WE STILL SEE the protecting hand of God stretched over Paul and his companions when they had landed on Malta. Though the inhabitants were “barbarians” according to Roman thoughts, they showed exceptional kindness to the shipwrecked party, and things were so over-ruled that they soon discovered that one of the shipwrecked visitors was no ordinary person. Paul was busily engaged, doing what he could to help, when a viper fastened itself on his hand. The superstitious islanders placed their interpretation on this, but when the expected did not follow they changed their minds, jumping to the opposite conclusion. Superstition never comes to right conclusions. To Paul doubtless it was a very minor happening, seeing he had been through the long list of adventures which he catalogued in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. And when he wrote that list it was still unfinished. He had not, for instance, been through the shipwreck of which we have been reading. He had been shipwrecked three times before this happened. There are not many who have survived four shipwrecks, we venture to think, even if professional sailors, which he was not.
The chief man of the island taking a kindly interest in them in their need, Paul was enabled to repay him by prayer and the healing of his father. We do not read of any testimony that Paul rendered, yet his praying must have shown to all that the healing power he wielded was not his own but connected with God. The islanders, finding that the power of God was in their midst, were not slow to seek it for their bodies, and seeking they found it. All this, in the providence of God, led to a time of comfort after the fortnight of terrible testing, and even to a time of honour, and this lasted for three months. The Apostle has put on record, “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound” (Philippians 4:12). These three months proved to be a time of abounding.
The same might be said of the rest of the journey, when it was resumed. All went favourably and arriving at Puteoli, and finding brethren there who begged Paul might be with them for a week, the visit was happily arranged. By this time evidently the centurion in charge had taken the measure of his prisoners, and was disposed to accord him remarkable liberty. On the overland journey too, brethren came to meet him, having heard of his approach, and this was a great cheer to Paul. Spiritual man though he was, and thoroughly in touch with God and dependent upon Him, he was not above thanking God and taking courage from the love and fellowship of saints, whose spiritual stature may have been much beneath his own. It is striking to see this, and very encouraging for us. Let us be very careful not to despise, or even underestimate the value of the fellowship of saints.
Thus Paul arrived at Rome. His circumstances were very different from those that he had visualized when he wrote in advance of what he purposed to do (see Romans 15:22-32), but he did come to them with a certain measure of joy by the will of God, and he was marked by “the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.” God’s hand was still over him, for though a prisoner he was permitted to dwell by himself under guard, and this gave him a measure of liberty for service and testimony.
Only three days after his arrival he was able to call together the chief of the Jewish colony in Rome and lay something of his case before them. He made it plain that he had no wish to be an accuser of his nation, but that his whole offence in Jewish eyes was connected with the. “hope of Israel;” that is, the long promised Messiah. The Jews on their part professed ignorance of his case, but they knew of the Christ whom Paul preached, and to be a Christian meant to them belonging to a “sect... everywhere... spoken against.” Everywhere, be it noted; not only amongst the Jews but amongst Gentiles also. Genuine Christianity never has been popular, and never will be. It cuts too deeply across the grain of human nature.
Still they professed a desire to hear what Paul had to say; and so a day being fixed, many came, and for a whole day he was able to expound and testify and persuade. His theme was the kingdom of God and Jesus, as the
One in whom that kingdom is centred and established; and all that he had to say was based upon the law of Moses and the prophets, for there all had been typified and foretold. The three verbs are worthy of note. First he expounded the Sacred Writings, showing what they had to say and making their force plain. Then he testified of Jesus, relating doubtless what he knew personally of His glory in heaven, and showing how exactly He had fulfilled all that the Scriptures had said concerning His advent in humiliation. Lastly he set himself to persuade his hearers of the truth of all he advanced. Paul did not preach what has been called a “take it or leave it” Gospel, but laboured with loving zeal to reach the hearts of those who listened, and secure a response in faith from them. Let us see that we imitate him in this, for we have to remember that though nothing short of the working of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men is effectual, the Spirit is frequently pleased to work through the persuasiveness of servants of God, who are filled with love and zeal.
It was so in this case. The record here is that while some remained in unbelief, “some believed the things which were spoken.” When the Word is preached it is nearly always thus. Only in the Acts—when Peter preached to Cornelius—do we find everybody converted; but that is not the usual thing, for at the present moment God is calling an election out from both Jew and Gentile.
To the unbelieving Jews, ere they departed, Paul spoke a final word, quoting the passage from Isaiah 6:1-13, which the Lord Himself quoted in Matthew 13:1-58, and John quotes in chapter 12 of his Gospel. This sad and terrible process of hardening and spiritual death had set in even in the days of Isaiah some seven centuries before Christ. It was far more pronounced when Christ was on earth; and now the final stage was reached. Paul pronounced these words, realizing that during this Gospel age Israel’s day as a nation was over. Nationally they are blinded and without understanding in the things of God, though very acute as to the things of the world. This does not of course conflict with the fact that God is still calling out a remnant according to the election of grace, as Romans 11:1-36 states.
It is worthy of note that in quoting this passage Paul says, “Well spake the Holy Ghost.” If we turn to Isaiah 6:1-13, we find the prophet saying in regard to this message, “Also I heard the voice of the Lord,” referring to Jehovah of Hosts; and turning to John 12:1-50, we find the comment, “These things said
Esaias, when he saw His glory, and spake of Him,” and we have only to look at the preceding verses to discover that the “His” and “Him” refer to Jesus. How plain it is then that Jehovah of hosts is to be identified with both Jesus and the Holy Ghost—three Persons, yet one God.
Verse Acts 28:28 gives us the last words of Paul, as recorded in the Acts. They are very significant, as giving us the point to which the book has conducted us. He proclaims as a definite message from God that His salvation is now sent to the Gentiles as the result of the blindness and hardness of the Jew; and he adds “they will hear it.” This does not mean that all of them will do so, but rather that in contra-distinction from the Jew, a hearing ear is going to be found there. This, thank God! has proved true throughout the centuries.
When the Lord spoke to the Syro-Phenician woman about the children and the dogs, the poor woman, seeing the point, took the place of being but a Gentile dog, and yet claimed that God was good enough to permit that there should be some crumbs of mercy for her. She was right: the Lord called her faith great and honoured it by granting her desire. But here we find something more wonderful still. The children having despised and rejected the good things provided, not the crumbs merely but the whole meal is sent to the dogs. As Paul himself puts it in Romans 11:1-36, “the fall of them” is “the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles... the casting away of them... the reconciling of the world.” This does not mean that all the world is definitely reconciled, but that God has now turned in favour towards the world, offering His salvation to all men.
Paul was still a prisoner, yet he was allowed to hire a house and dwell there and receive all who wished to see him. Thus he had opportunities for testimony, and the word of God was not bound. As far as this book is concerned we take leave of him spending two whole years preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ without any restraint. His trial was delayed in the providence of God, and a door of utterance was thus opened to him. During this time Onesimus was converted and doubtless others also; some of his Epistles also were written.
Closing the Acts, we finish apostolic history: passing to Romans we begin apostolic doctrine. It is the doctrine which enables us to understand the significance of the history; while the history enables us to appreciate the authority and weight of the doctrine.
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Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Acts 28". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
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