ACTS CHAPTER 28.
The Journey from Melita to Rome. Acts 28, 1-16.
Paul again in peril: V.1. And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita. V.2. And the barbarous people showed us no little kindness; for they kindled a fire, and received us, every one, because of the present rain and because of the cold. V.3. And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. V.4. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. V.5. And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. V.6. Howbeit, they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly; but after they had looked a great while and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god. When the people on the wrecked vessel had reached the land in safety, then only did they find out that Melita, or Malta, was the island's name. They had therefore, in the two weeks, been driven a matter of almost five hundred miles; for the island is due south of Sicily, forming, with Gozo and several other smaller island, a group now known as the Maltese Islands. Luke calls the islanders barbarians, not as a term of reproach, but because that was the name given to all foreigners, to all such as did not speak Greek, by the Greeks and Romans. The people of the island were of Phenician descent and had come under the dominion of Rome after the Second Punic War. They here proved themselves hospitable in an unusual degree; they showed the shipwrecked company extraordinary kindness. It must have been with some difficulty that they kindled a Eire and received them all: gave them a warm welcome, which no doubt was rendered doubly so because they were all cold and wet to the skin; besides, there was a continued driving rain. and the cold chilled to the bone. Paul by no means stood back when the others were all engaged in replenishing the fire. but cheerfully gathered fagots with the rest of them. When, however, he was just heaping up a bundle of sticks and then laying them on the fire. a serpent, awakened by the warmth, glided out through the sticks, and, before Paul could withdraw his hand, bit him, and held fast to the wound. When the islanders saw the creature suspended from his hand thus, they were greatly shocked and expressed their opinion of the matter by saying that certainly this man must be a murderer, whom Justice had not permitted to live, though he had been saved from the sea. They knew that Paul was a prisoner because he was under guard, and their conclusion was as rash as that of most people under like circumstances. From experience they knew the virulence of the poison of these serpents, and in their eyes Paul was already dead; the goddess of justice, in whom they believed, had taken vengeance upon him. But Paul shook off the viper into the fire by a jerking movement of his hand and suffered no evil, no disagreeable consequences, of any kind. But the islanders watched him, sure that he was destined to swell up or to drop down dead suddenly. But neither of these effects took place. Luke, as a physician, being fully acquainted with such symptoms. And when they had waited a long time and watched, and yet nothing unusual happened, then the inhabitants changed their minds and said that he was a god. Their superstitious minds could reach no other conclusion; it was the way which their training had taught them to follow. Note: Modern people may want to smile deprecatingly over this show of superstition, but with almost the entire world guilty of similar beliefs in one form or another, there certainly is no room for casting Stones upon others. It was the Lord that had held His sheltering hand over His servant; according to His promise, Mark 16, 18.
The healing of the father of Publius: V.7. In the same quarters were possessions of the chief man of the island. whose name was Publius; who received us, and lodged us three days courteously. V.8. and it came to pass that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and of a bloody flux; to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him. V.9. So when this was done. others also which had diseases in the island came and were healed; v.10. who also honored us with many honors, and when we departed, they laded us with such things as were necessary. In the same quarters, in the neighborhood of the place which is now known as St. Paulís Bay, the Roman ruler of the island, whose title was the chief, or first man, as an ancient inscription also shows, had his estate. His name was Publius, and he showed an almost unexampled hospitality to the shipwrecked people, one well worthy of the legate of the praetor of Sicily, to whose province Malta belonged. For he welcomed and extended his hospitality at least to the passengers and to Paul, if not to the entire shipís company, his buildings being commodious enough to make such an arrangement possible. He did this three days with the greatest courtesy and benevolence, until other means could be found. It so happened that the father of Publius was down sick, lying abed, with fevers and dysentery, as Luke, with his medical knowledge, was able to determine, and Paul, in return for the hospitality received, went in to him, prayed over him in the name of Jesus, laid his hands upon him, and made him well, healed him, gave him back his health. As in other cases, this miracle was done for the sake of glorifying Christ, of testifying to the power of the Gospel. The result was that the rest of the inhabitants of the island that had sicknesses came to Paul and were cured. It was a time of merciful visitation to the island, by which the Lord revealed Himself to many of them. The gratitude of the islanders was correspondingly great. For Paulís sake they honored them with many honors, not pressing upon them a physicianís fees, as some have supposed, but giving them all that honored guests should enjoy in the matter of presents and entertainment; and when they sailed, they put on board, for the use of Paul and the entire shipís company, all the supplies and comforts needed for the remainder of the voyage. Thus God controls even the so-called chance happenings of life, and directs them to the welfare of the believers and others among whom they live. Note: It was altogether proper and laudable for the inhabitants of the island to show their gratitude for the merciful visitation of God to His servants. If this pleasant relation were everywhere established, there would be less working under the handicap of groaning in the Church, Heb. 13, 17.
From Melita to Rome: V.11. and after three months we departed in a ship of Alexandria, which had wintered in the isle, whose sign was Castor and Pollux. V.12. And landing at Syracuse, we tarried there three days. V.13. and from thence we fetched a compass and came to Rhegium; and after one day the south wind blew, and we came the next day to Puteoli; v.14. where we found brethren, and were desired to tarry with them seven days; and so we went toward Rome. V.15. and from thence, when the brethren heard of US, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and The Three Taverns; whom when Paul saw, he thanked God and took courage. V.16. and when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him. The stay at Melita was made as short as possible, since Julius was anxious to deliver his prisoners to the imperial court. After three months, or at the very latest at the end of February or the beginning of March, they all sailed in a ship from Alexandria which had wintered in the island, whose distinguishing mark, or sign, either on the figurehead at the prow or on the pennant, was the Twin Brothers, Castor and Pollux. These two heathen gods were considered the special protectors of sailors, and ships were often ornamented with their carved figures. Sailing almost due north, they put in at Syracuse, a city on the eastern coast of Sicily, where they remained for three days, probably waiting for favorable winds. When they had cast off here, the wind was still from the wrong quarter, and they were obliged to work up along the coast by tacking, and thus reached Rhegium, in the southwestern corner of Italy, on the Strait of Messina. Here they were more fortunate, for after a stay of only one day a steady south wind arose: enabling them in two days to come to Puteoli. Here the vessel ended her voyage, and Paul and his fellow prisoners disembarked. The city was one of the leading ports of Italy in those days, its relation to Rome being about that of Liverpool to London. Here Paul and his companions looked up and found brethren, Christians forming a congregation, and were begged by them to remain for seven days before going on to the capital, some hundred and forty miles distant. That Paul received the permission from Julius to accede to the urgent request of the local Christians shows that he was held in high respect by the Roman. Thus they here, in Puteoli, reached the boundaries of the territory of Rome, for Luke carefully distinguishes between the city proper and the wider territory which was commonly reckoned with it. 93) News of Paulís coming had meanwhile traveled ahead to the city, where the brethren were awaiting the coming of their great teacher with eager interest. Some of the disciples of Rome went down to meet them, as far as Appii Forum, a village on the Appian Way, forty-three miles from Rome; and ten miles nearer to the capital, at Three Taverns, there was another delegation of Christians awaiting the apostle. Though the two little towns, therefore, were of no importance otherwise, and one of them, at least, was noted for its road-houses, their names have been preserved in sacred history as halting-places of Paulís company. This indication of respect and affection on the part of the Roman brethren filled Paul with great joy and comforted his heart, for when he saw them, he gave thanks to God and took courage. It is both elevating and strengthening to the faith when Christians on their journey through life find everywhere brethren that with them serve the true God of heaven. When Julius and his band of prisoners reached Rome, he delivered Paul to the proper officers, or to the prefect of the emperorís guard. And the centurionĎs report as well as the letter of Festus must have been very favorable; for Paul, while waiting for his case to be called and during the course of his trial, was given permission to remain in his own lodgings, having only a soldier with him as a guard. He was bound to this soldier by a light chain, a fact which map have been irksome at times, but it was almost the lightest form of imprisonment known to the Romans and gave the apostle the free opportunity to see the brethren and hold all the services that he chose to have. The exalted Christ Himself held His protecting hand over Paul, in order that the congregation at Rome might receive the benefit of Paulís teaching and be established in the Christian doctrine.
Two Years at Rome. Acts 28. 17-31.
Paul calls the Jews together: V.17. And it came to pass that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together; and when they were come together, he said unto them, Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans, v.18. who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me. V.19. But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar; not that I had aught to accuse my nation of. V.20. For this cause, therefore, have I called for you, to see you and to speak with you, because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain. There was a flourishing congregation in Rome at this time, and Paul could well have devoted his entire time to the believers already gathered. But, as in other places, he here deliberately called the most influential Jews together, still adhering to his rule: to the Jew first and also to the Greek, Rom. 1. 16. The decree of Claudius banishing the Jews from Rome. chap. 18, 2, had meanwhile been recalled, and the Jews had again flocked to the capital. When the leading Jews responded to his invitation and met in the place designated by Paul, he laid some matters of a personal nature before them. He wanted, above all, to remove any prejudices that they might entertain with respect to him, first, on account of his imprisonment; secondly, on account of the fact that he had appealed to the emperor; thirdly, to remove any effects of slanderous reports which may possibly have been brought from Jerusalem. He told them that he had done nothing, was not guilty of any offense either against the people of the Jews or against the customs and usages of the fathers, and yet had been delivered into the hands of the Romans. Paul tactfully refers to his arrest as being occasioned only indirectly by the Jews. When the Romans had given him a hearing, they had wanted to release him, since they found no cause of death in him, not a single crime having been proved against the apostle. But when the Jews then objected, he had been obliged to appeal to Caesar: hut not in the sense, as Paul hastens to add, as though he had any accusation to bring against his own people. But it was for this reason that he had called for them, had asked them to meet with him, in order that he might see them and speak to them, have a conference with them. For he assures them that he is wearing this chain, which they all could see, he was surrounded with this evidence of imprisonment, on account of the hope of Israel. The one hope of Israel was that concerning the Messiah; to Him all the prophets looked forward, of Him all the sages had spoken. And it was because Paul preached of the fulfillment of all these hopes and predictions and prophecies in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth that the enmity had struck him which resulted in his arrest.
Paul testifies of the kingdom of God: V.21. And they said unto him, We neither received letters out of Judea concerning thee, neither any of the brethren that came showed or spake any harm of thee. V.22. But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest; for as concerning this sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against. V.23. And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the Law of Moses and out of the prophets from morning till evening. V.24. And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not. When Paul had made his appeal for a square deal at their hands, the Jews frankly told him that they had received neither any written nor verbal communications which were unfavorable to him personally; letters they had not received from Judea, and none of the brethren that had come to Rome during the last years had reported anything bad against him. But they thought it good and proper to hear from Paul himself what he thought, to get his ideas on the whole situation, for so far as this new sect was concerned, it was known to them that it was finding contradiction and opposition everywhere. The report had been spread that the Christians were an atheistical and wicked sect, to be detested and abhorred by all mankind. But with the idea of being fair and of hearing Paul's story in his own way, the leading Jews of Rome fixed a date on which they would come to his place of lodging in larger numbers. To all of them Paul explained and expounded, not so much in vindication of his own conduct as in testimony for Christ, the kingdom of God, showing them what the term meant, in what manner they might enter into this wonderful kingdom, what faith was, always placing into the center of his persuasive discourse Jesus the Savior. From morning till night he tried his best to convince them concerning Jesus, from the Law of Moses, from the historical books of the Old Testament, from the books of the prophets, proving by a comparison with the life of Jesus that He must be the promised Messiah. It was a day of blessings from the Lord, of His merciful call to all those that were present. But the result was the usual one under similar circumstances. Some were convinced by what Paul said, but others were obstinate and refused to believe. So matter how emphatic and overpowering the evidence, some people will persist in hardening their hearts against the gracious influence of the Gospel and thus in spurning the grace of God which is offered to them.
A word from Isaiah applied: V.25. And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, v.26. saying, Go unto this people and say, Hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see and not perceive; v.27. for the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed, lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. V.28. Be it known, therefore, unto you that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it. V.29. And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves. It was at this point in the discussion, when some were being persuaded by Paulís words, yielding to the conviction of Godís Word, and others continued in their disbelief, and when they could not come to an agreement among themselves, that Paul reminded them of a word of the Prophet Isaiah, chap. 6, 9. 10, which caused the meeting to disperse without a definite conclusion in regard to the matter. He referred to the prophecy concerning self-hardening followed by hardening on the part of God. Isaiah had received the express command to go to the Jews of his day and tell them that they would, literally, hear with their hearing, and yet not understand; that they would see with their eyes upon the Word, and yet receive no impression on their mind. And the reason for that judgment was that the heart of the people had become callous, unfeeling, and the spiritual hearing of their ears had become difficult, and their eyes were prevented from seeing. Therefore the Lord had given them up to the hardness of their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn, be converted, and the Lord heal them. This terrible judgment upon the stubborn Jews had begun in the time of Isaiah, it had been threatened in the days of the Savior, Matt. 13, 14. 15; Mark 4, 12; Luke 8, 10, and it was now about to be carried out in its final terrible curse. And they would have no one to blame for the terrible results of their enmity toward Christ and God but themselves. Formally and solemnly Paul announces to the assembled Jews this consequence of their resistance and the course which he would be compelled to adopt henceforth. He wanted to have it known, to be understood by them, that the salvation of God, in the Gospel of the Messiah, was now sent to the Gentiles, and they would hear and accept its glorious news. Note that even these last words are spoken not merely to condemn, but also to lead to repentance. It was like showing to the Jews the horrible yawning abyss at whose edge they were standing, having deliberately closed their eyes and ears against every warning. And some results seem to have attended this last warning, if the text here is correct, for when Paul said these words, they left his quarters, discussing the matter among themselves with great vehemence. If the interest thus aroused only leads to a careful searching of Scriptures, a person may feel well rewarded for even such apparently fruitless discussions.
Two years at Rome: V.30. And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, v.31. preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no man forbidding him. Paul may, at this time, have been able to purchase many conveniences for himself, or the liberality of the various congregations made it possible; at any rate, he was able to rent and live in his own lodgings for two whole years, this probably being the length of time required for his case to come up to trial and be disposed of. And he certainly was not hard to find or difficult to get to, for he received all that came to him; no matter from what congregation the brethren came, they were always welcome. He was still in custody, Phil. 1, 13. 17, but it certainly was of the very lightest kind. And just at this time God opened a door for His Word. For Paul spent his entire time in proclaiming the kingdom of God, not only by spoken words, but also in letters, for we have from this time of his life the epistles to the Ephesians, to the Colossians, to the Philippians, and to Philemon. In inviting men to become members of the kingdom of God, of the wonderful communion of saints, Paul always taught and repeated without rest or weariness the message concerning the Lord Jesus. With all confidence, with all open cheerfulness he preached; his sermons and private discussions were all redolent with the oil of the same bold joy with which the Lord had anointed him. And by the mercy of God he could do this unmolested, without hindrance. This must have been a great comfort to him and greatly increased his willingness and the enjoyment of his work for the Lord. The entire story shows how the Gospel of Christ gains its victories. For the same Gospel which Paul proclaimed in the capital of the world has since taken its course through the countries and is preached among the Gentiles to this day. The Church, which is established upon Jesus, the Rock of Ages, is standing today, and will stand to the end of time, and the portals of hell will not prevail against it.
Summary. The journey from Melita to Rome is completed without mishap, and Paul takes the opportunity in the capital to speak to the Jews and afterward, to many others, preaching to them the kingdom of God and their Savior Jesus Christ.