Acts 28:1–16 . . .
“Paul Makes It Ashore then Arrives in Rome”
As we begin the final chapter of Acts, two significant questions ought to be asked and answered. Unfortunately, Luke's Acts volume doesn't provide answers. Nevertheless, consider the following: (1) Why is there no account of Paul standing before Caesar in Rome? and (2) Why are there accounts of one rescue after another that enable Paul to get to Rome, but then in this final chapter, we're not given any account of his trial, particularly its outcome?
There appears to be one easy answer to both questions: Luke completed Acts before these things happened. After all, he couldn't have written a true account about events that hadn’t yet happened. We must acknowledge that God didn't consider these events as being essential for Christians; otherwise, a third volume or later writings by others who'd address these accounts would have been included in the New Testament canon. Perhaps we're asking for the wrong questions; we might instead ask and answer these two questions: (1) What's the message to Luke’s early readers, and (2) what's the message for us? Hopefully, we'll discover in our discussions of this final two-part chapter of Acts.
Paul’s Maltese Ministry (28:1–10)
Crash! Boom! Crack! Everyone loses their balance and falls to the deck as the ship runs aground on a sandbar. Swoosh! Splash! Shouts! People everywhere are screaming as the stern is breaking up by the pounding surf. People were attempting to preserve their lives. The centurion was barking out orders: If you know how to swim, go for it! If not, grab a plank or a piece of the ship and make your way to land! (27:43–44).
All of the sudden passengers and prisoners alike threw themselves overboard. The cold autumn water almost knocked out their breath; all of their muscles tightened as their bodies were baptized by the Mediterranean; they emerged, oriented themselves, and did the best they could to safely get to shore. They ran ashore with all the gusto of an Olympic sprinter. And, just as if they'd crossed the finish line in first place, they dropped to their knees in triumph. They made it and were still alive! They'd awoken from their two-week nightmare at sea, kissing the sand in appreciation of dry land. On shore, all began to congregate together,shocked to find out that all 276 of them had made land safely, remembering Paul’s prophecy that not one of them would be lost; they were most thankful!
Soon after the refugees from the great tempest gathered on land, they discovered where they were; on a major island just south of Italy, the Island of Malta. Such a large company of people arriving ashore couldn't remain unnoticed by local inhabitants. The Maltese, a civilized people, rushed to give them help, receiving the castaways, not with distrust or annoyance, but with great hospitality. Their first act of kindness was to kindle a fire to combat the cold and dampness that would make people sick (v. 2).
Always ready to serve the needs of others, Paul joined in the work of building the fire. But when he twisted together a bundle of sticks, he didn't notice a snake in hiding. When he laid the sticks on the fire, the snake slid out of the flames and "fastened itself" on Paul’s hand (v. 3). In other words, it bit Paul. The native Maltese standing nearby saw the snake and recognized it as a viper, a species renowned for its deadly poison; its bite killed victims within minutes. These onlookers, expecting Paul to drop dead at any moment, continued to watch him carefully. They said among themselves that a prisoner who was pursued so relentlessly by vengeance, first using the sea, then the viper, to bring him down, must be a terribly wicked man, likely a murderer. Paul wasn't concerned with the snake; he simply shook it off into the fire, afterward suffering no effects. The onlookers were amazed. They'd never seen a viper's bite fail to do harm. From the suspicion that he was murderer, they switched their suspicion that him being a god (v. 6).
The plight of the stranded seafarers soon came to the attention of Malta's chief official, Publius. With his home nearby, he was moved by a gracious spirit, extending hospitality to members of the ship's company (v. 7), among them Luke and Paul, probably the other leaders. For three days they stayed in his home and enjoyed his companionship. An opportunity soon arose for Paul to repay his host's favor. The man's father was seriously sick (v. 8). In describing the illness, Luke resorts to the medical language of his day so that we might form a clear idea of the father's condition. He suffered from a "fever and dysentery." After going in to see the sick man, Paul healed him in a way designed to teach two important lessons: (1) He openly prayed for the man to document that the miracle he'd perform would be a work of God. Then, (2) to show that he was God’s minister, Paul laid his hands on the man who quickly recovered (v. 8).
When news of the healing spread throughout the island, many brought their sick and they were healed. As a result, the people who came had set Paul and Luke in high regard. It's unthinkable that these two emissaries of God didn't use their prestige to advance God's work through their testimonies. [Remember our discussion (see Week 40) about the importance of presenting your personal testimony to people!] Undoubtedly, they told many about Christ and brought many into his kingdom. When they left the island, the natives heaped "honors" upon them and gave them everything necessary for their coming journey (v. 10). In some contexts, "honors" refers to money, so it's possible that besides honoring the evangelists with expressions of praise and gratitude, the natives also gave money to meet their expenses. The "needed supplies" that they contributed probably included food and clothing.
Three, Three, Three, Three (vv. 11–16)
After having stayed for three months in Malta, the next six verses chronicle their voyage from Malta to Syracuse, where they stayed three days, before traveling to Rhegium, then to Puteoli. And what did the Lord do for Paul in the Roman Empire's city of Puteoli? He brought him into contact with brethren (v. 14) who invited him to stay with them for seven days for a little R & R! Here's one of those sweet, wonderful times of restful fellowship that the Lord provides for us every once in a while, following our hearty service to him. At the end of that week-long time of refreshment, Paul and his team journeyed to Rome. Low and behold they found brothers in Rome who'd heard about them and made the effort to journey forty-three and thirty-three miles respectively to meet Paul at the Market of Appius and at Three Taverns. These believers had been previously instructed by Paul and thrilled with his exposition of the gospel in Paul's letter to the Romans, which he'd sent to them three years earlier from Corinth. This was such a blessing to Paul that he took the opportunity to publicly thank God (v. 15). Again we see the Lord showing special kindness to his servant, refreshing him with the fellowship and encouragement of saints.
Looking back, starting in v. 11, winter had nearly settled in by the time Paul reached Malta. Therefore, no further movement over the sea was possible until the coming of spring. Finally, after three months of waiting, the return of good sailing weather allowed the centurion to resume travel with his soldiers and prisoners. Upon finding a ship that had been wintering in Malta, no doubt at moorings in the harbor of Malta's capital, Valetta, he arranged for passage. This was a ship from Alexandria, another in the fleet that brought grain to Rome. Its sign, sculpted as a figurehead on its prow, was the twins Castor and Pollux, two mythical sons of Zeus who were regarded as patrons of navigation.
With Paul and Luke on board, the ship set sail as soon as the weather permitted and moved northeastward to Syracuse, capital of the island of Sicily. Perhaps because the ship was becalmed, the journey suffered a delay of three days. Then the ship moved on to Rhegium, a major port on the toe of Italy. Then at Rhegium they caught a south wind that took them directly to Puteoli, a port that commonly served as the last stopping place of ships carrying cargo and passengers to Rome. The wind was so favorable that the trip took only one day (v. 13).
As one of the principal ports of Italy, Puteoli had long been the home of a Jewish community. Paul found a body of believers there, and, at their insistence and with the centurion's permission, Paul remained with them seven days, no doubt giving them both teaching and encouragement. Then he and his company resumed their journey to Rome. The rest of the trip was on foot. A short distance north of Puteoli they came to the Appian Way, the great road running down the length of Italy. Following this highway north, they soon came to the Forum of Appius, a market town about forty-three miles south of their destination. There they met a group of brethren from the church in Rome, who'd evidently heard of Paul's coming and sent out delegates to welcome him. More arrived as he walked along, some meeting him when he came to The Three Taverns, but the reference is to shops, a point about thirty-three miles from the city.
The willingness of these brethren to walk sixty or eighty miles round trip, just to greet someone who was coming into their city, is a striking testimony of their high regard for Paul. He'd sacrificed much in his years of ministry to the churches. The least that a church could do would be to make a significant sacrifice for his sake. The warm greeting that Paul received thrilled his soul. He thanked God for it (v. 15) and derived from it new courage. He was going into Rome with the formidable prospect of defending himself before Caesar, a wicked and violent man. He didn't know whether he'd ever leave the city again. As it turned out, he didn't, so far as Luke tells us, although, as we'll see next week, some traditions affirm that he did. Whatever was next for Paul, he must have sensed that he was walking toward his final hours. So he especially needed encouragement to be brave; and God, as he usually does, provided encouragement through fellow fellow believers.
Upon his arrival in the big city, the centurion handed Paul over to the guard having the Roman title "stratopedarch." The centurion must have spoken highly of Paul, for the captain, rather than casting Paul into a common jail, treated him with great respect, allowing him to live in his own house, under guard by a single soldier who was bound to Paul by a chain attached to Paul's wrist.
We'll have our final review discussion next week when we complete Acts, covering Paul's meeting with and testimony to Jewish leaders, followed by Luke's account of Paul's two-years sojourn in Rome. The concluding verses of Acts 28 are therefore words of triumph, for they affirm that Paul had indeed fulfilled his calling in life.
- Q. 1 How could the shipwreck and Paul's Maltese ministry set the stage for him to later write about the way his imprisonment at Rome served to advance the gospel? (See Philippians 1:12–14)
- Q. 2 If you were to be jailed, what three items would you want to be given? (Note: A file, saw, and key aren't permitted.)
- Q. 3 Now in chapter 28, do you see Acts 1:8 still being carried out? How so?
New International Version (NIV) [View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 28.]
† Watch this “Visual Bible” video clip: Acts 27:34–28:31, starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus, James Brolin as Simon Peter, Harry O. Arnold as Saul/Paul, and Dean Jones as Luke.
Paul Ashore on Malta
28 1Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. 2The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. 3Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 4When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. 6The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.
7 There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. 8His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. 9When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. 10They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.
Paul Arrival at Rome
11After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island — it was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. 12We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. 13From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli. 14There we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them. And so we came to Rome. 15The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged. 16When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.