Sometimes a journey does not pan out the way you would have liked it to. In the early 1990’s we travelled to Cape Town from Pretoria. There were six of us in a Mini Bus (like a taxi) traveling on the N1 towards Cape Town. Soon after entering into the Free State Province we were stopped and told by Police that there was a tanker accident and dangerous chemicals were spread across the road. We needed to travel through rural farm lands for at least 100 kilometers. The road was gravel and sand. Our problem was that it was storming. Due to the heavy rains, the roads turned from gravel and sand into mud with rather larger pools. To me, the only way to navigate this road was to put the vehicle in the third gear and keep my foot flat on the accelerator. We slipped and slide all over the road battling to keep on the road. At times the mini bus was broadsiding. Many vehicles were suck in the mud and should we have stopped to help them we would have been in the same situation. By the time we reached Bloemfontein the white mini bus was totally brown / red from all the mud churning up as the tires splashed forward. At Bloemfontein, the petrol attendant used the fire hose to wash all the mud off the vehicle.
During this hair raising experience, there was no talking … just silence … and everyone was praying passionately for God to help see us through the ordeal. He did! Over the next few days we shall see Paul’s harrowing experience sailing towards Rome. Please read the following rather lengthy passage
Ac 27:1 When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment 2 We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us. 3 The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. 4 From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. 5 When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. 6 There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7 We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. 8 We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea. 9 Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast. So Paul warned them, 10 “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” 11 But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. 12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.
A few weeks ago a passenger liner suffered substantial damage coming to dock at Charleston, South Carolina. Even though ships today are made for turbulent seas, sudden changes in weather patterns, huge storms and weighty winds can create havoc as it did with this passenger ship. Imagine the ships in the first century! Apparently the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans developed ships that were powered by square sails between 1000 BC to 400 AD. Some of these ships had oar capabilities with a steering oar used as a rudder. When Jesus’ half-brother wrote the Book of James he was aware of ships and their steering systems:
Jas 3:4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.
This was in the context of how small the tongue is, yet how great damage is can do. The point is, even in those days ships were made to endure dangerous storms at sea. The passage above as you see is more of a geography lesson and a sea experience than spiritual help … yet it is included in the Bible, largely for us to understand what Paul and his companions went through to get the Gospel to Rome.
1) Commissioning a ship bound for Italy. You will recall that Paul was in Caesarea, the seat of government, where king Agrippa had visited Festus. Caesarea hosted a huge harbor that was used by the Romans. Although the ship was a cargo ship, it carried passengers and most likely Festus’ officials arranged for the passenger section to be used for Paul and his companions as well as other prisoners. Prisoners would be accumulated over a period of time to be sent in bulk to Rome. This would be much like airport security officers at Heathrow Airport (or any other country), accumulating people refused entrance into the UK, being returned to the country of their origin. They would charter a plane or part there of specifically for this purpose. The day was set for departure.
2) A centurion accompanying the prisoners. We know nothing about this centurion other than what our text tells us. Some have speculated that he came from the military guard in Jerusalem whilst other say he was a special envoy from Rome and was returning. We don’t know. He was Julius, a centurion attached to the Imperial Regiment. That is all we know. He was in charge of the prisoners and was required to see them reach Rome safely.
3) Notice the use of the word “we”. This shows kindness from Julius towards Paul by permitting his companions (fellow missionaries such as Luke the author of Acts) to travel with him. Paul was in chains and having his friends with him to assist him was a great help.
4) They sail from Caesarea. In reading verse 2 it is easy to miss the fact that the ship they sailed on from Caesarea was a ship registered in Adamyttium, a city of Asia Minor on the coast of Mysia. Before taking to the deep Mediterranean Sea, they traveled north along the Coast of Asia. One included in the “we” and “us” was Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. His name is mentioned briefly in Acts, Colossians, and Philemon …
Ac 19:29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater.
Ac 20:4 He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia.
Ac 27:2 We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.
Col 4:10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas.
Phm 1:24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.
These verses show us that Aristarchus was not just a casual acquaintance. He was a fellow Gospel Worker. More than this we find in Colossians 4:10 that he was also a cell mate of Paul. Aristarchus together with Luke and some others stood by Paul throughout this final journey. They were his companions, friends, prayer partners, cared for his needs and rejoiced in Christ together. Almost unnoticed we find Aristarchus with Paul reminding us that we too need to stand by …
(1) Each other in general. Christians must support Christians because the times we live in are decided against the Gospel of Jesus.
(2) God’s messengers in specific. Very few understand the work of a pastor, teaching elder, missionary of Gospel Worker. They need our help, support, prayers and companionship. Where you have good, faithful Gospel Workers, be their encouragement and support. They need you.
Our Father, help us to be awake to the needs of those who stand in the forefront doing battle for the cause of Jesus Christ. Reveal how we might be able to support and sustain them. Amen.