Arrival on Malta
Once we were safe on shore, we learned that we were on the island of Malta. The people of the island were very kind to us. It was cold and rainy, so they built a fire on the shore to welcome us. As Paul gathered an armful of sticks and was laying them on the fire, a poisonous snake, driven out by the heat, bit him on the hand. The people of the island saw it hanging from his hand and said to each other, “A murderer, no doubt! Though he escaped the sea, justice will not permit him to live.”
But Paul shook off the snake into the fire and was unharmed. The people waited for him to swell up or suddenly drop dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw that he wasn’t harmed, they changed their minds and decided he was a god. Near the shore where we landed was an estate belonging to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us and treated us kindly for three days. As it happened, Publius’s father was ill with fever and dysentery. Paul went in and prayed for him, and laying his hands on him, he healed him. Then all the other sick people on the island came and were healed. As a result we were showered with honours, and when the time came to sail, people supplied us with everything we would need for the trip.Acts 28:1-10
Welcome to Malta Paul and friends! In the process of getting there Paul was reassured by the Holy Spirit that firstly his life would be spared and that he would surely stand trial before Caesar in Rome. And furthermore, that all his travelling companions would be saved too. Well that is great that we will all be saved from the ship but Angel, you could have mentioned the snake bite. The barbarians on the island welcomed them and made sure they were safe and warm and supplied them with everything they needed, including for the on-going voyage. Well that’s great but you could still have mentioned the snake bite, Angel.
Isn’t it interesting that there are times when God makes our immediate steps very clear but doesn’t mention something that is lying in wait for us around the next bend. People have often asked me that question after they have been given a prophecy which is very specific and accurate to the nth degree. But then something unexpected comes after that which God didn’t warn us about. Welcome to the real world brothers and sisters. And aren’t you glad that God doesn’t tell us every little thing that is going to happen ahead of us.
They arrived on Malta in winter but were wonderfully cared for by Publius, the chief official of the island and his family and workers. Notice the locals reaction to Paul being bitten by a deadly snake. The Maltese said, “A murderer, no doubt! Though he escaped the sea, justice will not permit him to live.” They simply stood around waiting for Paul to swell up and drop dead. That was clearly what was expected to happen. If you were bitten by that snake you had a certain time before you swelled up and died. Being bitten by a poisonous snake after surviving such a hazardous journey was justice if you were a law breaker. It was expected. Clearly what life threw at you on Malta was indicative of the life you lived and whether the gods deemed you worthy of living. After Paul survived the snake bite, he was considered a god. It was not normal for anyone bitten by that snake to survive and so he must have been sent by the gods.
The name Publius (Acts 28:7) has been found on an inscription from the island of Gaulus near Malta (compare Bock, Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum, number 5, 754). The Publius recorded held office under the governor of Sicily. As the leading official in Malta, he was responsible for any Roman soldiers and their prisoners who might land there, but Acts 28:7 implies that he displayed more than ordinary hospitality for Paul and his shipwrecked company, for according to Luke, he “welcomed us and treated us kindly for three days.” The Apocryphal “Acts of Paul” states also that “he did for them many acts of great kindness and charity” (compare Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, II, 605). Tradition has it that Publius’ home became the first church on the island of Malta and that Publius became the first Bishop of Malta and that he afterward became Bishop of Athens.
Paul and his fellow believers could not repay Publius with silver or gold but could pray for him and his family and seek healing for them. On this occasion Paul miraculously healed the father of Publius, who “lay sick of fever and dysentery” (Acts 28:8). The medical detail and the terms used here indicates the writer had medical knowledge and points again to the fact that Luke wrote the book of Acts.
Clearly word spread quickly over the whole island so that all the other sick people on the island came to Publius’ house. The name Malta was given to the island by the Phoenicians and it means ‘refuge”. I imagine many people have been shipwrecked on Malta over the centuries. Hopefully many have received Christ because of the church planted there since the time of Paul. This is a very real and historically accurate account. I used Acts 27 and 28 as a passage from the Bible to test comprehension between the dialects of Tae’ Rongkong on South Sulawesi in the early ninties. A couple of local people from the majority religion told me they had heard this story and asked me where I got it from. I told them.
The island of Malta is 28 kms long and 246 square kilometres in area. That’s a considerable distance for the inhabitants of Malta to come to be healed by Paul at Publius’ house. There is debate as to whether Luke’s use of “us” refers to all the people from the shipwreck or specifically the Christians. What is also of interest is what happened between the initial three days in which Publius looked after “the group of us” and the three months they were there on Malta before moving on. (The time gap between verse 7 and verse 11).
I have no source which tells me any more detail of those three months and so we are left with our questions. Were all the group housed at Publius’ for the initial three days or for the full three months? I hardly think it would have been for the duration of all of their time on the island. Although as the chief official on the island he likely arranged for lodgings for all 276 from the shipwreck. I also suspect it was Paul who planted the church in Malta. Three months was sufficient time for Paul to have spent with the new Christians of Malta and grounded them in the faith although Luke tells us nothing of the such developments. There is a strange absence of the kind of historical details that we find in other earlier chapters of the Book of Acts. Namely . . .
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders, all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.Acts 2:42-47
All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had.The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all.Acts 4:32-33
The apostles were performing many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers were meeting regularly at the Temple in the area known as Solomon’s Colonnade.But no one else dared to join them, even though all the people had high regard for them.Yet more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord—crowds of both men and women.As a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by.Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed.Acts 5:12-16
Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message.The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too.For they heard them speaking in other tongues and praising God. Then Peter asked,“Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?”So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days.Acts 10:44-48
When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and thanked the Lord for his message; and all who were chosen for eternal life became believers.So the Lord’s message spread throughout that region.Acts 13:48-49
The same thing happened in Iconium. Paul and Barnabas went to the Jewish synagogue and preached with such power that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers.Some of the Jews, however, spurned God’s message and poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas.But the apostles stayed there a long time, preaching boldly about the grace of the Lord. And the Lord proved their message was true by giving them power to do miraculous signs and wonders.Acts 14:1-3
On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there.One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying.She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.Acts 16:13-15
[I haven’t included summaries for Corinth and Ephesus where Paul stayed considerably longer than three months.]
When Paul and Silas left the prison, they returned to the home of Lydia. There they met with the believers and encouraged them once more. Then they left town.Acts 16:40
When the uproar was over, Paul sent for the believers and encouraged them. Then he said good-bye and left for Macedonia.While there, he encouraged the believers in all the towns he passed through. Then he traveled down to Greece, where he stayed for three months.Acts 20:1-3
You might like to have a go at writing Luke’s summary for him for Malta. Send it to me if you do.
The world does not need cool Christians who are culturally aware and have it all together. It needs exiles and shipwrecked mariners with the scent of heaven and the aroma of Christ.John Piper (& Ian Vail)
Our dreams have to be at least as big as our memories.Anon
Sometimes your dreams come true after the nightmares.Anon
Other people letting you down is not an excuse to quit.Ian Vail