On the Way to Rome
June 6th, 1954 @ 10:50 AM
ON THE WAY TO ROME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-6-54 10:50 a.m.
In our preaching through the Word, we are in the twenty-eighth chapter, the last chapter of the Book of Acts. And last Sunday we left off with the first part of it, the shipwreck that cast on the shores of the little island of Malta, Melita, Paul, and Luke, and Aristarchus, and Julius, the captain of the Augustine band, with the Roman soldiers, the sailors, and the prisoners [Acts 27:1-2]. They were kindly entreated by the barbarous people, the non-Greek speaking people on the island, and so stayed there the winter. And we left off with the tenth verse [Acts 28:1-10]. This morning we begin with the eleventh verse and continue through the twentieth. Acts 28:11-20:
And after three months we departed in a ship of Alexandria, which had wintered in the isle, whose sign was Castor and Pollux.
And landing at Syracuse, we stayed there three days.
And from thence we fetched a compass, and came to Rhegium: and after one day the south wind blew, and we came the next day to Puteoli:
Where we found brethren, and were desired to tarry with them seven days: and so we went toward Rome.
And from thence, when the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum, and the Three Taverns: whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage.
And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him—
to whom he was chained—
And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said unto them, Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.
Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me.
But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar; not that I had aught to accuse my nation of.
For this cause therefore have I called you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.
Now let’s go back and follow the apostle in his journey to Rome. The little island of Malta is in the Mediterranean, south of Sicily. And after staying there three months, the winter months, when time came for navigation again, they entered a ship that had wintered in the island, an Alexandrian wheat ship, grain ship, and so sailed from Malta northward toward Rome. It isn’t very far to Syracuse. I have flown all over this route, stopped in many places of it. It isn’t very far to Syracuse. Syracuse was the most flourishing and illustrious and famous of all of the Greek colonies located in the western part of the Mediterranean. It was founded by Corinth; Cicero said it was the most beautiful city in the world. They tarried there for three days [Acts 28:11-12], and then tracked backwards and forth through the treacherous strait of Messina, up to a town called Rhegium [Acts 28:13], which is on the point of the toe of Italy. To give you an idea of the barbaric, inhuman customs of that day, in that little town of Rhegium, in the days when Pyrhhus king of Epirus went to Macedonia, a Greek general, in the days when Pyrhhus was invading Italy, Rhegium formed an alliance with Rome, and Rhegium opened her gates to four thousand Roman troops in order to protect the city against Pyrhhus. This is what happened: when the city opened the gates to the Roman soldiers, four thousand of them, they slew every male inhabitant of the city and reduced all of the women to slavery. That’s just a little typical instance of the inhumanity of that day.
From Rhegium it’s a hundred eighty miles straight to the other side of the bay of Naples. And the seaport of imperial Rome was located in a city of about a hundred thousand people called Puteoli, which is on the left hand side of the bay of Naples. There was no city of Naples at that time; your big port city was Puteoli. It’s a hundred forty miles south of Rome, and except for thirty-three miles due north of Puteoli, it was connected with Rome by the famous Appian Way, the busiest and most famous highway in the world. When Paul came to Puteoli [Acts 28:13], he sailed across the bay of Naples—took him about a day to get there, about twenty-six hours with a soft south wind blowing—when he came into Puteoli [Acts 28:13], and looked cross the bay, there was a beautiful mountain named Vesuvius.
And sleeping on the side of the mountain, on the side of the mountain, were the two famous resort cities of Rome, Herculaneum and Pompeii. They were beautifully laid out cities, and they were covered, surrounded with beautiful vine-clad vineyards, and beautiful laid out terrace forms, and they were laughing the last years away. When you go into the Bay of Naples now, the direction of everybody’s eye and attention is on the smoking cone of Vesuvius. It looks like a locomotive, peacefully smoking in a railway station. When Paul went to Puteoli, there was no smoke at all; it was just an innocent looking mountain there, beautifully covered with green and vine and flower, and those beautiful cities there at the foot of it. There was no premonition whatsoever of the terrible eruption nineteen years later, on a hot August night, when the mountain suddenly exploded, and the cities were buried in hot lava and boiling mud. They remain there unknown, hidden, forgotten, until the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, when they are now being dug up, and the people who were encased in lava and in mud, they are presented in the museums today, and the city is laid out in excavation, just as it was when Vesuvius covered it over, and the life of the day just as they lived it, so suddenly wiped out, is preserved for all time. As I say, when Paul was there, everything was peaceful and quiet, with no harbinger or premonition of that terrible August night in 79, when Vesuvius first erupted.
Now from Puteoli, word was sent to Rome that the great apostle had landed in Italy. This is the first time that he set foot on Italian soil, and he doubtless made the journey from Puteoli, the hundred and forty miles, the rest of the way, by foot, walking along. And when they came to a place called Appii Forum, there they were met by brethren who came down to meet them and to greet them from the city of Rome [Acts 28:15]. Appii Forum is located on the forty-third Roman milestone, about thirty-nine and a half English miles, in that day, a day’s journey for a vigorous walker and traveler. Appii Forum was located at the head of a canal. From the forty-third Roman milestone, through the Pontine Marshes to the sixty-second milestone, there was a canal that ran by the side of the Appian road, and travelers often made that part of the trip by night. They entered those large boats, and the boats were pulled along by mules on either side of the narrow canal. Horace, the Roman poet and satirist, describes one of the trips he made on that journey. He speaks of the gnats, and frogs, and insects, and mosquitoes that made repose impossible. He talks about the recalcitrant muleteer whose provocative tactics drove them all crazy, and whose procrastination made it seem impossible they’d ever arrive. And then he speaks in Appii Forum of the intolerable water and of the importunate inn keepers and of the motley throngs gathered there at the head of the canal. So you can see Paul, as he comes to Appii Forum, a town of low taverns and barge men and travelers from all over the world. And in that crowd is a little band of Christians, as they eagerly scan the faces of all of those coming up from the south. And can you imagine the face of Paul, as his eyes shined and his face brightened and his countenance lightened when there came toward him, this little band of brethren, Christians from the city of Rome, who had come down to Appii Forum, at the head of the canal, to meet the great preacher and apostle of Christ? [Acts 28:15]. Then on the Appian Way they walked together to Three Taverns, that’s a little town about ten or twelve miles further up the Appian Way from Appii Forum. And doubtless these brethren who met Paul at the Three Taverns were older men who couldn’t quite make the journey down to the head of the canal. And there Paul is greeted again; and so they go toward Rome, walking on the Appian Way.
I’ve walked on that way; some of you have. That road was built by a council of Rome three hundred years before Paul walked on it. Claudius Appius, [it] took its name from him, and it’s a highway today. After 2,300 years, the automobiles and the carts and the wagons and the people still use that highway. Every once in a while I read in Texas, we’ve got to spend more money. About ten years ago they built a highway from here to there, and now it’s all worn out. I think of how those Romans built, 2,300 years ago; Claudius Appius built that highway, and they still use it. And on either side of the highway the great men and women of imperial Rome placed their sarcophagi; the tomb, the tomb, the tomb, in order that they might be remembered by the travelers who turned north toward the golden city. Can’t you see that sight? In the crowded highway of Appius, there is Julius, the Roman centurion, with his Roman legionnaires. And chained to one of the soldiers is his prisoner, Paul of Cilicia. And gathered round Paul are the little band of Christians, making their way toward the imperial city. Can’t you see it? And the heart of Paul is light. It says here that when Paul saw those Christians, “He thanked God, and took courage” [Acts 28:15].
Paul, everywhere that he went, was beat. He was treated with malice by enemies that ought to have been his friends. All that he knew was persecution, and slander, and malice. Somehow, I suppose, after the years had passed, his spirit grew heavy. Apparently he had failed in so much of what he had done. In any event, it says here, that when Paul saw these Christians from Rome, “He thanked God, and took courage” [Acts 28:15]. I can just see that, can’t you? After the storm, and after the shipwreck, and after the toil and weary persecution and hardships of life, going toward Rome, not knowing what might lie ahead, there to greet him were these Christians, with a song on their lips, and a welcome in their hearts. I can see that. And the spirit of the apostle lifted up [Acts 28:15].
Have you ever thought about that with you and with your brethren and with your people? What it means, a Christian smile and a word of cheer, an encouraging sentence, the warm clasp of a hand, have you ever thought of that? When you see somebody, do you frown, are you like an old grouch, everything’s wrong and there’s nothing right? Are you that way? Somebody asks you how you are, well, you’re just about gone, you’re just about down, you’re washed up. Oh! Isn’t it a lot better, isn’t it a lot better when somebody asks you how you are, you may be so blue you want to die, you may be so lost you can’t see the sun, you may be so discouraged and don’t know how to say it, but when somebody asks you how you are, why don’t you smile? “Well, friend, maybe it could be better with me, but it’s not as bad as it could be, not as bad as it could be.”
There’s a blessed member of this church, one of the finest, sweetest members of our church, she’s listening right now to me over this radio. She’s in Baylor Hospital; she’s paralyzed on the right side. She’s been that way a long time. She’s out there at Baylor all the time. I go see her every time I have opportunity. And you would think, “Well, this is going to be a sort of a sad thing, isn’t it?” Well, you go visit her. You go visit her. How she loves this church. She and her husband put their lives in this church. And she has said to me several times, “Pastor, I’m so happy that when this stroke came that my eyes were spared. I can still see with both of my eyes, and I can read. And I’m so happy that when the stroke came it left my features, my mouth, so that I can speak and talk. And I’m so happy that it left half of my side normal, I can use one of my hands.” And you’d think after you talked with her that the Lord had been especially good to her. I don’t know whether I could take it like that or not, but I wish I knew that I might be turned in that way, to smile, to add a word of encouragement; “Paul, when he saw them, thanked God, and took courage” [Acts 28:15].
I don’t know why it should have made such an impression upon me. In New Delhi, India, a friend took me to see a section, a cave of child labor. There in an old place were children, eight, nine, ten, and eleven years of age; they were gathered around an anvil and a forge, and they were making iron hinges. There was nobody there but those little boys. I supposed they had never bathed in their lives. I just supposed they slept there by the side of the forge, and by the side of the anvil. They were as black as black could be. And from early sunrise, until late sundown, seven days out of every week, those little boys stand at those forges and at those hand drills and at those anvils, and they make iron hinges all the days of their life. As I walked around and looked at those boys, it was all I could do to keep from crying. It was just so heavy a sight to my heart. And I stood where two or three of those little boys were grinding by hand the holes in the iron hinges through which you’d stick a screw to fasten it to a door. And as I stood and looked there, one of those dirty, dirty, dirty faced boys looked up at me, and he smiled. His teeth were so white; he smiled. It kind of got next to me. What did he have to smile about? What if that were you when you were a boy?
Ah, fellow! We got room in our lives for more of that. Did you know it? More of that: “And when Paul saw them, he thanked God, and took courage” [Acts 28:15]. Lord, more and more, take out of me the disgruntled, and the cynic, and the scornful, and the captious, and the caustic, and the critic, and the bitter. Help me, Lord, to have more of the smile and the sunshine of God in my heart. “And when Paul saw them, he thanked God, and took courage” [Acts 28:15].
So went on his way to Rome, chained to a Roman soldier, in the custody of the Roman army. For the years of his life he dreamed of going to Rome. When he was in Ephesus he said, “I must also see Rome” [Acts 19:21]. And in the passage that we read, a letter that he wrote from Corinth, he says, “Oft times I have purposed to come, but was hindered hitherto” [Romans 1:13]. At long last he’s come to the center of the government of the Roman Empire. It’s a long way from Damascus where he was converted [Acts 9:1-18], to Rome where he preaches [Acts 28:23-31]. I don’t suppose he ever dreamed he’d go there like that, do you think? Chained to a Roman soldier [Acts 28:20], in custody of the legionnaires; but his spirit is not bound. In the second chapter of 2 Timothy, in the ninth verse, he says, “And the word of God is not bound, though I am bound with this chain” [2 Timothy 2:9]. You don’t bind a man by sticking him behind an iron grate or a stone wall. A man’s only imprisoned by his own heart, and his own soul, and his own spirit. This man Paul chained to a Roman soldier [Acts 28:20] is unfettered and free, and he lives in the great firmament of God’s presence.
This man Paul last came to Rome bound; but the word of God and His Spirit are not bound. So he called the Jews together, and spake to them, saying, “For this cause, brethren, have I called you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain, for the hope of Israel, I am bound with this chain; for the hope of Israel” [Acts 28:20]. I can just see Paul as he takes God’s Book and as he reads out of the Prophets: “That’s the Lord Jesus”; and as he reads out of the Law, “That’s the Lord Jesus”; and as he follows the story of the promised coming of Christ, all through the intervening centuries, “The Lord Jesus, the hope of Israel” [Acts 28:20]. Every smoking sacrifice pointed to Him. Every line of every psalm pointed to Him [Luke 24:27]. Every preachment of every prophet pointed to Him. Every ritual, every part of the temple worship, all of the revelations of God pointed to Him. And to that hope clung all of the patriarchs, and saints, and preachers, and prophets and men of God, in all of the centuries passed; all to lead to the Lord Jesus. I can just see Paul as he preaches to those people of the hope of Israel in Christ Jesus; all of it, pointing up to Him. There is a scarlet thread; there is a scarlet line, that runs through all of the Bible. It is the hope of Israel that leads finally to the Lord Jesus; “For the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain” [Acts 28:20].
Fellow, do you have a hope? What if I went away to the convention as I did this week, and the telephone rings: “I have an emergency call for you.”
“It’s from Dallas, Texas.”
“You’re the pastor of the First Baptist Church?”
“It’s for you.” I know what it’s about. It comes all the time, all the time. I went away to a place some while ago to rest for just a while. When the bellboy put my bag in the room, the telephone rang. “There’s an emergency call from Dallas for you.” And I come back. And I left the convention to come back. What if that call were from your wife, or your husband, or your son, or your daughter? “Brother Criswell, last night at 1:30 o’clock in the morning…just wanted to know if you could get back in time for the service. We so would like for you to come. He loved you so. Could you do it? Could you make it?” What if that’s for you? Do you have a hope? Look, and suddenly, is it all right? In the middle of the night, before you awake, would it be all right? An accident, is it all right? Do you have a hope? Do you?
As I look on this table, with its red fruit of the vine [Matthew 26:27-29; 1 Corinthians 11:25-26], it brought back to my heart one of the things a missionary said. Far, far, in the north part of India, going down the road, sow on the side of the road a straggler, an Indian that had been abandoned by the caravan, and left to die on the side of the road: the missionary said he stopped, and bent over the prostrate form of the man. There was a little life in him. And he said to him, “Sir, do you have any hope?” And the man, with his dying sentence, said, “The blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanseth us from all sin”; and expired. The missionary, amazed, for the first time noticed that in his clenched fist was a leaf from a book; he undid his fist, and spread out the leaf, and there was a page from the First Epistle of John, the first chapter, and that verse: “The blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanseth us from all sin” [1 John 1:7].
“For the hope of Israel” [Acts 28:20]; do you hope? Do you have a hope in Him?
While we sing our song this morning, somebody you, give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:9-13]. In the balcony, in the topmost balcony, from side to side, while we make appeal, today would you make it now? “Pastor, here I am, and here I come.” Give your heart to the Lord in faith and in trust [Ephesians 2:8]. Come into the fellowship of His church by baptism or letter or promise of letter. One somebody you, a family, somebody you; “Pastor, here we are, and here’s my family.” A child, a youth, as God shall say the word and open the door, while we sing, while we make appeal, would you come? While we all stand and while we sing.
ROAD TO ROME
I. Places along the way
A. After three months
on Malta, departed on ship of Alexandria(Acts
most brilliant Greek colony in Western Mediterranean(Acts 28:12)
C. Rhegium, on southern
tip of Italy(Acts 28:13)
slew all the men and reduced the women to slavery
D. Puteoli, Bay of
the bay was Mt. Vesuvius, overlooking Herculaneum, Pompeii
First place on which Paul’s feet touched Italy
II. The welcome
A. Brethren came to greet
him at Appii Forum, The Three Shops(Acts 28:15)
wherever he went he met persecution and imprisonment
2. When he comes
to Rome, he is welcomed and loved(Romans 16)
B. The precious value
of a Christian smile, handshake, word
1. Member of our
church, in hospital paralyzed
2. Child labor
section in New Delhi
III. Coming to Rome(Acts 28:16)
A. The dream of a
lifetime(Acts 19:21, 23:11, Romans 1:14-15)
B. So far from Damascus
to Rome; so different from what he expected
a prisoner – but the Word of God is not bound(2
C. God is sovereign(Romans 8:28, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10)