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Aristarchus: The Right Man for the Right Time
(Acts 27:2b, NIV)
“Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.”
God has the remarkable ability to have the right man available at the right time. His track record is undeniable:
I described Aristarchus as devoted and loyal because of all the men who had served on Paul’s missionary team, only Aristarchus and Luke stayed with Paul from the time he was arrested in Jerusalem, throughout his two-year incarceration at Caesarea, during his treacherous voyage to Rome, and throughout his two-year stay at Rome under house arrest.
Prior to the section of the Book of Acts that we will examine in this lesson, Paul has already been tried by Governor Felix, then by Governor Festus, and the by King Agrippa. He has appealed his case to Caesar and is about to begin his voyage to Rome. At that point Luke pointed out that in addition to himself, only Aristarchus remained with Paul. He wrote, “Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us” (Acts 27:2b, NIV). Aristarchus had been and still was “the right man for the right time!”
II. Aristarchus’ History with Paul
In the New Testament, the first time we meet Aristarchus he has travelled with Paul to Ephesus and was present when a riot against Paul and his preaching broke out in that city. We don’t know exactly when Aristarchus and Paul met, but we do know they had been travelling together prior to the episode that took place at Ephesus. Luke wrote, “About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: ‘You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.’ When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater. The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there” (Acts 19:23-32, NIV).
Aristarchus was arrested at Ephesus simply because of his association with Paul, but he didn’t abandon ship. He stayed on the team even when the going got tough. He was indeed a devoted friend and a loyal ministry partner!
Evidently Aristarchus was released unharmed at Ephesus and accompanied Paul and the team on a preaching tour throughout Macedonia (the province in which his home town was located) and into Greece where they stayed for three months. Then he was still with the team when they journeyed back through Macedonia. Luke wrote, “When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said goodbye and set out for Macedonia. He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, where he stayed three months. Because some Jews had plotted against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia. 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” (Acts 20:1-4, NIV). From this section of Luke’s historical narrative in the Book of Acts we learn that Aristarchus was from the city of Thessalonica in the province of Macedonia.
It is likely that Aristarchus and Secundus were members of the church at Thessalonica and were travelling with Paul to deliver a gift from the Thessalonian church to the drought stricken believers in Jerusalem. That being the case, it is possible that Aristarchus met Paul at Thessalonica during the apostle’s visit to the city recorded in Acts 17:1-9. He may have been converted at that time and may have been one of the charter members of the church there.
The next time Luke mentions Aristarchus he is still with Paul. The missionary team has made their way to Jerusalem where Paul was arrested and hastily transferred to Caesarea by night. He was incarcerated at Caesarea for more than two years and stood trial before Governor Felix, Governor Festus, and King Agrippa. Finally he has been turned over to a Roman soldier named Julius who is about to transport him to Rome where he would stand trial before Caesar. In his description of the scene that unfolded as Paul was about to board ship headed for Rome, Luke revealed that Aristarchus was still with Paul. In fact, everyone else—except Aristarchus and Luke—had left the team at this point. Luke wrote, “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. 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” (Acts 27:1-2, NIV).
When writing his historical narrative of Paul’s journey from Caesarea to Rome, Luke consistently used the first person plural personal pronouns “we” and “us.” This indicates that both Luke and Aristarchus accompanied Paul all the way to Rome. Notice what he wrote near the end of the Book of Acts, “When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him” (Acts 28:16, NIV).
Sometimes being a devoted friend and a loyal ministry partner is costly. Aristarchus learned that fact by personal experience. Paul his letter to the Colossians during his house arrest at Rome and he made a brief and sad notation in the letter regarding Aristarchus. He wrote, “My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings” (Colossians 4:10a, NIV). Evidently, at some point after they arrived at Rome, Aristarchus was arrested and imprisoned. You see, sometimes being a devoted friend and a loyal ministry partner is costly. It cost Aristarchus his freedom!
Another sad note regarding Aristarchus was written by Paul in his second letter to Timothy. By the time the apostle wrote this letter, he had been released from his first Roman imprisonment, went on his third missionary journey, and been arrested again. During this second Roman imprisonment, he wrote to Timothy, “Only Luke is with me” (II Timothy 4:11a, NIV). Did you hear what Paul said about Aristarchus in that little note? He isn’t there!
Shortly after Paul’s release from his first Roman imprisonment, Nero became Caesar of the Roman Empire. He was a Christian-hating, Christian-killing, mad man. Since Aristarchus was arrested after Paul was, his name would have been farther down on the docket of Caesar’s court. Evidently, his case didn’t come up until Nero became Caesar. Secular Roman history indicates that “Aristarchus from Thessalonica” was executed by Nero.
So, you see, being a devoted friend and a loyal ministry partner can be costly. For Aristarchus it was! It cost him his physical life, but the benefits far outweighed the cost. Jesus said, “If you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10a, NLT). A special reward awaits everyone whose devotion and loyalty bring them face to face with death! Jesus called it “the crown of life!”
Being a devoted friend and a loyal ministry partner might very well qualify you to be chosen by God to be “The Right Man for the Right Time!”
The Voyage to Rome Begins
(Acts 27:2a, NIV)
“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.”
At this point in our study of the Book of Acts, Paul is about to begin his voyage to Rome. Luke described the moment when he wrote, “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” (Acts 27:2a, NIV).
As we learned in our previous lesson, only Luke and Aristarchus are with Paul when the journey begins. Luke wrote, “Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us” (Acts 27:2b, NIV). When Luke used the pronoun “us,” he was referring to Aristarchus, Paul, and himself.
II. Paul’s Powerful Influence
As Luke has already revealed, during the first day at sea, the Christian trio consisting of Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus landed at various “ports along the coast of the province of Asia.” The next day they landed at Sidon for a brief layover before heading out to sea again. Luke wrote, “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. From there we put out to sea again” (Acts 27:3-4a, NIV).
The thing that amazes me about this section of Scripture is that it reveals Paul’s powerful influence on the people who surrounded him. You see, they had been at sea for only one day and Paul had already so influenced the Roman soldier into whose custody he had been placed that he wanted to express “kindness to Paul.” Luke wrote, “Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs” (Acts 27:2a, NIV).
We don’t know exactly how Paul exerted such a profound influence on Julius, but he did. Paul’s influence on this tough, calloused, hard-hearted Roman soldier was so pronounced that “Julius….allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs” (Acts 27:2a, NIV). Wow…what an influence!
Maybe Paul influenced Julius by showing respect for his authority as a Roman soldier representing the Roman government. After all, Paul himself later wrote, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1a, NIV).
Maybe Paul influenced Julius by openly demonstrating genuine love his fellow-Christians, Luke and Aristarchus. After all Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35, NIV).
Maybe Paul influenced Julius by asking thought-provoking questions to help him understand who Jesus really is. Asking the right questions enables God’s people to exert a huge influence on the people who surround them. That’s why Jesus asked so many questions. For example:
III. God’s Agenda Versus Man’s Agenda
Man’s agenda and God’s agenda are often in conflict with one another. That fact is clearly indicated in the upcoming events recorded by Luke in this section of the Book of Acts. The agenda of the sailors is to reach a port at which to spend the winter that would be safe and comfortable. However, God’s agenda was to set His glory on display through a storm and a shipwreck.
Notice how the story unfolds. Luke wrote, “We put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. 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. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea. Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement” (Acts 27:4-9a, NIV). Let me point out that when Man’s agenda is in conflict with God’s agenda, God always wins! On this occasion God used adverse sailing weather to hinder the progress of the ship because he had a storm and a shipwreck planned through which He would put His glory on display.
Notice how the story continues. Luke wrote, “So Paul warned them, ‘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.’ But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on [By the way, the majority is most often wrong!], hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest” (Acts 27:9b-12, NIV). Typically, mankind insists on pursuing his agenda and that is exactly what the sailors and the owner of the ship did. They ignored sound advice when it was given and continued their pursuit of a safe port in which to spend the winter.
The story continues with the sailors and ship owner still stubbornly pursuing their agenda. However, God overruled their agenda by using the earlier adverse sailing conditions and their own stubbornness to get the right in the middle of a storm by which He would display His glory. Luke wrote, “When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. [I’m sure God laughed at their stubbornness.] Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. [God is accomplishing His agenda in this scene.] As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, so the men hoisted it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved” (Acts 27:13-20, NIV). Sometimes, God’s agenda puts His people in a situation that feels hopeless. You ever been there?
Using this storm at sea, God gave Paul the perfect platform from which to set God’s glory on display. Notice how Luke described the scene. He wrote, “After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: ‘Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island’” (Acts 27:21-26, NIV). When the events at sea turned out exactly the way Paul declared that God said they would, God’s glory was indeed set on display. Imagine the thoughts that must have been going through the minds of the sailors and other passengers about Paul’s God! His glory was certainly set on display.
In our next lesson from the Book of Acts we will see how God also used a shipwreck to reveal His glory! But we’ve run out of time for now…
So let me conclude by point out that God is more concerned about His glory than about our plans, our comfort, or even our safety! Paul hinted at this fact later when he wrote to the believers at Corinth, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31, NIV).
Since God’s glory is such a high priority with Him, it should also be a high priority with His people. That’s why Paul wrote to the believers at Ephesus, “To him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21, NIV).
God’s Glory Displayed in a Shipwreck
(Acts 27:41, NIV)
“The ship struck a sandbar and ran aground.
The bow stuck fast and would not move,
and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.”
When we last saw Paul he was on a ship in the Adriatic Sea headed for Rome in a midst of a terrible storm. Luke wrote, “A wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along” (Acts 27:14b-15, NIV). But God set His glory on display through Paul right there in the midst of the life-threatening storm!
In today’s lesson we will watch as God again sets His glory on display during a shipwreck. Luke described the chaos when he wrote, “The ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf” (Acts 27:41, NIV).
II. Danger Approaching
The story of the shipwreck begins as the sailors discover a bitter-sweet fact. The intensity of the narrative increases as they use their primitive sonar equipment to determine from the steadily decreasing depth of the sea that they are approaching land. Luke wrote, “On the fourteenth night [of the storm] we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight” (Acts 27:27-29, NIV).
I called the fact that they were “approaching land” a bitter-sweet fact because, on the one hand, there was the possibility that they might make land rather than perish in the midst of the sea. On the other hand, the ship might be catapulted by the storm onto some unknown rocky coastline taking the lives of all aboard. The sailors evidently feared the second possible turn of events. Luke wrote, “Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight” (Acts 27:29, NIV).
Under the same circumstances I think we might do exactly what those hardened sailors did—“They…prayed for daylight” (Acts 27:29b, NIV). Imagine being on board a badly battered ship, in the midst of an unrelenting storm, in unknown waters, surrounded by impenetrable darkness, facing the very real possibility of a deadly shipwreck. I think it would be a good time for a prayer meeting! How about you?
III. Paul’s Alertness
God again set His glory on display by using Paul’s alertness to save the day. Luke wrote, “In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow [the front of the ship]. Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, ‘Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.’ So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away” (Acts 27:30-32, NIV). The character quality of alertness enabled Paul to detect that the sailors, whose presence and sailing skills were vital to the survival of the other passengers, were planning to abandon ship. Evidently nobody else realized what was going on. God’s glory was set on display because He had the right man, with the right set of character qualities, in the right place at the right time!
Scripture instructs all of us to develop the character quality of alertness. Peter wrote, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8, NIV). To be “alert” means “to be keenly aware of your surroundings.” It is a valuable character quality. Because Paul was “alert,” the life of every passenger on the ship was saved!
IV. Paul’s Calm Confidence
Next, God set His glory on display through Paul’s calm confidence in His promises. Luke wrote, “Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. ‘For the last fourteen days,’ he said, ‘you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.’ After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Altogether there were 276 of us on board. When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea” (Acts 27:33-38, NIV).
Earlier during the storm God had appeared to Paul at night and explained that everyone on board the ship would survive the storm. Paul described this experience when he said, “Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul…God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you’” (Acts 27:23…24b, NIV). Then on this night before the shipwreck Paul calmly and confidently reminded them, “Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head” (Acts 27:34b, NIV).
After reassuring the other passengers of their survival, Paul grabbed some food, offered a prayer of thanksgiving, and then began to eat. Luke wrote, “After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat” (Acts 27:35, NIV).
Paul’s calm confidence was contagious. Luke wrote, “They [Paul’s shipmates] were all encouraged and ate some food themselves…When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea” (Acts 27:36…38, NIV). Paul’s confidence must have “encouraged” them and convinced them that they would indeed survive and make it to land so they wouldn’t need the rest of the grain. As a result, they responded by “throwing the grain into the sea.”
V. God’s Faithfulness
God is always faithful to His Word. He always orchestrates the events of human history so that everything happens exactly as He says it will. What an awesome display of His glory! God said there would be a shipwreck and there was a shipwreck. Luke wrote, “When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf” (Acts 27:39-41, NIV).
This story reminds me of the old hymn that says, “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father, There is no shadow of turning with thee; Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; As thou has been thou forever wilt be. Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed thy hand hath provided—Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”
The story ends by God again setting His glory on display by being faithful to His Word—twice. First, God had said Paul would survive the shipwreck because He wanted him to testify at Rome just as he had testified in Jerusalem. So when there was a concerted effort by the soldiers to kill Paul along with all the other prisoners, God stepped in and spared Paul’s life. Luke wrote, “The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship” (Acts 27:42-44a, NIV). God’s man is invincible as long as he stays on mission!
Second, God had said everyone on board ship would survive, and they did! Luke summed it up succinctly when he wrote, “In this way everyone reached land safely” (Acts 27:44b, NIV). God’s glory is set on display when He does what He says He will do!
Since God prioritizes His “glory,” we should also prioritize His “glory!” Paul wrote, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31, NIV).
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