5/98 22/3/98 Scripture: Acts 28:1-10
SOMETIMES I wear a waist coat and my grandfather's silver watch. On the other end of the silver chain is a large honour from King George V1 bearing the Cross of St John of Jerusalem, known as the Maltese Cross. Malta home to the Knights of St John of Jerusalem. They were founded in AD1070 to assist Christian pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.
Malta saw many invaders including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, French and the British. Britain controlled the island for more than a thousand years. Napoleon conquered Malta. The Knights were expelled and French and Italian settlers were brought in. The British expelled the French and made the island a British Protectorate. The island became an important naval and air base. Maltese served alongside Australians at Gallipoli. Maltese were among our convicts from 1800 and became some of our most successful migrants. Names like Azzopardi, Aquilina, Zammit, Camilleri, Borg, Briffa, Boffa, Galea, Brincat, dot our history. Their descendants include John Aquilina, Minister of Education, Paul Zammit politician, Jeff Fenech boxer, Tony Buhagiar AFL footballer, Prof Peter Castaldi, Sydney University, and Dr George Boffa of Wesley Hospital.
In 1942 the tiny island came under the most intense bombing of World War 2. Field Marshall Kesselring promised Adolf Hitler that he would wipe Malta off the map. The island controlled eastward and westward movements of shipping and checked the Axis thrust to the south. It prevented German forces in Africa having contact with the Luftwaffe bases in Italy. It was an impregnable fortress.
From February, 1942, four hundred bombers attacked night and day. In April 1942 9000 bombing raids were made dropping 6,700 tons of bombs. The Maltese dug in underground. Supplies ran out. There was no food, no petrol, and the people clung only to hope. Of seventeen ships sent with provisions, fifteen were sunk on the way. Forty-six Spitfires were sent, but were all destroyed on the ground. Rommel ordered, "Malta must be captured!"
The Governor Sir William Dobbie, was a devout Christian. In his diary he records he said to the people: "It may be that hard times are ahead of us, but however hard they may be, I know that courage and determination of all ranks will not falter, and that, with God's help, we will maintain the security of this fortress. I therefore call upon all officers and other ranks, humbly to seek God's help, and in reliance upon Him, to do their duty unflinchingly." During the blitz a strange message was sent from London. The Germans captured it. It simply said "Deuteronomy 3:22." The Nazis thought it a code they couldn't decipher. Sir William looked it up in his Bible, "You shall not fear them; for it is the Lord your God who fights for you." Dobbie's memoirs are called "A Very Present Help." On the first page there is Psalm 46: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." Malta held on seven months. By then the British Eighth Army was winning in Africa. The Axis Powers decided to abandon their attack on Malta. Rommel and the Afrika Korps were defeated. King George V1 created the George Cross, the highest award for civilian bravery. On April 15, 1942, the George Cross was awarded to the whole island of Malta. The Maltese now had two crosses, the Cross of St John and the George Cross.
It was on Malta that the ship in which Paul was travelling to Rome was wrecked in what is still known as the Bay of St Paul. 276 survivors struggled ashore. Luke wrote, "Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold." Often ship-wrecked sailors were robbed and killed. But the people of Malta offered friendship. When the ship in which Paul was sailing was threatened with destruction, an angel of God said, "Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you." (Acts 27:24) God was going to save Paul because He had more work for Paul to do.
1. WE ARE SAVED TO SERVE
When God saves us, He also has work for us. God does not save you only for your benefit, He saves you for the benefit of others. God blesses others through your word and your actions. God saves you for service. Paul had been in prison for more than a year. He had been beaten in several riots. He had been punished. He had testified before governors and a king. He had been shipwrecked. Physically, he must have been utterly exhausted. Now he was to spend three months with the friendly Maltese. The fire in the cold warmed Paul, but so did the warmth of friendly hearts. God works through people different from us, who do not speak our language. God can use all kinds of people to refresh and renew us.
Paul shows how to relate multi-culturally, how to relate with people from different ethnic backgrounds. Paul developed a multi-cultural ministry based upon friendship.
2. SERVICE MUST BE GIVEN HUMBLY
The Maltese built a fire and Paul gathered a pile of brushwood. Why was he gathering sticks? He had an appointment with the Emperor! He should not pick up firewood. Paul gathered wood because fires need fuel. Paul would not sit and be waited on. A true leader serves with humility. Jesus Himself said, "Even the Son of Man did not come to be served; He came to serve." (Mark 10:45). The best way to relate multi-culturally is to serve other~s! Leaders should be ready to work: gather the firewood if that is what is required! "Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 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, justice has not allowed him to live.'"
The Maltese watched him. They knew that kind of snake. They expected his hand to swell and Paul to die. Malta had death adders. The Romans later undertook to exterminate them. Dr Luke describes it as a "poisonous viper." "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." The reaction of the islanders is interesting. They knew how a viper's victim suffered. They thought that Paul was getting retribution for some evil he had done. Perhaps he was a murderer. They waited. Paul shook the viper into the fire and went on picking up wood. The natives quickly changed their minds. Paul was not a murderer but a god! It gave Paul opportunity.
3. OUR SERVICE ALLOWS OUR WITNESS
Paul started to share the good news about Jesus his Lord. Note the sequence. We are saved to serve. We serve with humility. That gives us the right to witness to our faith. Whether it is in Malta or in the streets of Sydney, we have the right and responsibility that once our service is accepted the source of our service can be declared. Those who work with the homeless, among drug addicts, with prisoners, with those antagonistic to the Christian faith, know that you cannot just move in and talk. The right to speak has to be earned. You go with humility. Serve with compassion. Then speak of your faith. Paul earned that right.
Missionaries earn that right working in a multi-cultural context. Missionaries do not go to other lands simply to preach, but to meet the needs of the people. They establish clinics, build hospitals, commence schools - then they tell the people about Jesus. That is exactly the way Wesley Mission has worked for 184 years! "There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably."
Publius is a Roman name, used by this Maltese because of his important office. Publius invited Paul to his home and Luke stayed three days and no doubt there was much discussion about Jesus. The acceptance of Paul gave him an opportunity to further serve and to witness to the Lord Jesus. The father of Publius, "was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him."
As so often happened, one act of healing led to others. People came from all over the island to be healed. "When this happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. This is the last passage in the Bible, the last time in the history of the early church, where miracles occur. Many say the Bible is full of miracles. It is not. In fact few miracles are recorded. There are no miracles during the first 700 years covered by the Bible from Abraham to Moses. Then in the span of a few years, there are a number of miracles associated with Moses and Joshua. Then, in the 9th century you come to Elijah and his disciple, Elisha.
Over the next 400 years no miracles are spoken of until the coming of Jesus. There are miracles during the early life of Jesus. Miracles of healing, raising the dead to life, calming the storm, and multiplying loaves and fish. The miracles continue with the disciples of Jesus, particularly Peter and Paul. The immediate followers of Moses, Elijah and Jesus all performed miracles. Then they ceased. These are the last miracles of the Bible.
There are many in every generation who claim miracles have occurred in their lives. I do not dispute that. But these are not miracles that can be seen as continuing the wonders and signs of Jesus and the early church. The Word of God gives only those three brief periods of miracles. Christians died in their thousands in the arena in Rome, but there is no special deliverance for them. The age of miracles in the New Testament had come to an end. After the miracle of the snake and the healing of the father of Publius, the era of miracles closed.
When Luke says the islanders were healed he uses a different word from that used following Paul's healing. Luke's word for the cure of people is the word for ongoing medical treatment from Dr Luke. Here is the first example of a medical missionary serving Christ! At last they resumed their journey to Rome. A vessel which had wintered at Malta was about to sail. The grateful people "honoured us in many ways and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed." The word used was "honorarium". For three months Dr Luke had practised his craft among the people. He was not paid. But they gave an "honorarium", a fee when there is no fee!
This almost final adventure of Paul has something to say about your own personal involvement with non-Christian people. How do you get along with those who do not belong to the same ethnic group as you? Jesus expects you to serve and to give your service in humility. Then you will have earned the right to witness to them. There will come acceptance and after acceptance the opportunity to help others by prayer and sharing, and then will come gratitude.
God does not have for you a George Cross or Cross of Jerusalem, but for every Christian He does have a Cross. Jesus said, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must forget himself, carry his cross, and follow Me." (Mark 8:34). If you want to be one of His people, your cross will not be one given by Knights Hospitallers, or by a King of Britain, it will be given you by the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Jesus says, "My cross is for you."
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