The ship carrying Paul to Rome made an unscheduled stop (at least not scheduled by man) at the island of Melita when it ran aground upon a sand bar. In Acts 27, it was made known to Paul by an angelic vision that the ship was destined to wreck upon a certain island (Acts 27:26) and that he would eventually be brought before Caesar (27:24). The text before us reveals that which transpired on the island.
In verse 1, Paul and the others learned that the name of the certain island to be Melita. It had been the intent of the ship’s crew to sail from Fair Havens to Phoenix on the isle of Crete, a distance of about 35 miles, and dock until the winter was past. The ship was blown off course and into the open sea before running aground on Melita, 450 miles away. The island is small (about 120 square miles) and is located 50 miles south of the island of Sicily.
The people of the island were described as barbarous. They were not barbarous in the sense of blood thirsty barbarians, but in the sense that the islanders were removed from the main culture of the Roman Empire. As a barbarous people, the natives of Melita were given to superstitions. On his missionary journeys Paul often spoke in the synagogues, declaring Jesus to be the Promised One of which the prophets spoke. There were no synagogues on Melita. There was no knowledge of the scriptures. God would use Paul to reach out to the natives of Melita but it would not initially involve the scriptures.
God used a venomous viper. Paul was introduced to the island dwellers as the prisoner who was bitten by the venomous viper. The snake that bit Paul was known to the natives. They knew that when one was bitten as Paul had been that his arm would swell and he would fall dead. They wrongly concluded that Paul was a murderer receiving his just reward. When Paul experienced no ill effect from the bite, their opinion changed. They thought him to be a god. Both their initial assumption and their ensuing conclusion reflected their superstitious views.
The chief man of the island, Publius, received Paul (and Luke, who traveled with Paul) and lodged them in his home. Paul, a lowly prisoner, was now Paul, the honored guest. Paul in his epistle to the Romans declared: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). God used something bad —the bite of a deadly viper— to work for good. God placed Paul in the home of the chief man of the island.
God’s purpose in placing Paul in this home was not that Paul might enjoy the luxury of the setting. Paul was placed where he was placed so that men might know God through him. The house of Publius came to know Paul as one whom God had given the power to heal.
Verse 8 details Paul’s testimony to the house of Publius. Paul entered into the room where the man lay and prayed. He then laid his hands upon him and he was miraculously healed. The house of Publius and the natives of the island now knew Paul, not as a god, but as one who called upon God.
They recognized Paul as one who had been given the power to heal. Many suffering with disease came to Paul seeking help and were healed.
It was characteristic of Paul to preach the gospel in all places and he most certainly would have done so while on Melita. There is, however, no record that Paul preached the gospel during his stay. The testimony that Luke recorded is that Paul received the ill, he prayed to God, he laid hands upon them, and they were healed. In short, Paul demonstrated the power of God and his dependency upon God.
The islanders came to Paul because they had a physical need to be healed. Before satisfying that need, Paul communicated through prayer that that power belonged to God. Paul’s testimony was not of what Paul could do, but of what God does.
There is a message in Paul’s giving that some need hear. Paul was not motivated by some need to feel good about himself. Paul’s only motive was to share that which God had given him. In giving, one can give amiss. Paul did not give amiss. He gave, not of himself, but of that which he had received. He did not fail to communicate to a barbarous people that all that he had to give came from God.
The miracles on Malta did not just happen. The miracles were of God and were used by God such that men might know Him.
Increasingly, we, like Paul upon Melita, find ourselves in a barbarous world that does not know God. God has not changed. He would have all men know Him as Lord and Savior. Let us, like Paul, share and declare that which God has given us.