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Unusual Kindness

Date: Sep. 7, 2014

Author: Michael Mark

Acts 28:1-10

Key Verse: Acts 28:2

“The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.”

The title of this message is “Unusual Kindness.” I wanted to clarify up front the meaning of “Unusual Kindness,” because I don’t want you to be confused. Sometimes the word unusual can mean strange, or weird, but that’s not the definition I want you to think about today. We will not be talking about “Weird Kindness,” like maybe, someone who offers to share their toothbrush. That’s a little weird. Or someone who keeps sugar in their pocket, so when you ask them for sugar for your coffee, they will reach into their pocket, take out some sugar, and pour it into your coffee. That’s like strange kindness.

The unusual kindness we want to think about today is like an uncommon kindness. It can be an extraordinary kindness, or it can be an ordinary kindness done with an uncommon attitude. Often, we are kinder, or nicer to others when we want something or expect something from them. Usually, we are kinder to people we know and like, or if they can benefit us in some way. Now an unusual kindness then, is where we would show kindness to a stranger, or where we perform an act of kindness which may not give us benefit. It can also be performing acts of kindness toward those who cannot pay us back, or where we do not expect to receive anything back. In this passage we will see the unusual kindness of some island people, and learn about the unusual kindness that God gives to all of us.

Look at v.1, “Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta.” Has anyone ever heard about the island of Malta before? If you haven’t, it’s in the news right now. In fact, Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie), who have just recently married, are spending their honeymoon there right now. While on their honeymoon, they are also filming a new movie together. Brad Pitt has already filmed 2 movies, Troy and World War Z in Malta. And then on September 20th, the Duchess of Cambridge, Princess Kate Middleton, will be visiting Malta. This will be her first solo tour, and she will go representing Queen Elizabeth to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of their independence (from Britain). She will be visiting the President and Prime Minister and staying on the island for 2 days.

Now let’s focus back on the passage. Malta is a small island south of Sicily. The total area of the country is 122 square miles, which is about half the size of Chicago. It is located about 200 miles north of Libya, and only 50 miles south of Sicily. The distance between when the ship got caught in the storm near Crete to the island of Malta was about 475 miles (about the distance between Chicago and Pittsburgh). Considering that the ship was unable to be controlled in the 14 days it was stuck in the storm, it’s a miracle that they ended up on Malta, which was only 17 miles wide (the length of the Mediterranean between Sicily and Libya was about 375 miles). They could have ended up in Africa, they could have drifted in endless circles in the Mediterranean, their ship could have capsized, or missed the island while drifting west – but God had preserved this ship and directed it right to Malta, bringing them back on track to go to Rome. However, the ship was destroyed during the landing. Perhaps God had plans for the people on this remote island in the middle of the sea.

Let’s see what happened to them on the island. Can we all please read v.2, the key verse, together: “The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.” The islanders showed unusual kindness. Why was this considered unusual kindness? First of all, all 276 people who landed were strangers. Second, the islanders were not Greek or Roman – they were natives descended from people who lived on the island before the Greek or Roman Empire, or they may have been mixed with African and Phoenician ancestors. The Phoenicians, who lived near the land of Canaan, had an extensive trading network around the Mediterranean. Malta’s location was strategic for trading ships and the Phoenicians were the first to colonize it around 1000 BC. This is all to say that the Maltese people and those who were on the ship did not speak the same language and could not communicate verbally.

Also remember from last week that the ship was completely destroyed, and when everyone had to jump into the water and swim ashore, they probably had to throw everything away except for the clothes on their backs. The people from the ship had nothing, they were wet, cold and in distress. That’s what made this kindness unusual. The Maltese islanders saw strangers who may have had nothing to give to them, but they had compassion on them as if they were neighbors. They were shipwrecked, and soaking wet from swimming ashore. To add insult to injury, it was still raining, and it was cold. So the islanders provided what they needed most: fire and heat. Look at v.2 again, “They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.” Because it was raining and cold. This shows the compassion they had in their hearts. They saw their fellow man, shivering in the rain and the cold, shipwrecked in a place they have never been – so they welcomed them and built a fire.

The Bible says that God has written His law in each of our hearts (Rom 2:15). It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, there are some universal truths that are common to us all. To help a fellow man or brother when we see them in need is natural. That is because God has written that in all people’s hearts. Lev 19:34 is a law God commanded to the Israelites, but it seems that non-Israelites know and obey the same command. It says, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” It sounds very similar to the Golden Rule, have you all heard of that? In all cultures, they seem to know the Golden Rule, “Treat others as you would like others to treat you.” Where did that rule come from? Though many would not like to admit it, the command to love one another comes from God. The islanders did good in obeying this command and showing unusual kindness to Paul and everyone else from the ship.

Now that we’ve seen the compassionate, unusual kindness from the islanders, let’s look next to learn about God’s unusual kindness. Look at v.3, “Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven by the heat, fastened itself on his hand.” Well first we see Paul’s act of kindness. Though he was not a slave and belonged to no one, he has made himself a slave to win as many as possible (1 Cor 9:19). He participates in the gathering of the brushwood to help bring warmth to his fellow shipmates. But what happened? He got bit by a snake! The viper, perhaps sleeping or dormant from the cold, suddenly feels the heat and fastens itself to Paul’s hand. There is a poisonous snake literally hanging from his hand! But what do we see Paul do? Or first, what did Paul not do? He did not complain, or freak out. He could have said, or thought, “Why God, did you do this? Don’t you see I’m here trying to help?” It seems like he was being punished for doing good, but he never lost his composure.

Paul’s strength came from his faith in God. He remembered the message Jesus told him when he was in prison, and the message the angel told him on the ship: He must go and stand trial before Caesar in Rome. He trusts in God, that God will not let him die before he gets to Rome, not even by a poisonous bite from a viper. Now remember, Paul is not some super man, he did have his weak moments, which is why Jesus and the angel came to encourage him. But here we see the effect of faith in God’s word, which enabled him to remain strong. This was a fulfillment of Jesus’ words in Mark 16:18, “they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” This was a promise Jesus made before he was taken up into heaven, and this very promise was coming true through Paul on the island of Malta.

After that glimpse of Paul’s unusual kindness, let’s see God’s unusual kindness to Paul. Look at v.4-6, “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.’ But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. 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.” What did Paul do? He shook off the snake! What?! Just shook off a poisonous viper? Could you imagine Paul, “Oh ok, poisonous snake, no big deal (nonchalantly shakes snake off into the fire).” He suffered no ill effects. Nothing happened to him. Now imagine all the islanders, wide-eyed, staring at Paul. Picture the scene, everyone gets real quiet, curious, watching Paul, waiting and expecting to see a freakish death. But Paul takes a seat down by the fire, roasts some marshmallows, and enjoys them, while whistling some hymns. After an hour or two, everyone is still around him, silent, and in awe. With his mouth full of marshmallows, he looks at the crowd, and says, “What?”

Ok, so I was joking about the marshmallows, but the fact is, even after an hour or two, nothing happened to him. The islanders assumed that he was a murderer, and deserved to die. He may have escaped the sea, but surely his sin was found out and the gods sent a snake to make him pay for his crimes with his life. Do you agree with the islanders? Is Paul deserving of death? From what we learned in the book of Acts, and by his own admission twice, we learn that Paul once persecuted the church. He gave his approval to have numerous Christians stoned and killed. Paul is guilty of murder, so it would seem, the judgment is just, he deserves death. But what happened? Paul was spared from death. He was delivered from the poisonous snake bite. How could this be? It was because he was under the protection of God’s grace.

Paul even admits that he is the worst of sinners because he persecuted the church of God, but he shows that God’s mercy is even greater. He writes this in his letter to Timothy, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim 1:15-17).” If Paul, the worst of sinners, was shown mercy and given patience, there’s hope for us all. Keep in mind also, that in that last verse, Paul gives praise to God, reciting the glorious attributes of God and ascribing to God honor and glory for ever and ever. We learn about God through Paul’s praise, and we also learn that God’s mercy results in praise to Him.

Remember how the islanders got God’s law right the first time? By loving their neighbor? Well, they did get God’s law right again this time, but verses 4-6 reveal one thing they got horribly wrong. They understood God’s law correctly, but they fall terribly short in their understanding of God himself. The have a right concept of God’s law, but a wrong concept of God. Here’s what they got right: that murder is a capital offense, punishable by death. This is another one of those laws God has put into our hearts: that murder is wrong. In fact, it is clearly stated in the 6th commandment: you shall not murder. It’s also illustrated very clearly all over the Bible. When Cain killed his brother Abel, the Lord said to him, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse…When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth. (Gen 4:8-12).”

God said this to Noah after the flood had subsided, “And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. ‘Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.’ (Gen 9:5-6).”   God has written this law into our hearts: since God made mankind in his image, murder is a capital crime. Isn’t it true, do you see all around you, how much effort is made so that 1 person does not die? Even 1 life is valuable. Thousands upon thousands of cars are recalled if news breaks out about a defective part, and even if just 1 person is injured or killed. This is done to prevent as much as possible the loss of 1 life. This illustrates that God’s law is written on our hearts, and when that law is violated, if affects us.

This is the right understanding of God’s law: that you will be punished if you violate them. So are you guilty of violating the law? You will hear traffic judges say to you, ignorance is not an excuse, it’s your responsibility to know the law. It’s the same with God’s law: ignorance is not an excuse. You will be held to account. So are you guilty of violating the law? Let’s see. There are 10 commandments, see if you have kept all of them. Remember, if you violate just one law, you’ve violated them all. First, you will have no other gods before Him. Second, you will not make an image of God. Third, do not use the Lord’s name in vain. If you’ve ever said OMG, you have violated this. Fourth, keep the Sabbath holy. Fifth, honor your father and mother. How are you doing so far? Sixth: do not murder. Remember if you hate someone, it’s just as bad as murder. Seventh: do not commit adultery. If you have lusted for someone other than your spouse, or outside of marriage, even if it’s a bikini picture, you have committed adultery. Is it getting hot in here? Eighth: do not steal. Ninth: do not give false testimony about your neighbor. This includes gossip. Tenth: do not covet. Envy and greed are violations of this law. How did you do?

While the islanders may have had a right understanding of the law, they had a completely wrong understanding of God. First, they believed in other gods. There are no other gods except the God of Israel, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. They thought it was Justice who will take Paul’s life from him. The goddess Justice was a daughter of Zeus and Themis, and whenever she would see someone hurting another, she would report the issue to Zeus. She was the defender of true justice, and punisher of those who do wrong. The islanders thought she allowed Paul to escape from the storm, but now has sent the viper to take care of business. But when they saw that nothing happened to him, they jumped to another false assumption. They thought Paul was a god, because no human could survive a poisonous snake bite.   Again their knowledge of who God is was completely wrong. Now why is this a bad thing? Because if you don’t know God, you cannot worship him, and if you do not worship him, you violate the very first commandment.

That is why being a “good” person is not enough. The islanders, from a superficial view, seem like “good” people. They’re compassionate and helpful, but they do not know God. Because they don’t know God, they only know the Law. The law is all they have. And that is what we all end up with if we don’t know God. That’s what you will end up with, it doesn’t matter what other religion you believe, if you don’t know the God of the Bible, you will only live by the law. What’s it like living only by the law? It’s impossible, we cannot live by the law. We cannot count how many more good deeds we did than bad deeds. In fact, if we only did one bad deed, it ruins everything. All the good deeds will be cancelled out. Living by the law is like walking on egg shells, living in constant fear. Do you ever get to that mentality? You think, “If I’m going through a rough time, I must have done something bad.” Or you constantly think, “Is God ok with this? Am I pleasing God?” Or you might think, “Why is my family this way, why are my kids like this? Is God punishing me?

Buddhists might think, “I must have been a thief in my previous life, so now I’m poor in this life.” That’s what it’s like living constantly under the law – everything bad must be a punishment, everything good must be some reward. But it’s a life of constant fear and worry of trying to do right. But why is it so oppressive? Why are we driven by the fear of the law? It’s because that’s the job of the law. The law was not meant to save us. It was not set up to make us feel better. The law of God was established to reveal our sin, and show us how far we have fallen. Through the law we become conscious of our sin. How did you do in the list of the 10 Commandments. I can probably say with 100% accuracy that nobody, not even myself, have perfectly kept the 10 Commandments. Therefore, the law condemns us all as guilty. This is exactly why we need the gospel. We can never be “good” enough, according to the law. We need the gospel.

If you do not have the gospel, you cannot know God. If you do not hear the gospel, you cannot know God. Why? Because the gospel reveals God to us. Without the gospel, you will confuse God with other gods. Without the gospel, you will confuse people to be gods. You may think that God is mean, horrible and unloving. Because you can’t manage to live under the law, and without the gospel, you may conclude that God is unfair, unjust, uncompassionate and impersonal. Worst of all, you may just give up and say there is no God. If you do not know God, you cannot worship God. If you do not know God’s nature, his character, and how he is revealed in the pages of the Bible, you will end up worshipping a false God. If you cannot worship God, you will violate the very first commandment, and the law condemns you.

Again, that’s why just being a “good” person is not enough. You need to hear the gospel. The gospel is this: Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried. And after 3 days he rose again from the dead, according to the Scriptures. If you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, with all your heart, you will be saved and receive eternal life. If you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, you can no longer be condemned by the law. You will not be condemned, but set free, saved from death, as Paul was saved from the poisonous snake.

Paul writes this in his letter to the believers at Rome: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For a what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit…Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live…If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separates us from the love go God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:1-4,12,13,31-39).” If you hear the gospel, believe it, you will learn that the law cannot condemn you, and that God is a loving God, who so loved you, that he sent his one and only Son to die for your sins. He did not hold anything back, but gave up his most prized possession, his Son. That truly is God’s unusual kindness – that he would satisfy justice by providing his Son as sacrifice, so we may receive clean hands, and a clean heart, and live as freeborn children of God.

Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” The riches of God’s grace are overflowing and abundant, they are incomparable and immeasurable, as vast as the ocean deep and as expansive as the heavens that hold the stars. Jesus Christ is the source of all blessing from God – from Christ we may receive all other blessings. The last few verses show the additional blessings God poured out on the people of Malta. Publius, the chief official of the island, invites Paul and his companions to his home, and showed them generous hospitality. It was another incident of unusual kindness, and this time by the number one guy in Malta. In Matt 10:40-42 Jesus says, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” There is a reward for serving others, especially serving our brothers and sisters in Christ. Though Publius was not seeking a reward, God repaid his unusual kindness with the unusual kindness of healing his father, who was struck with a disease that may have been fatal.

And just as the islanders first showed unusual kindness to Paul and everyone on the ship, God also showed unusual kindness to them by healing all of the sick in their land. They did not have any expectations, but took compassion on these poor, distressed people. Some of the people they took care of were God’s people, and God in his grace brought healing to the islanders. This exchange perhaps went on for the 3 months that Paul was there. Paul and perhaps even Luke, the author his physician friend worked to heal the people there. They were like medical missionaries. In turn, the islanders provided a place for all 276 people for those three months. Talk about unusual kindness. Think about the cost of harboring 276 people – all the food, water, supplies and services needed for them: but Malta covered all the costs. In turn, the Maltese received the gospel. Though Luke does not mention Paul correcting them for calling him a god, or mentioned that Paul preached the gospel, we have read and seen a number of times in Acts that it was Paul’s primary concern. I doubt he would go 3 months anywhere without preaching the gospel, especially after being delivered from a snake, and invited to the president’s house, and being able to heal all those people. He must have preached the gospel. The people received spiritual blessings, one after another, no one would have guessed that a shipwreck could bring such blessing – but I believe it was God’s plan all along to stop by Malta and convert the island before heading to Rome. It was his way to encourage Paul and his crew, and resupply them, and save souls in the process.

It seems that the people generally accepted the gospel, as this visit to Malta ends with a positive note. Look at v.10, “They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.” Paul and his companions were honored, it says, in many ways. It doesn’t say, we can only guess at the many ways to honor someone – like holding a feast in his honor, maybe making them honorary Maltese citizens, or setting up a St. Paul’s Day. They also resupplied everything they needed, which is another act of honoring them. You can see the Maltese people demonstrated unusual kindness to the very end. They did not give reluctantly or under compulsion, but gave freely and cheerfully, in an act of thanksgiving to God. When you look back to see the work that God has done here in Malta, you see God pouring out the riches of his grace to fill the entire island. To those who were shipwrecked, everything they lost was graciously restored to them. The islanders experienced healing both spiritually and physically through Paul and his crew.

Commit yourself and your way to the Lord, believe in Jesus Christ his Son for the forgiveness of your sins, and justice cannot harm you. Jesus Christ has given the token of justice to you, when justice demands payment, show justice the token of Christ. Neither can the viper, the devil harm you. When the viper fastens to your hands, when you are tempted and tried, pray to Jesus, bring your burdens to him, and he will give you strength to shake the devil off into the fire. And having received the unusual kindness of God, and having your sins forgiven, remember the islanders of Malta who showed unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed everyone because it was raining and cold. Remember your friends who are in the cold or in the rain, who may be down, depressed or distressed. Welcome them into your home, and share with them some warm tea, and the warm gospel. Sometimes we may struggle, but be patient and trust God.  Like the shipwreck, the snake and the sick father, sometimes hardships happen not because of sin, but for God’s glory. 

Thank God for his unusual kindness, to give us all things freely, including his one and only Son. We lack nothing in the grace of God. May we show unusual kindness to others, especially brothers and sisters in Christ, because God first showed unusual kindness to us.

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