Rome: Facing Limitations
Explore the Bible Series
August 31, 2008
Lesson Passage: Acts
years ago, as I finished my graduate classes at UT Dallas, one of my professors
asked me about reading the Greek New Testament together. He knew of my limited background with Koine
Greek, and his Classical studies had honed his outstanding abilities as a
skilled Greek scholar. We agreed to meet
on Thursday afternoons to read the New Testament. After translating through the Gospel of John,
we turned our attention to the Acts of the Apostles. Frankly, I really struggled with these last
two chapters of Acts—all of the nautical and geographic terms really tested my
patience. To this day, I have an ill-defined
queasiness when I read these chapters!
In addition to my graduate reminiscences, I have not seen these chapters
as particularly well-suited for preaching value, that is, until now. Thankfully, the discipline of studying for
this lesson has reopened this section of the Bible for me.
During twenty years on the mission field, no doubt, Paul had
grown accustomed to great liberty to travel and preach as he saw fit, under the
leadership of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s
tent-making skills afforded him economic flexibility, and his unmarried status
meant he had few family constraints.
However, all of that changed with the apostle’s incarceration in Jerusalem and Caesarea. More than two years of imprisonment in
Caesarea served as an unfortunate prelude to extended confinement in Rome. Twenty years of considerable liberty were
followed by about five years of incarceration.
This must have proved a great test to Paul.
Most of us will never serve prison time for our faith;
however, many may experience seasons of apparent restriction in usefulness in
the Kingdom of God.
Life has many “prisons.” For
Paul, this restriction was confinement under Roman authority. For others, their usefulness may be hindered
by failing health or advancing years.
Sadly, the body does, in time, fail all of us, and an active, willing
heart may find itself encased in a broken “clay vessel.” Providential circumstances may seem to limit
the service of others. Many pastors,
willing and able to serve, have found themselves without a place to preach,
and, in moments of weakness, may question the Lord’s gracious care for his
servants. Still others may finds
themselves trapped in seasons of severe depression or mental illness, and
usefulness in the Lord’s work seems, for these folks, a remote
possibility. Some find themselves under
the crushing weight of family problems or financial constraints and the distraction
of these problems make service seem an impossibility. Yes, life does have many “prisons.”
Paul’s circumstances, as he neared the end of life, prove
most helpful in helping Christians deal with the “meanwhile” of the pilgrimage
to the Celestial City.
Sometimes our progress seems meager, and we feel confined and
useless. Paul must have felt some of
these same emotions as he awaited trial before Nero. Nevertheless, when Paul
could not do all the things he wanted, he did what he could. He continued to preach from his rented
quarters, and he wrote letters. Four of
these epistles made their way into the New Testament canon: Ephesians,
Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. May God help all of us to use our
“meanwhile” moments to do what we can for the Lord’s glory.
Paul’s Journey to Rome
to Myra (27:1-5): Luke apparently accompanied
Paul on the journey to Rome. In addition to the Beloved Physician, a man
named Aristarchus (of Thessalonica) traveled with Paul. Julius, a Roman centurion, booked passage on
a ship that planned sail to Cyprus
and then to follow the coast of Asia Minor. The first leg of the trip ended in Myra, a city of Lycia.
B. Myra to Fair Havens (27:6-8): Julius booked passage on an
Alexandrian ship, headed for Rome. Weather conditions prevented the vessel from
making much progress, and the ship’s crew sought some relief from the difficult
conditions by sailing to the Island
of Crete. This portion of the journey ended at a place,
on Crete, called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea.
Havens to Malta
(27:9-28:10): Paul warned the sailors about the dangers of leaving Fair Havens,
but the men refused to follow the apostle’s counsel. Strong wind currents drove the vessel south
of Crete and threatened to ground the crew and passengers on the sand bars of
Syrtis, off the northern coast of Africa. The situation grew so dire that the crew
jettisoned the ship’s cargo and bound the vessel’s hull with strong cable. For many days the darkened sky concealed the
sun and stars, the men did not eat, and the crew began to lose hope of
survival. Paul assured the beleaguered
crew that they would survive this ordeal, and, in time, the ship ran aground on
the Island of Malta.
Julius thwarted a plan to execute all of the prisoners, and all of the
crew and passengers made a safe escape to the island. Two miraculous events occurred while the
travelers sojourned on Malta.
deliverance from a viper’s bite (vv. 3-6): This miracle caused the men to
conclude that Paul was a god.
of the father of Publius (vv. 7-10): Publius, a prominent citizen of Malta, showed
great kindness to the refugees. Publius’
father grew very ill with dysentery and a fever, and Paul healed the man. Other
sick persons came to the apostle to be healed of their illnesses.
D. Malta to Rome
(28:11-15): After a three-month stay on Malta,
Paul set sail, on an Alexandrian ship, for Italy. After a circuitous voyage, the vessel landed
along the western coast of Italy,
at Rhegium and then Puteoli, the chief port city south of Rome.
Disciples from the region met and encouraged Paul, and in a few days,
the apostle finally arrived in Rome.
Paul’s Sojourn in Rome
apostle’s living arrangements (v. 16): The Romans allowed Paul to rent a home
where a guard attended him. It is
possible that Paul earned a living by making tents, but some of his friends
also provided funds for the imprisoned apostle (See Philippians 4:10-20).
meeting with the Jewish leaders (vv. 17-29): The apostle asked local Jewish
leaders to meet with him concerning the charges brought against him in Jerusalem. He recounted the Lord’s dealings with him,
and he bore witness to the Lord Jesus.
Some of the hearers believed Paul’s preaching, but many did not. As a result of hearing the gospel, a great
continued ministry in Rome (vv. 30-31): Luke
ends the Book of Acts with a brief summary of Paul’s preaching while
incarcerated in Rome. Despite his imprisonment, Paul enjoyed great
liberty in proclaiming the glory of the Savior.