THE ETERNAL CITY AT LAST!
"Then we came to Rome. Friends in Rome heard we were on the way and came out to meet us. One group got as far as Appian Court; another group met us at Three Taverns -- emotion-packed meetings, as you can well imagine. Paul, brimming over with praise, led us in prayers of thanksgiving. When we actually entered Rome, they let Paul live in his own private quarters with a soldier who had been assigned to guard him." Acts 28:14-16 (The Message).
Rome at last! The Eternal City, and what a welcome! One would have thought he was a returning hero and not a jailbird on his way to trial.
He certainly was a hero in the eyes of his friends. He was a well-known figure all over the empire. These friends, no doubt, were some of his converts, or converts of converts who had either moved to Rome or were introduced to Jesus through believers who had visited Rome at some time.
His welcome was so riotous that one can imagine a red carpet, with banners and streamers all over the streets -- not that it actually happened! The centurion and soldiers must have marvelled at Paul's popularity. The Christian quarter had been buzzing with the news that Paul was coming to Rome. They had no need of snail mail, e-mail, sms's, satellite TV news or any of the modern forms of communication. Word of mouth was just as effective when an important person was coming!
They turned out in numbers and in relays to welcome him and show him love and support in his awkward situation. The centurion and soldiers were not his guard; they were his guard-of-honour to herald his arrival in Rome. One would almost have expected Nero himself to be part of Paul's entourage!
What was the mood among his beloved friends? Joy and celebration! Hugs and tears! For many of them it was the first time they had seen his face, but they knew him so well that they would have recognised him anywhere. His letter to the Roman church was in their hearts, no doubt by now copied and re-copied, carefully preserved and highly treasured for its rich teaching and tender exhortations.
Paul was overwhelmed by their loving and enthusiastic welcome. Forgotten were the years of languishing in prison, the uncertainty of his future, the hardships of the voyage, the peril of the storm and the terrifying experience of being flung into the icy waters of the Mediterranean Sea. His heart was flooded with joy and gratitude. His God was faithful -- guiding him safely to Rome.
How long he had wanted and planned to visit Rome, but not this way! Nevertheless he was secure in his Father's perfect will, and that was a cause for rejoicing. With his feet firmly on Italian soil and surrounded by his friends, he lifted his soul to God in an outpouring of gratitude and praise.
This was the environment of Paul's life. Praise! Beat him, stone him, throw him in jail; Paul prayed! Buffet him in a stormy sea, fling him into the deep, pound him with mountainous waves; Paul praised! Chain him up to a Roman guard, bring him face-to-face with death; Paul rejoiced! Wherever he went, he was surrounded by an aura of joy.
It was out of his history of trouble and suffering that he built his portfolio of God's grace. How else would he have been able to share his unshakeable conviction that nothing could separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus? Whatever encouragement, whatever exhortation you may read in any of his letters, you may be sure that he wrote out of deep personal experience.
This life into which we have entered through faith in Christ is a marathon of testing, an obstacle course of opportunity to overcome self, sin and the world, and to be put on display, as Paul was, as proof of the glory of our God. A praising heart is the evidence that we, like Paul, know whom we have believed, and are convinced that He is able to guard what we have entrusted to Him for that day. (2 Timothy 1:12b).
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