Devotional # 72. 2/3/14. Paul’s Testimony on Malta & Arrival in Rome.
This week’s Reading: Acts 28:1-15.
Introduction. Last week Paul and 275 others were in stormy seas and finally shipwrecked on the island of Malta. We saw that God had given Paul several warnings to tell the crew and soldiers to keep them safe but they wouldn’t listen at first. They didn’t make the same mistake twice and we pick up the story now that all of the sailors, soldiers and prisoners are safely on land.
vv. 1-6. Malta is about 17 miles long and 9 miles wide and none of the sailors had been to this bay prior to this trip (Source 1). Although the legend is that Paul landed at what is now called “St. John’s Bay”, according to an article from 2011 there is reason to think that “St. Thomas’ Bay” on Malta is where they actually landed (Source 2). (They actually found the four anchors mentioned here)! Luke (the author of “Acts”) says the natives showed “unusual kindness” which stands out to me and I was glad to see Matthew Henry spend so much time on the “barbarians” (see Source 3 below). It wasn’t that these natives were uncivilized; they just didn’t speak or have customs that were Roman or Greek. In fact their compassion was more civilized then many “civilized” countries have historically responded to new comers. The natives didn’t question where they were from or what religion the travelers were, they simply built them a fire (Source 3). If the natives had killed them then God’s promise of safety to everyone on the ship would have failed. Since they had eaten a good meal before leaving the ship they only needed to dry out their clothes. So not only were they drenched from the sea but it was also pouring rain and freezing cold. A good fire solves those problems. It must have been a huge bon-fire for that many people to fit around it. But notice that the prisoners also worked to gather fire wood. Paul didn’t say, ‘hey, I was the guy in touch with God, you wouldn’t be alive without me, I don’t have to collect fire wood!’ Instead he willingly grabbed wood and in so doing got bitten by a deadly snake. It was obviously deadly because the natives who knew the type of snake immediately knew he would die. They thought it was because he was an evil man. Obviously their religion had justice built into it and all they knew was that Paul was a prisoner but they didn’t know what he had done. In the Greek, “viper” (in v. 3) is “echidna” (G#2191) being “the generic term for ‘poisonous snakes’” (Source 4). But God protected Paul (keeping His earlier promise) and proving Himself to be the Divine healer. When Paul didn’t die the natives did the only natural thing and did a 180 degree change of opinion, assuming he was a god. Although Luke doesn’t tell us that Paul denied that he was a god, we know Paul well enough (and with the encounter in Lystra from Acts 14:8-18, Devotional 54) we know that he used the situation to point towards the One, True God.
vv. 7-10. MacArthur says that the phrase “leading citizen” means that Publius was the “Roman governor of Malta” (Source 1). So Paul is seen healing Publius’ father and then the rest of the sick on the island. The article I mentioned above (titled, “Searching for Paul’s Shipwreck on Malta”) shows the influence that Paul’s miracles had on the people of the island – “98 percent of its citizens are members of the Catholic Church” today (Source 2).
vv. 11-15. So they had to wait 3 months until the weather improved enough for them to sail off the island. As Paul completes the last leg of his journey he is about 50 miles outside Rome and there are Christians that come all the way out to meet him! It was common to go many miles out of a city to greet an emperor but certainly not an old prisoner. Paul had sent the letter that is now the book of Romans (following the book of Acts in the Bible), a few years before so it is probable that these Christians that came to meet him felt as if they already knew him (Source 5).
When Paul saw the Christians he: 1. “thanked God” and 2. “took courage.” What made him do those things about people he had probably never met? I know a little bit about this. As many of you know this devotional was started in order to talk about the Bible with Hungarian high school students who came to some camps we had here in California. But prior to these camps we had never met the people who organize the camps: Eva and Kornel. Sure there had been emails and a few phone calls but it was really neat to finally meet them and fellowship in Christ! Eva and Kornel are always supportive of these devotionals and continually encourage and share what is going on in their ministry. Paul must have felt the same way after the years he had spent in prison after prison, with death-threats and obstacles and difficulty. He thanked God that he was finally in Rome with other brothers and sisters. This gave him courage. Everyone gets depressed (can you imagine how you would feel having years of your life stolen from you over false charges?) but God is always faithful to send encouragement. But it is important that you take hold of that energy and continue being used by God. Remember Paul reminded Timothy to keeping fighting, to finish the race, to keep the faith! (2 Timothy 4:7)
Conclusion: Paul doesn’t let anything draw him away from Jesus. No matter how hard the times get he keeps pressing on but he was a human, he needed to take “courage.” We must know that we are not doing this on our own, our Creator gives us exactly what we need and second, he has given us relationships with other Christians to strengthen us.
Source 1: John MacArthur, the John MacArthur Study Bible, pp. 1686-1687.
Source 3: Matthew Henry, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/mhc/Act/Act_028.cfm?a=1046001 .
Source 5: David Guzik, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Act/Act_28.cfm?a=1046001.