ROME AT LAST ACTS 28:1-16
If you will take your Bibles and turn to the last chapter of the book of Acts and follow along as I read the first 16 verses. We have two sermons left in this study, this morning and next Sunday morning. I went back and counted around sixty sermons that I have preached from this book. I hope that you have enjoyed this series as much as I have in preaching this series.
This is the final lap for Paul the prisoner before he arrives in Rome. Since chapter 21, Paul has been an ambassador in chains for the gospel. He was arrested in Jerusalem before an angry mob who was about to kill him. He has made five defenses for his preaching of the resurrection and has one final defense in this book. And this morning, we see Paul arriving in Rome.
One thing that stands out to me about the Apostle Paul is his unconquerable spirit. Another I can think of stands out with an unconquerable spirit, Joni Eareckson Tada. On a hot summer day in 1967 Joni dove into the Chesapeake Bay and lost touch with her body forever—in this life anyway. The story of her battle for life and an even greater battle for her soul is well-known today, as is her indomitable, buoyant spirit. Seeing her speak, sing, and charm a live audience only serves to confirm what her first book, Joni, so beautifully affirms—she possess one of the unconquerable spirits of our time, because of her strong faith in Jesus Christ. Her positive example has both shamed and lured us toward a more courageous, faith-filled outlook on life. Well, I must admit that Paul has done the same for me. He has shamed me and lured me to a more courageous, faith-filled outlook on life.
In these verses, I want to give you four attributes of God and a response to these attributes. First,
GOD’S PROVIDENCE – 1-2
Someone once said, “Providence is the hand behind the headlines.” And this was definitely the case in the life of the Apostle Paul. God had promised that Paul would testify in Rome and by God’s providence God was getting him there in his timing. It had been close to two and a half to three years of Paul getting to Rome. And the last time we were in Acts, Paul and this crew of 275 men were in a storm.
They had been on this journey from Jerusalem to Rome now for two months. And the trip was not a joy ride. It was turbulent almost the whole way. They found themselves traveling against contrary winds. They ended up in a little harbor called Fair Haven where Paul warned the centurion not to set sail till winter was over because of the dangers at sea due to severe storms. But the centurion listened to the pilot of the boat instead.
Well, this got them into trouble because a northeaster (Euroclydon or Euraquilo) came from the land. The crew did everything in their might to save their lives from securing the dinghy, tying a rope around the hull of the ship, and jettisoning some of the cargo. In fact, Luke says they saw neither sun nor stars for fourteen days and they had no idea where they were at sea. But some sensed they were nearing land and sent out a sounding to see how far they were from land. God’s providence had allowed them to drift some 600 miles from that port in Fair Haven to where their boat shipwrecked.
As the bow of the boat ran aground, some of the guards wanted to kill the prisoners on board lest they should escape. But the centurion wanted to keep Paul safe and would not allow the soldiers to carry out their plans. Those that could swim to shore did so, while those who could not swim grabbed a plank or a piece of the boat to get to shore. Again, we see the providence of God in keeping Paul safe from the plans of the guards.
Once they were safe on shore, they learned that the island was called Malta. This small island was 60 miles south of Sicily. This island was given its name by the ancient Phoenicians, who lived on the coastline of Palestine. They were great mariners, who chartered the courses of the Mediterranean. Malta is a Phoenician word which means escape or refuge. Luke may have used a play on words. When we escaped the great storm we came to the land of escape. Or we have found refuge from the island of refuge.
In verse 2, we learn that these pagan natives were quite hospitable because they kindled a fire and welcomed us all. Some translations read “barbarous people” which is not intended to be a derogatory remark. It was a way in which Greeks would specify people who did not speak Greek. So these natives show great hospitality to Paul and the other men with him. Again, we see the providence of God in the life of the Apostle. Charles Spurgeon said, “We believe in the providence of God, but we do not believe half enough in it.” The first attribute in these verses is God’s providence, next
GOD’S PROTECTION – 3-6
Now you need to know that it is mid-November. They had just been in a terrible storm and the rain was beating upon them and they were cold. So they gathered about a fire which the natives built for them. But I want you to notice something about Paul in verse 3. He was gathering sticks to put on the fire. Now Paul could have thought to himself I do not need to do this work because after all I just saved their lives. He could have barked orders of what needed to be done. Yet, Paul was a servant leader who was willing to role up his sleeves and get busy with the people.
One rainy day, a man accompanied by two women arrived at Northfield, hoping to enroll his daughter in D.L. Moody’s school for young women. The three needed help in getting their luggage from the railway depot to the hotel, so the visitor “drafted” a rather common-looking man with a horse and wagon, assuming he was a local cabby. The “cabby” said he was waiting for students, but the visitor ordered him to take them to the hotel. The visitor was shocked when the “cabby” did not charge him, and was even more shocked to discover that the “cabby” was D.L. Moody himself! Moody was a leader because he knew how to be a servant.
While he gathered the sticks and was ready to put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. In cold weather some snakes can look like twigs until the fire stirs them. So this poisonous snake fastens on Paul’s hand injecting his venom. It is interesting that today there are no such snakes on the island of Malta, but in Paul’s day they may have been there in quantity.
In fact, in verse 4, the natives saw the creature (venomous) hanging on to Paul’s hand. And they began to speak in the crowd that Paul must have been a murdered and even though he escaped the storm at sea, Justice has not allowed him to live. So this verse gives us their theology. There is no doubt that this man is a murderer. He may have escaped once, but finally Justice has caught up with him.
This was the goddess that was personified as Justice. In fact the goddess Dike was the daughter of Zeus. You always see Zeus, you know, a great god, you know, I think he's the one with all the darts in his hand and the arrows in his hand, and war and the wife‑Zeus and his wife Themis. The daughter of Zeus and Themis and of course this is all mythology, was supposedly Dike, the goddess personified as justice. And they say, ‑ A ha, the goddess is not so baffled, she may have been faked out at sea but that poisonous snake is going to bring justice on this evil She found a new way to punish the murderer.
In verse 5, Paul shakes the snake off and does not suffer any harm. Wouldn’t it had been tragic for God to bring Paul through all these events to have him die at the hand of a snake bite. Yet, we see God’s protection come into play in verse 6. They waited for him to swell up and die, but he didn’t so they changed their minds about him.
Instead they said that Paul was a god. This is the second time in the book of Acts that Paul was called a god. Remember Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas came into Lystra and there was a man who could not use his feet. And Paul healed the man and some of the people assumed that Paul and Barnabas were some type of gods and they were coming with the priests of Zeus to offer sacrifices to them. And when Paul realized what they were doing, he reminded them that they were men just like they were. And right after that fickle crowd was convinced by some Jews from Antioch and Iconium to stone Paul.
Here in these verses depict what Paul wrote in Romans 1. They were idolaters. They have knowledge of goodness. They have knowledge of evil and its punishment. And they have knowledge of God which they pervert into idolatry. And so they called him a god. And although Paul did not want that it was certainly good to have some kind of esteem in their eyes because from that basis he could say something to them that they might listen to. We have seen God’s providence, God’s protection, next
GOD’S PROVISIONS – 7-10
So with this miracle, Paul had an audience that would listen to him. Now they enter this estate of a chief man name Publius. In other words, he was the number one man in the land. He was the one in charge of the island of Malta. And he was a man with great possessions. He invited Paul and the other 275 men to stay with him for three days.
Now that says something about the wealth that this man had. Many of us have seen the show lifestyles of the rich and famous or the pads of some of the rich rock stars and athletes. This man must have had a huge home to host 276 men for three days. They stayed three days until they could make other arrangements for the men for winter.
Publius father lay ill with a fever and dysentery. He may have had Malta fever, which could last from four months to several years. In 1887 it was discovered to be caused by a bacterium in the milk of Maltese goats. So Paul prayed and laid his hands on him.
Now I want you to notice this thing, he did two things, he prayed and he laid his hands on him. Why did he pray? Because all power is from whom? God. Why did he lay his hands on him? Because he wanted him to see that it was through him that God moved in power. That it was the power of God but that Paul was the agent or the representative of that power. What Paul was doing by praying and laying hands on was identifying God's power and the fact that he was God's agent. Now there is something that isn't said here but it needs to be added to the text in this sense. I am totally convinced that what Paul also did here was to preach and I think the reason it doesn't say that is because it's so obvious. The Lord Jesus Christ did not perform miracles without speaking to point out the fact that these miracles were to corroborate the testimony of the gospel. Peter when he performed miracles earlier in Acts preached Christ. Paul when he did miracles preached Christ having established the confirmation of divine agency he then proclaimed the divine message. So if Paul healed, believe it, Paul preached. And tradition tells us that he founded in these days the church at Malta. And tradition also tells us that the first pastor of the Maltese Christians was Publius. And very likely if he had a house that could handle 276 guests that's probably where the church began too. And so we can be certain even though it doesn't say, fairly confident the church was founded then and agreeing with tradition that Publius may well have been the first pastor and the church could have possibly even met in his house. And many others came to Paul and were cured of their diseases. As a result, I believe that lives were transformed by the grace of God because in verse 10, they honored us greatly and put us on board our ship with whatever we needed. So Paul obviously preached the gospel and lives were changed because of it. In three months time of preaching the gospel you either make them Christians or enemies. Because of the generosity of the crowd a church began on the island of Malta. So God provided for Paul and the men who were with them. We have seen God’s providence, God’s protection, God’s provision, and finally,
GOD’S PROMISE – 11-16
God has promised Paul that he would make it to Rome. In Acts 9 at Paul’s call to salvation, God set Paul aside to be a chosen instrument to carry his name before the gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. When Paul thought all was lost in Jerusalem, Jesus stood beside him and said he would testify in Rome. When on board the ship and it appeared that he might go down in a storm God kept him safe. God took care of his servant at the bite of a poisonous snake. And now Paul in these verses finally gets to Rome.
After three months on the island of Malta, they set sail on another grain ship from Alexandria, which had stayed on Malta for the winter. This ship had the twin gods as a figurehead. Notice the terms Castor and Pollux, these were the twins called Gemini in the constellation. They were the patrons of navigation. They were supposedly the mythical sons of Jupiter (Zeus). They were the ones that the navigators and the sailors looked to for security and safety and salvation in hurricanes and so they had them on the front of the ship. In fact, they were so honored by the way they protected sailors that the gods just let them ascend into heaven and they plopped themselves into a constellation now called Gemini. That's mythology. But that's to identify the ship.
So they make a 80 mile journey to Syracuse, Sicily not New York. They stay there a period of three days and some traditions say that Paul started a church there. Well, we are not certain that this is true but it definitely sounds like something Paul would do in three days. From there they go to Rhegium, the place where the land breaks off that they enter the strait of Messina. Then they travel about 180 miles to the port of Puteoli. This is a chief port in Rome.
Paul stayed in Puteoli for seven days and was greeted by some Christians there. He is now a 145 miles from his final destination. The church had already been established before Paul got there. And it was here that Paul was discouraged. We are not sure why Paul is discouraged, but verse 15 tells us that he thanked God and took courage. So that says to me that there was some discouragement going on in the Apostle Paul.
Maybe he was discouraged because he was sick or the thorn in his flesh or strain of many years or he arrives as a prisoner and has not the freedom to move about or the Christians there won’t receive him. The Bible doesn’t tell us why all we know is that he was discouraged.
But Paul began the journey to Rome by the Appian Highway. It was named for Claudius Appiaii who was the commissioning builder in 312 B. C. So here is Paul discouraged and despondent when some believers travel some 33 and 43 miles respectively to walk with Paul the rest of the way to Rome. So these verses show that gGod kept his promise. We have seen God’s providence, protection, provision, and promise. Now I want you to notice Paul’s response.
PRAISE GOD – 15
Paul was grateful for all that God had done for him along the way and here he thanked God and took courage. Folks, this is the only proper response of any of us because God is sovereign in our lives. He protects and provides and keeps his promises to his children.
One of the most gripping missionary stories I’ve read is Bruchko, by Bruce Olson (Creation House, 1978). He left his Minnesota home at 19 with no support and no contacts to take the gospel to the murderous Motilone tribe in the jungles of South
America. They shot him with arrows, but he survived. At another point, he was far into the jungle, suffering badly with hepatitis, when two men in an oil company helicopter, out for a joyride over the dangerous Motilone territory, spotted a blond man in the clearing below. One of the men turned out to be a doctor whom
Olson knew from years before. They took him to a hospital, where the doctors said that in six hours he would have been dead. They also told him that he would be in treatment for over six months, and that his liver was so permanently damaged that he could never go back into the jungle.
But Olson knew that God wanted him to reach the Motilones, and so he told the doctors, “You’re wrong, I’m going back!” Three weeks later he was released, and a week after that he walked back into the jungle. On the third day, he began to feel dizzy. The chest pains returned. His urine was dark. As he fell asleep that night, feeling terrible, he prayed, “Father, You brought me here to work with the Motilone Indians. Please, God, heal my body.” The next morning he woke up feeling fine, with no more pain. His urine was clear (pp. 125-127). He made it back to the Motilones, where he has seen God do many more miracles (pp. 155-162). But the greatest miracle he has seen, he says, has been the changed lives of the Motilones through the power of the gospel (p. 161).
Just as God met the desire of Bruce Olson, God met the desire of the Apostle Paul. Paul wanted to get to Rome with the gospel and now Paul had arrived by the hand of God. What God has done for Paul, God can do for you. Are you willing to give it all to him, today?