For the past year, my church has been teaching through the book of Acts. Yesterday our pastor, Dan, preached a powerful message on Acts 25. At this point in the narrative, Paul has been in Caesarea Maritima for two years as a prisoner, waiting for his trial to be heard. He is offered the opportunity to go back to Jerusalem and have his case heard there, but instead he appeals to Rome. His focus is on getting to the place where he can continue the kingdom ministry he has been called to as the apostle to the Gentiles.
It made me remember how much I have loved visiting Caesarea, and how each time I’ve been there I’ve been struck by what it must have been like for Paul. To be in this Roman harbour city built by Herod to honour Caesar, at the main port for ships coming to and from Rome, likely kept in the basement of the palace which lies on a promontory overlooking the Mediterranean Sea … looking towards Rome.
From his letters and other travels, we know of Paul’s strong desire to go to Rome. The centre of the empire was a key place for the spreading of the good news throughout the world. I’m guessing he didn’t originally expect to get there via a prison ship, but when that’s the opportunity that arose, he jumped at it. Paul knew who he was, what he had been called to, and what was worth giving his life to.
So, what did I love about Caesarea?
Seeing its history, particularly the Roman history of the first century.
The artificial harbour constructed by Herod the great.
The remains of the ancient Roman aqueduct that brought fresh water to the city.
The 4000-seat Roman theatre, completed by Herod in 10BCE and restored to be used for performances today.
The remnants of Herod’s hippodrome.
Caesarea is also the place where the Pilate Stone was discovered in the 1960s, the first archaeological item found which mentions the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, under whom Jesus was crucified.
What did I learn from Caesarea?
I find it intriguing that in a place built by a king known as “the Great” and built to honour the Emperor of the then known world, the person I remember most is a man who spent two years here as a prisoner. Paul’s legacy, due to his faith in Jesus and commitment to the gospel, has profoundly changed the world. I hold copies of his writings in my hand every day.
It makes me think about what really lasts. In the past few decades there have been wonderful restorations to preserve the city’s history, but the truth is that in the end all great building projects come to ruins.
Certainly, glimpses of faded beauty remain.
But watching the waves crash over Herod’s once great breakwater reminds me that so many of the seemingly great achievements in this life will not last; and Paul’s life challenges me once again to commit mine to the things that will.