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Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 28:7-10

Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10 They also honored us greatly,[a] and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed.

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Last week’s entry discussed the welcome by the Maltese of Paul and the 275 other passengers who providentially survived the shipwreck.

They called Paul a ‘god’ when he shook off a poisonous viper off his hand and was unharmed.

John MacArthur says this, which relates to today’s Lectionary Gospel passage from Luke 10 (emphases mine):

Go back in your Bible to Luke 10. I’ll show you 2 passages. When the Lord first sent out the 70 to talk about the kingdom, they must have had a lot of snakes in those days. But when they sent them out he told them this promise, verse 19. Well, he gave them a lot of things. I like this. We’ll go back to verse 17. “And the 70 returned with joy saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us through your name.’” Horrific. “And he said unto them, ‘I beheld Satan as lightening fall from Heaven.’” Sure, he’s subject to my name, I remember when he fell.

Listen, “Behold I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall, by any means, hurt you.” Now he says don’t rejoice in the spiritual subject to you, rejoice that your names are written in Heaven. That’s a positive there. So he says I give you the power to tread on serpents. He sent them out with the ability to do that.

Now I want you to look at Mark 16:18. Now here he says to his disciples, now you’re going to in the world and many signs are going to accompany your ministry. You’re going to cast out demons. You’re going to speak with new languages. Verse 18, Mark 16. “They shall take up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them.” Now you see it’s fulfilled, isn’t it?

Now remember this, folks, that is not for today. You drink a bottle of poison you have no guarantees except that you’ll be dead. And if you play with poisonous snakes you cannot claim Mark 16:18. It’s interesting that the same people who want to claim that the speaking with new language was just for the apostles aren’t anxious to claim the drinking of poison or the playing with poisonous snakes.

This was purely for the apostolic era and an important thing but here’s the fulfillment of it. He just flicks off a poisonous snake. You say, well why this? I mean what a silly thing to happen. You know why God let that happen? Can you imagine the reaction of the people? God used miracles to confirm his apostles and to confirm their divine source and to confirm their word.

Incidentally, I can’t help when he flicked that snake off but think about the fact that ultimately, the ultimate snake is going to be flicked off – Satan himself. Romans 16:20, “I’ll shortly put Satan under your feet.” I like to think about that.

Luke, the author of Acts, does not tell us that Paul disabused them of the notion that he was a god, but we can be pretty sure that he did, because he shared the Good News wherever he went. Also recall that, at other times in Acts, Paul was quick to point out that he was a human being, not a deity:

Remember back in the 14th chapter he was there in the area of Galatia and there was this guy crippled from his birth, in verse 8, and Paul was preaching and he looked out and there was this guy and he says stand on your feet, fellow! The guy leaps up and jumps around. The people saw what he did. They lifted up their voices saying in the speech of Laconia, “The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas Jupiter and Paul Mercury.”

And they brought out a bunch of animals to sacrifice to Jupiter and Mercury, and Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes and ran crying, “Sirs, why are you doing these things? We are men of like passions with you. We preach unto you that you should turn from these vanities unto the living God.” See, he didn’t want to be a part of that proliferation of deities, that polytheism that they were involved in. They wanted to the representatives of the true God, not a god.

The chief of the island, Publius, put all 276 survivors up for three days, showing them much hospitality (verse 7).

Matthew Henry says that the three days allowed Publius to make arrangements for their long term stay, which was three months:

he had a considerable estate in the island, and some think was governor, and he received them and lodged them three days very courteously, that they might have time to furnish themselves in other places at the best hand. It is happy when God gives a large heart to those to whom he has given a large estate. It became him, who was the chief man of the island, to be most hospitable and generous,–who was the richest man, to be rich in good works.

Even though he was materially well off, Publius could not prevent illness in his family. His father had been suffering from dysentery, so Paul visited the man, prayed and laid hands on him. He was duly healed (verse 8).

The King James Version uses the term ‘bloody flux’ for ‘dysentery’, because that is what it was called at the time.

MacArthur explains:

Now 1611 medicine leaves a lot to be desired and the King James was written in 1611 and bloody flux just doesn’t seem to make it. Fever I understand. The word for fever in the Greek is the word puretos and it means a gastric fever. The fact that it is in the plural, fevers, indicates that it was a recurring gastric fever.

Now the bloody flux is the Greek word dusentaria from which we get the word dysentery which is an intestinal disease. Now what he really had here was some sort of recurrent dysentery and a gastric fever accompanying it. Some historians record that this was a common problem in Malta because they have a certain kind of microbe in their goat’s milk. And so here Publius’ father who has this gastric problem, dysentery, to whom Paul entered in, prayed, laid his hands on him and healed him.

After this miraculous healing, others with diseases went to Paul to be healed (verse 9).

MacArthur is certain that Paul preached as he healed:

What Paul was doing by praying and laying hands on was identifying God’s power and the fact that he was God’s agent.

Now there is something that isn’t said here but it needs to be added to the text in this sense. I am totally convinced that what Paul also did here is to preach. And I think the reason it doesn’t say that is because it’s so obvious. The Lord Jesus Christ did not perform miracles without speaking to point out the fact that these miracles were to corroborate the testimony of the gospel. Peter, when he performed miracles, earlier in Acts, preached Christ. Paul, when he did miracles, preached Christ, having established the conformation of divine agency he then proclaimed the divine message.

So if Paul healed, believe it, Paul preached. And tradition tells us that he founded in these days the church at Malta.

I am glad that MacArthur mentioned the tradition about Publius. Of course, we read no more of him in the Bible, but it is believed that he was the first Bishop of Malta:

And tradition also tells us that the first pastor of the Maltese Christians was Publius. And very likely, if he had a house that could handle 276 guests, that’s probably where the church began too. And so we can be, even though it doesn’t say, confidently, the church was founded then and agreeing with tradition that Publius may well have been the first pastor and the church could have possibly even have met in his house. Someday, just to be sure, we’ll check out the Lamb’s Book of Life when we get there and we’ll well see a list of Maltese names and at the top will be Publius, and maybe following it will be names like Julius, a Roman Centurion and a few other people from a certain ship that had a wreck on the Coast of Malta.

Saint Publius is venerated in the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches. Like the Apostle Paul, Publius also died as a martyr, but later, around 125 AD. Hadrian was emperor at the time.

The Maltese are friendly, open people, so it is not surprising to read Luke’s comment that they honoured all the shipwreck survivors greatly and, when it came time to leave, loaded their ship with everything necessary (verse 10).

I’ll have more about Paul’s journey to Rome next week.

Next time — Acts 28:11-16

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