Paul and the other passengers on the ship arrive safely on the shore of Malta, an island no one recognized when they first saw it. Malta proves to be a safe haven for all 276 people for the winter. The leading man of the island welcomes them and Paul is able to have a ministry among the people through healing. When spring comes, the group continues to Rome on another grain ship that winters in Malta also. God finally brings Paul to Rome and encourages him with visitors from the Christian community there. Paul’s journey ends where God said it would. He now settles in and begins to fulfill God’s call to be a witness in the great city.
The passengers all make it to shore and find they are on an island called Malta. Though the sailors did not recognize it when they saw it from the ship (27:39), it is apparently on one of the routes to Rome as another Alexandrian ship is wintering on the island. The fact that Paul’s group ended up here means that though the storm blew them far off their planned route, God has providentially brought them to a place still on the way to Rome. It will not be hard to reach the city once the seasons change.
The natives (so called only because they are not Greek speakers, not because they are primitive or barbarous) are very kind to the survivors and make a fire to help them dry off and warm up from the cold. [Luke says that rain sets in, which means either the storm that wrecked the ship did not include rain (wind only?), or the storm has blown over but now rain has returned. Either way, the shipwreck survivors have to be pretty fatalistic about the weather that seems to follow them]. Since it is likely sometime in November and the passengers have all been exposed to the storm and the water, the warmth is very welcome.
Paul helps with the fire by gathering wood. As he throws his bundle of sticks on the fire, a snake – startled by the heat – comes out from the wood and bites down on Paul’s hand. When the islanders see this they comment amongst themselves that Paul must be a murderer who, although he survived the shipwreck, is now being punished by the goddess of justice. Their pagan beliefs cause them to see the snake not as a random event but as an act of justice for a guilty prisoner. Paul, however, is not concerned and simply shakes the creature into the fire. He knows God told him on two different occasions (23:11, 27:24) that he will witness in Rome, so he knows he is not going to die here on Malta. As the people watch him, expecting that he will either swell up or simply keel over and die, Paul goes about his business and is not affected at all. After watching for a long time, the people change their opinion of him and decide that instead of a murderer he must be a god.
[Interestingly, on present day Malta there are no poisonous snakes. This means that either the snake that bit Paul was not poisonous and the people’s expectation of his impending death was based on their ignorance of the snakes on the island (and his survival was not miraculous); or, the poisonous snakes that existed during Paul’s time disappeared as the island’s topography changed drastically over the years (the island is now densely populated but in antiquity was covered by forest).]
Paul does not respond to the natives’ attribution of divinity to him, possibly because it does not include any worship. The islanders simply surmise he is a god amongst themselves and apparently do not act on the conclusion. The event likely also gives Paul an opportunity to minister among them and share the true power behind both the mass survival of the shipwreck and his own survival of the snake. All the voyagers making it to shore and now his interaction with the snake must have a significant effect on the people who witness both.
The leading man of the island – a man named Publius (probably some kind of official appointed by Rome to govern the island) – invites members of the group to his house and graciously entertains them for three days. Apparently the group includes Paul and Luke (and likely Aristarchus). During their interaction with Publius they find that Publius’ father is seriously ill with fever and dysentery. The exact identification of this illness is difficult to determine, but dysentery at this time usually describes a fatal condition. Publius as the governor of the island is probably not a young man, so his father could be quite old and likely not expected to survive the sickness.
Paul goes to the father and prays over him and heals him. The word of this healing spreads throughout the island and soon all the people with diseases come to Paul to get healed. He heals them all and likely has an incredible ministry among them as a result. The people honor Paul and his companions with many marks of respect because of Paul’s mighty works. When the group decides to set sail again, the people provide them with all they need for the journey.
These events somewhat answer the question, “What was the point of God sending a 14-day storm to completely blow up a journey He told Paul to make?” It is now very clear that God wanted Paul to come to Malta – a place Paul otherwise never would have visited – and so made sure he did. And many lives are now changed and many people on the island are very happy as a result. Publius – both for his father and his people – is very happy about the storm. Publius’ father is definitely very happy about the storm. And the people of Malta overall are happy about the storm. The text makes it sound as if virtually every person on the island is affected by Paul’s presence in some way. And though Luke does not specifically mention it, it is virtually certain that Paul preaches the gospel to those he ministers to. The bottom line is the storm did not blow the ship to Malta by chance, and Publius’ father and the other sick people on the island did not get sick when they did by chance, and the centurion assigned to take Paul to Rome was not assigned by chance, and the snake did not bite Paul by chance. God had special plans for everyone involved in this trip, and now each has seen God work in a way he or she never would have apart from the storm.
One other thought on this. How much has the centurion been changed by this trip? He saw Paul’s wisdom about leaving Fair Havens proved right. He heard Paul – shortly after the storm started – assure everyone on the ship that they would live. He knows Paul probably saved the lives of the sailors who tried to desert and definitely saved the lives of his soldiers. He watched everyone get off the ship and live through the wreck just as Paul prophesied. He saw Paul survive the snake. He watched Paul heal Publius’ father and then heal all the sick of the island. And he sees how the people react to Paul and honor him as he leaves. Paul has benefited throughout the trip from the kindness of the centurion, but the Roman’s life and perspective will likely never be the same as a result of his exposure to the apostle (which of course was not by chance).
At the end of three months – the winter season – the group boards an Alexandrian [grain] ship (is anyone wary of trying this again?) that has wintered on the island. The ship has the Twin Brothers for its figurehead (Castor and Pollux, twin sons of Zeus, thought to be gods who protect sailors). Nothing is said about whether all 276 people board the ship or if only the centurion and the group of prisoners and Paul’s companions get on it. The ship sails to Syracuse where it stays for three days. From there it sails to Rhegium, and a day later a south wind springs up (nooooooo!!!! – 27:13) which enables the ship to make Puteoli on the next day. Puteoli is roughly 150 miles from Rome and is where the voyage presumably ends. From here the group will travel overland to Rome.
In Puteoli Paul and his companions find a group of believers and stay with them for seven days (the centurion apparently again extends courtesy to Paul). They then leave Puteoli and continue on to Rome (when the text says in verse 14 – …and thus we came to Rome – it means that this is the way the group comes to Rome – the group does not actually reach Rome until verse 16). Believers in Rome somehow hear that Paul is coming – perhaps the brethren in Puteoli sent word during the seven days the group stayed there – and come to meet Paul at the Market of Appius (approximately 40 miles from Rome) and the Three Inns (approximately 30 miles from Rome). The Roman Christians have by now received the epistle Paul wrote to them and so likely cannot wait to meet its author (and it could be that some in the delegation already know him based on all the greetings Paul included at the end of his letter – Rom16:1-16). The distance the believers travel to meet him and their apparent excitement about his coming serve to greatly encourage Paul. He thanks God for their kindness.
The believers coming to meet Paul is a sign of God’s concern for him. Luke says Paul took courage from the visits which makes it clear that he approaches Rome with some trepidation. It makes sense that even though he knows God wants him there, he is still wary of coming to the greatest city in the world and possibly standing trial before the most powerful man in the world. Paul is human and it would be next to impossible to not be a little worried about what the future holds. God obviously knows this and so sends the believers to encourage Paul at the just the right time. This is now the third time God has stepped in to specially encourage Paul since he was arrested in Jerusalem (appeared to him in the Roman barracks in Jerusalem – 23:11, appeared to him on the ship during the storm – 27:24). God knows exactly what His children need and when they need it. Here He knows that even though Paul is mighty in the faith, he still needs strength to face all God has for him (God sometimes puts us through the wringer, but He knows what we need to survive it and makes sure we go through it in His presence and with His strength).
The group reaches Rome (finally!) and Paul is allowed to find his own quarters rather than having to stay in a prison (this could be the final courtesy extended by the centurion). This means, however, that Paul likely pays for his housing himself. He is not allowed to be totally free as a soldier is assigned to him. Since he later refers to a chain (20) he probably stays chained to the soldier throughout each day (which cannot be fun and likely presents several logistical issues).
And so God fulfills His promise to bring Paul to Rome. It took well over two years, a near-death at the hands of a mob, a near-death at the hands of the Sanhedrin, a near-scourging, numerous prisons, several trials and hearings, a monstrous storm and shipwreck, a snakebite, a winter spent on an island no one would have normally visited, a trip that lasted from fall to spring, and going through Lysias, Ananias, Felix, Festus, Agrippa, Julius, and Publius; but it did in fact come to pass. God always keeps His promises. He rarely keeps them in the way or time His children expect, and the way is often tougher than His children would choose if left to themselves, but He always keeps them.
Looking back over all that has happened, it really brings into focus God’s sovereign control of our lives and how there is really no way for Him to explain Himself to us. All Paul knew when this odyssey started – right at the end of his third missionary journey – was that he was supposed to go to Jerusalem and somehow imprisonment awaited him. What if God had told him all the details of what was in store over the next 2-3 years? Would Paul have signed up for that? And yet by him going through it Lysias heard the gospel, Felix heard the gospel, Festus heard the gospel, Agrippa and his weird sister heard the gospel, the leading men of Caesarea heard the gospel, everyone on board the doomed grain ship lived (although, to be fair, the storm may not have hit at all if Paul were not on the ship), Julius the centurion heard the gospel and likely had his life changed in several ways, Publius’ father lived, all the sick people on Malta were healed, everyone else on the island had their lives affected and likely also heard the gospel, and every soldier who was assigned to watch Paul heard the gospel. Last – but certainly not least in terms of numbers – everyone who has read Luke’s account in Acts 21-28 throughout the last 2000 years has been affected also. Not bad for one stretch of trials in one man’s life. Our God does amazing things from a perspective we can never comprehend, and it pays to remember this story from the end of Acts the next time we become frustrated that God’s actions in our lives do not make sense to us.