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WELCOME AT MALTA ( Acts 28:1-6 )
28:1-6 When we had been brought safely to shore, we recognized that the island was Malta. The natives showed us quite extraordinary kindness for they lit a bonfire and brought us all to it because of the rain which had come on and the cold. When Paul had twisted up a faggot of sticks and placed it on the fire, a viper came out of it because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the natives saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, "This man must be a murderer and, although he has been rescued from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live." But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and took no harm. They stood waiting for him to swell up or suddenly to fall down dead; and when they had waited expectantly for a long time and saw that nothing untoward was happening to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.
It was upon the island of Malta that Paul and the ship's company were cast. The King James Version is a little unkind to the Maltese. It calls them the barbarous people. It is true that the Greek calls them barbaroi ( G915) ; but to the Greek the barbarian was a man who said bar-bar, that is, a man who spoke an unintelligible foreign language and not the beautiful Greek tongue. We come nearer to the meaning when we simply call them the natives.
This passage sheds vivid little side-lights on the character of Paul. For one thing, there is the lovely and homely touch that he was a man who could not bear to be doing nothing; there was a bonfire to be kept alight and Paul was gathering brushwood for it. Once again we see that for all Paul's visions he was an intensely practical man; and more, that great man though he was, he was not ashamed to be useful in the smallest thing.
It is told that Booker Washington in his youth walked hundreds of miles to one of the few universities which took in negro students. When he got there he was told that the classes were full. He was offered a job at making beds and sweeping floors. He took it; and he swept those floors and made those beds so well that before very long they took him as a student and he went on to become the greatest scholar and administrator of his people. It is only the little man who refuses the little task.
Further, we see Paul as a man cool and unexcited. In one of his bundles of brushwood was a torpid viper which was wakened by the heat and fastened itself to his hand. It is difficult to tell whether this was a miraculous happening or not. Nowadays at least there is no such thing as a poisonous snake in Malta; and in Paul's time there was a snake very like a viper but quite harmless. It is far more likely that Paul shook off the snake before it had time to pierce his skin. In any event he seems to have handled the whole affair as if it was of little account. It certainly looked to the Maltese like a miracle but clearly Paul was a man who did not fuss!
HELP AND HEALING ( Acts 28:7-10 )
28:7-10 In the neighbourhood of that place there were estates which belonged to the Chief of the island, who was called Publius. He welcomed us and hospitably entertained us for three days. It so happened that Publius' father was lying ill, in the grip of intermittent attacks of fever and of dysentery. Paul went to visit him. He prayed and laid his hands on him and cured him. When this happened,. the rest of the people in the island who had ailments kept coming and being cured. So they heaped honours upon us and when we left they gave us supplies for our needs.
It seems that in Malta the Chief of the island was a title; and Publius may well have been the chief Roman representative for that part of the island. His father was ill and Paul was able to exercise his healing gift and bring him relief. But in Acts 28:9 there is a very interesting possibility. That verse says that the rest of the people who had aliments came and were healed. The word used is the word for receiving medical attention; and there are scholars who think that this can well mean, not only that they came to Paul, but that they came to Luke who gave them of his medical skill. If that be so, this passage gives us the earliest picture we possess of the work of a medical missionary. There is a poignant thing here. Paul could exercise the gift of healing; and yet he himself had always to bear about with him the thorn in the flesh. Many a man has brought to others a gift which was denied to him. Beethoven, for instance, gave to the world immortal music which he himself, being stone-deaf, never heard. It is one of the wonders of grace that such men did not grow bitter but were content to be the channels of blessings which they themselves could never enjoy.
SO WE CAME TO ROME ( Acts 28:11-15 )
28:11-15 After three months we set sail on an Alexandrian ship which had wintered in the island, the figure-head of which was The Heavenly Twins. We landed at Syracuse and stayed there for three days. From there we sailed round and arrived at Rhegium; and, after one day, when the south wind had sprung up, we made Puteoli in two days. There we found brethren and were invited to stay amongst them for seven days; and so we came to Rome. When the brethren had received news about us, they came from there to meet us, as far as Apii Forum and the Three Taverns. When Paul saw them he thanked God and took courage.
After three months, Paul and the ship's company managed to get passages for Italy on another corn ship which had wintered in Malta. In those days ships had figure-heads. Two of the favourite gods of sea-faring folk were The Heavenly Twins, Castor and Pollux; and this ship had carved images of them as its figure-head. This time the voyage was as prosperous as the previous one had been disastrous.
Puteoli ( G4223) was the port of Rome. There must have been tremors in Paul's heart for now he was on the very threshold of the capital of the world. How would a little Jewish tentmaker fare in the greatest city in the world? To the north lay the port of Misenum where the Roman fleets were stationed; and as he saw the warships in the distance Paul must have thought of the might of Rome. Nearby were the beaches of Baiae which was the "Brighton of Italy," with its crowded beaches and the coloured sails of the yachts of the wealthy Romans. Puteoli, with its wharves and its store-houses and its ships, has been called the "Liverpool of the ancient world."
For once there must have been a catch at Paul's heart as he faced Rome almost alone. Then something wonderful happened. Apii Forum is 43 miles from Rome and the Three Taverns, 33. They were on the great Appian Way which led from Rome to the coast. And a deputation of Roman Christians came to meet him. The Greek word used is that used for a city deputation going to meet a general or a king or a conqueror. They came to meet Paul as one of the great ones of the earth; and he thanked God and took courage. What was it that so specially lifted up his heart? Surely it was the sudden realization that he was far from being alone.
The Christian is never alone. (i) He has the consciousness of the unseen cloud of witnesses around him and about him. (ii) He has the consciousness of belonging to a world-wide fellowship. (iii) He has the consciousness that wherever he goes there is God. (iv) He has the certainty that his Risen Lord is with him.
UNSYMPATHETIC JEWS ( Acts 28:16-29 )
28:16-29 When we arrived in Rome, permission was given to Paul to stay in his own house with the soldier who was his guard. After three days he invited the leaders of the Jews to come to see him. When they had assembled, he proceeded to say, "Brethren, although I have done nothing against the People or against our ancestral customs, I was given over as a prisoner into the hands of the Romans from Jerusalem. When the Romans had investigated my case, they wished to release me because there were no grounds which could be made a capital charge against me. When the Jews objected to my release, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar, not that I had any accusation to make against my nation. It is for this reason that I have invited you to come to see me and talk things over with me, for it is for the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain." They said to him, "We have received no letter about you from Judaea and none of the brethren has arrived to report or say anything evil about you. We think it right to hear from you what opinions you hold, for, regarding this party of yours, it is a known fact to us that everywhere it is objected to." They fixed a day for him and a considerable number of them came to accept his hospitality. He expounded the matter to them, testifying concerning the kingdom of God and trying, from early morning until evening, to persuade them about Jesus with arguments based on the Law of Moses and the Prophets. Some were convinced by what he said and some refused to believe. When they could not agree with one another, they began to break up, after Paul had made one last statement, "It was rightly," he said, "that the Holy Spirit spoke to your fathers through the prophet Isaiah saying, 'Go to this people and say, "You will certainly hear and you will surely not understand; you will certainly look and you will surely not see; for the heart of this people has grown heavily insensitive and they hear dully with their ears and they have closed their eyes, so that they cannot see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and turn that I should heal them."' Let it be known to you, this salvation of God has been sent out to the Gentiles; and it is they who will hear."
There is something infinitely wonderful in the fact that to the end of the day, wherever he went, Paul began with the Jews. For rather more than thirty years now they had been doing everything they could to hinder him, to undo his work, and even to kill him: and even yet it is to them first he offers his message. Is there any example of undefeatable hope and unconquerable love like this act of Paul when, in Rome too, he preached first to the Jews?
In the end he comes to a conclusion, implied in his quotation from Isaiah. It is that this too is the work of God; this rejection of Jesus by the Jews is the very thing which has opened the door to the Gentiles. There is a purpose in everything; on the helm of things is the hand of the unseen steersman--God. The door which the Jews shut was the door that opened to the Gentiles; and even that is not the end, because some time, at the end of the day, there will be one flock and one shepherd.
WITHOUT LET OR HINDRANCE ( Acts 28:30-31 )
28:30-31 For the space of two whole years, Paul remained there, earning his own living; and it was his custom to receive all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching them the facts about the Lord Jesus Christ with complete freedom of speech and without let or hindrance.
To the end of the day Paul is Paul. The King James Version obscures a point. It says that for two years he lived in his own hired house. The real meaning is that he lived at his own expense, that he earned his own living. Even in prison his own two hands supplied his need; and he was not idle otherwise. It was there in prison that he wrote the letters to the Philippians, to the Ephesians, to the Colossians and to Philemon. Nor was he ever altogether alone. Luke and Aristarchus had come with him and to the end Luke remained ( 2 Timothy 4:11). Timothy was often with him ( Php_1:1 ; Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1:1). Sometimes Tychicus was with him ( Ephesians 6:21). For a while he had the company of Epaphroditus ( Php_4:18 ). And sometimes Mark was with him ( Colossians 4:10).
Nor was it wasted time. He tells the Philippians that all this has fallen out to the furtherance of the gospel ( Php_1:12 ). That was particularly so because his bonds were known throughout all the Praetorian Guard ( Php_1:13 ). He was in his own private lodging but night and day a soldier was with him ( Acts 28:16). These headquarters soldiers were members of the picked troops of the Emperor, the Praetorian Guard. In two years many of them must have spent long days and nights with Paul; and many a man must have gone from his guard duty with Christ in his heart.
And so the Book of Acts comes to an end with a shout of triumph. In the Greek without let or hindrance are one word and that one word falls like a victor's cry. It is the peak of Luke's story. We wonder why Luke never told us what happened to Paul, whether he was executed or released. The reason is that this was not Luke's purpose. At the beginning Luke gave us his scheme of Acts when he told how Jesus commanded his followers to bear witness for him in Jerusalem and all over Judaea and Samaria and away to the ends of the earth ( Acts 1:8). Now the tale is finished; the story that began in Jerusalem rather more than thirty years ago has finished in Rome. It is nothing less than a miracle of God. The Church which at the beginning of Acts could be numbered in scores cannot now be numbered in tens of thousands. The story of the crucified man of Nazareth has swept across the world in its conquering course until now without interference it is being preached in Rome, the capital of the world. The gospel has reached the centre of the world and is being freely proclaimed--and Luke's task is at an end.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (NLC; E)
E. Haenchen, Die Apostelgeschichte (G)
F. J. Foakes Jackson and K. Lake, The Beginnings Of Christianity (A five-volume work; especially useful are Vol.
IV, The Commentary and Vol. V, Additional Notes)
W. Neil, The Acts of the Apostles (NCB; E)
NCB: New Century Bible
NLC: New London Commentary
E: English Text
G: Greek Text
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Barclay, William. "Commentary on Acts 28". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany