Kindness at Melita
And when they were escaped then they knew that the island was called Melita — Act_28:1
On the Island of Malta
When at last the shipwrecked company reached shore, they learned that the island on which they were cast was Melita. There can be no reasonable doubt that Melita was the island known to us as Malta. Though small, it is of the highest importance. It is an important island in the Mediterranean. Its fortifications are extraordinarily strong. It is one of the most thickly populated islands in the world, and the natives love it—they call it “the flower of the world”; and in springtime at least, when it is carpeted with blossom, one would not readily quarrel with the name. Do boys know what a Maltese cross is like? And have they ever heard of the Knights of Malta? These names remind us of the part that Malta played in the inspiring and yet tragic story of the Crusades. It was on this island, then, that Paul was cast and found himself in the midst of a barbarous people. Now we must not think from that word barbarous that the Maltese were wild and dangerous savages. A barbarian was just a man whose speech was like bar—bar—bar—there was no sense in it to a Greek or Latin. Today the natives speak a corrupt Arabic with a strong flavor of Italian in it. But perhaps in Paul’s time it would be a debased Phoenician dialect, and that would just be bar—bar—bar to the apostle.
God Fulfils His Promises
Now the first thing to impress me in this story is how thoroughly God fulfils His promises. His care did not cease nor His lovingkindness vanish when the peril of the breakers was removed. You remember what God had whispered in the storm? He had promised to give to Paul the lives of all on board (Act_27:24). And in the strict sense that promise was fulfilled when the whole company got safe to land. But what if the island had been a desert island? Or what if the natives had attacked the crew? The rescue from the wild surf in St. Paul’s Bay would have been of little service if it had led to that. It is when I read of the kindness of the islanders, and of their hospitable welcome to the shipwrecked, that I see what a large and liberal interpretation we should always give to God’s promise of protection. When Jesus had passed through the storm of His temptation, angels came and ministered unto Him. It was a desert place, the haunt of ravening beasts, yet even there God had His angels ready. So here when the peril of the sea was over, there are ministering hearts and hands upon the shore. It is always wise to take the words of God, not at their lowest but at their highest value. We need never hesitate to pour a wealth of meaning into the simplest and briefest of His pledges. As Paul looked back on this exciting voyage and traced the action of God’s hand in it, he must have felt that God had done for him far above what he could ask or think.
An Ill Wind That Blew Untold Good to Malta
Once more this lesson admirably illustrates the proverb that it’s an ill wind that blows nobody good. This was an ill wind for the Alexandrian corn-ship. I dare say it almost broke the heart of the good captain. He had carried so many cargoes safe to Rome that this sudden calamity was overwhelming. Sailors are often very superstitious, and they were invariably so in the old world. They never dreamed of starting on a voyage without offering sacrifices and taking auspices. What was the meaning, then, of this ill-wind? Were the gods offended, or were they simply mocking? I think we see now that the furious gale was blowing a blessing upon heathen Malta. There would be much corn washed up on the shore. The beach would be covered with the grain from Africa. But it was not food like that that was the storm’s best gift for the islanders who knew not God. It was the message of Christ that the apostle preached to them; it was the prayers which were offered in the name of Jesus; it was the healing of the sick and the diseased. There was not a sailor but muttered, “What an ill wind is this,” yet it was blowing untold good to Malta. Can we recall, from the Bible or from history, any other great storms that blew a blessing anywhere? There are two that will suggest themselves at once. One was the tempest on the Lake of Galilee that so enriched the disciples in their knowledge of Christ. The other was the storm which fell on the Armada and drove it asunder and dashed it on wild rocks— an ill wind, but a wind which saved our country and wrought incalculable good for Europe.
Even a Snake Can Benefit the Gospel
Again our lesson shows us this, that even a viper may help on the Gospel. We all know the story of the viper. It is one of the Bible scenes we never forget. We see the creature torpid in the brushwood; we watch it stirring as the heat of the fire gets at it; and then— irritated— it grips the apostle’s hand and is shaken off into the fire. You see that if Paul had let others tend the fire, he would have escaped this sudden peril. But it is always nobler to run the risk of vipers than to sit idle and let others do the work. And then what happened? Every eye was fixed on Paul. He came to his own rightful place at once. They thought that he was a murderer; then that he was a god. The captain and mate and crew took a second place. Paul would be spoken of that night in a hundred cottages, and before morning Publius would know of him. The viper was the bell before the sermon. It stirred up interest and centered it on Paul. He would not have to wait for an audience now when he began (through an interpreter) to preach. Note then that even poisonous creatures may be used to advance the message of Christ Jesus. It is a great thing to believe that we serve a Lord who can turn even a snake into an argument. No man ever gave himself up to what was highest without stirring up the venom in the firewood; but as the world looks back upon these noble lives, it sees that all things were working for their good.
The Sure Reward That Followed a Kindly Welcome
Then lastly, the great lesson of these verses is the sure reward that follows a kindly welcome. We have all heard of the Cornish wreckers and of the heartless cruelty that characterized them. A wreck was an act of God not to be interfered with, and strange stories are told of how men were left to die. Such wreckers were true barbarians (though they called themselves Christians), and no blessing ever followed their vile gains. How different is this scene at Malta! The islanders gave the shipwrecked a kind welcome; they did it instinctively, looking for no reward. But when their fevered were cured and their diseased were healed, they found they had got far more then they gave. No generous welcome is ever thrown away. Kindnesses, not less than curses, come home to roost. Writ large, over all the passage, is the golden text, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb_13:2).