On The Road to Rome
August 5th, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
ON THE ROAD TO ROME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-5-79 8:15 a.m.
On the radio once again, we welcome the untold and uncounted thousands of you who listen to this service. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled On the Road to Rome. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 28. Next Sunday will conclude three years of preaching through this book. In our message last Sunday, the sermon closed at verse 10. The first ten verses of the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Acts recount for us the shipwreck of Paul on the isle of Malta. Now we begin at verse 11:
And after three months we departed in a ship of Alexandria, which had wintered in the isle, (the isle of Malta) whose sign was Castor and Pollux. And landing at Syracuse, we tarried 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 Praetorian Guard . . .
After three months in the isle of Malta, that would bring us to just about the middle of February. And waiting for a ship to transport them to Italy, there came by three months previously, or some such time, a grain ship of Alexandria which had wintered in the isle. That was far earlier than the usual time for Mediterranean navigation, but evidently the captain and the crew were anxious to get on with their mission, so they set out for their destination even though it was in the middle of the winter.
One thing that may have encouraged them in the journey was the sign of the ship. It was Castor and Pollux. As you know, that’s Gemini, the twin brothers, the part of the zodiac that is usually designated by us for the month of May. The twin brothers, Castor and Pollux, were the sons of Zeus. And because of their brotherly affection and brotherly devotion, Zeus made for them those two stars so bright shining in the sky called Gemini – Castor and Pollux, and they were the guardian deities of the sailors. Doubtless, one of them, in effigy, was on the prow of the boat, and the other was on the stern of the boat.
And the crew, doubtless comforted and strengthened by the aegis of these two deities, set out in the middle of the winter for Italy. And as they went on their way, they landed at Syracuse. From Malta, that would be north just about eighty to a hundred miles. And each section of this journey is filled with marvelous history.
"Landing at Syracuse we tarried there three days" [Acts 28:12]. Syracuse was the most brilliant of all the Greek colonies in the western Mediterranean. Cicero said it was the greatest and the most beautiful of all the Greek cities. It plays such a tremendously interesting and important part in Greek and Roman history. In the Peloponnesian War, the most vivid of all of the narratives of Thucydides is the siege of Syracuse by the Athenian troops. And by the way, they were never able to conquer it.
About two hundred years later, in 212 BC, the citizens of Syracuse cast their lot with the Carthaginians against Rome. General Marcellus of the Roman army came down to conquer the city. And because of a famous physicist and mathematician and geometrician in the city by the name of Archimedes, it took Rome over three years to conquer the city of Syracuse.
This physicist and geometrician and mathematician Archimedes was one of the greatest geniuses of all time. He invented and constructed war machines that terrified the Romans. Archimedes is the man who discovered the principles of specific gravity. You remember the story of that?
The king, Hiero, was given a golden crown, but he suspected that it was not gold – that it was partly alloy. But he didn’t know how to find out. So he asked the great physicist, Archimedes, how he could know that that crown was made out of gold and not filled with alloy. Well, Archimedes studied and thought and couldn’t come up with an answer. One day he put his foot in his bathtub, and when he did, the bathtub overflowed. And do you remember the story? Immediately it came to his mind how to know whether that crown was made out of solid gold or not, and he ran down through the streets of Syracuse, naked, crying, "Eureka, eureka, eureka!"
Remember that story? "I have found it! I have found it!" And of course, the answer was very simple when you look at it. The specific gravity of any kind of a metal – you would take a certain amount of gold and weigh it, and you would take a certain amount of silver and weigh it, and then put it in water, and the amount of water that the different weights displace shows you whether a thing is gold or filled with alloy. Archimedes did that: discovered the principle of specific gravity.
You remember another thing about Archimedes? He discovered the principle of the lever. He’s the one that said, "If I had a fulcrum upon which to place my lever, I could move the earth." A great famous physicist and mathematician, this Archimedes. Well, he lived in Syracuse; born in Syracuse, a citizen of Syracuse, and because of his ingenuity, I say, in inventing instruments and machines of war, he prolonged that siege for three years.
Tragedy of tragedies: when the Romans under Marcellus finally subdued the city, a Roman soldier – against the orders of Marcellus who had given orders to spare the great sage and Greek intellectual – a Roman soldier ran him through with his sword, and Archimedes died in the slaughter that followed the Roman fall of the city.
Well, that is the city in which Paul is now a brief guest, and these things that I’m saying, I am sure, were most intimately known to the great apostle. "So, after tarrying there three days, we fetched a compass" [Acts 28:12-13]. That’s an obsolete phrase to us today: "we fetched a compass." That is, the wind was contrary to them, and so they used a sailor term, "we fetched a compass," that we don’t do anymore. They tacked. They went this way, and that way, and that way, and that way, and that way, back and forth in order to go north and finally came to Rhegium [Acts 28:13]. That’s about eighty miles north of Syracuse and is located on the tip of the toe of Italy, on the western side of Italy, down at the south. And Rhegium also was a famous Greek colony and city. It was a resplendent city in the fifth century BC. But after it was conquered by the tyrant, the king of Syracuse, who slew all of the people that he didn’t sell into slavery, it never regained its glory.
In about 200 some odd BC, Pyrrhus, King Pyrrhus, P-y-r-r-h-u-s, who was the king of Epirus, E-p-i-r-u-s, modern Albania, invaded Italy and the people of Rhegium, in order to withstand the onslaught made a treaty with the Romans, and Rhegium took into the city four thousand Roman troops. But the Roman troops proved to be traitors, and they slew all the male population of Rhegium and reduced the women to slavery, from whence inglorious debacle it never recovered. But it’s a city there on the eastern side of the Straits of Messina, of the Straits of Sicily, and they reached that city: Rhegium.
"And after one day, the south wind blew, and we came the next day to Puteoli" [Acts 28:13]. That would be a distance of about eighty miles. And in order to get to that city, they passed through one of the most dangerous of all of the channels in the whole earth: the Strait of Messina, the Silesian Strait, between Sicily and the toe of Italy. And in ancient literature, throughout all of it, you’ll hear a phrase: Scylla and Charybdis. We would say, "Between the devil and the deep blue sea," or "between a rock and a hard place."
But throughout literature, you will find that phrase, "Between Scylla and Charybdis." Scylla was a great dangerous rock on the Italian side of that strait, and Charybdis was a giant maelstrom and whirlpool on the Sicilian side of the strait, and a ship had to negotiate its way between that dangerous rock and that awesome whirlpool. And many ships didn’t make it. So the ancients used the phrase, "Between Scylla and Charybdis," between a rock and a hard place, between two dangerous alternatives.
They engineered that and finally came to Puteoli [Acts 28:13]. This in that day was the port of Rome. Even though it was one hundred forty miles away from the Imperial City, because of the smoothness of the coast, this is the port city of Rome. It’s on that side; it’s on the northern side of the Bay of Naples. It was a city of about a hundred thousand people when Paul landed there.
This is the first place that he set his foot on the soil of Italy. Puteoli means sulfur springs, and I would suppose at that time no one knew why those warm sulfur springs. We do now, and the tragedy of our knowing now is one of the brilliant passages in ancient history. When Paul landed there at Puteoli, at Sulfur Springs, on that side, the northern side of the Bay of Naples, on the other side, he could see a beautiful, vine covered mountain.
All through its ancient knowing, all through its topographical history it had been just a beautiful mountain. And on the side of that mountain, vineyards covered it, beautiful. And at the base of the mountain, right there going up to the side of the mountain, were two beautiful resort cities that housed the elite and the nobility of Rome. One was named Herculaneum, and the other was named Pompeii. And when Paul landed at Sulfur Springs, right across the bay, he could see the rising of that beautiful mountain called Vesuvius and the two cities, Herculaneum and Pompeii, at the base.
It had never been in history an explosive volcano; it was just a mountain. No one suspected – and this was about nineteen years after Paul landed there, in a hot August night of 79 AD – no one dreamed or expected the awesome explosion that occurred that night. And down the hillside, down the mountainside of Vesuvius in that explosion that night, there rolled a wall of warm mud. And it covered Herculaneum for sixty-five feet deep.
And in that same night, the great volcanic explosion of Vesuvius covered Pompeii with little bean size pumice stones, covered it to a depth of seven to eight feet, and then on top of that a thick covering of heavy ash. And those two cities remained hidden and unknown until they were discovered in the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. And of course you remember that here in Dallas there was brought, earlier part of this year, some of the artifacts and some of the history discovered out of the city of Pompeii.
When Paul landed at Sulfur Springs, at Puteoli [Acts 28:13], on the northern side of the Bay of Naples, he could see those two beautiful resort cities there; and of course, the beautiful, unexploded, unsuspected, dangerous mountain that is called Vesuvius. Today, if you go to Italy, Vesuvius smokes like a locomotive in a station – harmless but smoking – and has been all these almost two-thousand years since that day.
So he lands at Puteoli, and there for the first time he comes to Italy. And it says that "in Puteoli we found brethren and were desired to tarry with them seven days" [Acts 28:14]. Where did that church come from? There is a Christian church at Puteoli. Nobody knows. We will not ever know ’til we get to heaven. But it shows the widespread dispersion of the faith of Christ, even in those early days. There is a church at Sulfur Springs, and they ask Paul to stay with them seven days.
Paul stayed in Troas seven days [Acts 20:6], Paul stayed in Tyre seven days [Acts 21:4]; he is asked and he stays here seven days. The reason for that, I think, is obvious. They wanted Paul to stay with them a Sunday, on a Lord’s Day, to preach the gospel to them on Sunday. And I suppose, if it was as at Troas, they observe the memorial of the Lord’s Supper on Sunday. Paul therefore stays with the brethren seven days in order to be present with them on Sunday [Acts 28:7].
Now as they go toward Rome [Acts 28:14], ninety-seven miles from Sulfur Springs – Puteoli – up toward Rome, there is a place called Appii Forum [Acts 28:15], which is forty-three miles from Rome. Appii Forum – the "forum of Appius," in Greek it’s agora, in Latin it’s forum, in English it’s the marketplace; the "Marketplace of Appius."
Claudius Appius built the Appian highway about three hundred years before Paul. It’s the most famous highway in the earth. The most famous highway, I suppose, that will ever be constructed. It was about, oh, a hundred some-odd miles long. It started forty-three miles above Puteoli and carried a heavy, heavy traffic, the most heavily trafficked highway in the history of the world. I have walked on it. I’m sure many of you have. It is there today. And on either side, the illustrious and gifted and wealthy Romans built their sarcophagi that they might be endeared in memory to the people forever.
Now down there at that part of the highway where a canal and the road came together was this Appii Forum [Acts 28:15]. It is described in Roman literature as a miserable and vile place. But in it, Paul held a prayer meeting, for there the brethren came from Rome to meet him. And then about ten or twelve miles up the Appian Way, there was a little town here translated "Three Taverns." The Greek of it is "The Three Shops." And there, other brethren met them[Acts 28:15].
Now I suppose the difference is that the stronger of and the more vigorous of the group, of the band that came out of town to meet Paul, I suppose they went down to Appii Forum, but the elderly stayed up there at Three Shops. Now here is one of the most beautiful little instances that you’ll find in the Book of Acts. When Paul met the brethren coming from Rome to greet him and to welcome him, the Book says, whom "When Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage" [Acts 28:15].
One of the most meaningful of all of the little asides that you could find in the Bible: "When Paul saw them, he thanked God, and took courage" [Acts 28:15]. You see, wherever Paul had gone in his whole life, he was met by vigorous opposition, or discouragement, or persecution, or stoning, or imprisonment, or beating. He was rejected, and vilified, and opposed, persecuted [2 Corinthians 11:23-27]. The whole story of Paul follows that kind of an order.
But when he came to Rome, he was met at Appii Forum and at The Three Shops by brethren who encouraged him, and thanked God for him, and welcomed him, and received him in love, and in brotherly and precious spiritual remembrance [Acts 28:15]. Isn’t that the finest observation that you could make about somebody – about people, about a church, about a friend, about a fellow Christian?
In discouragement, they are encouragement. In sorrow, they are comfort. In distress, they are helpful. It is a beautiful picture of the Christian fellowship, the koinonia, the sympathetic understanding and love of the people of God for one another. Paul writes to the church at Rome, and in the sixteenth chapter, he names all of those people he greets at Rome [Romans 16:1-16]. Many of them, I’m sure, came out to see him and to welcome him [Acts 28:15], which is I repeat one of the dearest and finest things that any church or any group of Christian people can do, and is the finest characteristic of any personal presentation of Christian life that I know of; just to be sweet, and to be kind, and to be helpful, and to be encouraging, and to be interested and sympathetic and understanding.
I was reading one time the rules of a steel mill. And the mill had great lathes in it where iron shafts were being made to an infinitesimal diameter; the measurement was to be just exactly correct. And one of the rules I read was this, you listen to it: "Remember, the warmth of the hand will change the diameter of the shaft." The warmth of the hand will change the diameter of the shaft. That mechanic there, working at that big steel lathe, carving out of a great ingot of iron a shaft that has to be just perfectly measured, going into an airplane engine or some such thing as that. Remember, as you work on that steel beam, the warmth of your hand will change the diameter of the shaft.
My brethren, if the warmth of your hand changes the diameter of cold steel, think how it will change a heart, maybe discouraged, or sorrowful, or frustrated, or lost. I one time heard of a little girl who came back home and said to her mother, "Mother, the little girl who sits across the aisle from me at school is so sad. When she came to school today, she sat there at her desk and cried because her mother had died." And the mother said to the child, "What did you say to the little girl?" And the little girl replied, "I didn’t know what to say so I didn’t say anything. I just sat by her side at the desk and put my arm around her and cried too."
You couldn’t improve on that. It is the finest way and the finest thing that I know of in the Christian faith to be loving, to be sympathetic, to be kind, to be open hearted and understanding. To be cruel and caustic and carping and critical is, of all things, hurtful and sin. I could wish no better thing for our church and our people than that we might be known for our kindness, and our sympathy, and our understanding, and our goodness to each other and to all men.
A beautiful thing, I say – Paul so hounded and hurt and persecuted wherever he went – when he came to Rome, he was received with such gladness and such welcome and such love by the brethren [Acts 28:15].
Let me make one other observation: our time is gone. "And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard, to the Praetorian Guard" [Acts 28:16]. You remember, and we’ve mentioned it so many times, Paul dreamed of going to Rome. In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, in his great ministry at Ephesus, it says, "Paul purposed in his spirit to go to Jerusalem saying, ‘And after I have been there, I must also see Rome’" [Acts 19:21]. Then do you remember in the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Acts, the Lord said to Paul, "The Lord stood by him in the night following, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou has testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also in Rome" [Acts 23:11]. And in the passage that you read in Romans, in the letter that he wrote to Rome from Corinth, he wrote in the fifteenth verse, "So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also" [Romans 1:15].
The dream of his life was to preach the gospel message in Rome, to go to Rome, to go to the great imperial capital of the empire. It’s a long way from Damascus, where he was converted [Acts 9:1-18], to Rome, where he was executed [Acts 28:16-31]. He never dreamed, little thought that when he did go to Rome, he would go as a prisoner with an iron chain upon his hand, to appeal for his life before the Roman Caesar. But God has His own way. And in Rome, he wrote, "I am bound, but the Word of God is not bound" [2 Timothy 2:9]. God has His own purposes in our lives, and they don’t always flow as we think for, and as we dream for, and as sometimes we had hoped for. But, my brethren, God is sovereign. He rules. And though Paul is brought to Rome, not as he ever thought for, yet out of that imprisonment and out of the blood and tears and death of the suffering of that apostle, we have these marvelous letters of the New Testament that we would never have had it not been for those heavy persecutions and incarcerations.
God has a wonderful purpose for us. His Word is not in prison. His Word is not bound. His Word is not fettered. We may be, in physical frame; but not God’s immutable, unchanging, life-giving, soul-saving Word [2 Timothy 2:9]. And however we may be and however the suffering we may endure, God has in it an infinite sovereign purpose, and somehow it always works out for His glory and our good. "In all things," Paul wrote to the church here at Rome, "in all things God works together for good to those who love the Lord, to those who are given and called according to His purpose" [Romans 8:28].
Now, may we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, there are such tremendous, tremendous, messages for us in these words in the Bible. And this morning, following the life of this emissary from heaven and this ambassador from the courts of Jesus, this missionary with a gospel message of Christ, Lord, Lord, what it meant to him to be greeted and loved and welcomed. What it means to us today. Lord, Lord, help us to be like that in Christian love and forbearance, to be kind to one another; to be good to each other.
And then, our Lord, help us never to be discouraged, our spirits never to be fettered. The word of God is not bound. We may be frail and feeble and finally die, but the word of God endures forever [Isaiah 40:8]. And in our weakness, God’s strength is perfected [2 Corinthians 12:9]. And in our age, God’s living Word is glorified. And may all the providences that overwhelm us in life be humbly received from Thy gracious hands. In them, our Lord has purpose and elective cause.
So, Lord, we give ourselves to Thee, and wherein we may stumble or falter, may God forgive and give us yet greater strength to love Thee more, serve Thee better.
While our people stand in the presence of the Lord and while we pray for each other, our brethren are going to be down here at the front with me to welcome you, to love you into the kingdom and into the fellowship of this dear church. A family you: "Pastor, God has put on our hearts to put our lives here." A couple you, or just one somebody you: "Today I want to take the Lord as my Savior," or, "Today we want to give ourselves completely to Him," or, "Today we’re coming to join this fellowship."
In a moment, we’ll sing and there will be brethren waiting for you, welcoming you. God bless you, speed you in the way. Angels watch over you as you come, while we pray, while we wait, and while we sing.