Sermon on Acts 28:1-10 – “God’s Provisions”

Sermon on Acts 28:1-10 – “God’s Provisions”

Sermon on Acts 28:1-10 – “God’s Provisions”

Sermon for Sunday Evening, January 21st, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Sermon Text

[Act 28:1-10 ESV] 1 After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. 2 The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. 3 When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. 4 When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god. 7 Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. 8 It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. 9 And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10 They also honored us greatly, and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed.

Introduction

We’ve gone from a shipwreck in the previous chapter to a remarkable scene of God’s protection and provision in this chapter. This happens primarily through the hospitality of the people of Malta.

Luke says that after they were brought safely ashore (brought safely BY GOD that is) then “We then learned that the island was called Malta.” The way this is said makes me think Paul (and Luke) are outside of their known world. All the other places so far, even tiny Cauda island were spoke of with familiarity. Now, after the storm, they are no longer on the eastern half of the mediterranean. They’ve crash landed on Malta, an island due south of Italy.

One of the places on that Island today, by the way, is called “St. Paul’s Bay” named for where some people believe Paul came ashore.

This “coming ashore” to the safety of land is the first of many provisions of God in this text.

Let’s enumerate these provision and then look at them one by one.

I. The Safety of Land

II. A Kindled Fire

III. Surviving a Snakebite

IV. The Hospitality of Publius

V. Parting Gifts

I. The Safety of Land

The first of God’s provisions is “the safety of land.” This is one that takes place apart from the instrumentality of people. This is God’s act. He directed the wind and the storm to bring all 276 people safely to Malta.

No longer are they tossing and turning at sea. We say that when we can’t sleep at night. “I was tossing and turning.” Well, it is one thing to “toss and turn” yourself about on a bed, it is another thing to be tossed and turned about at sea! And when you’re tossed onto a wood deck or turned to crash into a ship’s mast it is not quite as gentle as a landing in your Tempurpedic bed.

So, getting to land is the first and greatest of God’s provisions in this section. Everything else is made possible because of this. Life is made possible, for they were not likely to be able to hang on much longer at sea after 14 days of storms.

And there is great provision here also in the fact of WHERE they land. They don’t crash into a hostile territory with criminal brigands or savage cannibals. They land on Malta which has the law and order of the Roman Empire on it and friendly people. Probably they don’t get that many visitors!

II. A Kindled Fire

So we get the next provision of God for Paul and all the other survivors of the shipwreck. That is, a kindled fire.

They’ve been nothing but cold and wet for two weeks. That would be miserable. And then there were fierce winds at sea. They must have been close to hypothermia the whole time. And not eating any food, their bodies were weak

So it was a great sight when the people of Malta welcomed them and kindled a fire for them. That provided warmth of course but also the chance to dry out their clothes.

This is hospitality of the people, and it is a provision of God. While the people of Malta are to be credited with their acts of hospitality, God made it all possible bringing the shipwreck to that place, creating the political conditions which were favorable, and even providing the trees from which the firewood came. God had their provision in mind long before the shipwreck occurred. His plans are eternal.

III. Surviving a Snakebite

We then come to the provision of God in keeping Paul safe despite a bite from a snake.

This is always an attention grabbing section. And we immediately think of “snake-handling” churches in Appalachia or wherever else they might be.

The text tells us that the snake that “fastened on his hand” was a viper. And vipers are venomous. And it wasn’t a quick nip either. It fastened on his hand. So it appears that there is no hope for Paul. This is a serious bite from a serious snake. But in the providence of God, Paul “suffered no harm.” He shook the creature off into the fire.

This is another provision in this text that is clearly God’s provision. He kept Paul unharmed. We don’t know how exactly. Perhaps this snake had already used up its venom elsewhere, or it had ineffective venom, or God made its venom ineffective in just this case. Perhaps the latter is the implied idea of the text. This was a dangerous snake, but just “not this time.”

God has protected Paul from a snake and the snake is now in the fire. It is hard not to see an allusion to Satan, the serpent of the Garden, and his eternal torment in the fires of hell. The serpent is defeated. God provides salvation.

Now, as to snakehandling in churches, this is clearly to stretch the Scriptures beyond their intent.

Well, it turns out that snakehandlers really have another go-to passage. It is from the Gospel of Mark.

I’ll read 4 verses so we see some context. It is at the very end of the Gospel.

[Mar 16:14-18 ESV] 14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 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.”

There is a sense in which they applies first and foremost then to the eleven disciples who where there with Christ. But we must admit that it is not just for the eleven but for “those who believe.”

And it is fulfilled in at least this one instance by what has happened to Paul. He has, in a sense, picked up a serpent and it did not harm him. He didn’t actually pick it up; it came at him. And so you can see how the passage with Paul does not warrant snake-handling. Paul never handled a snake; it came at him!

But what of the passage in Mark?

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.”

Well I know of no snake-handlers that also drink deadly poison. So if they are taking the passage literally and as applying beyond the Apostolic era and being not only for a few select instances but for all believers, then they are only taking PART of the passage as such. They are not drinking deadly poison.

So, while the Lord can indeed protect us from the snake’s venom or the bottle’s poison, perhaps the greater consideration is “thou shalt not test the Lord your God.”

As for putting into place snakehandling in regular worship, that is quite a stretch. The Presbyterian view, called the Regulative Principle of Worship, limits the ordinary items of worship to Scripture reading, prayer, sermons, singing psalms and hymns to God, and participating in the sacraments of baptism of holy communion. There are also extraordinary elements in worship that are generally allowed, like the receiving of new members.

But putting extra elements into worship is not allowed. The idea is especially warned against in the account of Nadab and Abihu who God puts the death because they offer “unauthorized fire” during worship.

Now, one other item to mention. Some (a very few) churches add snakehandling to their church services. Other add footwashing. This is perhaps quite rare as well. And there is nothing wrong with footwashing itself … outside of the service. But it is not an element of worship. A group I did some research on a few years ago, a group called the Glasites (followers of a minister named John Glas), did regular footwashing in their church services. And maybe I could see a nondenominational church here or there might do so today. But it is not an explicitly approved element of worship in the Bible, so we don’t add that to our order of worship in the bulletin. You can keep your shoes on.

IV. The Hospitality of Publius

The next provision of God we find is the hospitality of Publius.

This is the “chief man of the Island.” And as part of God’s provision, the ship (not coincidentally) has landed “in his neighborhood.”

He has a Latin named, Publius, and connections no doubt back to Italy to the North. It was to his advantage to take in the shipwrecked soldiers, especially the centurion.

In connection with his hospitality, we find that Paul lays his hands on the father of Publius who lay sick with fever and dysentery and he is healed. And the same took place with all the other sick and diseased on the Island who were healed through Paul (by the power of God).

There is a church tradition that Publius became a Christian, even the Bishop of Malta. Certainly his experience with Paul could easily have led to that. But the Bible doesn’t tell us anything about Publius’ conversion, and early church records on the matter are scant, to say the least.

Anyways, Luke tell us, “Publius received us and entertained us hospitably for three days.”

This is a good host. And it gave Paul and the rest a chance to recover from their ordeal and sea and to strengthen them for the final leg of their journey to Rome.

V. Parting Gifts

There is then one last provision of God and act of hospitality. Parting gifts are giving to the visitors as they were about to set sail. The people of the island “put on board whatever we needed.” Food, clothing, water, perhaps other items, tools, whatever was needed.

That is hospitality. Giving blessings both “here” and “to go.”

CONCLUSION

So which is the greatest provision? Land, warmth, healing, connections in high places, or parting gifts?

Which would you want?

We might say “they go together.” Any one of them alone wouldn’t have been much of a provision. Land without warmth or food is not going to cut it. And none of it would have been possible if they didn’t land safely.

So which is the greatest provision. Let me suggest this: It is none of the above. The greatest provision is the Lord himself. He makes all of the other provisions possible: He provides all the provisions. Sometimes more directly, sometimes indirectly, but they are all from God.

And as God works out the details for Paul, he works out the details for us. How many details had to be worked out for you to be where you are? To merely be alive. To be blessed with food, clothing, shelter, friends, a church, etc. All of these things come from God. No doubt we should thank those who are hospitable, and we should ourselves be hospitable. And giving parting gifts is a great joy and benefit to those who need them. But we must keep in mind above all else, that ALL provision comes from the Lord God who created us, and who sustains us. To Him be the glory.