Devotion Three—Centurion of the Shipwreck Acts 27-28
Thus far we have looked at two of the four centurions mentioned in the New Testament. Both of these Roman officers were men of great faith. The faith of the centurion at Capernaum was commended by the Lord when he said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” The faith of Cornelius at Caesarea not only resulted in salvation for himself and his entire household, but it also opened the door of faith for other Gentiles to enter the kingdom of God.
Today, we turn our attention to a third centurion by the name of Julius. This centurion along with a cohort of soldiers was assigned the task of delivering the Apostle Paul as prisoner along with several hundred others to Rome for trial before Caesar.
Julius showed great favor to Paul, but at the point of their departure, he was not a believer in Christ. When Paul warned him and the crew of impending destruction, he chose to believe the captain and the crew.
The narrative in Acts 27 is more about the Apostle Paul as a courageous leader than it is about the centurion. Dr. Warren Wiersbe in his commentary on Acts entitled “Be Daring” pictures Paul in four important roles: (1) Paul the Counselor (27:1-20), (2) Paul the Encourager (27:21-44), (3) Paul the Helper (28:1-10), (4) Paul the Preacher (28:11-31). We will attempt to summarize what Dr. Wiersbe has to say about the first two roles.
1. Paul the Counselor (27:1-20).
After leaving Caesarea the party sailed eighty miles to Sidon where Julius, in his kindness, allowed Paul to visit his Sidonian Christian friends who provided him with provisions for his trip. From there they sailed to Myra where Julius found an Egyptian grain freighter bound for Italy. The ship carried 276 passengers including the captain and crew. With strong winds hindering their progress, they finally struggled into a small harbor called Fair Havens.
The centurion faced a decision. Should he winter at Fair Havens or take his chances and proceed to Phoenix, a safer harbor? His approach is a classic illustration how not to determine the will of God. Paul admonished them to stay at Fair Havens.
What were the factors that governed Julius’s decision? Safe harbor, advice of captain and owner of the ship, the ship’s crew all played a part in his decision. He took a vote of the captain and crew and the majority vote of 3 to 1 was a deciding factor. The clincher was the change of wind to “gentle breezes.” Can’t you just see the little snicker on Julius’s face as they set sail for Phoenix ignoring the warnings of Paul. He looked at Paul as if to say, “See, you were wrong!” After all, the majority can’t be wrong, especially when it includes the experts.
2. Paul the Encourager (27:21-44)
It wasn’t long before the “Gentle Breezes” turned into a northeasterner driving the ship twenty-three miles to the south. The raging storm was threatening to sink their skiff so they brought it aboard the ship. Ropes or chains were wrapped around the ship and the cargo was thrown overboard in an effort to save the ship.
Sometimes we get ourselves in storms due to impatience (27:9), accepting so-called expert advice that is contrary to God’s will, following the majority, and trusting “ideal” conditions (27:13). The Scripture says, “He that believeth shall not make haste” (Isa. 28:16). It pays to listen to God’s word.
They faced a crisis situation. No one knew what to do. All seemed lost. The centurion, captain, and crew were without hope of ever coming out of the raging storm alive.
Have you ever been through a storm in life where you lost hope? Did you feel like the situation or struggle was going to sink your boat? If you have, then you know what these men were going through and how they felt. You may have thought, “if only I had listened to God. If only I had obeyed.” That is what happened to the crew of Pauls’ boat. Because they did not listen to Paul’s warning, they lost all their cargo and profits. Because they didn’t listen, they lost the ability to navigate the ship. Because they didn’t listen, they now found themselves in a raging storm in fear for their lives. If only…
Even though Paul knew the outcome would be disastrous, he still prayed. God sent an angel to assure Paul that all would not be lost. They would lose the ship, but their lives would be spared (27:23-26).
Not all storms of life are caused by disobedience to God. Many times we go through a storm when we obey God because the devil is trying to discourage and draw us off course. Many times God uses storms to strengthen our faith and bring us closer to him. Storms are an inevitable part of life (James 1:2).
Julius, the centurion responsible for delivering Paul to Rome for trial, was reluctant to accept the apostle’s counsel at first. During the shipwreck experience, however, he was exposed to the vitality of Paul’s faith and saw the power of God in the miraculous, and saved Paul’s life when it was threatened.