We’ve reached the end of the book of Acts. Paul and company are shipwrecked on the island of Malta at the beginning. By the end, Paul is in his own “rented quarters,” where he spends a definite time of two years. He is likely still under guard (Acts 28:16) which makes this a form of home detention.
Yet he nearly did not make it off of Malta. Well, at least that was what the Maltese expected. Back in Acts 28:3-5, Paul is bitten by a snake. The shipwrecked crew, prisoners, and soldiers are gathering firewood and Paul gathers up an asp in the process. The locals expect what is referred to on the internet these days as “instant karma” where Paul is immediately treated as he deserves, but brought on by an unexpected means.
Mid-Nerd Note: v. 4 refers to “justice.” Or to “Justice” as the goddess of right/wrong and law. It is actually rather difficult to tell from the language, as the same word applies to both the concept and the deity behind it in the Greek-speaking world. Either the Maltese expected that the principles of the universe were getting even with Paul, or that a deity of the pantheon was. Either way, they are wrong.
Paul, however shakes off the snake and goes on about his business. The people begin, then, to wonder if he’s one of the gods rather than a victim of them. And Paul goes on about his business. He is asked to heal the father of the chief man of the island, and then to heal about every other sick person on the island. (No word on him leaving a falcon, though.)
They cross the sea over on to the Apennine Peninsula, and make their way up to Rome. Along the way, Paul meets with Jews and Christians, sharing the Gospel and encouraging the people. He remains guarded, as mentioned, but is free to preach and teach those who come to him.
Through it all, Paul goes about his business.
1. Paul is not shaken to depression in the bad parts. While we do not know the finer points of his mindset, we see Paul consistently doing what he is supposed to do. That is worth remembering: do not give in. Keep up.
2. Paul is not pushed to excessive exaltation in the good parts. We also do not see Paul turning into an adrenaline or success junkie through all of this. The good is what it is, the bad is what it is. There is still the day’s work to be done.
3. Paul is confirmed in his commitment. While his heart’s desire, as we see in Romans, is to see his own people Israel to believe Jesus is Lord, he has long counted himself on a mission to the Gentiles of this world. When he meets with the Jews of Rome, he attempts to persuade them of the truth of Christianity, but they refuse. He is again reminded that his goal is to share with anyone, and so takes the Jew along with the Greek.
4. Paul is unhindered despite his circumstances. The closing word of the book of Acts is ακωλυτως. (That should be the unaccented Greek word.) It is the word unhindered. He is possibly chained to a Roman guard, although it is possible that his home detention is more like having a strict parole, with check-in times. Or that the guard just lives with Paul. Whatever the case, no one is stopped from coming to him, and he is able to speak to all. He is unhindered in his preaching.
5. Paul is unhindered in who he receives. This one is important, and I think we overlook it too often. Our focus is often on Paul in the closing verses, but look at Acts 28:30. Paul receives all who come to him. In our days of specialty churches that take people of this type but distance themselves from people of that type or of targeting our evangelism here but not bothering with there, we have Paul. Receiving all. He makes no distinction between Jews or Gentiles, Romans or Barbarians, all.
How many of us really have that mentality in how we live the Christian life? That we would want all to come to us to know the Faith?
Today’s Nerd Note(s): 1. Ever consider how often God uses snakes for His purposes in Scripture? Even at Eden, then coming through Moses, Pharaoh, the snakes of judgment in the wilderness, Nehushtan, and here…and those are just from memory. The snake is possibly the most common non-sacrificial animal with symbolic usage in Scripture. While this should not put us on to snake-charming, that should make us consider something: here’s the creature that helps induce the fall, yet here is the creature that often shows forth God’s glory and mercy for others. Don’t be the snake.
2. Notice Paul’s usage of Isaiah at the end. He cites the lesser-remembered part of the call of Isaiah, where God points out that people will hear but not receive, see but not understand. This is the story of Paul’s life, and is part of the pattern of Christian witness in the world: here we are, but are we heeded? What difference does it make? Faithfulness is our call. Faithful to the truth, the love, the holiness, the grace of God. Handle that, and let the rest come as it may.