Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Shake It Off
Doesn?t it seem like something (or someone) didn?t want Paul to reach Rome? Angry mobs, corrupt leaders (both Israeli and Roman), then even the wind and waves seem to conspire to destroy Paul or crash him up against the rocks?anything to keep him from reaching God?s intended destination. But as Paul completes his journey, and Luke completes the book of Acts, we see the final attempts of the enemy to thwart God?s plan, and God turning what Satan meant for evil into good.
I picture 276 souls, walking up out of the surf, tired, wet, but grateful to be on land after their ship crashed up on a reef just shy of the beach. Shipwrecks were common, survivors of shipwrecks, not so common.
Malta is an island about 18 miles long and 8 miles wide some 470 miles from Fair Havens, Crete, where they started this journey, and 320 from Rome, their destination. It was settled by Phoenicians (just north of Israel on the coast) and the word Malta comes from a Canaanite word meaning ?refuge.? The island is well suited for ships and has many harbors. It was a popular place for retiring Roman army officials, though the Romans considered the people barbarians because they spoke a Phoenician dialect. They were also hospitable, which is just what Paul and his shipwrecked companions needed.
2 ? 6
This somewhat unusual story (though for Paul, how can we say anything is ?usual??) shows that when God promised that Paul would arrive in Rome, nothing, I mean nothing, will stand in his way. Isn?t it apropos that a snake (Satan is called ?that serpent of old?) bites him. The reptile must have been made very lethargic in the cold but came to life in the movement and heat of the fire.
The people were very superstitious and figured ?Justice? had come to finish the job of punishing Paul. When nothing happened to him they did an about face and decided instead of a murderer, he must be a god.
A point here: about the snake. According to a disputed part of Mark?s gospel, Jesus did say that ?17 And these signs will accompany those who believe:? in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them;? they will lay their hands ?on the sick, and they will recover.\" (Mark 16:17-18). A problem has arisen out of those verses ? mainly snake handling on the one end, a focus on the miraculous on the other.
Let me just say that Paul focuses not on the miracle, but on the job at hand. He practically takes the miracle in stride (more on that later). But if you are doing something (like handling a snake or anything) to prove God has blessed you, it?s not likely going to work (and I?ve seen this happen), and even if it does work, it?s not likely God doing it.
It?s likely that people will misunderstand you as well as you seek to follow God?s direction. If you are in a trial, some will say that it proves God isn?t real ?for how could a loving God allow?? But as you shine out His love, despite the trial, or as you even see Him work miracles through you for the gospel, people might to venerate you ? both are wrong wrong wrong!
7 ? 10
Paul and his group get a special invite to ?the first man of the island.? Malta was under Roman jurisdiction but allowed some self rule. ?Malta fever? is now known to be caused by microbes in goat?s milk. Its symptoms were like dysentery and a person could be sick from several months to several years. This is the only instance where praying and the laying on of hands is mentioned in Acts. As Paul then healed many others through the power of the Holy Spirit, he undoubtedly also preached the gospel. ?Be ready in season and out.?
11 ? 16
You could start sailing again in mid-February to mid-March. This was probably another grain ship which arrived in just one days time at Sicily?s chief city. Rhegium is the modern day Reggio on the ?toe? of Italy. They then put in at Puteoli, which is now called Pozzuoli, which is where grain ships would offload before a later emperor built a port closer to Rome itself.
It?s possible that Jews from Rome were in Jerusalem at the day of Pentecost, decades earlier and had returned to Rome as Christians. They then told their friend what had happened and the gospel spread. They stay there a week either for the ship?s cargo to be unloaded or for some delay for Julius, the centurion who had charge of Paul.
Two groups of believers then meet Paul, 40 and then 35 miles south of Rome. Not exactly the welcome of a prisoner, more like a victor?s march!
Paul was allowed to rent a home and was guarded by Roman soldiers in 4 hours shifts, around the clock. I?m sure a great number of those guards got saved, sitting next to the Apostle Paul as he shared the gospel!
17 ? 22
Speaking to the Jewish leaders was what Paul normally did when he came to a new area. You can tell here he is trying to determine if the waters have already been poisoned by false accusations from Jerusalem. I guess the leaders either figured Paul was lost to them, or that they had little influence in Rome, the most powerful city on earth, but they send no letters or people to testify against him.
23 ? 28 (29)
Paul dialogues with the many Jewish Romans who came ? and it says ?some were convinced? which is in the imperfect tense, suggesting that they had just begun to understand the gospel.
But like in many other places, others disbelieved. The Jews, like many today, feel like they have sight but cannot see their real state. As Paul has stated before, he therefore takes the gospel to the Gentiles.
Some manuscripts insert verse 29 which reads: ?And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, having much dispute among themselves.?
So Paul now basically starts a church and a prison ministry all wrapped up into one. The theme of this book is the spread of the gospel, and the enemy?s attempts to stop it. Luke states for us loud and clear than no matter what is thrown against the gospel, it will be proclaimed ?with all boldness and without hindrance.?
Paul did more than just preach and teach, though. He wrote letters including Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians, and personal letters like Philemon.
Tradition says Paul was released after two years and went on a fifth missionary journey. The prosecution had only that long to bring their case and the statute of limitations may have run out on them. Paul mentions in Philippians that he was soon to be released.
He may have gone to Spain and revisited the Greek churches. 1 & 2 Timothy were written during this time period. Tradition also tells us that he was eventually beheaded back in Rome, either by Nero or by the city Prefects. But his death is not important because the focus of Acts is not Paul, or Peter, but the gospel, and the gospel never dies, no matter how much the enemy tries to stamp it out.
Shake it off
When the snake bit Paul (and it was a poisonous snake, or the natives would have known and wouldn?t have looked for Paul to die) he just shook it off into the fire (isn?t that a great picture of Satan?s eternal punishment?). He didn?t panic, he didn?t make a big show of prayer, and he didn?t boast that he was bullet proof (and snake proof). He just went on doing what God had called him to do.
I think that?s a good example for us. When adversity strikes, and it will, it?s the sign of a maturing disciple who just takes it in stride, shakes it off, and continues doing God?s work. Yes we are real and we feel pain and yes we cry out to God for rescue, but in reality we know we are going to experience suffering here, and that is in control, and that the job is more important than us.
Don?t get me wrong, Paul was a real person who felt real pain?but he knew that 1) the pain was part of God?s design for his life here:
2 Corinthians 4:7-12 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are? afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but? not forsaken;? struck down, but not destroyed; 10? always carrying in the body the death of Jesus,? so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus\' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
And 2) God?s grace was enough to get him through:
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 \"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.\" Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Don?t focus on the miracle, but on the gospel
The gospel is unhindered in your life too, so just live the life God has set before you without over thinking or over worrying. You have a mission and before it?s done He?ll give you what you need to make it through and when you?re done you are out of here to be with Him!
2 Corinthians 4:14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus? will raise us also with Jesus and? bring us with you into his presence.