The Road to Rome
August 5th, 1979 @ 10:50 AM
ON THE ROAD TO ROME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-5-79 10:50 a.m.
It is a gladness for us here in the First Baptist Church in Dallas to welcome all of you who are listening to the service on radio, and are watching and worshiping with us on television. This is the First Baptist Church. This is the pastor of the church, and the title of the message being brought this morning is On The Road To Rome. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 28. Last Sunday, we concluded with the tenth verse [Acts 28:10]. The sermon today is on verses 11 through 16 [Acts 28:11-116]. And next Sunday, the two sermons delivered then will complete our exposition of the Book of Acts, which has taken three full years. I have been preaching through the Book of Acts for three full years. Can you believe that? I can’t realize it. But the two sermons next Sunday will conclude our messages on the Book of Acts. The message next Sunday morning is entitled, Paul’s Iron Chain.
For all of those years in prison, he was chained to a Roman soldier; Paul’s iron chain. And then the sermon next Sunday night that concludes the series is entitled, Journey’s End. Now, today, Acts 28, 11 through 16:
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 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:
There we found brethren, and they desired us to tarry with them seven days: and then 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—to the head of the Praetorian Guard.
“And after three months” [Acts 28:11], the first ten verses described for us the shipwreck of the apostle on the isle of Malta; and they stayed there for three months [Acts 28:1-10]. And after three months, they departed in a ship of Alexandria, a grain ship that had wintered in the isle of Malta. Counting from the time that they landed in Malta to the time that they left, the ship departed about the middle of February, which would be very unusual because it was not a time of navigation in the tumultuous waters of the Mediterranean.
But evidently the crew and the captain were eager to arrive at their destination. So they leave Malta on the journey to Rome. And maybe one of the reasons for their optimism lies in the aegis, the sign under which the ship sailed. It was the sign of Castor and Pollux [Acts 28:11]. Those are the Gemini twins. They are, in mythological, the sons of Zeus. And because of their brotherly devotion, he put those two bright stars up in the sky, called Gemini. One is Castor and one is Pollux. And almost certainly on the prow of the ship would be the effigy of Castor, and on the stern of the ship would be the effigy of Pollux.
And they are the guardian deities of the sailors. So they felt themselves assured of a safe journey under the aegis of those two guardian deities. And landing at Syracuse [Acts 28:12], from Malta up to Syracuse, which is about the middle of the eastern side of the isle of Sicily, they had a journey of possibly ninety miles.
And when they come to Syracuse—all of these places named here in our text are full of historical significance, particularly so, Syracuse—it was the most brilliant of all of the Greek colonies in the West. Cicero said it was the greatest and the most beautiful of all Greek cities.
When I think of Syracuse, I think of two things in ancient history. One: the most brilliant and interesting passage, narrative, in the historian Thucydides; is the Peloponnesian war and the siege of Syracuse by the Athenians, in which siege they failed ingloriously.
Second thing I remember especially is the siege of Syracuse by the Romans, who conquered it and made it a part of the Roman Empire and made Syracuse the provincial capital of the province of Sicily. The thing that I especially remember about that is the elongation of the war due to the genius of a Greek physicist and geometrician and mathematician by the name of Archimedes. Archimedes was a citizen and a scholar, one of the greatest of all scientific story. He was a citizen and a scholar in Syracuse. When I say some things about him, you will immediately recall him to mind. He is the one that discovered the principles of specific gravity. The king Hieron had a crown of gold, but he suspected that those who made it put alloy in it, and it wasn’t gold.
So he came to the great physicist and asked him, “How can I tell whether my crown is made out of gold, solid gold or not?”
Archimedes didn’t know how to answer. How would you tell? One day as Archimedes put his foot in a bath and saw the water overflow, immediately the answer came to his mind. And you remember he ran through the streets of Syracuse, naked, hollering, “Eureka, eureka, I have found it! I have found it!” And what he had found was, it came to him how to know whether that crown is made out of solid gold or not. Now, do you know the answer? It is very, very simple when you think of it.
Take a piece of gold and it weighs so much. Take a light weight of alloy, anything not gold. And take the equal weight of it; equal weight of gold, equal weight of the alloy. Put it in water and see how much is displaced. And the difference in the displacement of water will reveal to you whether it’s gold or whether it’s alloy. That came to Archimedes. Simple. He also was the discoverer of the power of leverage, of a lever. He’s the one who said, “If I had a place on which to put my fulcrum, I could move the earth.” Anyway, Archimedes, one of the greatest mathematicians and geometricians and physicists of all times; what a tragedy when the Romans finally subdued the city. And I forgot to tell you what I was starting out to: the reason the siege lasted so long was because Archimedes invented instruments of war that terrified the Romans. Archimedes contrived contraptions of warfare, machines of warfare, that the world never saw or heard of before. And it elongated that siege three years.
Now what a tragedy, that when the Romans finally seduced and reduced the city, against the command of General Marcellus the Roman, a Roman soldier took a sword and ran it through Archimedes, and thus he perished in the manslaughter that followed.
But that’s Syracuse. And when Paul touched there, all of these things were most certainly known to him and reviewed by him. Then it says, “From thence we fetched a compass, and came to Rhegium” [Acts 28:13]. Now, that “fetched a compass” is an archaic word now. It isn’t said anymore. What you would say is that facing an unfavorable wind, they tacked. They went this way and that way and this way and that way. They tacked until finally they came to Rhegium which is a distance away of about eighty miles. And Rhegium is on the southern tip of the toe of Italy; right beside of the Straits of Messina are the Straits of Sicily. It also was a famous Greek colony, Greek city.
But in the fifth century BC, it was reduced to oblivion almost by the tyrant, the king of Syracuse. And then again when it began to come back, why, they made a treaty with the Romans, when Pyrrhus, P-y-r-r-h-u-s, when Pyrrhus—remember the Pyrrhic victory he won over the Romans but had all of his army killed? And a Pyrrhic victory is an empty victory; one that leaves you destitute.
Pyrrhus was the king of Epirus, E-p-i-r-u-s, modern Albania, and when he invaded Italy, Rhegium made a treaty with the Romans and opened the wall, or the gates to the walls of their city, to the Romans and let four thousand Roman soldiers come in to help them defend the city against Pyrrhus. But the Romans were traitors, and they slew all of the men in the city and reduced all the women to slavery. That’s Rhegium.
And from Rhegium, why, Paul and the ship went on the way to Puteoli [Acts 28:13], which is on that side of the Bay of Naples and which is the shipping port of the city of Rome, though it is one hundred forty miles down the coast from Rome. But the coast of Italy is so regular that until Trajan built a port of entry at the mouth of the Tiber, the seaport for the city of Rome was Puteoli, which is one hundred forty miles south. Now, Puteoli means “sulphur springs.” Today, we know why there would be those warm sulphur springs there in the Bay of Naples. But when Paul landed there, they had no idea why.
Now, when Paul landed at Sulphur Springs [Acts 28:13], at Puteoli, on that side, the northern side of the Bay of Naples, right across the bay he could see a beautiful, beautiful mountain; a towering, beautiful mountain—been there ever since man could remember, ever since history began; a beautiful mountain. It was covered in vineyards, it was vine-clad. And at the base of the beautiful mountain, reaching toward the beautiful Bay of Naples, were two resort cities of the elite and noble and affluent Romans. One was named Herculaneum, and the other was named Pompeii.
When Paul landed at Sulphur Springs, at Puteoli [Acts 28:13], what he saw was that beautiful mountain, vine-covered, and those two beautiful resort cities at the base. Nobody, nobody had an intimation of, there was no forewarning at all of that awesome night in August, in 79 [AD], nineteen years after Paul was in Sulphur Springs, when that mountain named Vesuvius blew up! And out of the mountain rolled a great tidal wave of soft, soft warm mud, and it covered Herculaneum with a deposit sixty-five feet thick. And out of that eruption of Vesuvius, there came a hail storm of little bean-sized pumice stones that covered Pompeii to a depth of seven to eight feet, on top of which there fell a heavy encrushment of ashes. And those two cities, Herculaneum and Pompeii lay hidden and forgotten until the 18th and 19th centuries. Archaeologists dug them up, and in the city of Dallas, earlier part of this year; we had the privilege of viewing the artifacts taken out of Pompeii.
Paul saw all of that when he landed at Puteoli, the first place on which his feet touched the country of Italy. Then it avows there in Puteoli, “We found brethren, and we were desired by them to tarry seven days” [Acts 28:14]. Isn’t that an astonishing thing how early, how very early the Christian faith is found over the civilized world? Here is a church in Puteoli, in Sulphur Springs. Where did it come from? No one shall ever know until we get to heaven. And they desired Paul to stay there seven days [Acts 20:6], that is on a Sunday. You remember in Troas he stayed seven days [Acts 21:3-4]. And on the first day of the week, he observed the Lord’s Supper with the church; the brethren at Troas [Acts 20:7]. You remember at Tyre, he stayed seven days. And here in Sulphur Springs, he is importuned to stay seven days, that is that he stay on a Lord’s Day, that he preach gospel to them on Sunday and almost certainly brake bread with the brethren [Acts 28:14].
So after his stay there in Puteoli, why, they go on foot to Appii Forum [Acts 28:15]. In Greek, it is “agora.” In Latin it is “forum.” In English it is “marketplace.” And there in Appius Forum, where a canal and the Appii Highway come together, they meet brethren from the city of Rome, who have come down to greet them. Appii Forum is about forty-three miles from Rome. And then they go up on the Appian Way about ten or twelve more miles to, and you have it translated here to “The Three Taverns” [Acts 28:15]. The Greek is “the Three Shops.” They go there to the Three Shops, a little town. I suppose the difference is the more energetic of the band that met Paul out of Rome went all the way to Appii Forum, forty-three miles. And the more elderly, who could not make the journey well, tarried at Three Shops in order to welcome Paul to the city of Rome.
You remember in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Romans, the whole chapter is greeting friends whom he knew in the church at Rome [Romans 16:1-27]. And so many of them I’m sure, such as Aquila and Priscilla [Romans 16:3], came down to meet him [Acts 28:15]. Then it said one of the most beautiful little characterizations, little asides in the Book of Acts, whom when Paul saw, “he thanked God and took courage” [Acts 28:15]. The reason that I think that is so meaningful is because of the life of the apostle. Always, wherever he went, there did he meet persecution and stoning and imprisonment; rejection, opposition, denial [2 Corinthians 11:23-25]. That was the life of the apostle Paul. But when he comes to Rome, he is met by the brethren. And when he sees them, Luke writes that “he thanked God and took courage” [Acts 28:15]. That is a beautiful thing to be found in the true fellowship of the Lord. To meet a Christian, a fellow Christian, is always to be encouraged and to be blessed if there is a true spirit of Christ in our hearts. And the most meaningful thing that I know of in the church is the encouragement that we provide for one another.
Life is hard for everyone. There’s no easy road strewn with roses. Every life is filled with hardships, thorns, thistles, disappointments, tears, frustrations. If you haven’t found that yet in your pilgrimage, you will. There is no life beyond it. We go through it. And in the pilgrimage of this life, to be encouraged, and to be blessed, and to be welcomed, to be entreated, to be loved, to be sympathized with, understood, it is just everything to us, as it was to the apostle Paul who thanked God and took courage [Acts 28:15]. It is a wondrous thing, the effect that a kindness has upon us—anyone of us.
I read a manual one time for mechanics who were working in a steel mill. And they were making shafts, steel shafts. And those shafts had to be precisely made. They were, for example, in an engine in an airplane. And the steel shaft had to be infinitesimal centimeter just correct. The shaft had be exactly right. And the manual that I read had a rule in it and one of the rules was this, “Remember,” the rule said, “that the warmth of the hand can change the diameter of the shaft.”
You think about that. “Remember the warmth of the hand can change the diameter of the shaft.” If the warmth of a hand can change cold steel, think what the warmth of a loving hand or a gracious word can change a human heart. Think of it, just a precious word of remembrance; a sweet sentence of encouragement, the grasp of a hand, just some gesture of kindness and charity and love. Think of what that means to us. And in our fellowship, in our koinōnia, in our relationship with each other in the Spirit of Christ and in the fellowship of His dear church, how we ought to be kind and thoughtful and generous. You don’t know what sorrow may be in that man’s heart. And you may not know what disappointment is in that man’s life. He may never tell you. But for us, when we greet each other, to do it in kindness; and for us always to have the spirit of helpfulness and prayerfulness and encouragement is a beautiful virtue of the Christian faith. Thus it was with Paul. When they came out of the city of Rome, those forty-three miles and those thirty-three miles, to greet him and to welcome him, when Paul saw them, “he thanked God, and took courage” [Acts 28:15]. We’re that way, too. When we are encouraged by the sweet remembrance and kind words and thoughtful sympathetic interest of those in the faith, we also thank God, and take courage.
Then the last verse, “And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard” [Acts 28:16]. His name was Burrhus. He was the head of the Praetorian Guard. Do you remember all through the life of the apostle Paul, he longed to go to Rome? He avowed it in his ministry there in Ephesus. He says, “After these things, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem, saying, And after I have been there, I must see Rome also” [Acts 19:21], years and years before. Then do you remember in the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Acts, “The night following the Lord stood by Paul, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: as thou has testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome” [Acts 23:11].
And then again; do you remember in the passage that you read? Paul writes in the letter to Rome from Corinth; years before, he writes, “I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the barbarians.” The Roman would say, “both to the Latin and to the provincial. So much as is in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also” [Romans 1:14-15]. He was in his spirit looking forward to the day when he would preach the gospel in Rome. It’s a long way from his conversion in Damascus [Acts 9:1-6, 15] to his appearance before the Roman Caesar in the imperial city [Acts 25:12].
And when he came to Rome, how different from what he had thought for. For when he comes into the city, he is a prisoner. He has an iron chain on his wrist [Acts 28:20]. And he is delivered by the captain of a Roman legionnaire [Acts 28:16]. How different when Paul finally entered the city of Rome. He’s a prisoner with an iron chain. But he writes from the city of Rome. He writes of his bonds and of his chains [Ephesians 6:20]. That’s going to be the sermon next Sunday morning. Then he adds, “But the word of God is not bound.” “But the word of God is not bound” [2 Timothy 2:9]. There is in the preaching of the gospel, there is a liberty in it, and a spirit in it, and a power and a glory in it that is of God Himself. The man, the apostle may be in chains, he may be behind walls and bars: “But the word of God is not bound.” That is a part of the sovereignty of the almighty omnipotent One who reigns in heaven. “But the word of God is not bound” [2 Timothy 2:9]. Paul is a prisoner, when he comes into Rome, he comes bound in chains; a prisoner of the Roman army. But the word of God abounds in the Praetorian palace. It abounds in the imperial city. It reaches out to the frontiers of the Roman Empire. It encircles the globe; the great sovereignty, the omnipotence of Almighty God.
Sometimes when I think of our modern world, so much of it closed to the missionary, and so much of it in apostasy; I think, “Dear God, what shall be the end of the gospel of Christ?” Shall it be a thing forgotten, perishing in the earth? And then I call to mind, God is sovereign. The Lord lives and He reigns [Revelation 11:15]. And in all things we are helped by the presence of the Spirit of God. As Romans 8:28 avows, “In all things God works together for good to them who love the Lord, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”
And however men may fret and the enemies of Christ conspire against Him, He that sitteth in the heavens shall mock their puny, human dust-filled plans [Psalm 2:4]. And the Son shall reign, the S-o-n, the Son shall reign victorious forever [Revelation 11:15].
And even in Paul’s bonds, and chains, and imprisonment, and finally his execution on the Ostian Way in Rome, even though Paul faced imprisonment and death, yet God was glorified, and the word of the Lord spread over the civilized world.
Thus it is in our lives. Things that to us are so dark and unfathomable, they are inexplicable and un-understandable; yet in them, the hand of God is working, and He turns these things ultimately to the blessing of His name, and to the saving of the lost, and to the preaching of the gospel [Acts 1:8]. It is a wonderful thing to rest in the omnipotence of God. Now, may we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, I suppose that when Paul found his life filled with blood and tears and suffering, I suppose he had a right to cry unto Thee, saying, “Lord, Lord.” But how much we learn when God says to His apostle, “My strength is made perfect in your weakness” [2 Corinthians 12:9]. Then, Lord, that we might be able to reply with the apostle, “In imprisonments, and persecutions, and distresses, and sorrows I take delight: for when I am weak, then am I strong” [2 Corinthians 12:10]. And our Lord, may we have that conquering victorious faith. All of these things that so overwhelm us in them, God is working for our good [Romans 8:28]. Being limited, we don’t understand now, but we shall by and by.
“God hath purposed some good thing for us” [Hebrews 11:40], we who have found refuge and hope in Thee. And our Lord, may that faith and assurance that means life itself to us, may it be avowed and received and embraced by others this holy day. Please, Lord, give us souls. And while we pray before the Lord, are quiet before Him, has the Lord spoken to you? Does the Lord say something to you? If He does, would you respond with your life? “Pastor, God has spoken to me today and I’m answering.” A family you, putting your life with us in this dear church, a couple you, walking down that aisle, or just one somebody you, “Today, I’m taking Jesus as my Savior” [Romans 10:9-10]. Or, “Today, I’m putting my life in the fellowship of this wonderful church. I want to pray with you. I want to love God with you. I want to pilgrimage with you,” a thousand times welcome. In a moment, we shall sing our hymn of appeal, and when we sing that song, these godly deacons will be standing down here at the front to welcome you, to encourage you, to present you. Our Lord, when we sing, may there be a wonderful spirit of response. And we’ll rejoice with the angels in heaven [Luke 15:10], as they come to Thee and to us, in Thy dear name, amen.
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)
1. Siege of
Syracuse in the Peloponnesian war
of Syracuse by the Romansprolonged because of instruments of war created by
C. Rhegium, on southern
tip of Italy(Acts 28:13)
Deceived by Romans, who slew all the men and reduced all 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
brethren there; stayed seven days (Acts 28:14)
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. Rule in steel
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)