Read Acts 28 (NIV) or follow this link and read it in The Message.
28 Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. 2 The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. 3 Paul 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. 4 When 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.” 5 But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. 6 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.
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. 8 His 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. 9 When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. 10 They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.
Malta is about 500 miles west of Cyprus but still 300 miles or more due south of Rome. Paul and crew had made it ashore safely and were well received by the locals. The locals treated these refugees well. Surely they were amazed that so many had survived.
So 276 men are sitting around singing, “Put another log on the fire, cook me up some bacon and some beans,” and Paul decides to oblige the group. As he put the wood on the fire a snake emerged from the wood and bit Paul on the hand. It must have sunk its fangs in pretty well because it is hanging from Paul’s hand and he has to shake it off into the fire.
And the islanders say that the god of justice must have reached into this group that obviously had just done the impossible. Everybody just doesn’t make it to shore following a violent shipwreck. The winds of fortune must have been on their side, except for this Paul character. Surely he must be a murder to be bitten by a snake in the middle of what otherwise people might call a miracle.
So everyone is just waiting for Paul to foam at the mouth and collapse. Except that he doesn’t. He shakes off the snake and seems no worse for wear.
Now the islanders are ready to declare Paul a god.
This was familiar territory. Back in the 14th chapter of Luke’s account, Paul and Barnabas are declared to be Zeus and Hermes because Paul healed a lame man in Lystra.
There is little explanation of what Paul preached on Malta following this shipwreck, but we do know that he was invited to the house of the island’s governor, where he healed the chief official’s father and once that word got out, he healed many more.
Paul and his companions had lost everything in the shipwreck but were now well equipped by the islanders to continue their journey on the next available ship. Surely in the course of this healing ministry, the truth about the one true God had been told.
It is hard to imagine being stripped of everything except the water soaked clothes on your back. We probably all know some people whose houses burned down.
I have been in many situations where I was stranded without luggage due to air travel. These days, the airlines usually put you up in a room and give you meal vouchers.
I have been out on an air reconnaissance mission in Iraq wasn’t able to land as planned due to the fact the wind had totally obscured the dirt air strip.
I have traveled ship-to-ship via helicopter and been stranded for a time due to high seas.
I learned early on to always carry a toothbrush and disposable razor, but I also learned that it is OK not to have any real possessions at your disposal.
Sometimes it is really eye opening to let others minister to you.
Sometimes we learn to love better by letting others love us with food, water, and shelter when we swim to shore with only the clothes on our back.
Sometimes we need our own little shipwreck to remind us that sometimes all we need is ourselves and our faith.
Or sometimes, we should just be still.
Set aside our possessions, worries, schedules, reports, bills, and requests and just be who God made us to be.
Sometimes we should just have the clothes on our back and God.
Sometimes, we need to be just that honest in being with God.
My prayer is that we can find that place without being shipwrecked.