1 Once ashore, we then learned that the island was called Malta. 2 The local people showed us extraordinary kindness, for they lit a fire and took us all in, since it was raining and cold. 3 As Paul gathered a bundle of brushwood and put it on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself to his hand. 4 When the local people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man is probably a murderer, and though he has escaped the sea, Justice does not allow him to live!” 5 However, he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 They expected that he would swell up or suddenly drop dead. But after they waited a long time and saw nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.
7 Now in the area around that place was an estate belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us hospitably for three days. 8 Publius’s father was in bed suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went to him, and praying and laying his hands on him, he healed him. 9 After this, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10 So they heaped many honors on us, and when we sailed, they gave us what we needed.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
The local people showed us extraordinary kindness, for they lit a fire and took us all in…
Paul is a prisoner. Stranded on an island. It’s cold. It’s rainy. It’s—well, it’s inconvenient. There’s no beautiful sanctuary. There’s no two-hundred voice choir or superb Nashville musicians. There’s no HD quality screens to magnify your face or sound system to send your voice to the thousands of people sitting in the padded pews.
No, there’s nothing in this situation that’s convenient. In fact, it’s beyond inconvenient and it’s about to get even more so.
The strangers on the island Paul is stranded on aren’t known for their hospitality. In fact, the literal meaning of their description is barbarians. However, they show what Paul describes as “unusual kindness.”
And then it happens: the from-bad-to-worse moment. The slithering snake appears from out of nowhere because of the heat. (We’ve seen this before. Think Garden of Eden.) And it bites Paul’s hand.
The barbarians have an immediate reaction to the snake, the poisonous snake on top of that, hanging from Paul’s hand. They’re convinced that anyone with luck like this has to be a murderer at best. Because this had to be an act of “justice,” the name they used for their pagan god. (We’ve heard a response like this before. Think Job’s friends.)
But in the middle of the mayhem, in the deluge of rain and venom and hardship and toil, Paul shakes off the snake. And in the middle of this island that held his accusation and imprisonment, it held great power. God’s power.
Paul was taken to the home of the highest ranking Roman official on that island and healed that man’s father. When he left that place, a place where he’d arrived a prisoner, he left with honor and every provision he needed.
I’m struck by this scenario. And I’m reminded of the opportunities that lie before me in each painful broken place.
You know what they are. Our prisons. Our shipwrecks. Our cold and rainy days. They’re the places where we encounter our deepest disappointments, greatest sorrows, and richest heartbreaks.
It feels that all of life has found its landing place right on top of us, then the worse gets worser. (I love to make up words.) The bad gets badder. The great gets greater. And we’re left with a choice. What will we do in the middle of it?
We have options, you know. We can hide out—in our addictions, forms of relief, victimization, anger, fear, or weariness. Oh, our hearts can always choose to hide beneath the pain of great disappointment and in the lie that God will come through for everyone else, but not for us.
But Paul didn’t hide. No, instead he first went to work right where he was planted. In spite of everything he’d gone through. He refused the thieving, killing, destroying enemy of his soul to have anything other than the rubbled ship that sat crumpled back on the shore.
No, Paul was going to serve right where God had placed him. And he did. He first gathered a bundle of sticks and made a fire. And when the viper struck his hand, he simply shook him off into the fire. Then, he was favored.
God loves to favor us when we refuse to allow the disappointment of our past to be the marker for our future. And in that place of honor, he served yet again. And in his heart of service, he had everything that was necessary for his journey.
I don’t know where you are in life. Stranded. Shipwrecked. Or drenched. But what I do know is that God is found, not in the victimization of our pain, but in the victorious yielding to where we’re placed by a gentle and gracious heart of service. In that place, miracles happen, people are healed, provision is given, and God is glorified.
- Take a few minutes to take stock of where you are. Do you find yourself complaining over where you are than you do having gratitude for what you have?
- Do you find yourself seeing yourself as a victim, instead of realizing that nothing is of great purpose or power is ever birthed in the place of our past, but only in the vision of our future?
- What could you do right now to serve where you are planted?
- How could God be glorified in those actions?