Some people will disagree with my approach, though I did what I believed I needed to do on the spur of the moment. Then, when reading Paul’s account I felt so much better! Good friends of ours own a lodge and permitted us to make use of the manager’s cottage from time to time as a breakaway from the daily routine of work and home. Remember this is the bush! One night I needed to make use of the bathroom. Because of the darkness, I would leave the bathroom light on during the night to make it easier to see when getting up at night. As I opened the bathroom door, I looked down … and right in front of me was a snake. Although a smaller one I quickly got a hand broom and scoop and killed it. After sending the picture to the owner of the lodge, he said it was a rinkhal snake, also known as a ring-necked spitting cobra, one of the family of venomous snakes. Did I do right to kill it? Ought I to have left it … and who knows, it might have joined us in bed? See what Paul did as you read:
Ac 28:1 Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. 2 The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. 3Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. 6 The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. 7 There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably. 8 His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. 9 When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. 10 They honored us in many ways and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.
1) All onboard were saved! None drowned, none were lost and unaccounted for, just as Paul had said. What a testimony to all the sailors, soldiers and prisoners and others on board. We ought to remember to trust God is all things, whether small or big. Some feel they only need to depend upon God for the big things in life and they shall take care of the small things. Others again feel they ought not to bother God with the big things because he is too busy. Irrespective what it is, the big things like Paul on a ship driven by hurricane strength winds, being shipwrecked and needing to swim or find their way to the seashore on planks or pieces of the ship … or the small matter, like when I misplace the car keys … God wants us to pray about and trust Him for everything in life. It is His pleasure to help, guide, direct, protect and provide for His Blood washed people.
2) Once on dry land the locals told them the name of the Island. It was Malta, a name given to the island by Phoenician sailors. It appears to be a Canaanite word meaning “refuge”. How apt the name … and Paul would easily have identified the name from his knowledge of Hebrew. You know that being saved by grace through faith, the Lord Jesus has become your safe haven. Even though Paul and the ship’s company were shipwrecked and needed to swim or find other means of reaching dry land … they were saved by the “refuge” of Malta. Perhaps you have been through turbulent times … yet in Jesus you have been saved from sin and helped to stabilize your life in Him who is your “refuge”.
3) Don’t read people by their history. The nationals on Malta were generally from Phoenician descent. They had their own dialect and were known by the Greeks and Romans as barbarians. Yet … Luke writes that they showed us unusual kindness. Try and picture these 276 souls … wet, exhausted, afraid and even though they had eaten, by now they were starving and thirsty. The term “unusual kindness” means either exceptional love for mankind or exceptional benevolence. This was certainly contrary to how they were known (barbarian), yet without Luke saying it, the Holy Spirit had prepared them for these souls. Even though it was raining and cold, the nationals build a fire to dry out and warm these unexpected visitors. Think of ways you could be helpful and kind to people in need. When helping them you are serving God!
4) Unafraid of work. That was Paul. He preached the Gospel. He lived the Gospel. He served the Gospel. A true, hardworking missionary. Just because he was an apostle it did not prohibit him from assisting the nationals from collecting wood for the fire. A great example for pastors, elders and all Christian Workers who believe their task in ministry is only what is written on a job description or in a contract. But then, this is true for all members of the Church. I used to tell people … “Do whatever your hands can find to do for the Lord.” There is always work either supporting the Gospel or sharing the Gospel.
Whilst placing this wood on the fire, the heat and smoke caused a snake to slither out of the brushwood and fix itself onto Paul’s hand. Those who have studied the creatures on the Island say there is no history of snakes, venomous or otherwise on the Island. I cannot argue that other than to say that within God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible and authoritative Word we find the Holy Spirit causing Luke to include this bit of information. Coupled to this, the nationals, when seeing the snake on Paul’s hand believed him to be a murderer and even though he survived the harrowing experience of a shipwreck. “Justice” … meaning the hand of a god (according to the pagan belief of the islanders), had prevented Paul escaping and he would “die”. They knew what a snake was and that snake they knew to be venomous!
As Christians we need to be cautious jumping to conclusions like this when people whom we think have done wrong fall to misfortune. Always pray for grace. To their amazement, Paul shook his hand and the snake fell into the fire and burnt. He suffered no ill effects resulting in a sudden change of mind from “guilty murderer” to Paul being a “god”. Undoubtedly this is a miracle. We shall see as we read on what God had in mind for these people of Malta. Although God is the God of the miraculous, His normal method is working through the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit’s convicting power. This in itself is a miracle …
(i) The miracle of resurrecting a dead soul as the Holy Spirit applies the Gospel to that person.
(ii) The miracle of growing, maturing and equipping souls for life, service and eternity.
Thank You Lord for Your Word and Your Spirit who guides us into truth and for service. Amen.