Last we left the Apostle Paul, his ship had crashed into a sandbar. But God protected him. He and his shipmates swam and floated on wood to the shores of an unknown island.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Island
This true story picks up Acts 28:1
Once we were safely on shore, we learned that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us extraordinary kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all, because it had started to rain and was cold. (Acts 28:1-2)
A few notes:
Malta is a small island about 60 miles to the south of Sicily and about 150 miles southwest of the “toe” in Italy’s boot. That means it is about 400 miles off course of Paul’s final destination in Rome.
And the Maltans?
…People of Malta…
They show extraordinary kindness. (v.1)
They built a fire.
They welcomed everyone.
They probably provided some food and drink:
Maybe even a nice beer from a local microbrewery.
All to welcome their visitors to the island.
It’s like the 1st century version of a Visitor’s center.
“Welcome to Malta!”
“Here’s a fresh coffee.”
“Did you want some to buy our best-selling t-shirt? It says:
“I’ve visited MALTA-ple times.”
But did you notice something?
This was all brand new to Paul.
He and the crew needed to “learn” the island was called Malta.
I think that’s important.
Malta wasn’t familiar to Paul.
He hadn’t been there before.
It wasn’t even on his radar.
Why would God, who controls the winds, send through a storm to crash land Paul on the island of Malta?
Especially because God had already told Paul that he wanted him to preach the Gospel in Rome.
Why blow Paul 450 miles off course?
There wasn’t a church on Malta.
These people, nice as they were, didn’t know anything about their Savior Jesus.
Sometimes God gives UNEXPECTED opportunities to share the GOSPEL.
I remember a few years back I was serving a senior group at a retirement home. Since this was a very specific group of 80 plus year-olds, I could tailor the sermon specifically to them. I would leave out references to Pokémon and iPhone updates and instead focus on particular struggles they might have like loneliness, pain, and a lifetime of guilt.
But on this particular session one of the employees came into the living area to help a resident with some medicine. She was a much younger woman about 25 years old. As she helped the other woman, she listened.
She sat down.
She began to tear up.
Afterwards I talked to her and she discussed how her boyfriends had abandoned her, how she was pregnant without any clue if she had the money to raise the baby, and about how she was considering having the child aborted….
She heard the sermon.
She heard that God would be with all these residents even in their old age.
Would God be with her in single parenting?
I told her YES.
Because that’s what God promises in Scripture.
Something God promises because he removed her sin when he died on the cross.
Sometimes God gives UNEXPECTED opportunities to share the Gospel.
Again, like COVID-19!
Here’s an objective fact about ministry at Gethsemane.
We had broadcasted online before COVID.
But we did so with a much smaller webcam. It’s the one we moved up front and now refer to as the “pew” cam.
At that time, our worship would average 5-6 watches on a weekend.
And at least 3 of those were my mom.
But since COVID-19 hit and were forced to revamp our online presence?
We averaged 110 unique watches.
That’s a number that’s gone up – even though people are attending in person.
That number involves…
A family on our block who didn’t know we existed till we popped up on Instagram.
A guy from another state who said the service helped him deal with loneliness.
A woman from the Caribbean who has now followed our social media feed and has even encouraged with me a well-timed “Amen!”
Here’s the point:
Sometimes God gives UNEXPECTED opportunities to share the Gospel.
But…God ALWAYS EXPECTS us to share the Gospel.
Jesus didn’t say, “Go and make disciples of all nations, except for that nation of people that you didn’t know existed.”
He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Mt. 28:19)
Jesus didn’t say, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel… as long as your plans work out the way you want them to.”
He said, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel...” (Mark 16:15)
2 Timothy doesn’t say, “Preach the Word to the people that you’d like to preach to.”
It says, “Preach the Word.”
This means God is calling.
Not to ignore that acquaintance at work who’s feeling glum.
Not to scroll past the friend from high school who’s broadcasting her challenges on Social media.
Not to turn to the people who show up for your Bible study and say, “I was actually hoping to share Jesus with someone else today.”
God is calling us…
God is expecting us to take advantage of the unexpected opportunities he presents before us.
II. When the Unexpected Isn’t so Good
Later that evening, Paul went searching for firewood.
A stick here.
Another stick there.
A pile of brush over there.
Maybe even a piece of broken ship from the shipwreck.
Paul gathered all the wood.
He asked if the fire needed it right now.
The fire tender said, “Sure! Throw your pile of wood on the flame.”
So Paul laid his sticks on the fire and…
…a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand.
This portion of the Bible is written in Greek.
And the Greek word for translated “viper” is “echidna”.
It sounds intimidating.
It’s important because it’s a word used to indicate that the snake was poisonous.
And notice this snake doesn’t just bite Paul.
It fastened itself to his hands.
It plunges his fangs into his skin…
Into his veins.
Into his bones…
And lets the poison seep in.
When the natives saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” (v.4)
Justice was their name for the god of, get this, justice. The thought process was simple.
Paul must have been very guilty to go through a shipwreck, survive that shipwreck and still get bit by a snake.
They grabbed some popcorn.
They poured a large Coke.
They waited for Paul to die.
Paul shook the snake off into the fire and was not harmed. (v.5)
It’d be really easy to think the main point of this sermon is don’t pet a snake.
But it’s worth saying:
Don’t pet a poisonous snake.
But the reality is that the worst kind of poison doesn’t come from reptiles.
It doesn’t come from fangs.
It comes from the human tongue.
The worst kind of poison comes from the HUMAN TONGUE. ‘
James 3:7-8 says this, “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
Think about that.
Snake charmers exist.
They play a little flute called a pungi and weave back and forth, back and forth, back and forth – until they seemingly hypnotize these poisonous snakes into being calm and not harming anyone.
You can’t pungi flute a human tongue.
The human tongue inflicts poison in so many ways.
The human tongue can tell a lie that ruins a marriage.
The human tongue can tell a gossip that ruins a friendship.
The human tongue can tell a joke that ruins a promotion.
The human tongue can say racist things that drive wedges between people of different cultures.
The human tongue can say a complaint that drives someone from ever examining Christianity again.
The human tongue can tell a false teaching that ruins someone’s faith.
The tongue contains the most impressive of evils.
And to avoid it, you might think: I’ll just avoid the tongues most ruthless with evil.
You stay away from your friend known for gossip.
You avoid the angry guy at work.
You refuse to befriend the guy with pictures of Satan on his Facebook profile.
Because in Paul’s case, he didn’t go out to collect venomous snakes.
He went to collect firewood.
Once he had it in his arms, he did not expect a snake to be in the wood pile.
But it was.
VERBAL POISON can come from UNEXPECTED places…
It can come from a friendly coworker.
It can come from a long time Facebook friend.
It can come from your sister.
The things people say can absolutely be poison.
And they hurt more, because these people are close to you.
I can’t share Jesus with anyone.
I’m too big a sinner.
My friend is right.
I can’t keep raising my children as godly.
I messed up too much.
That meme is accurate.
I can’t help anyone.
I’m a helpless mess just like that angry text message from my spouse said.
You stop serving God.
You stop following God’s plan.
You stop letting your light shine.
You retreat to your room.
And keep to yourself.
Have you ever heard of CroFab? They are the leading producers of antivenom in the United States. They milk the venom from spiders and snakes. (How’d you like to be a snake milker?) Then, they inject animals with a tiny, non-lethal amount. They then harvest the antibodies those animals produce and create antivenom that helps humans fight off the venom of a snake. It’s not cheap. The average list price for antivenom is about $3000 per vial.
According to an article from NPR.com, a young summer camper named Oakley was bitten by a poisonous snake on her big toe. She was rushed to the hospital, was given antivenom and cured. Then, the bill.
Do you know what the antivenom for the poisonous words of others is?
The antivenom for unexpected SPIRITUAL poison is GOD’S WORD.
Because God’s Word speaks to you and says:
You. Are. Loved.
You. Are. Forgiven.
You. Are. Mine.
This Word pushes out those venomous thoughts in your head.
It pushes them out with the truth.
It pushes out the poison with truth specifically tailored to YOU.
And how much does it cost?
Just God’s own blood.
But don’t worry.
That price has already been paid.
You have a free, unlimited supply of spiritual antivenom from God’s Word.
Once you’ve been injected with God’s Word?
Shake if off…
When you get BIT by an unexpected enemy, SHAKE IT OFF…
Because what did Paul do when bitten by the snake?
He simply shook it off and immediately went back to working for Jesus.
In fact, Scripture says that, “The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited for a long time and saw nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. (v.5-6)
Based on Paul’s track record, I think we can assume that Paul corrected them.
And explained that the true God was Jesus.
A God, that lived for them, died for them, rose for them, and offered full salvation to all who trusted in him.
And what does God want you to do when the words of others BITE you?
Shake it off.
Use the antivenom of God’s Word.
Go to work for God.
III. Working for God
After word got out that he had survived the snake bite, people wanted to listen to him.
In fact, nearby…was an estate that belonged to a man named Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us and entertained us hospitably as his guests for three days.
There’s another trivia name for you to memorize. Publius is a Roman name. He was apparently the Roman official in charge of the island. And he takes care of Paul, a prisoner, as a guest in his home for three days.
Undoubtedly, Paul spoke the Gospel to him.
Undoubtedly, Paul told him about the Savior.
Undoubtedly, Paul called him to repentance.
The father of Publius happened to be sick in bed, suffering from a fever and dysentery. (v.8)
There isn’t any record of a doctor in the house.
There isn’t any record of medicine working.
There isn’t any record of any drugs being offered to him.
They’d tried everything.
Healing was impossible.
But do you know what else was impossible?
Surviving that viper bite.
Paul went to him, prayed, laid his hands on him, and healed him. After that happened, others on the island who were sick also came and were healed. They honored us in many ways, and when we were going to sail, they put on board whatever we needed. (v.8-10)
Now Paul was not a doctor.
Paul didn’t have a bottle of medicine with him.
Paul didn’t have the ability to identify island herbs for the purpose of healing.
But Paul had God.
Paul went to work.
Expect GOD to work through YOUR work for him.
Because you aren’t called to work alone.
God isn’t asking you share the Gospel on your own.
He is there with his incredible strength.
Strength to send a storm.
Strength to keep a crew safe from a storm.
Strength to cure the poison of the viper.
Strength to cure the fever of an old man.
Strength to drive out fear.
Strength to drive out doubt.
Strength to drive out unbelief.
Strength to do God’s work!
Whether it’s sharing Gospel with a friend.
Sharing the Gospel with a spouse.
Passing on a message to a friend on social media.
Do God’s work and God will work through you. Amen.