In recalling their time on the island of Malta, Luke wrote,
The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us around it.Luke 28:1 (NRSV)
But the warm welcome soon turned sinister what Paul was bitten by a poisonous viper native to the island. Evidently, the locals believed this was divine justice, claiming Paul by poison as he had managed to escape death at sea.
What happened next—I am convinced—was by God’s design, because God intended to reveal Himself in great glory to these people, as One Who heals, Who restores, Who brings life.
They held their breath as they all unconsciously leaned in, eyes widening, expecting Paul to swell up and drop dead. But, when Paul casually shook the snake off his hand and went about his business as if nothing had happened, their brains could not comprehend it. Mind. Blown.
He had to be a god!
In the events that next took place, Luke coyly recorded, “it just so happened. . .” As if! Publius, island’s chief official and the owner of the land they had built their fire on, invited Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus, to stay with him. During their stay with him, they found out his father was sick with dysentery, a serious illness to this day.
For Paul, there was no question what must be done next. He laid hands on Publius’ father, prayed for him, and God granted complete healing.
Remember, Paul had credentials already with the islanders, he had been bitten by a poisonous snake with no ill effects. Maybe that is what initially got him through the door of the chief official’s palace. The word “iaomai,” in verse 8, translated “healed,” intends to mean “by a miracle.”
The islanders already held Paul in awe. Now, this miraculous healing in the palace of their chief brought them in from all over the Malta.
After this happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.Luke 28:9 (NRSV)
God had prepared the physician Luke and Paul for the very first medical mission trip on record in Christian history, as the word for “cured” is “therapeuo” in Greek, and was meant to convey “by a physician’s care.” In the three months they wintered there, the islanders, based on the strength of Paul’s miraculous immunity to snake bites, and the miraculous healing of Publius’ father, came to Luke and Paul with their various medical needs. Can you imagine Paul’s joy in getting back to the good work of giving those hungering for the wholesomeness of the gospel as they came back for their regular check-ups and therapies?
And the islanders loved them.
They bestowed many honors on us, and when we were about to sail, they put on board all the provisions we needed.Luke 28:10 (NRSV)
God provided not only for Paul’s every need, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, but God supplied all that had been lost in the storm: a ship and everything needed to get to Rome. Refreshed and refueled, Paul was ready to face the rigors of house arrest in Rome.
Three days after arriving in Rome, Paul called the leaders of the various Jewish communities in the city together so he could talk with them. He made three points with them:
- He was not guilty of any offense against Israel.
- In addition, he had done nothing to offend the Romans, who considered him innocent as well.
- And, Paul did not intend to bring a countersuit against the Jewish leaders for false accusations and imprisonment.
Then, Paul began to teach the gospel in a series of meetings. As usual, some were convinced, and some disagreed.
Paul spent two years chained to the wrists of soldiers. As each watch ended a new soldier would come in and guess what Paul talked about with him? His testimony spread through the imperial Roman guard to the palace itself so that even some members of the royal family became Christians. During this time Paul also wrote Philippians, Ephesians (think about Paul examining the soldier’s uniform, as he composed the 6th chapter of his circular to be read first in Ephesus), Colossians, and Philemon.
Luke ended his long, fact-filled documentary to Theophilus with these words:
“Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”
He [Paul] lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.Luke 28:28-30 (NRSV)
Luke had completed his mission in giving his friend an accurate account of Jesus’ life and mission, and in the continuing mission Jesus’ had commissioned His followers to pursue. Theophilus, a Gentile, was the Lord’s target audience, and he was in excellent company. He was the future of the church.
The Acts of the Apostles is the only book in the Bible that remains unfinished, it’s a cliff hanger—and somehow that seems really appropriate as you and I continue to add chapters to what God is doing in the world today through us.
When you realize that it’s God alone Who confirms and affirms His calling in you, that He is at work in you and through you, you don’t need to raise the white flag, you can let go of the circumstances, let go of the sometimes disastrous results of your following of God, because God is able, He’s faithful and He is up to something good.