Editor’s Note: This week we welcome Paul Mannino to the blog, and he will be discussing Acts 28. If you want to watch the sermon, it’s posted on Paul’s YouTube Channel here. My wife, Michelle, and I met Paul and his wife, Mary Kate, at the Evangelical Congregational Church’s Pastoral Assessment Center this past January. There they not only got the green light for pastoral ministry, but we began a friendship. After 20 years in local church ministry, the Manninos are pursuing church-planting. I’m excited for you all to hear how Paul communicates God’s Word. If you want to learn more about the Mannino’s ministry, click here to contact them on Facebook.
How would you handle people thinking you are a god? Remember that scene in Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi, where the Ewoks on the planet Endor think that C3PO is a god because he is shiny and made of gold? The Apostle Paul has something like that happen to him in the final chapter of Acts. What will he do? His choice is one that we just might learn from.
First, let’s jump back a couple of months ago, to Acts 17, when Joel posed a question. I think that the question is still hanging in the air today: “How am I doing with sharing the story of Jesus with the world?”
To answer that, I have a question of my own: “Is there anything in Acts 28 that can equip us or inspire us to prioritize that very thing?” It’s easy for the day-to-day routines of life—the grind—to make us forgetful. Sometimes we can be blind to what our actual role can be as followers of Jesus in this world. How do we regain a sense of priority for what we were made to do? In Acts 28 let’s be open to what God might have for us as we encounter His Word.
For most of 2020, this blog has been studying the entire book of Acts. Here I am at the end (like Mariano Rivera), ready for the close. Where did we leave Paul? Back in Acts 27, if you recall, a seemingly easy voyage to Rome turned into an epic struggle at sea against what appeared to be a perfect storm that knocked out Paul’s ship. Thankfully, all 276 passenger washed up on the shores of Malta…alive! Acts 28 picks up the story right there on shore, and remember, this is written from the first-person perspective because Luke was part of Paul’s party.
“Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand.”
OK. So, are you tracking? There needs to be a fire, and Paul’s helping out. If anybody had an excuse to take a free pass and just kinda sit back and let everybody else do the work, I think Paul could have sat back and done nothing. But he decides that there is a fire to be built, and he’s being a servant and helping to build a fire. He reaches out to grab some firewood, and—oh! man!—a snake is attached to his hand. A viper is attached to his hand. This is crazy town.
When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” They believed in something like karma—the idea that “you get what you deserve.” Imagine if you went through all the trouble of being rescued from the ocean, and, all of a sudden, the second that you go to shore, you’re just minding your own business—helping to build a fire—and, boom, you get bit by a poisonous snake. In their minds, those islanders thought, “Man, what did he do wrong?”
But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. I’m not saying that the Maltans were a primitive culture, but they didn’t know God. They had an idea or a concept of God; so, to them, when they saw that Paul had not been killed by a poisonous snake, their assumption was, “He must be a god.” It’s quite a radical change from, “What did you do wrong?” to “Oh, hey, never mind. You must be a god.”
How would you handle people thinking that you were a god?
Paul responds amazingly, by serving.
There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. The author of Acts, Luke, recounts that, “He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days.” If you’re going to honor somebody, there’s no greater way than to have them come over to the most powerful person’s home and take care of them.
They learn that Publius’ father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this happened, the rest of the sick people on the island came and were cured. So Luke writes, “They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.”
Let’s take a quick timeout and think about this Malta experience before we move on. What can we see here that’s helpful to us as we’re thinking about sharing Jesus with the world around us? Two words pop up in my head: snake immunity. No, I’m just kidding. Not that! Although, people have taken snake handling pretty far. You can go to the Appalachian mountains where there are churches that prove how “God is with them” by allowing themselves to be bit by poisonous snakes. “See, I can live! Look at my faith!” I don’t think that’s the application here in Acts 28. Don’t go looking for snakes after reading this post.
The application is a lot simpler, and it’s another two words (besides “snake immunity”). Let’s go with servant lifestyle. Look at Paul. If anybody could have an excuse to not do anything, I think Paul could have chosen not to help build the fire. He was kind of a big deal. He had just been through all that crazy. Yet now he’s actually helping to serve. The snake incident happens because Paul takes the time to serve. And that’s a very practical thing isn’t it? Why is Paul “lowering” himself by helping gather wood? Well, that’s the lifestyle of a believer in Jesus.
There’s something compelling about someone who is willing to do the hard things.
More than just that, Paul also visits Publius’ dad and shows compassion towards him. We may not have the ability to go and cure somebody just by our very presence; but we do have the ability to serve people by showing compassion and serving them in their time of need. Paul is effective in healing Publius’ father, and he doesn’t grow tired in healing the other sick people on Malta. He decides that this is a way to demonstrate God’s love.
Do we know how it worked out on a spiritual level? Do we know how many Maltese people ended up following God because of what Paul did? No, there’s no record of that. But I think it’s important to see that the servant lifestyle is what Paul began with. In the end, he built favor in the eyes of those people.
Now it’s time to set sail again, and they’ve been loaded up with everything they need to finally get where they’ve been trying to go—Rome.
Check back in to tomorrow’s post, as we continue with Paul’s Roman voyage.