Intro: Did your life turn out the way you thought it would? The life of an apostle must have been an exciting journey. Probably much different that they had previously envisioned. This can be seen clearly in the account of Paul’s life – formerly Saul of Tarsus. Take a look at a few months of Paul’s life near the end of the book of Acts.
I. Read Acts 28:1-10 – This is the account of Paul’s shipwreck on the island of Malta.
A. Malta is a small island off the southern coast of Italy, just below the boot and below the large island of Sicily. Paul was being transported to Rome by ship to be held for trial before Caesar. He was a prisoner of the Roman government.
B. Paul had just spent 2 harrowing weeks of terror on the open Mediterranean Sea during a furious storm. Things had gotten so bad that the passengers on the ship had lost all hope of surviving. (Quit eating; thrown everything overboard, when they discovered land was near, out of desperation they decided to drive the boat onto the island – crash landing.
C. What happened was amazing – all 276 passengers were alive. No one died. This is like the Miracle on Hudson – (US Airways Flight 1549 – all 155 people survived a plane crash. How does that happen? God had already told Paul how it would end. In the end the passengers owed their lives to the prisoner, Paul.
D. The islanders welcome Paul and the other passengers. They spend the next 3 months on Malta.
II. Does this look like a “good news” story? What may appear to be one thing from the outside is in reality something else. Sometimes success and victory do not look like success and victory.
A. Paul’s life was not what he might have thought it would be. Notice how he describes it in 2 Cor 11:23-25 – Are they ministers of Christ? — I speak as a fool — I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; This was written before Acts 28 event! This is # 4. Might look around if you saw Paul get on board your ship. Luke is with him – What was it like to be Luke? You get what Paul gets.
1. Take a look at Paul’s circumstance. Yes he has just been saved from drowning in the sea, but he is still a prisoner with little hope of ever being free. What do you have on Malta? This is not where you though you would end up.
2. Could Paul expect more from God? What can I expect from God? Listen to God’s words to Baruch, the servant of Jeremiah. Jer 45:2-5 – “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: 3 ‘You said, “Woe is me now! For the Lord has added grief to my sorrow. I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest.”‘ 4 “Thus you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Behold, what I have built I will break down, and what I have planted I will pluck up, that is, this whole land. 5 And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for behold, I will bring adversity on all flesh,” says the Lord. “But I will give your life to you as a prize in all places, wherever you go.”‘”
a. God tells him he is going to experience the things He was bringing upon all the people. You will survive – I will give you your life as a prize. But if you are seeking good things for yourself, forget it.
b. Despite the circumstances, it would have been a mistake for Paul to conclude that God did not care for him. Did it look like God was with him? NO, but He was.
B. Have you ever felt like you were snake-bitten? Paul may have felt this way. Notice what happens next:
• verse 2 – Barbarians showed kindness (word from which we get philanthropy – one who cares for other men)
• verse 3 – The people gather sticks to make a fire. A viper comes out of sticks and attached himself to Paul’s hand. The story is not so much about the snake, as it is about what people think that it means.
1. What does it mean for a man who just survived a shipwreck to be bitten by a poisonous snake?
2. Before we consider the conclusions of the people of Malta, let me make a side note here.
• This verse reminds me of Jesus’ words to His apostles in Mark 16:15-18 – And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
a. Do you remember a man named Jamie Coots? A Pentecostal preacher from KY. He taught that this passage was a command for him to obey. He was convinced that God told him to pick up rattlesnakes in worship to God. He survived 8 previous bites without medical assistance before he died suddenly in 2014.
b. Often the fulfillment tells you what the prophecy means. Acts 28 is a fulfillment of Matthew 16. Jesus was not calling on the apostles to take up serpents and test God’s words. But rather Jesus was promising that God would provide the protection they needed to teach God’s message. Nothing was going to stop the apostles from proclaiming the gospel message.
c. Compare the image of Rev 11. God provided 2 witnesses and promised to protect them as they testified. V 3 – And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” V. 5 – And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. But later in the vision the same witnesses are killed by the beast.
d. Matthew 4:5 – devil takes Jesus to the temple – throw yourself down, God will take care of you. Jesus answered you shall not tempt the Lord your God. The person who reasons that God wants them to reject the doctor because He will take care of them is misinterpreting the words of God. It can have serious implications in his life.
C. How do the islanders interpret these events? Read Acts 28:4 – 6 People need a perspective from which to judge the events of life. These pagans cannot figure out this event. Why did this happen? We need a proper perspective in order to come to the right conclusions. – Superstition is the perspective of a godless society. It is often utilized to answer the question, “why is this happening?” looking for a cause.
1. The pagans (Barbarians – non-Greeks) understood that snake bites usually kill people. So when they see the snake on the hand of a man who had just survived a shipwreck they conclude that he must be a bad person. He is being punished. V. 4 – “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.” This was the reason – Paul was being punished.
a. Even the Jews wanted to explain the afflictions of life – Acts 9 – a man born blind. They asked Jesus, “who sinned, this man or his parents?” Jesus rejected their reasoning.
b. But some events are inexplicable to us, they appear as random – they can happen to anyone.
2. But then the snake drops off and Paul lives. This again, must be explained from their perspective. So, they come to another conclusion – He has escaped justice, and therefore he must be a god. From one extreme to the other!
a. In Lystra the pendulum swung the other way – they first thought Paul was a god, and then they stoned him!
b. Superstition is a very unstable perspective for life. We are a society of unstable people who have no solid way to understand the events of life. We are driven by the polls. We put a lot of stock in how others interpret events of life.
D. An Apostle on Malta. Read v. 7-10 – Malta is viewed as a stopover before the main event of Rome. But notice what happens here. The apostle is given a platform from which to accomplish his mission. Publius opens up his estate; Paul heals his father. We can assume the subsequent teaching along with the healing. No record of a church beginning here, but Paul is doing what Jesus called him to do – a witness to the Gentiles.
• How would this have impacted the Roman centurion who was watching Paul. (like Malchus in the garden) Do you think you might rethink your opinion of this man?
• What appears to be setback provides opportunity. Looks like a huge setback and delay – on the island for 3 months.
1. What appears to be a setback or defeat is not really one at all. Gal 4:13-14 – You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. 14 And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. Whatever the physical infirmity it must have appeared as bad, but it became a blessing to the Galatians.
a. Phil 1:12-14 – But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Being a prisoner would seem to be a setback to the work of an apostle. But it was a success story.
Conclusion: My vision is limited – “What are we going to do?”, “How can this be good?” What appears to be a total disaster God can turn into something good. Did Paul think he would preach at Malta? As a prisoner?
I dare not draw the wrong conclusion that God does not care about me. I dare not draw the wrong conclusion that this cannot become something good.
Tom Watson has a philosophy about golf. It is easy to find yourself in a bad lie. Your ball sitting in a divot. When Tom Watson finds himself in this position he walks up to the ball and says to the caddie, “watch this”. His approach is “Let me show you what I can do with this.”
When life is in a divot (or you find yourself in Malta, not Rome) – we need to see what God can do with this. This is how some people deal with great tragedy and setback. These people are those that are being led by God – just like Paul.