“And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned? 26 When the centurion heard that, he went and told the chief captain, saying, Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman. 27 Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea. 28 And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born.”
Background: The religious Jews (Pharisees & Sadducees) want to kill Paul. Paul goes to the Temple in Jerusalem and is recognized by the Pharisees. They start to beat Paul but he is rescued by Roman soldiers. Paul gives a defense before the Sanhedrin. Then the- Sadducees get mad and want to kill Paul. Paul appeals to the Roman soldiers saying he is a Roman citizen. The Jews plot to kill Paul but he is taken to Caesarea by the Romans. The Lord has told Paul that he would go to Rome and witness there as he had in Jerusalem.
Paul is a prisoner in the port of Caesarea Martina. At that time Caesarea was the most important Roman city in that part of the world.
Felix is the ruling governor. Felix keeps Paul as a prisoner for two years. During that time Paul witnessed to Felix. Felix is later replaced by a man named “Festus”.
Later, Jews come from Jerusalem and plot to have Paul killed. Festus doesn’t know what to do with Paul. Festus is visited by King Agrippa, the Great-Grandson of Herod. Festus is hoping King Agrippa can help him decide what to do with Paul.
Agrippa decides Paul is innocent but Paul insists to be taken to Rome so he can appeal to Caesar, the Emperor of Rome. They send him on his way.
After several days at sea and changing ships the weather turns bad. Paul warns the crew to stay Fair Havens, a bay on the island of Crete. The crew ignores Paul’s advice and the ship sails on.
Once out to sea a storm, a typhoon hits hard. Paul tells the crew not to worry. He explains that God has spoken to Paul through an angel and said not to be afraid because not one person will die. The angel also assures Paul that he will go before Caesar in Rome.
The ship’s anchors break loose and it is grounded. Everyone aboard jumps overboard and swims to shore as the waves begin to break up the ship.
Everyone makes it to the island of Melita safely.
That brings us up to the scriptures in Acts 28:1-6.
“And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita. 2 And the barbarous people shewed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold. 3 And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. 4 And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. 5 And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. 6 Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.”
It’s winter. Everyone who swam ashore is wet and cold. The people who lived on the island welcomed them and built a fire. Paul helps by gathering firewood.
Paul has been through a lot. While they were out to sea the storm lasted 2 weeks. Everybody except Paul had lost all hope of coming thru alive. At one point the crew wanted to abandon ship, leaving Paul and others without help to guide the ship. Roman soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners, including Paul so they wouldn’t escape.
What next? A viper crawls out of the firewood and sinks its teeth in Paul’s hand. What does Paul do? - He shakes it off into the fire.
The people of the island said nobody has ever survived after a bite from that kind of snake.
If a snake had bitten some of us we probably would have been yelling, "Help! Emergency! Put on a tourniquet – put on another one. Get the captain! Somebody boil some water and lots of it. Lay down, get your feet up!! Is there a doctor on the island?”
But let’s talk about “vipers” of another kind. Vipers often appear out of the fires of life. Not physical vipers but spiritual. It’s when troubles come that our faith is tested. In those times it either grows or weakens.
That’s what Paul means in 2 Cor. 12:10:
“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
Sometimes the troubles can come at us so hard we feel weak & helpless. That’s exactly where God wants us, to realize we’re helpless without Him. Those are the times we need to stand on His Word & shake that snake off into the fire.
How do we do that?
We don’t shake. We stand . . . on the Word of God. God has promises for hard times. Here’s one of the more familiar ones:
"When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.3 For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour"
Have you ever been to the place that you thought you were going to drown in trouble?
Or maybe there was a time it seemed you were walking through life and all it had to offer was one hot spot after another. If you haven’t been there good! Praise God!
But if you have, think back to that time. You didn’t think you would make it. It didn’t seem there was a way out. But you, or someone else, prayed and it was then that you found out that God hadn’t forgotten you after all. You didn’t drown in the trouble.
It’s like you’re floating and hanging on to a piece of timber like Paul did when he was shipwrecked. But instead of timber, you hung on to scripture that promised you would come thru. And you did.
Or like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, you went through the fiery trial and when you came out you didn’t even smell smoky. You learned that the fourth Man is still #1 in every trial. Maybe you didn’t realize it then but you came out of it stronger than before.
You may have been able to advise or counsel someone else who is going through the same situation.
Paul got snake-bit. What did he do? He shook off that snake into the fire and so should we.
Paul was helping by gathering sticks for the fire. Things were looking better. They were off the sinking ship and on solid ground. They are going to be warm.
Vipers usually appear when everything is looking better. Paul could have let this snake put doubt and fear in his mind. But an angel of God had appeared and assured him he would go to Rome. That’s all Paul needed, a promise from God. Paul was focused. He was on his way to Rome to see the Emperor and he knew nothing could stop him because he had a promise from God.
We have to stay focused too. There’s going to be times of attack from others. They’ll attack with words of criticism. The Bible has a lot to say about the words we use.
“An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbor: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered.”
Critical words are like vipers. They can bite and destroy a person. They can also build up a person up.
“Gentle words bring life and health; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”
There are 800,000 words in the English language. The average person knows 10,000 and uses about half of them in everyday speech. How we use those words can either build a person up or tear them down.
Like the bite of a viper, words of criticism can come out of nowhere, when you least expect them. Sometimes the hardest ones to hear may be from someone who is closest to you.
Have any of the following vipers ever bit you?
1. “You might as well give up”
2. “You’ll never make it”
3. “What? YOU a Christian?”
4. “You’re no-good, just like your father (or: /mother/aunt/uncle)”.
5. “You’ll never amount to anything”.
Well, just look at you now! You’re rich beyond measure.
“Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, everything he has belongs to you.” (New Living Translation)
Not only that but you have a mansion being constructed right now. Jesus is sitting on the Right Hand of God and if you are a child of God, you’re guaranteed a seat to the Right Hand of Jesus! (Rev. 3:21)
I would say you’ve done pretty well.
What happened to Paul? The natives saw the snake and their first reaction was: “He is a murderer!”
The world looks for the worst to happen and hopes for the best. Whether it turns good or bad it’s always credited to “luck”.
First, Paul is a murderer and a few minutes later they call him a god.
People are quick to judge and falsely accuse others. Even Christians. But we have to remember this, they’re not OUR judge! And they will be judged righteous judgment for judging others.
Here are the names we should believe for ourselves:
Children of God, Beloved Brethren, Chosen Ones, The Salt of the earth, Sons of Light, the Light of the World, Trees of Righteousness, More than conquerors, Vessels of Honor, Vessels of Mercy, the Ransomed of the Lord, the Body of Christ, the Temple of God, etc.
A pastor once received an anonymous note with nothing but the word "FOOL!" written on it. The next morning he got in the pulpit at church and said, "I’ve gotten many notes without signatures before but this is the first time I got one where someone forgot to write the note and just signed his name!"
Have you been judged or falsely accused? You’re in good company.
Jesus was constantly judged and criticized.
He was accused of being a blasphemer: "And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city. 2 And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. 3 And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth."
They were mad because Jesus healed the man AND forgave his sins too. They knew only God can do that. What they didn’t know, or wouldn’t accept is maybe a better way of saying it, was that Jesus was God.
Another time in Matt. 9:34 Jesus was accused of being in league with the devil because He was casting out demons.
In John 8:48-49 He was accused of having a demon.
WHAT DO WE DO WHEN WE GET SNAKE-BIT WITH CRITICISM?
WE DO LIKE PAUL. SHAKE THAT OLD SNAKE OFF INTO THE FIRE! STAND ON A PROMISE FROM GOD!
The natives expected Paul to swell up and die. They didn’t think he would make it. Maybe someone has said that about you. That it was just a matter of time. Maybe some family members are just waiting for you to backslide or make a mistake so they can say how right they were. And you’ve heard it so many times you’re afraid that you’re going to prove them right.
SHAKE OFF THAT OLD SNAKE OF DOUBT & FEAR!
2 Tim. 1:7,
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
Fear is a spirit. It comes from the devil. Like a snakebite, words can become like poison to your system. But we can overcome that poison because:
We’ve been given power by the Holy Spirit. Power to bear up under trials, power to pull thru persecution, power to look fear right into its face and say, “You’re on your way to Hell, devil”.
And we’ve been given “love”. What does love have to do with it? Most people, even the shyest, will not stand back and watch someone attack their loved ones. Something stirs up inside them. Love makes them bold enough to stand up to some of the greatest dangers and fears. That’s what we have to do. We have to stir up that boldness to turn our back to fear and doubt.
And we’ve been given a “sound mind”. That means we have the mind of Christ. Our minds should be disciplined and not be slaves to our emotions. Our emotions shouldn’t be our master in what we do, say or think.
We can discern things according to the righteousness of Christ through the Word of God. A sound mind will not be overcome by fear and doubt but will bring to our remembrance the Promises of God that are in the Bible.
Conclusion: It doesn’t matter what someone has done TO you.
What really matters is what God has DONE FOR YOU.
That old serpent, the devil, would like us to think it’s more important to dwell on what someone else has done to us instead of what God has done for us. If you’re holding a grudge . . . shake that old snake off into the fire!
It doesn’t matter what people SAY about us.
What matters is what the BIBLE SAYS about us.
"The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" Romans 8:16
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one. John 10:27-30
“If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” John 14:24
As long as we’re walking with the Lord, it doesn’t matter what people THINK about us.
What matters is what GOD THINKS about us. We’re always on His mind.
Matt. 10:29 says a sparrow will not fall to the ground without God knowing it. If God watches over one sparrow won’t He watch over one of His Children?
When God thinks of us He sees us already sitting with Him in Heaven.
Eph. 2:6, "And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus"
God sees us as a finished product.
In the spring, when you buy a package of seeds to plant it can be disappointing looking at them because they look all dried up and useless. But you look at the picture in the catalog and you know what it’s going to be like in the end.
That’s how God sees us and He’s a much better Gardener.
Remember this: We’re just passing through this old world. Sometimes passing through means passing through the Valley of the Shadow of Death where vipers lay waiting.
We don’t focus on the vipers OR the dark Valley.
We focus on the Light of life at the end of the Valley.
All we have to do is keep on walking. Keep on standing on the Promises of God. Keep faith strong and most of all, keep our focus on Jesus, the Author, and Finisher of our Faith.
Philippians 1:6, from the Message Bible:
“There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.”
So, no matter what someone has told you . . . . you’re going to make it! The Bible says you will and it’s never been wrong yet.
If a word of discouragement, judgment or criticism is still lingering in your mind from the past:
SHAKE OFF THAT OLE SNAKE INTO THE FIRE!
ONE LAST WORD: Eccl. 3:11-13 (From The Living Bible)
“God has made everything beautiful for its (His) own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. 12 So I concluded that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to enjoy themselves as long as they can. 13 And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.”