Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
December 3, 2006
Malta to Rome
Introduction & Review
Last week we traced the start of Paul’s journey that would eventually take him to Rome. Paul had been imprisoned for two years in Caesarea and after giving up hope of getting a fair trial in Judea he appealed to Caesar, so he was being sent along with other prisoners to Rome. Paul had been assured by the Lord that he would stand before Caesar, but God had not revealed how he would get there or what he would have to go through before he arrived.
We also saw that all that Paul went through does not fit the caricature of Christianity that many people have been sold. As I said last week, many people have had a false gospel marketed to them with a message that if they will just believe on Jesus and have faith then nothing bad will happen in their lives. That is why so many of them depart from Christianity when the troubles and trials of life come upon them.
True Christianity is not based on the avoidance of problems in this life but on the truth of the nature and work of God and our responsibilities and response to Him. God is holy and just. He created the world in perfection, but man disobeyed His commands and brought upon himself God’s wrath. Even so, God loved mankind and provided a way for man to be redeemed from his sin and adopted back into God’s family. Jesus Christ, the Messiah promised by the Prophets, paid for man’s sin by His death on the cross and then rose from the grave promising eternal life to all who believe in Him. Salvation is from sin so that you might be a new creature and live in righteousness. Salvation is not from the troubles that come as we deal with the sin of others, our own sin and living in a sin affected world.
As we have seen throughout the book of Acts, those who proclaim the gospel are persecuted by the sinners that reject it (Acts 7). Those that strive to live in godliness are hated by those that love their sin (Acts 12:1f). Those who profess faith in Jesus Christ will still stumble at times and will still have to deal with the ramifications of their actions (Acts 5:1-11; 15:36f). And until the believer is in heaven, he must deal with ramifications of living in a fallen world including physical decay, disease and natural disasters. Paul certainly had his share of all of these.
In Acts 27 Paul set out from Caesarea on an Adramyttian coastal trading ship on its way north. Though Paul was a prisoner, he was able to develop a good relationship with Julias, the centurion in charge of the prisoners, so that he was even allowed to depart from the ship in Sidon and visit friends along the way. They had started their journey early enough in the year to get to Rome before the sailing season ended, but from nearly the start of the journey they had contrary winds that kept delaying them. They reached Myra in Lycia and transferred to an Alexandrian grain ship that would take them to Rome, but they again had contrary winds that made travel west difficult only reaching Cnidus before going south on an alternative route ending up in Fair Havens on Crete where they were again delayed for “considerable time.” By now it was already October and the safe time for sailing was over and the margin of safety diminished each day, but they were not in a good harbor in which to over winter. Though Paul warned the captain and the crew about the danger of going any farther, when a favorable wind came up the captain attempted to make it Phoenix 40 miles father west on Crete. They had not gone very far when a euraquilo a violent northeast wind, hit them and drove them past Clauda and out into the open Mediterranean Sea.
As the storm raged on the crew had done all they knew to try to keep the ship afloat including girding the ship with cables, throwing overboard part of the cargo and any of the ship’s tackle that was not necessary. Yet the storm continued and the crew began to despair of life. Paul was the calm one in the midst of the storm because he trusted God to keep His promises and he knew that he was going to stand before Caesar. But God also sent an angel to Paul to let him know that the crew would also be saved and Paul used that to not only calm the crew and get them to eat something, but also to contrast the confidence he could have in the true God with the pagan gods and goddesses these men served.
They were caught in the storm for fourteen days before coming near an island where they let down their anchors and waited for daylight. Paul was again the one that calmed them, and though a prisoner, was giving the key directions for what they needed to do. In the morning they prepared to run the ship into a harbor they could now see, but they were unable to get over the reef at its entrance and ship ran aground with the waves starting to break the ship apart. This brought on a new danger to the prisoners.
Because the soldiers would not be able keep the prisoners under guard if they all had to swim to shore, they wanted to kill all the prisoners. This may seem harsh to us, but we must remember that a Roman soldier that let a prisoner escape would pay for his failure with his own life. The soldiers would rather kill the prisoners than risk losing their own lives because of an escaped prisoner. We can be sure that they would have done so except that Julias, the centurion intervened because he wanted to save Paul. He gave directions for those who could swim to do so and those that could not to grab onto some of the floating wreckage and make it to shore that way. All 276 people made it safely ashore. God’s promise to Paul was fulfilled. Not even a hair of any of them had perished.
But there was another danger that they were facing. They did not where they were and it was a common fate for sailors that were shipwrecked to be either killed or enslaved by the natives of the lands wherever they washed ashore. Remember that they had originally thought they were heading for the shallows of Syrtis off the coast of Africa. But God was yet again showing mercy to them all in fulfilling His promise to Paul. We pick up the story again in Acts 28:1
On Malta (28:1-10)
Kindness of the Natives (1-2)
Acts 28:1 (NASB) And when they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was called Malta.
This was good news to them. They had made it through the storm. They had made it through the surf, and they were castaways on an island that was under the authority of a Roman procurator. They would have respected the Roman soldiers that were part of the group of castaways.
Malta, Melivth / Melit in Greek, is an island some 60 miles south of Sicily and about 180 miles east of Tunisia, Africa. It is relatively small being only about 18 miles long and 8 miles wide. It had been settled by the Phoenicians and its name means “place of refuge” and it certainly would have been that to those sea faring people. Carthage had ruled the island from the 6th-3rd centuries B.C., but Rome had ruled it since 218 B.C. The natives of the island were still largely descendants of the Phoenicians and spoke a Phoenician dialect, though Latin would have been spoken in its cities. They were a kind and thoughtful people as seen in verse 2.
2 And the natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all.
[Natives/ barbarous people – KJV, bavrbaro”/ barbaros, is the Greek word used for all people that did not speak Greek. The word does reflect on the level of their civilization].
It was now late October or early November and they were wet and weary and now it was also raining and cold. These people showed “extraordinary kindness” and made a fire to warm them and began to make arrangements to take care of them. Their actions demonstrate a truth that is important to remember. God has placed His law in the hearts of all people and they will follow it to one degree or another. Paul speaks about this in Romans 1.
In Romans 1:20-32 Paul speaks of the immoral unrighteous. These are the people that do things that are obviously evil. We should expect that those who are not Christians will sin and we should not be surprised at the depth of sin to which they may descend. In Romans 2:1-16 Paul speaks of the moral unrighteous. That description would fit these people of Malta who gave them “extraordinary kindness.” In verse 14 Paul states, “For when the Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work fo the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” While we should not be surprised at the sin of a non-Christian, neither should we be surprised when the unbeliever is a nice person with moral values similar to our own. But having moral values and keeping them are two different things. Even nice people need a savior for they fail to keep their own standards, let alone God’s, leaving them condemned. These Maltese were blessed because someone was among them now that would tell them the gospel of Jesus Christ. They could be made righteous before the God who made them through faith in person and work of Jesus Christ.
Paul continued in Romans 2:17-29 to talk about the religious unrighteous. Nice people with religion also need a savior because even though they have the commandments of God they fail to keep them placing themselves also under the just condemnation of God. “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands. There is none who seeks for God” (Rom. 3:9-11). Every single person on earth needs a savior to redeem them from their sin and restore them to a proper relationship with God. The only one that can accomplish that is the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Maltese needed to hear about Him and what happens next will provide Paul with the opportunities to gain a hearing from them.
Paul and the Viper (3-6)
3 But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand.
This would not have been an unusual event since snakes are cold blooded and become stiff and unmoving when the weather is cold. This particular snake is identified by Luke as a viper (e[cidna / echidna) that would have been outstretched instead of coiled up as do some snakes. Its coloration would have made it appear like it was just another stick. The heat of the fire would have quickly revived it from its torpidity and it then struck and clamped onto Paul’s hand as he was putting sticks on the fire.
The first thing I want to point out from this verse is the character of Paul in helping out in gathering sticks to keep the fire going. Though Paul is accompanied by two men who were there to serve him (Luke & Aristarchus) and he was a key figure in everyone making it to shore safely, Paul is a humble man that quickly helps out in whatever needs to be done including the menial task of gathering wood to keep the fire going. Such humility is actually a requirement for godly leaders for it is a reflection of Jesus who said, “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), and he demonstrated it when he washed the disciples feet (John 13:5). We are to have that same attitude (Phil. 2:5f).
Some liberal commentators have concluded that either this was a non-poisonous snake or that the entire story was a fabrication because there are no poisonous snakes on Malta in our own time. The pride and audacity of liberals to pronounce things true or not true based on their own experience has always amazed me because they also claim to be such great scholars and smarter than other people. Here again they show their foolishness.
First, just because an animal does not exist on an island at present does not mean it did not exist there 2,000 years ago. Man has driven many animals into extinction both locally and globally. Snakes were eliminated from Ireland by either by St. Patrick or Fionn MacCumhail depending on the particular legend being recounted.
Second, they discount that Luke is a physician, and “a trained medical man in ancient times was usually a good authority about serpents to which great respect was paid in ancient medicine and custom” (W. M. Ramsay).
And third, while Luke may have been mistaken by a similar non-poisonous snake since he was in a place he had never been before, it is doubtful that the natives would have been so fooled. Their reaction is the strongest reason to believe that this was indeed a viper, a poisonous snake that had latched onto Paul’s hand.
Expectation of Death (4-6)
4 And when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they [began] saying to one another, “Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live. 5 However he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 But they were expecting that he was about to swell up or suddenly fall down dead.”
They fully expected Paul to swell up and die. The poison of the viper enters the bloodstream and then breaks down the capillaries causing massive internal bleeding which then causes the area to swell. If enough poison is injected by the snake, the person could die very quickly.
Now Paul was able to shake the snake off which then fell back into the fire and Paul did not suffer any apparent harmful effects immediately, but the expectation of the natives is that he would soon swell up and die. In verse 4 they gave what they reasoned was the cause of this tragedy that was about to happen. Their concept of justice is that it was controlled by one of the gods. Men might be able to escape him for a time, but justice would eventually catch up and bring the proper punishment in one way or another. They figured that since Paul had been bitten by this viper then he must have been a murderer who managed to survive the shipwreck but would now die from the snake. Justice would triumph.
That is still a mind set many people have today, though they do not think of justice as a god even if they attribute such circumstances to fate (though the “Fates” were pagan gods). This idea is actually a perversion of the truth. Men may seem to get away with their evil deeds for a time, but Revelation 20 tells us that ultimately they will face justice when they stand before God who will judge them impartially according to their deeds. That is not a weighing out of good and bad to see which way the scale tips, but a simple declaration of guilt for sins committed, and since all people have sinned against God, He is just in casting them into the lake of fire along with Satan, the demons, death and Hades. The only way to avoid that sentence is to have your name written in the Book of Life (Rev. 20:15). Your name is written there when you place your faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The perversion to this truth is the idea that whenever something bad happens to someone it is because God is punishing them for doing something evil along with its corollary that if things are going well then they have done something good and God is blessing them. The book of Job demonstrates the lie to the first part of this idea and Psalm 73 exposes the lie of the second part. Bad things do happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. There are very godly people that suffer greatly in this life and there are evil people that seem to get away with everything and live in luxury and ease. But like Asaph in Psalm 73 we must remember that what happens in this life is not the final accounting for either punishment or reward.
The Maltese eventually changed their mind about Paul as they continued to watch him to see what would happen.
Changed Minds (6)
But after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and [began] to say that he was a god.
If Paul was not going to die from the snake bite, then he was not a murder and must be a god instead for only a god would be unaffected by the poison of the viper. This is not the first time that pagans had come to the conclusion that Paul must be a god. Remember that happened back in Acts 14:11 after Paul healed a lame man in Lystra. We can be sure that Paul also corrected them quickly here as well. Verse 7 tells us what happened next.
Paul’s Healing Ministry (7-10)
Hospitality of Publius (7)
7 Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us courteously three days.
The place where they had come ashore was near the property of Publius, “the leading man of the island.” This was probably the governor of Malta since similar designations are used for Roman officials. At minimum he was certainly the first among the kind and gracious people of Malta for he provided for the care of all 276 of the shipwreck victims for three days while arrangements were made for more permanent winter quarters for them all. Publius’ kindness was soon returned to him by Paul when it was discovered that his father was sick.
Healing Publius’ Father (8)
And it came about that the father of Publius was lying [in bed] afflicted with [recurrent] fever and dysentery; and Paul went in [to see] him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him.
The particular medical problem Publius’ father was suffering was Brucellosis. It is also known as Malta fever, Mediterranean fever, Gibraltar fever, Cyprus fever, Rock fever, Undulating fever and Bang’s disease. It is caused by any one of several species of the Brucella bacteria and is common in farm animals such as cattle, pigs and goats. In humans it causes intermittent fevers, cold sweats, weakness, muscle aches and can resemble typhoid. It can persist for months and can lead to death. The most common means of humans being affected is through raw milk. Pasteurization is now the main preventive measure and antibiotics are used to treat those infected. The fact that this man also had dysentery indicates he had some other medical problems as well.
Paul does for him what he has done for so many others. He prays and heals him as an act of mercy which would then lead to a hearing for the gospel, the greater mercy. The news of this quickly spread.
Healing All Who Came (9)
9 And after this had happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases were coming to him and getting cured.
People from all over the island come to Paul to be healed. Note once again that these healings done by Paul are done without regard to the faith of the one who is healed. It is not done as part of some special worship service. He simply went to Publius’ father, prayed, layed his hands on him and healed him. The rest of the people are just coming to him and getting cured. While God can do anything He wants in keeping with His own character and His word, and while He does graciously heal people today, the claim made by some people to have the apostolic gift of healing is false since they do not do it the way the apostles did it.
Luke does not go into any detail here, but we can safely assume that Paul did as he had done in every other place he had been. He proclaimed the gospel to them. The miracles here, like they had been elsewhere, opened a hearing for Paul to tell them the good news of forgiveness of sin through faith in Jesus Christ. Tradition holds that the church on Malta was started at this time and that Publius became its first pastor.
Honored by the Natives (10)
That Paul had developed a great relationship with the natives is seen in verse 10.
10 And they also honored us with many marks of respect; and when we were setting sail, they supplied [us] with all we needed.
Verse 11 tells us that they had spent three months on Malta before continuing on their journey to Rome. This had been a very profitable time as seen in the very practical response of the people toward Paul, Luke and Aristarchus (note the “honored us“). Luke does not go into detail about the different ways in which they were honored with many marks of respect other than that among many things it also included meeting their physical needs for the remainder of the journey.
From Malta to Rome (11-14)
11 And at the end of three months we set sail on an Alexandrian ship which had wintered at the island, and which had the Twin Brothers for its figurehead. 12 And after we put in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. 13 And from there we sailed around and arrived at Rhegium, and a day later a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found [some] brethren, and were invited to stay with them for seven days; and thus we came to Rome.
It was now at least February. Pliny the Elder stated that navigation in the area would resume once the west winds started to blow again after February 8. The actual date of sailing again would vary from year to year and from place to place, but a favorable wind had come up and they were ready to resume their journey to Rome.
They were taken aboard another Alexandrian ship which would have been similar to the one in which they had been shipwrecked. This ship is identified by its figurehead of the “Twin brothers” which were Castor and Pollux, the sons of Leda and Zeus in Greek mythology and the patrons of seafarers. Their constellation, Gemini, was considered a sign of good fortune after a storm.
They made it about 100 miles to Syracuse on the east coast of the island of Sicily where they stayed for three days. This would have either been because of weather or business. Tradition has it that Paul was busy during these three days and founded a church there.
From Syracuse they traveled to Rhegium located on the southern tip of Italy. They waited a day for a south wind to take them through the straits of Messina. Good weather was important to be able to avoid the dangers there of the whirlpool of Charybdis and the rock of Scylla. They then proceeded 200 miles farther up the coast to the port of Puteoli which is in the most sheltered part of the bay of Naples. Here they came ashore and spent seven days with the brethren there, and seven days from now we will pick up the story again and conclude our study of the book of Acts.
God is faithful to all people and if we keep our eyes open we will see the opportunities that He will give us to tell others about Him. And as we have seen this morning, that will often occur in the midst of bad circumstances for either you or to those to whom you are talking. Are you ready to take advantage of those opportunities?
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) How many times the natives of Malta are mentioned. 2) Talk with your parents about how God’s works in non-Christians.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What is the basis of true Christianity? What are we saved from? What are we saved to? What are some of the ways the gospel is perverted in common Christian culture in America? How did Paul get to Malta? What dangers did they face getting there? Once they were there? What is the background of Malta and its people? How did they show “extraordinary kindness”? What is the natural state of man as explained in Romans 1-3. Why was Paul gathering wood? What did the natives expect to happen to Paul after he was bitten by a viper? Will justice always prevail in life on earth? Why or why not? When will ultimate justice take place? On what basis? Are you ready for it? What did the natives think when Paul suffered no harm? Who was Publius and what did he do? What was the condition of Publius’ father? What did Paul do for him? What did Paul do for the other natives that came to him? Why did he do it? How does Paul’s ministry of healing differ from modern people who claim to have that gift? Chart Paul’s trip from Malta to Rome. God will give us opportunities to tell others about Him, are you ready to take advantage of them? If not, what do you need to do to prepare? When will you do it? Pray with someone about being a witness for God.
Sermon Notes – December 3, 2006
From Malta to Rome: Acts 28:1-14
On Malta (28:1-10)
The Kindness of the Natives (1-2)
The State of Natural Man – Romans 1-3
Paul & the Viper (3-6)
Native Expectation of Death (4-6)
Changed Minds (6)
Hospitality of Publius (7)
Paul’s Healing Ministry (8-9)
Healing Publius’ Father (8)
Healing All Who Came (9)
Honored by the Natives (10)
From Malta to Rome
Malta to Syracuse (11-12)
Syracuse to Rhegium & Puteoli (13)
In Puteoli (14)
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