Sidon is about seventy miles from Caesarea, and for the ship to have made it to Sidon in one day indicates they must have had a fair wind pushing them along. Here again Luke demonstrates his extreme care at including little details which, on the surface, bear little spiritual significance to the voyage. But when thought of with regards to the beginning of the Church age, a very important point is made.
I believe the inference here has to do with the rapid beginning of the early Church. It's remarkable to note how Luke had earlier related the coming of the Holy Spirit to wind: Acts 2:1&2.
"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven like a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the
house where they were sitting."
This, of course, describes the coming of the Holy Spirit, who Jesus had told the 120 disciples to wait for in a certain upper room in Jerusalem.
The Bible often uses "wind" as a metaphor of the Spirit of God. Strong's Concordance defines the root-meaning of the word "Spirit" as a current of air, or simply to blow. Before He left, Jesus prepared the disciples' for this understanding by breathing on them, saying, "Receive ye the Holy Spirit". (See John 20:22.) In fact, all Scripture is said to be God-breathed. (See 2 Timothy 3:16.) Now tie this understanding to our key verse, Acts 27:3, and you'll see how everything fits together.
Subsequent to the Holy Spirit "blowing" upon the disciples, they began to do certain things which shocked everyone that saw them, the most outstanding of which was to speak in tongues. On that particular day in Jerusalem, there were many people from surrounding areas who had come there for the festive occasion, and they spoke many different languages. God had supernaturally-empowered the disciples so that they could speak any language they desired. And the purpose was obviously designed in order for them to share the Gospel message and commence spreading it abroad through those people who would take it back to their homelands. And what was the main message? It's summarized by Peter in Acts 2:38-41:
"Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus
Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the
promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the
Lord, our God, shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save
yourselves from this crooked generation. Then they that gladly received his word were
baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls."
Can you imagine the magnitude of the spiritual strength that was upon Peter at that time? Three thousand people became Christians in one meeting, and that without microphones or loudspeakers! How could this be? It was because the Holy Spirit was breathing upon all of them, Peter and the listeners as well. There's no other explanation. Yes, the Lord started His Church with a strong holy wind. This was what Jesus had alluded to when He told His disciples that it was "expedient" that He go away, otherwise that "other Comforter" would not come to them. He was referring to the Holy Spirit when He said that. (See John 16:7.)
This strong, God-breathed wind was designed to alter the wrong course of mankind. This first, Church-age Pentecost was the antithesis of what happened at Babel. Let me explain what I mean:
In the days of Nimrod (see Genesis 11), man was attempting to construct his own "stairway to heaven" by building the tower of Babel. God saw this and came down and confused their "tongues", giving them different languages (at that time they spoke only one) and thus dispersed them into the world. [That's how and where the multiplicity of languages commenced.]
At Babel, God was, in effect, slowing man's self-determined ways while He methodically-designed and laid His plan before man, which would be exactly and totally spelled out later in the Bible. And by the time we get to Acts 2, that plan was clear. And what did God do at that point? Starting with a small group (120), He reversed what He had done at Babel: allowing that special gathering of people to understand foreign languages. Why so? Because they had the Gospel message within them; they had been prepared by Jesus personally; they had been obedient to be in the precise location Jesus had instructed them about; and just as He said He would, Jesus had sent the Holy Spirit to "breathe" on them. Subsequently, they could speak other languages, the purpose of which was to share the good news of the Messiah.
Man, [120 of them, anyway] then had the correct knowledge of the "stairway to heaven" within them: belief in Jesus as Savior and also filled with the same Holy Spirit that had empowered Jesus Himself. They were set to sail and to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, and they had a mighty wind behind them to make sure it happened. God designed it all.
I've taken a small element of the "negative" and magnified it here. But this is what I believe is hidden in Luke's statement that they reached Sidon in only one day. They couldn't have done it so quickly without a strong wind behind them. And, likewise, the Church could not have been so successful as it was in the early days without the Holy Spirit coming to blow upon them.
Notice that Julius (downy---i.e., Paul's angelic-like helper), even though a Roman guard, allowed Paul to have the liberty in Sidon to go "...unto his friends to refresh himself". Now, in the natural realm of things, why would Julius have allowed this? Well, certainly it can be argued that Julius had taken a liking for Paul. But the fact is, Julius is not mentioned by name any other place in the New Testament. We might surmise but we don't really know the reason he allowed Paul this liberty.
However, thinking metaphorically, the incident makes all kinds of good sense. At that point in time, Paul had already accomplished much in terms of mission work. He needed a break. And Julius gave it to him, under the sovereign will and control of God.
Sidon had a long track record as an evil city, always opposing Israel. The principle temple there was Eshmun, the god of healing. It's significant to note that Jesus had healed the Syro-Phoenician woman's daughter in Sidon by casting out a demon. (See Mark 7:24-30.) I think perhaps throughout her history, Sidon was under the control and supervision of demonic powers, and Jesus' casting the demon from the Phoenician woman's daughter suggests that God was at that time delivering the city from this curse. Such a notion is not without merit, because Jesus made very clear that Sidon had never had much Godly input:
"Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works, which were
done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in
sackcloth and ashes." Matthew 11:21.
I see implied here that certain citizens of Sidon would later be used by God in some significant way concerning the Church. And Paul, being allowed to stop by and visit friends and acquaintances in Sidon was probably not only for him being "refreshed", but also that he would be an encouragement for the believers that were already there as a result of Jesus' earlier healing ministry in that city.
But think also in these terms: When the ship reached Sidon, the whole Church had already expanded wonderfully, both among Jews and now also among Gentiles in the regions close to Jerusalem. After a hard spiritual work, all Christian workers need to get together for "R and R"---i.e., for rest, recreation, regrouping and regaining their strength. Seeing old friends and acquaintances, especially those of like faith, is a primary way God does this in our lives. Even Jesus and the disciples would occasionally do this. (See Luke 9:10.)
And remember the purpose of angels---"Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14.) And what is the main theme [metaphorically] of this story in Acts 27? It is that this ship carries the "heirs of salvation"---Paul and the other "prisoners". Julius and his "band" picture the ministering spirits as they have been among the "ship of the saved" since the Church began.
Fellow believers, I think it would be good to pause a moment and just thank the Lord for sending
us ministering angels. As I talk with many Christians, I don't sense they have much confidence in
the presence of supernatural beings around them for their benefit and protection. We are not to
be worshipful of the angels, but never should we doubt their presence and assistance. Believing
and trusting in what the Bible says about angels will increase your awareness of them.
"And when we had put to sea from there, we sailed under the lee of Cypress, because the
winds were contrary."
Cypress is an island not far to the west of Syria. Prior to this voyage, Paul and Barnabas had already travelled across this island and the Church was already established there. The first persecution against the Church involved Cypress (see Acts 11:19-20.)
Now, in the natural setting, to sail under the "lee of Cypress" means they used the island as a block against the strong westerly winds. But let's look at the spiritual implications. There are two important points to be made about this particular wind.
First, notice Luke referred to winds---plural. This is one of those places in our study that adds strong credence to the reality of the metaphoric message of this passage, so we must look at this very carefully. I believe that if the only point the Holy Spirit wanted recorded here was with regards to a strong westerly-wind the ship was facing, He would simply have inspired Luke to say wind---singular. The second point is that these winds were "contrary"; i.e., against. This suggests opposition to the advancement of the Church and its Gospel. So what can we conclude? What were the "contrary winds" of the early church?
Recall, we are still on the first ship---the Hebrew-Christian foundation of the Church's beginning. And about this time is when the dissensions began in the early Church, the main one being that some of the Jews began to insist that Gentile Christians must become as them. This meant to be circumcised and follow other legalistic rites of ancient Judaism. The whole book of Galatians (and other passages) was written by Paul to condemn this movement. This was one of the "contrary winds".
The timing in our voyage would have been about the first-persecution period. Satan is also a spirit being, and thus can also be likened to wind. In 1 John 4:1, we are told to test the spirits for they are not all of God. Satan lost his battle when Jesus died and rose again. But since the cross, Satan continues his attempts to frustrate and confuse the Church's progress with the intent of eventually destroying it. And he was busy about that from the very beginning of the Church age. Satan was the primary "contrary wind" that forced the "ship" to seek the haven of the leeward side of Cypress.
But, as always, God was also there. The island itself provided a shield from the "contrary winds", allowing them to sail on by towards their ultimate destination. We shall see two more times during the voyage that the ship must sail "under the lee" of certain islands, always for the ship's protection. Remember that the ship itself is the vehicle of the Church. Following metaphoric-logic, then, the islands, which provided the wall against the stormy sea so that the ship could stay afloat and navigable, would be symbolic of certain nations which would house and protect the Church during her missionary journey.
The astute reader will notice that the sequence of events on this journey may not always seem perfect, such as when the ship reaches the three islands, for example. But you must understand, that in metaphoric presentations [as indeed is often found in plain Scriptural prophecy as well], things don't always appear in the "right" place to our natural minds. Sometimes we are seeing into the past, sometimes into the future. And that must always be kept in mind as we move along on this journey.
I think these three islands represent Israel, Great Britain and the United States. The reason I see Cypress as representative of Israel is twofold: first, Hebrew Christians started the Church; secondly, in Acts 11:19, we are told that some of those who were first "scattered abroad" preached in Cyprus to Jews only. All this suggests that it was the Jewish foundation [Israel] which God used to assure that the "Christian ship" would sail successfully. Later, we'll see two more "islands" used as walls of protection against other winds which try to stop the ship.
I believe we are seeing another confirmation of God's specific use of nations relative to the
propagation of the Gospel during the Christian age. Following the same line of reasoning found
in my book The Two Witnesses and Part I of this book, I believe that Great Britain and the
United States are again implied here. And for the same reasons presented in the other two books,
these nations would be mightily used of God to make sure the ship would not be prevented by the
"contrary winds" from reaching its destination. Looking ahead, the sequence would logically line
up like this: Cypress = Israel; Crete = Great Britain; Cauda = America. More later on this.
Verse 5 & 6.
"And when we sailed over the sea of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia."
"And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy; and he put us on
In these two verses is found a picture within a picture; a nutshell mosaic; a two-verse microcosm of the establishment of the early Church. Let me show you a few of the many things implied here.
I suggested earlier to imagine we're in the boat with Paul and the others. [Spiritually, we really are.] Remember now, we're sailing alongside the coastlines of the provinces of Cilicia, Pamphylia and Lycia. And just to the north lies Cappadocia, Galatia, Asia Minor and most of the Gentile lands where the apostle Paul had already established key churches: such as Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Smyrna, Ephesus, Laodicea, Colosse, and Antioch (the latter being the church where Christians were first called Christians).
Certainly, the apostle Paul is prominent here in this whole journey. It is no accident that Luke mentions Cilicia first, for Paul was from Tarsus, a city in Cilicia. And then he refers to Pamphylia, another area the apostle had already evangelized. (See Acts 13:13; 14:24 & 15:38.)
I'm convinced that the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to provide these key thoughts as reminders, so
that we can look back now and see the basis of the Church's foundation. Of course, we have the
whole book of Acts, the rest of the New Testament, and history, all of which combine to reveal
the Church's beginnings and future plights. But to find it also in metaphoric format, laid out in
only two chapters of Scripture, makes it even more self-evident. Surely it is God-designed to
increase our confidence and faith in Him in these days when all humanity (including the Church) is
floundering and groping for reasons to believe.
[To enhance the metaphoric aspect I'm attempting to show you, I again want to emphasize the need to look at a map which shows the lands, the seas and the location of the churches which were already established as Paul and the others sailed on what would be his last journey.]
This is where the first ship ends its part of the journey. Keep in mind the importance of this first ship: it was Judeo-Christian, by which I mean it was Hebrew Christians who started the Church, not saved Gentiles. I'm not teaching anything by this which the Church does not already know. I'm emphasizing the point so that you can see how God put it in the Scriptures in this very special way. [Not to discredit Luke, but rather to honor God, Luke was probably unaware of the full picture God was sending through his mind!]
Myra was a principal, port city of the district of Licia. Both the city and district was thoroughly Hellenistic (Greek) in the days the ship arrived there. Here again we have the implication of the importance of the Greek language relative to the future of the Gospel message. I'm convinced it was for this specific reason that Myra was the place the second ship would become involved.
Of course, there were many false beliefs among Greek-speaking people in those days, but Greek
knowledge in all areas of humanistic endeavor was second to none. And do you think God was
not aware of this? Indeed, it was all by His sovereign design and influence. The point is,
beginning at exactly the same time the Church was getting underway, Greek learning and
education was also about to disembark and be dispersed into all regions of the world. God was
simply seeing to it that the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ would be going along with it in
the same "ship".
THE SHIP OF ALEXANDRIA
There's no way that it was by mere chance that the second ship just happened to be one "of Alexandria". Alexandria was so-named from Alexander The Great, the founder of the Greek Empire. And also, remember the words Pilate had put on the cross: "...JESUS, OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS...and it was written IN HEBREW, GREEK, AND LATIN." (John 19:19&20.)
Pilate was saying much more than he realized when he had that plaque nailed to the cross. Although there were many more languages in the world then, these three would be the chief languages from which the Gospel would go forward. This was an all-inclusive statement representing all peoples of the earth. And Greek is right there in the middle of it. In our Acts 27 story, it is symbolized by the "ship of Alexandria".
This is the ship which would take Paul, the ship's company, and the "prisoners" all the way across the sea. The Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew Old- Testament) and the Greek New-Testament would be the written foundation of God's Word which would go forth into all regions of the world, beginning at Myra.
In this kind of study, I constantly look for key words which seem to have metaphoric implications. I just saw one here---MYRA. Notice that it has the same letters as MARY. Could it be that the letters were simply "scrambled" for us to decode by rearrangement? Maybe we are seeing hidden here the MARY of John 11; that is, MARY, symbolic of the United States of America. You see, regardless of the ungodliness and rampant immorality present in America today, it has been primarily from this land that the Gospel and missionary work has been disseminated into the rest of the world. Perhaps at MYRA, God was looking ahead to the time when the ship would reach our shores.
Does the "scrambled" lettering idea cause your eyebrows to rise in doubt of my reasoning stability? Well, there are more of these. Look at the word Immanuel. Scripture defines it as "God with us". Notice what happens when you break it down like this: IM MAN U EL Now read what it says: I'm man, your God. (El is the brief-form of God.) And there are many words like this in the Scriptures which I believe reveal God's handiwork in the background of word control.
It's true even in modern languages. Look at the English spelling of the Lord's name---JESUS. Jesus equated Himself to the I AM [the Lord God] of the Old Testament. Now look at how the French say "I am"---Je suis. It almost spells Jesus. The only addition is the "i", which is also significant, being a double emphasis that Jesus is the "I" AM. What's my point here? That God is God of languages, not man.