Some latter-day scholars might debate whether Paulus ever reached Spain and Britain, but, then, they themselves were quite desk-bound and saw the world in a different way. To Paulus, opportunity presented itself the more difficult and inaccessible it was! He exulted in achieving the impossible through his glorious Lord and Christ, Yeshua.
That trait of his frightened even mighty Roma—which had to stop him lest it spread to his followers and converts! But it was not easy to catch such a man, for he was always on the move. Once he left Roma, his case temporarily given reprieve by the court magistrate due to lack of evidence and blatant contradictions in the evidence so far present, he was not an easy man to apprehend, even with the chains on his arms that Roman law required.
Travelling with few companions, looking like no important person would look, he was impossible to spot by Roman spies and informants—and he always melted into the crowds and sped away from every preaching engagement before his opposition—namely Jews from Judaea connected with the Temple authorities—could catch him and get him restored to prison on some pretext or other. If they could have killed him, they would have done it—but even stonings that should have proved fatal—did not stop him.
The man seemed immortal to his enemies—almost like a god, in that sense—as pagans often compared him to Hercules and Hermes.
Silas got only a vigorous shake of Paulus’s head. “Never!” the evangelist declared, looking dangerously annoyed at the suggestion. “I glory in these shackles! Don’t you see that they gain me a hearing from the very people I want to reach—the lowly and downtrodden and the oppressed! Would they listen to me so gladly if I weren’t shackled? Absolutely not! They might even think I was here to shackle them or take advantage in some way. No, these chains open human hearts, which would otherwise be closed tight against my Gospel. Seeing them, my listeners cannot resist what I have to tell them. For I speak them precisely from their own level in society, if, indeed, not from beneath them! Thank God for these Roman shackles, they are golden keys that unlock men’s hard hearts to the truth entrusted to us!”
Would could Silas say to that? Paulus was absolutely right!
Even as they discussed this, Paulus’s chains were drawing attention, and a man approached them, a tradesman by his clothes, for he wore a leather apron.
“Good sir,” he spoke in a widespread argot of trade-port Latin mixed with Greek, “you come from Roma? I see you are chained, and those are Roman shackles, I know, being a worker in copper and tin.”
Silas’s mouth fell open, but Paulus beamed at the man. “Yes, you are correct, my good man. Now what can I do for you?”
The man bent close to Paulus, and Silas had to bend close too or not to hear.
“Sent of God, I heard you would be wearing these very chains. Please come quickly to us, Brother Paulus. We meet here at my house behind my metalworks. We heard you were over in Spain, and news comes swiftly to us here of events in Spain. Many great things were done through you in Spain. We Jews and Gentles who revere God are all awaiting you and your word of Yeshua. Will you come?”
Paulus glanced piercingly at Silas, who resolved then and there never to say another word against Roman shackles.
He had founded innumerable churches and believers’ home fellowships, written many famous letters to the believers in Yeshua, traveled the length and breadth of the empire preaching the Risen Christ, and he had suffered much just as Yeshua had promised him on the road to Damascus. Oh, it was true his thorn in the flesh, his infirmity God refused to take from him, followed him all his days, but Paulus’s ministry was somehow blessed beyond all others in evangelism—even Barnabus came to be Paulus’s helper despite his obvious poor speech. That nearly fatal clubbing long-ago by an unknown assailant in a backstreet of Tarsus at night may have injured his natural ability to speak, it may even, some said, have addled his wits a bit, obliging him at occasional times of relapse to repeat and repeat and repeat in ever growing complexity of words until he regained the lost thread of his thought—but Paulus’s gospel proved triumphant and reached even in Caesar’s palace and gained converts to the Way. Not even the Emperor’s words could do what Paulus’s words had done—turn an entire world upside down, just as Christ’s had done before him.
Grace! How indescribably sweet the sound to a condemned man in his moment of terror of death!
It was a miracle how all fear of death fled away instantly! He was strengthened, made ready for the worst that man could do. Even as a naked executioner raised his Roman sword to swing, Paul did not cling to the last moments of life and wait for the order by the centurion present but he bent his head over a stone block that had seen many heads fall.
“Welcome to thee, O sweet Death Angel!” he whispered. “Where is thy sting?”
“What did he say?” Gratian Honorus Flaccus, the Roman magistrate in charge, wanted to know.
The decree of the Emperor, the will of Roma, could not be detained even by a high official, and the sword swung upon its appointed destination.
Yet the Magistrate Flaccus was unsatisfied as he watched the slaves hurry to tidy up the block and the area, careful to remove the head and body only after the place, time, and other details concerning the death were fully recorded by the palace scribe for the court records.
“I distinctly heard the condemned man say something—did you hear it?” he inquired of Quintus his aide.
The young man nodded. “Yes, I heard it. The Christus-follower said, “Welcome, sweet Angel of Death!’”
The Honorable Gratian Flaccus reared back as if from a snake thrown in his lap. A man had welcomed death, even calling his destroyer "sweet"? Surely, he must have been a staunch Stoic philosopher, not a Christus-follower, who were not supposed to possess admirable qualities and noble character, being riff-raff and slaves and society’s dirty dregs.
He said as much to his aide, but Quintus—-not being of a philosophical turn of mind and too young to consider death close at hand for himself--had no opinion.
Still bothered, the judge carried the matter home to his wife, Drusilla, who had enough wits to listen to him and not reply immediately.
She knew, furthermore, how to handle men of his type, and she smoothed his hair and forehead wrinkles with her softer hand. “There, there, why does it concern you what a nasty, old foreign criminal said? Surely, with no hope before him, he had reason to plead for death to release him from his present sufferings.”
Gratian swept away her hand, startling her. “But he wasn’t a criminal—not the ordinary sort, that is. We all know it was a silly, trumped up charge, that makes no sense in our law courts, but the Emperor held him accountable as a Jew anyway for the burning of Roma, and so he was finally executed. That isn’t the question, however. What I am saying, I cannot fathom why anyone, any man of flesh and blood, would welcome death—almost cheerily—as this fellow did! There has to be something he knows—that is, knew—about the life after this that he knew was infinitely preferable to this world.”
Drusilla, having tried and failed, shrugged and went out into the brightly sunlit garden that held three pools and a number of fashionable Greek-style copies of statues of Adonis and Narcissus and various figures modeled like characters in the Iliad, Homer’s epic tale.
“How can a man welcome death?” the judge kept wondering after Drusilla—his lovely, young third wife--had gone. “What could he possibly have—what could he know—that I don’t have or know? Was it really so wonderful after death for these Christus-followers? Roma had slain quite a few of them of late—but they all seemed to welcome, even embrace death. He had thought them mad at first, but this man—Paulus of Tarsus—wasn’t mad. He had discussed enough topics of reason with the man to prove his sanity. Yet his assurance that it was going to be well for him in “eternity,” as Paulus called it, it was maddening to think about. Was it simply a matter of “believing on Christus” and he could know the same thing Paulus had known even facing death? How could it be so simple? A child could do that, and what did a child know anyway?
Gratian Flaccus rose from his currile chair. “No!” he decided. He was a man, a Roman. He knew his world, and what it contained. It was an old, crumbling, grinding affair stumbling toward the leering grave, but a child’s fantasy was not for him. Let them keep Christus, and praise Him to their dying breath! Death was a fearsome thing and always would be an object of dread to a sensible man. Life, vain, brutish, and short—the present world—was all there was really—and so the “heaven” of Paulus was a mere snatching at straws.
Assured he was right and there really was no alternative, he went out into the garden looking for his beautiful, pouting wife. He found her reclining, waiting for him on a golden Lycian-style chair-—more luxurious bed than chair-—that was supposed to be like one Homer described where Paris first made love to Helen after he carried her off to Troy.
Engrossed in making up to her for his rudeness, the magistrate turned lover sat upon the bed-chair, pulled her sinuous body onto his lap, and while engrossed in love's charms failed to see the weary, battle-worn angel retrieve the golden words Paulus had entrusted to him at the prison and vanish away with them.