First read Acts 28:1-31

(It may be best to share this reading among those happy to read.

1 Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. 2 The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. 3 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.

Before we move on, it is well to recognise that many would ask this question, so I’ll ask it now:

If God intended Paul to go to Rome, was it necessary to have him caught in a hurricane, shipwrecked, and now bitten by a poisonous snake? Surely, God who controls the winds and the waves, could have made it easy for Paul to get to Rome?

We are assuming that Paul was a prisoner of Rome, but he actually knew differently: read the first five words of Philemon ‘Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ’. As Christ’s prisoner he would go where he was told and do what he was told. But he was a prisoner to love, and he would therefore do all this gladly, without any complaint.

But hurricanes, shipwrecks and snake bites doesn’t seem a fair reward for undying love.

It has been said that troubles in life come from the world, the flesh or the devil; they cannot be caused by a loving perfect God, but he does permit them.

In Paul’s case it seems obvious that Satan is opposed to the message of Christ, and therefore his servant. He had done his utmost to disrupt his teaching and had tried many times to have him killed. Did God prevent the devil’s attacks? No; did he save Paul from them? Yes.

As God can, and sometimes does smooth our path, why do we so often face troubles? We can find answers as we look at Paul’s current situation.

All Christians are commended to go into all the world and make disciples –  but more people start their journey towards Christ by observing our changed lifestyle, than by what we say. We are told that there were 275 people travelling with Paul on that ship, and he demonstrated to them how a life of faith in Christ worked.

He also showed them how God could always be relied on: remember Chapter 27:23-24:

23 Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.”

We cannot question the purposes of God. While considering an individual he is also considering the impact on the whole world. We have to trust him that God will use whatever situation we are in now for his eternal purposes, and for his ultimate glory.

The dangers that Paul faced also served to increase his faith. He earlier wrote to the Church in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

As we read these verses, look out how the Lord had prepared the way not only for Paul but also those who he came into contact with. (Actually starting with verse 1!) (You could make a list – continue as you proceed)

  1. The world. When God made the world it was perfect, but man’s sin changed that: now we all have to contend with unpredictable natural disasters.
  2. The flesh. We enter the world as sinners with a natural inclination to choose our own ways. It is not surprising then that as a result we or others will cause pain and hardship.
  3. The devil. He is the opposite of God: whatever God would do, the devil chooses the opposite. 1 Peter 5:8 has ‘Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

4 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.’ 5 But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.

It seems that from this moment there was no further opposition to Paul’s ministry. Could it be symbolic that as he shook the snake off into the fire that the power of Satan over him was broken? Do we ever need to consciously shake off the snake that has got its fangs into us?

6 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.

As we saw earlier the Romans had a vast array of gods and goddesses. ‘Justice’ (verse 4) was one of these. Obviously a prisoner under escort to Rome must have done something very terrible to have been singled out in this way. But when Paul suffered no ill effects(4), their attitude changed(5).

7 There was an estate near by that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days.

How convenient that the Roman governor just happened to live nearby(6). And welcomed them(7) with generous hospitality(8)!

8 His father was ill in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him(9).

To Paul, that was the most obvious compassionate thing to do. He would have had no other thought than to help a man’s suffering. But note – God provided the healing, Paul was only the channel.

9 When this had happened, the rest of those on the island who were ill came and were cured(10).

And again, Paul would not have hesitated to pray for all who needed healing.

I am convinced that this then opened a door for Paul to speak to not only those who had been healed, but their friends and families too. And he had three months in which to do it!

10 They honoured us in many ways(11); and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed(12).

It is apparent that from the moment all hope of trusting in the ship and its contents were totally gone, God then overruled events and provided not only many opportunities for the Gospel, but provision for Paul all the people from the ship. (I’ll leave you to continue the list if you want!)

11 After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island – it was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux.

 12 We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. 13 From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli.

Now we can call it ‘plain sailing’; even the right wind at the right time.

14 There we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them.

It is wonderful how brothers and sisters in Christ can have such easy fellowship whenever they meet.  

Map taken from www.conformingtojesus.com

Again the Centurion in charge of Paul was happy for his prisoner to be looked after by these strangers. But word of Paul’s arriving travelled fast:

And so we came to Rome. 15 The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they travelled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged. 16 When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.

In verse 30 we are told that Paul actually had his own rented house. And note that it was a single soldier who was left to guard him. It seems to have been ‘house arrest’ in name only and Paul actually had considerable freedom (but note the chain in verse 20).

17 Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders.

Paul had only ever suffered at the hands of Jewish leaders; and had finally accepted that his ministry was to the Gentiles. Why then should he start this next phase of his ministry by wishing to speak to the Jewish Leaders?  

Obviously the Christian message had already reached Rome (verse 15) but Paul was still a Jew at heart and he still longed that his own people would accept Christ as their long-awaited Messiah. Besides, there was nothing they could possibly threaten him with – he was already awaiting trial.

When they had assembled, Paul said to them: ‘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. 18 They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. 19 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.

Paul needed to set their minds at rest. They may have been worried that as Jewish leaders he may have wanted to somehow implicate them in his forthcoming trial.  No said Paul, I hold nothing against the Jews or their leaders.

20 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.’

21 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.

Actually that was not surprising for two reasons:

22 But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.’

They were not ignorant of the spread of Christianity, or the opposition it had aroused amongst the Jewish people. They were keen to hear the truth, ‘straight from the horses mouth’.

23 They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. 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. 24 Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.

We can only imagined what Paul’s message was (having the hindsight of being able to read his many books). It must have been wide-ranging, scripture based, and powerful. As with all evangelical meetings, some were convinced, others were not. But Paul had done what he set out to do, and reluctantly he again realised that his mission would have to be to the Gentiles.

25 They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: ‘The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:

26 ‘“Go to this people and say,
‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.’
27 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.”

28 ‘Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!’

30 For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ – with all boldness and without hindrance!

Paul would not leave his house, but people could come to him and for two years he was able to continue his ministry. But what happened then?

It was around AD60, and Nero was emperor. The great fire of Rome happened in AD64 when tradition states that Nero blamed Christians for starting it.

Tacitus (Annals XV.44) records:

Besides being put to death they were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were clothed in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed.

There is no actual evidence of Paul’s ultimate fate, but I think we must all agree his life was totally dedicated to serving his Lord.

Acts 26:16-17

Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them.

Paul, writing to Timothy said:

2 Timothy 4:7

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Acts 26

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Acts 28:1-31 How / why troubles come. Lord prepared way for Paul. Paul ministered on Malta. Journey to Rome. Deliberately preached to Jews first. Final years. Emperor Nero