the court at Caesarea. The Jews once again bring a list of false, unprovable charges against Paul. Paul again responds that he has broken no laws against the Jews, the Temple nor Caesar. Festus asks if Paul would be willing to stand trial in Jerusalem, not realizing that the Jews there are waiting to ambush and kill Paul. Paul knows this, however, and asks for an appeal to Caesar himself.
A few days later, King Agrippa and his sister Bernice come to Caesarea to welcome Festus to Festus’s new post. While Agrippa was there, Festus decides to spend a couple of days discussing the case of Paul and the Jews. Festus lays out all of the information, and explains to Agrippa that Paul is being held in prison until Festus decides what to do. Agrippa asks to have the case presented in front of him by Paul and Ananias.
Agrippa ends up only asking Paul to speak. So 90% of this chapter is Paul again reiterating all that he has gone through. The only new nugget here is that Jesus told Paul more than what has been said up to this point. Paul says that Jesus said, “get up and stand on your feet, for I have appeared to you for the very purpose of appointing you to be a servant and witness of what you have seen and of what I will show you. I will continue to rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles to whom I am sending you. You will open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from Satan’s control to God, so that they might receive the forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
Paul’s defense speech starts to turn very metaphysical around here, to the point that it confuses Festus. Festus yells “You’re out of your mind, Paul! Too much education is driving you crazy!” Which sounds like something modern-day fundamentalists would say, now that I think about it.
When Paul wraps up, the king, the governor and Bernice stand up and leave the court. As they are walking through, Agrippa and Festus agree that Paul is blameless. “This man could have been set free if he hadn’t appealed to the emperor.”
So does that mean that something bad is going to happen when Paul does appear before Casesar?
Luke shifts back into first person voice to tell a thrilling tale of terror on the open sea. Paul and a few other prisoners are loaded onto a boat bound for Rome. However, the weather was horrible, and the ship kept either finding no winds to fill their sails, or getting blown the wrong direction by the winds. They finally make it into Crete, already a few days off schedule. Paul warns the centurion that they’ll never make it to Italy in the current weather, and that they should hole up in Crete. The ship captain and owner disagree, however, and argue that they can make the voyage. Unfortunately, the centurion believes them, so off they sail.
On the first day, there’s a calm breeze, and the boat is able to sail on a calm sea. Everyone thinks that Paul was over-reacting – or just plain wrong – until a northeaster swept onto the sea. The violent winds sent the shift out of control across the seas. The skies were filled with clouds, and rain, and the sea was so turbulent that it was impossible to tell which way the boat had been turned. The sailors and passengers had no idea where they were, nor did they have enough time to think about a way out.
The storm continued on for two weeks! No one was able to eat, and most of the ship’s cargo and equipment had been thrown overboard. Pretty much everyone on the ship had long since resigned themselves to dying out on the sea. So when Paul woke up and started saying “Don’t worry, we’re gonna live, an Angel just told me so,” people weren’t exactly jumping with enthusiasm. Everyone assumed that Paul was hallucinating due to hunger or denial.
Paul ended up being right, of course. The storm finally blew itself out, and the ship came up at an unknown beach. The ship was battered, broken, a complete loss. But all of the 276 hands on board were saved.
The island turns out to be Malta. And that turns out to be excellent news for Paul and the other survivors of the shipwreck. The Maltese people are exceedingly kind and generous, giving the survivors all the food they need, places to live, cures for their wounds and illnesses.
On their initial day there, as everyone was sitting around a big bonfire, a poisonous snake slithered out and dug its fangs into Paul’s hand. Those from Malta thought that this had to be a sign that Paul had done something evil, that it was a sign that Justice was determined to kill Paul one way or another. However, Paul tossed the snake away, and didn’t suffer any side effects from the venom. This changed the minds of the Maltese there: they decided Paul must be a god.
Paul didn’t exactly correct them, either. Aside from saying “I’m not really god” he also heals people throughout the island. This gains favor of everyone on the island, and when Paul and Luke sail on from Malta, they do so with all of the supplies and food they could every wish for.
The voyage continues, with the ships (they end up changing ships a couple of times) coming to rest at a town or harbor from time to time. When Paul and Luke come ashore, they track down and find the local Christian church and spend the night with them. The ship finally drops everyone off in Puteoli, where Paul and Luke stay a week, then walk the rest of the way to Rome.
Paul met with the Roman Jewish leadership, and tried to plead his case with them. Paul told them about how the Jerusalem Jews plotted to have Paul put to death. The Roman Jews said they had not heard anything about this, nor had they received any letters or accusations against Paul from Jerusalem. As far as the Roman Jews were concerned, Paul was blameless.
So after all of the scheming and death threats and persecution and beatings and thrilling rescues and almost being lost at sea, Paul finds himself in Rome, debating scriptures and Jesus with Roman Jews. Paul ended up a free man, and kept his own apartment in Rome where he welcomed anyone who wanted to come to him and learn about Jesus.
And that, my friends, is how you wrap up a story! Paul’s whole ordeal was masterfully told. I can’t believe just how exciting the last part of the story was, starting from when the Jews from Asia tried to have Paul arrested, right up through Paul finding peace in Rome. That is as good a suspense story as I’ve ever read.
I get the feeling that, in the hands of a lesser author, Paul’s story would’ve been just ordinary. Just one of the dozens of tales told in the Bible. But Luke took the story and crafted it into a piece of art!
That being said, I didn’t care much for a lot of the first half or so of Acts. I didn’t find much to like in Peter, and the whole “And on this day, 500 more people were added to the group of followers of the gospel” thing. Trim out all of that and you have a much better read.
All in all? Acts is a must read, from around Chapter 16 through the end. Surprisingly, Paul is an extremely likable, well-rounded character. His tale is a great one, a tale that deserves to be heard. Or read. Take your pick. 🙂
Up next: Letters, we get letters…
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