Saturday, September 28, 2013


Acts 28:1-10

Paul visited [Publius's father] and cured him by praying and putting his hands on him. —Acts 28:8


28:1 "After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta.

2The 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. 3Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 4When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, "This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live." 5He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6They were expecting him to swell up or drop dead, but after they had waited a long time and saw that nothing unusual had happened to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.

7 Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. 8It so happened that the father of Publius lay sick in bed with fever and dysentery. Paul visited him and cured him by praying and putting his hands on him. 9After this happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10They bestowed many honors on us, and when we were about to sail, they put on board all the provisions we needed.

There is a saying that goes: "Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.” This passage is a remarkable example of Paul's preaching the gospel without words. There are no recorded speeches by Paul—a rare occurrence! Luke does not mention the God of Israel, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit. All we know is that Paul and his companions are shipwrecked on an island with non-Greek-speaking people. Luke refers to them as "natives," meaning "barbarians" or "aliens." The way they receive Paul and his companions is far from barbaric; Luke characterizes it as "unusual kindness."


Paul's dedication as a servant of God is obvious after his heroic, faithful leadership through the storm. Luke underscores the scope of Paul's divine commission in this passage. As the bedraggled bunch wades ashore, it is apparent to their rescuers that the group includes prisoners and captors. The prevailing wisdom of the time taught that bad things happened to bad people. The expectation was that bad deeds were greeted by swift, sure, divine retribution and punishment. Both Christian and non-Christian alike shared this wisdom. When a viper bites Paul, his captors fully expect him to die. It would serve him right!

Imagine their surprise when this does not happen. Much as an athlete might shake off a minor injury, Paul shakes off the snake and shakes up his rescuers—and probably his captors as well. Their conventions of common wisdom aren't holding up—perhaps Paul is a god, after all! The Maltese discern that Paul is indeed blessed. Not even the Greek goddess Justice was able to serve a death sentence via a viper.

Paul is God's faithful servant through all circumstances. In these unusual stories, Luke seems to be inviting us to notice how all of creation—the sea, the storms, and the snake—succumb to serve God's purposes. Stories featuring creation serving God's purposes, or humans being "used" by God—whether willing to be used or not—are characteristics of the book of Acts. This passage brings into the mix the question about God's working in, through, and around nonbelievers. This can be a thorny question for some of us.

"Take the Name of Jesus with You," a hymn written in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, extols the virtues and benefits of going everywhere with the name of Jesus on our lips. During the missionary movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Christians envisioned themselves taking God to the heathen of the world. The theology of mission has been reformed, fortunately. Most of us realize that God is already present at work in the world. A broad reading of Scripture affirms this theology: John 13:16 (God so loved the world that God sent the Son) and Matt. 22:37-40 (the charge to love God, love neighbor, love self) are two such examples of this affirmation. Even Paul encountered non-Christians who seemed to embody the same kind of moral and ethical principles that Christians and Jews before them were charged to follow. If we put ourselves in the text with Luke and Paul, it's not hard to imagine God at work in Malta through what is known as general revelation, or God's self-disclosure in the created world.

"Don't be afraid of tomorrow," begins the old saying, "God is already there." But if God is already there, and God's plans are for our welfare and not for harm, why do hurricanes, earthquakes, epidemics, and acts of violence rend the fabric of our existence? Why are we often left to weave together the tattered remnants into something usable once again?

It is the age-old question of God's justice and goodness in light of the suffering and evil that exists throughout creation. It is a huge question with no easy answers. In our passage, God protects Paul in order that he may continue to serve out his mission. Ditto Jonah, and David, and the disciples, doubters (Thomas), and deniers (Peter) among them. But what about Stephen, whom we saw stoned to death at the conclusion of Acts 7, and other legions of martyrs across the centuries? What about Martin Luther King Jr.?

The truth is that God is with us under the black clouds and in the recovery. That's what Paul experienced in Malta— God was already there. Paul experienced grace and compassion through the unusual kindness of others. While Paul was charged to bring the good news of salvation to the ends of the world, he discovered that amid violent storms and venomous snakes, and powerful, fearful politicians and religious leaders, God was already there. Maybe, just maybe, that's the life-saving message that Luke wants us to take away with us today.


Look up the lyrics to a couple of the earlier missionary hymns, such as "Take the Name of Jesus with You" (1870) and "Onward Christian Soldiers" (1864). These are often left out of contemporary hymnals. Compare their lyrics with other hymns that remain in many hymnals, such as "We Give Thee But Thine Own" (1858) or "Eternal God, Whose Power Upholds" (1929). Note the differences and similarities. Why do you think the latter two hymns are still included?

How would you answer these questions?

• Why did Luke include these ten verses in Acts 28?

• What do the miracles do for the story?

  Do miracles occur today?

How do you explain that a God who requires people of faith to take risks and perhaps suffer—even die—is really a just and loving God? How do you answer this question: "Why do you believe in a God who 'lets' suffering, abuse, war, earthquakes, and divorces happen?


Dear God, you call us to be disciples of the Lord. May we in service to you act out the living Word. As stewards of the earth, may we give thanks to you. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.


Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2012 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.

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