Sandy and I planned to go to Malta 33 years ago to do gospel ministry but her health stopped us. The Apostle Paul did not plan to go to Malta but a shipwreck took him there to preach the gospel.
Most people don’t know where Malta is, I usually explain it this way: if Italy is the foot in the Mediterranean and Sicily is the ball that it's kicking. Now imagine a bit of mud flicking off and landing in the Mediterranean, that’s Malta. Unlike Australia, which is the biggest Island in the world, Malta is a very small Island, in some maps, you can't even see it. It's only 30 km long. When I went back to Malta in 2009, I wasn’t sure the Island would be long enough for the plane to land. The population is around 400,000 and there are more Maltese in Australia than there are in Malta.
Malta is the size of Blacktown City council but it still has 68 different local councils. How is that possible?! It was and still is a very religious people. There are 365 churches, 1 for each day of the year. MBM has sent 3 families to serve as overseas ministry partners. China may have ¼ of the world's population, the USA might be the richest nation in the world, but Malta has 10 verses in the bible.
While many have left Malta to find a better life, the apostle Paul is carried to this Island to offer eternal life but it was not just the storm that did it, it was the hand of God.
The story so far:
Most of Acts tells the story of how Paul took the message of Jesus throughout the Mediterranean world. Along the way, he got in trouble. He was stoned and starved as well as arrested. What he did to others was now being done to him. Eventually, he is placed under arrest and sent to Rome to have his case heard.
He is put on a ship with other prisoners and when the ship docks at Crete God warns Paul not to leave Crete until after the winter. The Captain refuses to listen, the ship takes off for a 1000 km journey for Rome, the ship is caught in a storm for 14 days, the time it takes to have a two week holiday. The ship was thrown around the Mediterranean, like clothes in a washing machine. God then tells Paul that all will be kept safe
Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” ~Acts 27:23-26 (NIV)
Richard Branson who recently sent the Virgin Galactica flight to space, tells the story of when he was on holiday with his first wife in the Caribbean, it was the last day of their holiday and he pleaded with a deep-sea fisherman to take him out on a charter. The Captain didn’t want to do it as the weather was not fine. He paid him some extra money and against his better judgment, the captain said yes. A couple nearby, on their honeymoon, heard about the deal and joined them. After an hour or so on the ocean the storm rose up and the charter boat was hammered in the storm until it all went quiet they were in the eye of the storm. What do they do? Another side of the storm awaited them. Richard's wife said to him this boat won't take another battering, we have to swim to shore, and that is what they did. They swam for an hour, reaching the shore they walked for another hour to get help and the search and rescue went out and to this day that boat and its passengers were never found. All lost on board except Richard and his wife who escaped with their life.
Richard is alive because he listened to his wife, those on Pauls ship are alive because they listen to the word of God through Paul.
God has revealed to Paul that all will be saved but not the ship, God is clearly in control of this storm, God wants Paul to preach the gospel in Rome at the heart of the empire but not before he does so in this small Island on the outskirts of the Empire, it was planned. God is not just interested in big empires, He is interested in small islands. He is interested in his name being glorified in Blacktown, not just Berlin, He is interested in people being saved in Mozambique and Mexico, He is interested in repentance being preached in Penrith and Pakistan.
The gospel doesn’t just speak via planned mission trips, it happens in unexpected storms, as it has during COVID.
So God makes Paul have an unexpected stop off.
Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. ~Acts 28:1 (NIV)
My family grew up not far from St. Paul Bay, where the apostle landed. Notice what the first thing we read about the Maltese
The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. ~Acts 28:2 (NIV)
Who could argue with that? If this doesn't prove that the bible is the word of God then nothing will. Why unusual kindness?
Unusual because it didn’t happen very often. When a shipwreck takes place people loot, just like when a riot or a flood hits a town then TVs and X boxes walk out of stores, it's every person for themselves. So here was God's common grace through non-unconverted Maltese, even the Roman governor of Malta was kind.
There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably. They honoured us in many ways and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed. ~Acts 28.7,10 (NIV)
The Maltese are described much nicer than say the people of Crete.
“Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. ~Titus 1:12-13a (NIV)
Sorry if there are any Cretans with us.
A good reminder, being kind does not mean the Maltese won’t need to repent and be saved.
After the Shipwreck, Paul gathers some brushwood and puts on a fire. At that point, a snake escapes the heat and bites Paul on the hand. The so-called ‘kind’ Maltese say to each other.
“This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live ~Acts 28:3-4 (NIV)
Not so kind now. Why a murderer? He might have survived the horrific storm but he did not survive the snake bite. Pauls snake bite meant he was punished for some bad crime like Murder.
At this stage the Maltese did not know the bible, like many faiths in the world, bad things happen to bad people
…Justice has not allowed him to live ~Acts 28:4 (NIV)
Justice is not another name for fate. The Maltese, like many in Roman Empire, believed in the Roman gods. The goddess of justice DIKE (or Dicé) - daughter of Zeus, she made sure justice took place in the world, she was Ms Payback, she made sure that you get what you deserve in life.
The Maltese think Paul may have escaped the shipwreck but Ms Payback won't allow him to escape the snake bite that Paul must have had coming. Like the soldier who survives 3 years in Changi Prison of war only to be killed by a tram in Melbourne the same day he arrives.
It’s a form of Karma where you reap what you sow. What a cruel doctrine. It means every disabled person, every sick baby, is suffering for past sins. It treats the victims as guilty. It’s a sad thing and people all over the world, including Malta, still believe it. My mother tells of one woman who said that the reason why another family lost a child is because they stopped going to church. But Karma theology comes back to bite you. A year later the woman who said that had a son who became a paraplegic.
While suffering and death came as a result of sin the bible is clear that things happen and it's not always the result of a particular sin. The book of Job shows suffering came to him as a compliment from God. Jesus commenting on 2 tragedies where lives were lost said that they are no worse and you are no better - unless you repent something worse.
There are now no venomous snakes now in Malta but there was then. A new superstition surfaces saying that even if a venomous snake enters the borders of Malta it will lose its venom. I always thought that would be an easy theory to test. Take an Australian king brown snake and see what happens.
Paul is one moment a murderer then next he is called a god. He survives the impossible, now they want to worship him…
But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The 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. ~Acts 28:4 (NIV)
They changed their minds, which means that they repented, they went from one wrong idea to another, from thinking he was a murderer to thinking he was a god, but that is not the change of mind that God wanted. He wanted them to go from worshipping idols to worshipping Jesus, not Paul. The same thing happened earlier in the books of Acts 14, in a place called Lystra in Turkey, you could say that these were the first Lysterines. Paul heals a crippled man and they want to worship Paul. One moment they are called gods then next they are nearly stoned to death. Here in Malta, they thought he is a murderer but now think he is a god. How fickle!
Without the bible you just keep jumping to wrong conclusions, at the mercy of superstitions, creating fear and suspicion. The miracles that Paul performed on the Island of Malta were part of the evidence that Jesus is alive and Lord. The good news is that God raised a dead man to life as Judge of the earth. In the past, God overlooked such folly but now he commands all people to repent, to turn from worthless things to the living God.
Its word for every nation, big or small, it’s a word for every generation, it’s a word to you. They thought the goddess Justice had punished Paul, Justice may be the name of a false god but its the very nature of the true God. Gods justice means that sins will not be ignored
“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; ~Exodus 34:6-7 (NIV)
God forgives sin but not one sin will be ever be forgiven without first being dealt with at the cross. Your sin will be punished either in your body or in the body of his Son who died on the cross. Which is to be friends? Either Jesus will carry the weight of your guilt at the cross or you will carry the weight of your guilt through eternity. That answers the question of how can God be right, and make us right when we are so wrong? It's at the cross that justice meets mercy, at the cross justice and mercy kiss, setting us free, free from condemnation, free from blame, free from self-loathing, free from superstitions. We don’t have to live in superstitions and Karma for Jesus is the great Karma buster. The Maltese were right the first time, Paul was a murderer, in fact, he was the worst of sinners and he was forgiven.
You don’t have to live in uncertainty, whether God can forgive, the good news is that God justifies the ungodly.
It's amazing how so many Christians in times of suffering start to revert back to pagan thinking. Is God punishing me for some sin, am I reaping what I sowed, is my infertility, unemployment, singleness or cancer payback from God. When instead what we need to do is cast our cares before our Father in heaven, who loves us.
Behind the goddess Justice is Satan, he has been exposed as a liar and stripped bare at the cross, disarmed with no right to accuse.