They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

The Royal Roads

One of the most fascinating components of the ancient Roman Empire was their unbelievably extensive road system. The Roman Empire built over 57,000 miles of paved roads throughout their conquered lands. These roads connected the Far East and Mesopotamia with Asia Minor, Egypt, Israel and ultimately Rome, itself. Names such as the “Royal Road” and the “Via Maris”which meant the “Way of the Sea”, were given to these ancient super highways.

Harbor Street, Ephesus

Harbor Street, Ephesus

These roads were as wide as our two lane highways of today and were paved with huge limestone rocks that were quarried, then shaped to fit like bricks on the road bed. As the roads came close to each city, they would get wider and they would place columns on each side of the roadway. Shops would be set up among the columns to trade and sell to the travelers coming and going on the road. The Roman engineers even laid sewer channels for the cities by placing them underneath the roadbed and then straddling the channel with large stones to conceal it and make it sturdy. Way stations were placed one days travel apart, along the main roads. These road side inns were called “caravanserai” and catered to the estimated 3 million travelers that traversed these highways on a yearly basis. All the labor was performed by Roman slaves. It has been estimated that almost half the population of the Roman Empire were slaves they had conquered and used to accomplish their building projects.

These roads were in place and being built during the time of the New Testament. You can actually walk on some of the same road beds that the apostles walked on as they went to spread the gospel in Asia Minor and other parts of the world. Cities such as Ephesus, Pergamum, Sardis, Collosae and Laodicea were on these roads and they steadily increased in size and commerce because of the traffic on the road. These cities became stopping places for the apostles as they went and spread the good news about Jesus Christ.

What is the faith lesson here? When Jesus commanded his disciples in Matthew 28:19-20 and in Acts 1:8 to ”go and make disciples out of all the nations and that he would be with them to the ends of the earth (age)”, He already had the roads in place! One hundred and seventy years before Paul, God began building a road system that would allow the disciples to reach all the known world for Christ. And, they went on those roads literally to the ends of the earth, as far as they could travel! On those main roads, God had set up a ready and accessible congregation in the bigger towns and cities that were intersected by the roads.

The apostles must have been convinced by what they saw at the resurrection and ascencion of Christ, because they fearlessly went to these pagan nations to spread the story about the Jewish Messiah. It is over 1,300 miles on foot, which is a 60 -80 day journey, to Ephesus from the Galilee. This was a huge commitment from the disciples to leave their homes and family to go to these far away places. They must have really believed their message and had a passion that is hard for us to grasp. Because of their faithful witness, we have the blessing of Christianity in America today.

What is the moral of the story?  If God is sending you to Asia Minor, He will already have the roads in place! All you have to do is be willing to walk the path that He has called you to! “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” Ephesian 3:20.

What Are You Doing Here?

Sunset over the Sea of Galilee

The Story of the Rabbi and the Roman Sentry

There was a rabbi living in the village of Capernaum, Israel, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, during the first century A.D. Late one evening, he was walking the path along the shore of the lake near the village. As rabbis are accustomed to doing, he was talking out loud to God and mulling over the Hebrew text. Absorbed in this deep theological discussion, he completely lost track of the time of day and where he was on the path.

Via Maris Milestone Found at Capernaum

Via Maris Milestone Found at Capernaum

As the light of day began to fade, the rabbi failed to notice the upcoming fork in the road. Instead of taking the trail back to the village, he took the path that led to the Roman garrison that was located nearby. Capernaum was on the main branch of the ancient highway (called the Via Maris) that led to the Mediterranean Sea and eventually down to Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of travelers came on this route each year. Consequently, the Romans kept a big presence here to collect duties and protect their interest in this small, but very important country.

In the twilight, the rabbi unknowingly approached the entrance to the Roman fortress. Suddenly, the sentry on the wall barked out in a loud voice, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” The rabbi was startled and taken aback when he heard the sentry’s loud voice. Instinctively, he replied, “What?” in a mumbled voice as he struggled to clear his mind and remember where he was. The sentry repeated his demand a little bit louder – “Who are you? What are you doing here?” The rabbi, now with his wits somewhat back together, replied back in a loud voice to equal the sentry’s volume, “How much do they pay you to stand on that wall and ask these questions?” Now it was the sentry’s turn to be caught by surprise at this forceful reply to his questions. “Five denarii a week, Jew; why do you ask?” The rabbi quickly replied, “I’ll pay you twice that much if you will come to my house and ask me those same two questions every morning!

The rabbi was a very wise man and he knew the importance of these two questions. In fact, these are questions for the ages and are relevant to every generation. Each one of us should be well aware of what our answers to these questions should be. Who are we? What are we doing here? Who are we in God’s eyes and what is our relationship with him? What is our purpose?Why does God still have us here on this earth? What does he want us to do with the precious time that we have left? Like the rabbi, wouldn’t these be great questions to ask ourselves each morning as we wake up and start our day?