Years ago our young family vacationed at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. It was this N.J. boy’s first trip to the South. I was fascinated and excited to arrive. In today’s text, the apostle Paul arrives in Rome–the city he long hoped to visit, albeit not as a prisoner.
Three months later we set sail on a ship that had wintered at the island, an Alexandrian ship with the Twin Brothers as its figurehead. We put in at Syracuse and stayed there for three days; then we weighed anchor and came to Rhegium. After one day there a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. There we found believers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome (Acts 28:11-14).Three winter months on Malta, when sea travel was treacherous. They embark early February on a grain ship. After a day’s sail, they reach Syracuse on the east coast of Sicily. They spend three days there, then set sail again, docking at Rhegium on Italy’s toe. There they wait one day for a south wind to blow, taking them 180 miles in two days to Puteoloi, the principal port of southern Italy.
In Puteolois they find a community of Christians. While the centurion conducts week-long business, Paul is permitted to visit them.
“And so we came to Rome.” But, author Luke will backtrack to tell of an important meeting.
The believers from there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage (Acts 28:15).
A few miles north of Puteoloi, they reach the Appian Way. News of Paul’s approach has reached the capital city, so believers from there travel south. Some walk 33 miles to Three Taverns. Others travel 10 miles further to meet the apostle at the market town of Appius. Paul thanks God for their encouraging presence. Three years have passed since he wrote the Rome church, and he must have wondered how they received it. Now his long desire to visit Rome (thoughunder different circumstances) is being realized, and their welcome lifts his spirits.
When we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him. Three days later he called together the local leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, yet I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. When they had examined me, the Romans wanted to release me, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to the emperor — even though I had no charge to bring against my nation. For this reason therefore I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is for the sake of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.” They replied, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken anything evil about you. But we would like to hear from you what you think, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against” (Acts 28:16-22).
Paul is allowed a measure of freedom awaiting his trial. He lives in a private house, lightly chained by his wrist to a Roman soldier. (Interesting to speculate on Paul’s conversations with these guards, who change every four hours. They, of course, hear everything Paul teaches his visitors.)
After three days Paul makes contact with the leaders of the Jews, inviting them to come to him. He insists he did nothing against “our people” or against “the customs of our ancestors”. Nevertheless, he was arrested and handed over to the Romans who wanted to free him. But the Jews objected, forcing him to prove his innocence by appealing to Caesar. He is a prisoner, he says, “for the sake of the hope of Israel”; that is, for the fulfillment of that hope in Messiah Jesus.
The Jews deny knowledge of Paul’s case (they want little to do with Paul and his Christianity). All they know is Paul’s Christianity is everywhere-opposed by the Jews. But they’re willing “to hear from you what you think”.
After they had set a day to meet with him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets. Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe. So they disagreed with each other; and as they were leaving, Paul made one further statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah, ‘Go to this people and say, You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn — and I would heal them.’ Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts28:23-28).
They come together again, this time more Jews than before. Paul labors long “to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets”. They disagree with each other, some convinced, the majority refusing to believe. The bulk of the Jewish community, then, stands opposed to Messiah Jesus.
Paul pronounces the Holy Spirit’s words through the prophet. Isaiah 6:9,10 stands in judgment against them, a solemn last word in Acts. If Romans 9-11 is any indication, Paul spoke these words with sorrow. But Jewish disbelief means riches for the Gentiles. “ . . . they will listen”.
For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 28:30,31).
W.M Ramsay (19th & 20th century New Testament scholar) suggests the two years was “the statutory period within which the prosecution might state its case”. If the Romans did or not, we don’t know. Many scholars argue that Paul was later released and traveled again. In any case, for those two years, the gospel spread.
There, in a house unknown to us Paul received visitors. And with courage and without hindrance he preached the fulfillment of God’s saving reign in the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly the Romans knew—and allowed it. So there, in the heart of the empire, Luke shows Acts 1:8 being fulfilled: the Lord Jesus Christ is made known “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
* * *
Since Acts closes in “unfinished” fashion, I believe Paul’s (crazy) route to Rome is a paradigm for today. I’m thinking of men and women who cross language and culture lines (missionaries) with the gospel. I have a friend who ministers in a country officially “closed” to the gospel among a little-known people group. Families are coming to faith in Christ. God still gets his servants where he wants them to make his good news known.
One important reason to faithfully support our missionaries in prayer and finances.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations,
and then the end will come
(Jesus, Matthew 24:14).