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Paul’s Three-Month Layover on Malta
(Acts 28:1…11a, NIV)
Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta…
After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island.”
When we last saw Paul he was swimming to shore in the aftermath of a shipwreck off the coast of an unknown island while being transported by Roman soldiers to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. Luke described the scene when he wrote, “The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf…He [the Roman centurion] ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship” (Acts 27:41b…43b-44a, NIV).
God had appeared to Paul in Jerusalem and explained to him that he was to preach at Rome. Luke wrote, “The Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome’” (Acts 23:11b, NIV). God told Paul what to do and where to do it, but He didn’t bother to tell him when he would get to do it.
There had already been a two year layover at Caesarea. Luke wrote, “The commander… called two of his centurions and ordered them, ‘Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix…When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison” (Acts 23:22a…23-24…24:27, NIV).
Now there is a three month layover on Malta! Luke wrote, “Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta…After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island” (Acts 28:1…11a, NIV). Paul must have been wondering, “Lord, will I ever get to Rome???!!!” Being patient…waiting on the Lord…is so hard for us. Isn’t it?
Now let’s examine what happened during Paul’s three-month lay-over on Malta. I see three significant spiritual principles demonstrated during this episode of Paul’s life: 1) God is able to provide for His people; 2) God is able to protect His people; and 3) God has a plan for His people.
II. God’s Provision
God is more than able to provide for His people when they are doing His work. He began to demonstrate this spiritual principle as soon as Paul and the others sailing with him landed on the beach on Malta. Luke wrote, “The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold” (Acts 28:2, NIV).
Luke emphasized the fact that the “kindness” shown by the inhabitants of Malta to these victims of a shipwreck who unexpectedly landed on their shore was “unusual” kindness! It wasn’t the norm. It was out of the ordinary. God evidently worked in the hearts of these islanders to provide for the physical needs of these shipwrecked strangers in ways that they would not normally do.
In spite of the fact that the people who landed on the beach were sailors—a generally rough, immoral, dishonest, and unethical element of first-century society; Roman soldiers—a who were generally hated by those they had conquered; and accused criminals—who would have been viewed with deep suspicion, the citizens of Malta were kind to them. Luke wrote, “They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold” (Acts 28:2b, NIV). I think we must conclude that God was at work here!
God’s provision continued when the highest ranking Roman official on the island extended “generous hospitality” to them by lodging them on his plush estate for three days. Luke wrote, “There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days” (Acts 28:7, NIV).
A Roman politician extended “generous hospitality” to a group of strangers that included Paul, a Jewish Christian, and Luke, a gentile Christian. God must have been at work here, because Romans customarily hated both Jews and Christians! But Luke wrote, “He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days” (Acts 28:7, NIV). The personal pronoun “us” included both Paul and Luke!
God’s provision for His men continued right up till the time they left the island and beyond. Luke wrote, “When we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed” (Acts 28:10b, NIV). These shipwrecked strangers had, no doubt, lost all of their personal belongings in the sea. So God used the inhabitants of Malta to provide everything they needed to continue their journey to Rome.
This story reminds me of something Paul wrote later to the church at Philippi…something he had learned from personal experience, “My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19, NIV).
III. God’s Protection
While they were still on the beach God began to demonstrate to the islanders on Malta that He is able to protect His people. Notice how Luke told the story: “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. 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.’ 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” (Acts 28:3-6, NIV).
This was evidently a highly poisonous snake, because the islanders fully expected Paul to “swell up or suddenly fall dead.” But he didn’t, because God was protecting him. Luke described this incredible moment when he wrote, “Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects” (Acts 28:5, NIV). God has quite a flare for the dramatic and, on this occasion, so did Paul! A wonderful lesson to learn from this episode in Paul’s life is: “As long as God’s man is on mission for Him, he is invincible!”
IV. God’s Plan
God engineered a storm, a shipwreck, a safe landing, and a snake bite because He had a plan for His man—and that plan included the supernatural healing of the Roman official’s sick father and several other islanders in order to give Paul the opportunity to be witness for Jesus on that island. Let’s look at the story: “There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island…His 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 had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured” (Acts 28:7a…8-9, NIV).
We can safely assume that Paul did what he always did after God used him to supernaturally heal people. He witnessed for Jesus! The effect of his witness, his character, and his behavior on the island was so powerful that the people to whom he ministered “honored” Luke and him. Luke wrote, “They honored us in many ways” (Acts 28:10a, NIV).
God’s plan always includes people getting saved! After all, that’s why Jesus came. He said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10, NIV).
There are three important lessons to learn from this episode in Paul’s life as recorded by Luke in the Book of Acts:
Paul Arrived at Rome
(Acts 28:14b, NIV)
“So we came to Rome.”
The last time we saw Paul, he had completed a three month layover on the island of Malta and was sailing on toward Rome. Luke wrote, “After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island” (Acts 28:11a, NIV).
Luke continued his narrative of Paul’s journey to Rome by giving a brief itinerary of his travels. He wrote, “We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days” (Acts 28:12, NIV). “Syracuse” was the ancient capital of Sicily and was locate about 80 miles north of Malta. The reason for their three-day layover at Syracuse was probably the wind blowing from the north making sailing toward Rome very difficult.
After three days the captain of the ship, evidently short on patience, decided to set sail even though the wind was still a hindrance. Luke wrote, “From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium” (Acts 28:13a, NIV). Because of the hindering wind, they were only able to sail the roughly 70 miles north to “Rhegium,” which was located on the southern tip if Italy.
The following day the wind changed and they were able to sail north about 170 miles to “Puteoli” on the western coast of Italy. Luke wrote, “The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli” (Acts 28:13b, NIV).
After a brief layover at Puteili Paul, Luke, and their escorts journeyed overland about 75miles to Rome, making two stops along the way—the first at the Forum of Appius, and the second at a place called the Three Taverns. Luke wrote, “So we came to Rome” (Acts 28:14b, NIV).
II. Hospitality at Puteoli
When Paul and Luke reached “Puteoli,” the church there extended “hospitality” to them by providing lodging for them for an entire week. Luke wrote, “There we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them” (Acts 28:14a, NIV).
These believers were simply doing what the author of the Book of Hebrews instructed believers to do when he wrote, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2, NIV). “Hospitality” is serving others in ways that require you to open your home to them.
Paul may have been reflecting back on this incident at “Puteoli” when he wrote to the church at Rome, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13, NIV).
God may have arranged this week of “hospitality” for Paul and his traveling companions at “Puteoli” so that the Julius, the Roman soldier in charge of the prisoners, would have time to notify Caesar’s court with its backlogged docket of their imminent arrival. As I mentioned in an earlier lesson by the time Paul arrived at Rome, Nero’s prisons were so full of Christians who were accused of crimes against the Empire that the government was forced to allow many of them to secure private housing in which they were incarcerated under house arrest. That was exactly what happened to Paul when he reached Rome. Luke wrote, “When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him” (Acts 28:16, NIV).
God’s timing is always impeccable! Had Paul reached Rome a few months earlier, before Nero’s prisons were filled to capacity, he most likely would have been tried quickly and executed. Had he reached Rome a few months later, by the time Nero had executed multiple thousands of Christians and the prison population had decreased, Paul would most likely have been quickly tried and executed, as well. He later referred to God’s miraculous deliverance from Nero’s court when wrote, “At my first defense [his first trial before Nero’s court], no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles [those non-Jews service in Nero’s court] might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth [a thinly veiled reference to Nero’s deadly attacks on Christians]” (II Timothy 4:16-17, NIV).
It is likely that the “hospitality” of the believers at “Puetoli” saved Paul’s life because it resulted in his arriving at Rome at just the right time to be “delivered from the lion’s mouth!”
III. The Gift of Encouragement
The believers in the church at Rome had somehow learned that Paul and Luke were coming to Rome and were almost there. Maybe they received this information from the same messenger that carried the message from Julius to Caesar regarding Paul’s arrival at the Roman court. Regardless of how they received the information, they did something incredible as a result. Luke wrote, “The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us” (Acts 28:15a, NIV). The “Three Taverns” was about forty miles from Rome, and the “Forum of Appius” was about thirty-five miles from Rome. Either of those journeys would have been quite a time-consuming and inconvenient trip in the mid-first century!
These believers evidently had a mission in mind when they made these journeys, and their mission was accomplished. Luke described the result of their meeting with Paul when he wrote, “At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged” (Acts 28:15b, NIV).
Paul was evidently discouraged at this point. After all, he had recently endured a dangerous storm at sea, a shipwreck, an assassination plot, and a potentially fatal snake bite. In characteristic fashion, when His man needed encouragement, God provided it through the actions of fellow believers! Notice again what Luke wrote, “At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged” (Acts 28:15b, NIV).
One of the responsibilities of believers is to encourage other believers. The author of the Book of Hebrews wrote, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV). Every time we come to church, we should come on a mission—the mission of giving the gift of encouragement to someone who needs it!
Today’s lesson concludes with a statement written by Luke that seems somewhat insignificant when read alone—“When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him” (Acts 28:16, NIV). But when you read it along with a verse from the final section of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, it takes on new meaning. He wrote, “All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:11, NIV).
The soldiers who guarded Paul during round-the-clock rotating shifts were part of the Imperial Regiment who were housed in Caesar’s palace and therefore belonged to “Caesar’s household.” Imagine being a Roman soldier chained to Paul for an 8-12 hour shift, day after day, week after week, month after month. What do you think he heard Paul talk about again and again? Here’s a clue from Luke—“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:30-31, NIV). Many of the soldiers in the Imperial Regiment who heard Paul’s witness became believers and, as a result, the “Good News” infiltrated “Caesar’s household!” The “Good News” is unstoppable!
May God teach us to be as consistent and effective in our witness for Jesus as Paul was!
Minister to Jews First, Then to Gentiles
(Acts 28:16-17…24…28, NIV)
“When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself,
with a soldier to guard him.
Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders…
Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe…
Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation
has been sent to the Gentiles,
and they will listen!”
When we last saw Paul during our study of the Book of Acts, he had arrived at Rome and was actively engaged in ministry while undergoing a two-year house arrest. Luke wrote, “When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him…For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him” (Acts 28:16…30, NIV).
While engaged in ministry in Rome, the imperial capital of the world of Paul’s day, he followed the same procedure he followed in every city in which he ministered. He ministered first to Jews, then to Gentiles. Luke wrote, “When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders…Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe…Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (Acts 28:16-17…24…28, NIV).
The question we need to consider at this point is: “Why did Paul consistently preach the ‘Good News’ to the Jews first before preaching it to the Gentiles?” There seem to be three Biblical reasons for the Jews being offered the ‘Good News’ before it was offered to the Gentiles:
Because of these three facts, it is only natural that God would consider it “necessary” to offer the ‘Good News’ to the Jews before presenting it to Gentiles. That’s what Paul explained to the Jews to whom he preached in Antioch of Pisidia. These Jews refused to believe the ‘Good News,’ so Paul said to them, “It was necessary that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But since you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46b, NLT).
The frightening reality is the when people reject the Good News they have become “unworthy of eternal life.” That’s what Paul said to the Jews at Antioch of Pisidia: “Since you have rejected it [the Word of God] and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46c, NLT).
When Paul arrived at Rome he simply did what was “necessary.” He preached first to the Jewish population there. Then he preached to the Gentiles. Luke wrote, “When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders…Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe…Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (Acts 28:16-17…24…28, NIV).
II. The Hope of Israel
During his first meeting with them, Paul explained to “the local Jewish leaders” why he was a prisoner of the Romans. He said, “My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar. I certainly did not intend to bring any charge against my own people. For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain” (Acts 28:17b-20, NIV).
After explaining to Paul that they had heard no alarming reports about him, they scheduled another meeting with him to hear his religious “views.” Luke wrote, “They replied, ‘We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.’ They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying” (Acts 28:21-23, NIV).
During this second meeting, Paul jumped into a discussion on the topic of “the hope of Israel”—whom he identified as “Jesus.” Luke wrote, “He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. They disagreed among themselves and began to leave” (Acts 28:23b-25a, NIV). For the sake of the souls of non-believers God’s people should take advantage of every opportunity to “persuade them about Jesus.”
Paul’s response to the unbelief of these Jews was direct and decisive. He said, “I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (Acts 28:28, NIV).
At this point Paul began a preaching ministry for the benefit of the Gentiles in Rome. Luke described Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles in Rome when he wrote, “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:30-31, NIV). Paul’s two-year Gentile ministry in Rome literally changed the history of the world by catapulting the “Good News” out of Europe and into the rest of the world!
During his two-year house arrest at Rome, Paul did exactly what Jesus said he would do. Back in Jerusalem the night following the Jewish riot during which Paul was arrested by the Romans, Jesus appeared to Paul in a vision and said to him, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11b, NIV). God had a plan for Paul’s life. Paul pursued God’s plan, and God worked out all the details of His plan!
God has a plan for your life! Jeremiah wrote, “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV). The question is: “Are you willing to pursue His plan for your life and leave all the details up to Him?”
Sunday Service Times
Morning Worship: 10:00 a.m.
M*PACT Kidz: 10:00 a.m.
Helping Hands: 6:00 p.m.
ONE WAY Youth: 6:00 p.m.