God’s Word for You
Acts 28:7-10 the generosity of strangers
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, March 16, 2021
7 There was an estate nearby that belonged the chief man of the island, who was called Publius. He welcomed us to his home and entertained us hospitably for three days.
“Chief man” was an official title. It has been found in an inscription on the island. This man would have been the “number one guy” on the island, but he answered to a superior on the island of Sicily to the north. Why would Luke only give this man’s ‘first’ name? Were they on a first-name basis? Another explanation could be that this man wasn’t a Roman citizen and didn’t have another name. Whatever the reason for the name Luke gives, this Publius was a truly generous man. Beginning with the morning of the shipwreck, for three days he hosted all 276 castaways on his estate and out of his own pocket. That’s a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
8 His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went to visit him and prayed, placing his hands on him, and he healed him. 9 When this had happened, the rest of the sick people in the island came and were cured. 10 They gave us many honors, and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.
Apart from John’s miraculous vision of Jesus (Revelation 1:10-12, etc.) these are the final miracles recorded in the Bible. The father of Publius had dysentery (we use the same Greek word today, δυσεντέριον, with the same meaning). It had brought on a fever, and a fever is always dangerous. In this case it could well have been fatal. Notice that Paul prayed before he did anything else. He didn’t know whether it was God’s will to heal this man or not. Paul never takes it on himself to travel around healing willy-nilly apart from the command of God. Today, Pastors pray over people who are sick when we are present and we pray for people who are sick in nearly every worship service and privately almost every day. But we don’t rush into homes expecting to heal everyone of all their illnesses. For one thing, God has blessed our society with improved medicines. Also, he uses illnesses for various good purposes. And sometimes he calls his saints home through serious illnesses, and in at least some of these cases, this is a blessing to spare his saints from difficulties or heartbreaks that are fast approaching.
Since Luke does not record any verbal answer to Paul’s prayer, we can look at the laying on of hands that Paul does as the means through which God would answer in this unusual case: He might heal the father, or he might not. But when the Lord did carry out this healing, the floodgates of the island were naturally flung open and all of the sick people who were there came thronging to Paul to be healed, and Paul did just that.
We get the impression that this all took place after the three days of the stay with Publius (they remained on the island all through the rest of the winter). Naturally, the text combines the spiritual with the physical. Anyone who doubts miracles will wonder how or why the Maltese Barbarians resupplied Paul’s 276 castaways with provisions to get them to Italy. But everyone who accepts miracles as a fact recorded by Scripture understands immediately where the provisions came from. The sick people and their families responded to the healings with many gifts. We can understand that Paul and Luke preached the gospel as well, and so the response was as Paul also says: “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor” (Galatians 6:6).
God preaches the law to us in this passage by the generosity of the Barbarian Publius, which casts a shadow on the meager offering that too often passes for our own generosity. How often don’t we show ourselves to be more critical of those who are in need rather than being generous with them? God also preaches the law as a guide for me with Paul’s example of faithful prayer as well as “being content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11).
God preaches the gospel to us in this passage with his answer to Paul’s prayer and the continued care shown to the castaways. God looks after his people at all times: “The Lord watches over the way of the righteous” (Psalm 1:6). This is about more than our physical needs, but about all of our spiritual needs, and most especially about the forgiveness of our sins.
Pastor Timothy Smith