Today’s Reading: Acts 28
In today’s reading, we look at the last chapter of Acts, chapter 28. We are going to discover real friends today—forty-three-mile friends.
When talking about friendship, John Churton Collins said, “In prosperity our friends know us; in adversity we know our friends.” In Acts 28, Paul is in adversity. He is in Rome where he will meet death. However, something happens that can be overlooked. Acts 28:15 shows an extraordinary act of friendship: “The brethren, when they heard about us, came from there as far as the Market of Appius and Three Inns to meet us; and when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.”
Let me give you some timelines. Acts 21–23 took place in AD 59 and Acts 24–28 took place in AD 62. We are dealing with a very tough three years of prison for the apostle Paul, who has been defending himself against the angry mobs and has faced an unexpected amount of tragedies and also miracles before he lands in Rome, the final place he will live.
Let me take you through his journey and show you how important Acts 28:15 is in Paul’s life. It all starts getting crazy in Acts 21. Paul will never again be free from chains after verse 30. He ends up on an island from a shipwreck. While building a fire, a snake bites him, but God protects him. When God heals him from the bite, everyone thinks Paul is a god. He ends up staying on the island for three months until he finally gets to Rome in Acts 28:15. People who love and care about Paul go to see him. They take an important journey to get there. Let me explain.
Apii or Appius is forty-three Roman miles (roughly thirty-nine-and-a-half contemporary miles) from Rome. That means Christians walked forty-three miles to be with Paul, forty-three miles to encourage the apostle.
I love that Luke, the writer of Acts, uses the Greek word that translates “to meet us.” It specifically describes people going to meet a general, king, or conqueror. They go to meet Paul as one of God’s generals.
This is so important to Paul. He thanks God and takes courage. It lifts his heart and spirit because he realizes he isn’t alone. The body of Christ is there to encourage him.
Christians are never alone. You have a family called the Church. Every time someone makes a sacrifice to call you and you are encouraged, you have forty-three-mile friends. Every time you are visited in the hospital, you have forty-three-mile friends. When someone sends you a Bible verse or prays for you, you have a forty-three-mile friend. If you ever have someone give you a hug when you are down in the dumps, you have a forty-three-mile friend.
To be a forty-three-mile friend—like these no-name-people who encourage Paul—costs time. If they walked a quick pace and made a mile every 20 minutes, that means they traveled 14-15 hours just to encourage Paul. It was sacrificial. It took time out of their schedules and lives.
“Appius to Rome” is such a quick part of the Scripture that it’s easy to glance over without ever giving it a thought. However, this phrase is an important detail about those Christians. They were forty-three-mile friends.
I have forty-three-mile friends in my life who have made journeys to encourage me when I did not know if I had the strength to keep going. Think about your friends—your real friends, not your “friends” on social media. A court in Florida recently made a decision on the legal definition of “friendship.” It was based on the question, “Are your friends on Facebook actually your friends?” According to an appeals court, legally, Facebook friends aren’t necessarily your friends. The court looked into this because of a judge who may have been required to recuse herself from a case—because an attorney involved was friends with her on Facebook. However, the court ruled that recusal was not necessary, because they said Facebook friends are not really friends.
Thank God someone is getting it right. Just because you “follow,” “like,” or “friend” someone doesn’t mean you have a friend.
Real friends go forty-three miles, they don’t just press a “follow” or “friend” button.