Now when they had escaped, they then found out that the island was called Malta. And the natives showed us unusual kindness; for they kindled a fire and made us all welcome, because of the rain that was falling and because of the cold. But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand. So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.” But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. However, they were expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god. (Acts 28:1-6)
I don’t like snakes for a lot of reasons. First because it was a serpent that started the problems in the world via the devil. Second, the curse the Lord put on the serpent was to crawl on its body and be a symbol of evil is still pretty clear. Lastly, I just don’t like the slithery creatures even if they are not deadly. Our story today is a good story because there was one less snake in the world and that is a good thing I am sure.
A lot can be said about the inhabitants of Malta. Hospitality is at the top of the list as the strangers from the sea were in need of care. Like the despised Samaritan these natives went to a lot of effort to make comfortable two hundred and seventy-six people including a Roman Centurion and his prisoners. Jesus described the judgment in Matthew 25 as the sheep and the goats being separated. The basis of salvation was whether the individual was benevolent or not. The natives of Malta showed in their primitive understanding the need to care for others. We can do no less.
As Paul was starting a fire a viper came out and fastened on his hand. Unconcerned the apostle shook the viper into the fire suffering no harm. (Now that is one miracle I would like to have today). The natives were certain Paul was a murderer and waited for him to die but what they did not understand is the one true God had a plan for Paul and it would not be dismissed because of a snake. There is an interesting parable to this story. The Lord was sending Paul to Rome and nothing was going to hinder God’s plan. Jesus came to earth to save man and the Old Serpent was not going to hinder God’s plan for redeeming man either. At the cross the Son of God shook the power of the devil into a fire reserved in judgment. The miracle of Paul on Malta is nothing compared to the miracle of salvation brought by God against Satan.
Paul’s brush with a viper was part of the plan of proving the message of Christ through the working of miracles. As the shipwrecked crew spent three months on Malta many miracles were done confirming the word preached by Paul. Today we have the miracles recorded so we can believe in the same word and find redemption through Jesus Christ. We can shake the power of Satan into the fire. His bite will not kill us today. We will suffer no harm from the greatest viper of all because we have the blood of Jesus flowing through our veins. Now that is a great story.
The devil’s cleverest wile is to make men believe that he does not exist. (Gerald C. Treay, The Devil, 1952)