Acts 28:1-10 shows us the sovereignty of God in His guidance to getting us to where He wants us to be. Here we see that there may be some pit stops along the way and those pit stops are divine appointments on the journey. For instance, the gospels tell us of Jesus, after His baptism in the Jordan River and after John the Baptist was taken into custody that Jesus withdrew and came into Galilee. However, there was a pit stop, a divine appointment along the way. We read in John’s Gospel concerning this same incident, “Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea and went away again into Galilee. And He had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:1-4). The KJV says in verse four, “And He must needs go through Samaria.” Now here is what I want you to understand – as we read this in our language it may appear that the Bible is saying that the way from Judea to Galilee is through Samaria only. However, normally the Jews avoided Samaria by crossing to the East of the Jordan to travel from Judea to Galilee. And in the original language the word for either “had to pass through” or “must needs go through” is dei, and it means of divine necessity. In other words, Samaria was a divine pit stop on the way to Galilee from Judea for the Lord. Why? Because God has it rigged! Everything was happening on God’s timetable – the circumstances of John the Baptist’s arrest which prompted the Lord to withdraw to Galilee, with the divine necessity based on His Father’s plan to go through Samaria, and at the right time of the day both the Lord and His disciples came to Jacob’s well along with the Samaritan woman whom God was going to save and use to bring others to faith in Christ. What a coincidence!
Malta was a divine pit stop for the apostle Paul on his journey to Rome. God used the circumstances of the unheeded advice by Paul and the dangerous storm to shipwreck His apostle on the Island of Malta. This was indeed a coincidence because God who is sovereign and in control caused all the circumstances to coincide according to His perfect, pleasing and good will.
So here in Acts 28:1-10 we see some important elements of this divine pit stop at Malta which reveals the Lord's wisdom, power, and love and makes us proclaim, "Great is Thy faithfulness!"
Extraordinary virtue found among pagans (1-2)
Malta (1) means a place of refuge and its citizens lived up to its name. The natives didn’t speak Greek and were therefore considered barbarians. However, they showed extraordinary kindness – these natives of Malta would have seen the Roman soldiers and their prisoners and still because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and Luke said, “They received us all.” Many wrongly assume that because of some extraordinary kindness shown by some pagans that the doctrine of the depravity of man is disproved. However it doesn’t disprove that doctrine at all. After all, the Lord Jesus said, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11).
So extraordinary kindness from lost people doesn’t negate the doctrine of the depravity of man but actually establishes another doctrine that is true about all men – the work of God's Law written in their hearts. Although the specifics may vary, every culture holds some things to be right and other things to be wrong – “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Romans 2:14-15). And therefore, “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20). These natives of Malta were exhibiting extraordinary kindness because of this biblical doctrine!
Expected vengeance based on false assumptions (3-4).
While humbly serving others, Paul ended up being bitten by a poisonous snake (3). The natives saw the creature hanging from Paul’s hand and thought him to be a murderer whom Justice was not going to allow to live (4). Little did they know that Paul was an apostle of Christ and that the Lord had promised his apostles that “they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover” (Mark 16:18).
Exalting vindication based on faulty expectations (5-6).
Bitten by a poisonous snake, Paul suffered no harm (5). Their faulty expectations caused them to believe that Paul would soon swell up or either suddenly fall down dead (6a). However, after they waited and watched for a long time, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god (6b). Paul went from being considered a murderer to being considered a god - a title which he never accepted anywhere.
Exacting verification of a faithful apostle (7-9).
After being bitten by a serpent with no harm, Paul then prayed and laid hands on Publius' father and healed him (7-8). After that the rest of the people came to Paul and were cured (9). These were the signs the Lord promised to his apostles as verifying or authenticating signs for the preaching of the Gospel.
Exciting validation of God’s faithfulness (10).
During his two years in Rome, Paul wrote Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. It was to the Philippians that Paul wrote to while in Rome which would have been after his shipwreck on Malta, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19) – “and when we were setting sail, they supplied us with all we needed”(10b). Also the honor and love that was shown by the natives of Malta may very well indicate that many were receptive to the preaching of the Gospel. According to tradition, the church on Malta dates from the time of Paul’s shipwreck there, with Publius as its first pastor.
May we never forget that God may have some divine pit stops along our journey and they will be opportunities for the faithfulness, mercy, and glory of the Lord to be displayed!