Counting our Blessings

Counting our Blessings

“Counting our Blessings”

(Acts 28:1-16)

Series: The Church on Fire!

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

First Baptist Church Henderson, KY

(7-27-08) (AM)


  • Take God’s Word and open to Acts, chapter 28.


Over the past several months we’ve been making our way, verse-by-verse, through the book of Acts and we’re here now at the last chapter.  I want to preach half of the chapter today and the other half, Lord willing, next Sunday.  Then I want to do one final message, a review of the entire book as we finish out our series entitled, “The Church on Fire!”


Now this morning we return to the events occurring around the year AD 60.  The Apostle Paul and 275 others were sailing across the Mediterranean Sea, Paul on his way to stand trial before Caesar in Rome, when they encountered a horrendous storm that caused the ship to break up into the bay of an island that was unknown to them at the time.  The crew jumped off the ship, some swimming to shore and others grabbing hold of pieces of the ship, drifting to the island.  We pick up the story at verse one in chapter 28 and I’m going to read the first couple verses and lead us in prayer.


  • Stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.


1 Now when they had escaped, they then found out that the island was called Malta. 

2 And the natives showed us unusual kindness; for they kindled a fire and made us all welcome, because of the rain that was falling and because of the cold. 


  • Pray.




We begin our Bible study this morning with the help of a visual we looked at last week.  Let’s take a look at the map again that shows us the journey Paul took as he is on his way to Rome.  You’ll recall that Paul is going to stand trial before Caesar for charges of which he was innocent, but he regards this as an opportunity to preach the Gospel in Rome.


Pic 1 (Map).  Here again you see the storm and then you see Malta here where they are shipwrecked.  Malta is an island some 17 miles in length, 9 miles in width, and about 60 miles South of Sicily.  So that’s the island where Paul’s shipwrecks.  More specifically, the ship wrecked in an area known today as St. Paul’s Harbor or St. Paul’s Bay.  Here’s the picture:


Pic 2 (St. Paul’s Harbor).  This is a beautiful place popular today for weddings and honeymoons all around the island of Malta.  The climate is perfect and the island is just beautiful.


So this is where Paul is shipwrecked, on the island of Malta, a Phoenician word that means, “Refuge.”  I really like that because we talked last time about going through storms so we have a reminder that our loving God provides for us a refuge, a place of shelter.


I want to pick up on that theme this week and I’ve been thinking about the song with which many of you are familiar:


When upon life’s billows

You are tempest tossed

When you are discouraged

Thinking all is lost

Count your many blessings

Name them one by one

And it will surprise you

What the Lord has done


The hymn writer reminds us that when we find ourselves in the storms of life, when we find ourselves in places of discouragement, we may find encouragement by counting our blessings, remembering what God had done for us.  So I want to lead us this morning to count a few of our blessings, reasons we should thank God.  First, we should thank God for:


I.  The Blessing of God’s Protection [1-6]


1 Now when they had escaped, they then found out that the island was called Malta. 

2 And the natives showed us unusual kindness; for they kindled a fire and made us all welcome, because of the rain that was falling and because of the cold. 


The word “natives” there in the Greek is “Barbaros,” and so the King James Version has the word Barbarians there, a word that simply means the natives of the island didn’t speak the Greek language.  But while they didn’t know the language of Greek they definitely knew the language of love!  Luke writes in verse 2 that they showed “unusual kindness” to the shipwrecked men in that they built a fire for the cold, wet sailors.  Now watch what happens here in verses 3 and following:


3 But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand. 

4 So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.” 


So Paul is helping gather sticks for the fire and inadvertently picked up a snake.  Yuck, right!  The viper, a poisonous snake, feels the heat of the fire and instinctively bites onto Paul’s hand and is hanging there, shooting its venom into Paul’s bloodstream.  The natives see this and reason to one another, “This man must be a murder.  He’s escaped the storm of the sea, but justice does not allow him to live.”  Some translators think the “j” in justice should be capitalized, Justice being the name of the Greek goddess of justice.


In any case the islanders have the same theology as a number of people have today.  When something bad happens they immediately reason that the bad thing happened because a person deserved it, the person himself must be a bad person or he did something really bad and that’s why this happened.  You know what?  Sometimes bad things happen to good people.  Bad things sometimes just happen.  This world we live in is imperfect.  It’s been spinning off-center since sin entered the world in Genesis 3.  We yearn for the day our Lord returns and fixes all the imperfections.  Until then, we recognize that sometimes bad things just happen.  One moment you’re gathering sticks for a fire, the next moment a viper is hanging from your arm.  What does Paul do?


5 But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 

6 However, they were expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god. 


That’s kind of funny, isn’t it?  One moment the natives are saying, “Paul’s a murder,” then they say, “He’s a god.”  The fickleness of human nature!  Now, the obvious point here is that Paul has experienced the blessing of God’s protection.  He knows he is going to make it to Rome.  God has told him that previously.  He knows he’s going to get there so he knows he’s not going to die from a snakebite on the island of Malta.  He knows God will keep his word so when the snake sinks its teeth into Paul’s arm he just shakes it off into the fire.  God protected Paul from harm because God had more work for him to do.


And again we are reminded of the words of John Wesley who said, “I am immortal until my work is done.”  I hear people say that who have escaped some sudden tragedy, a heart attack or a car accident.  They’ll say, “I guess the Lord wasn’t finished with me yet.”  And I agree with them: “There’s more work for you to do.”


Christians are wise to think of God’s working this way in their lives.  God has us here until our work is done at which point He calls us home.  So He is forever working in our lives, protecting us from the evil one, watching over His children all the time.  See, we are quick to thank God for getting us out of the near miss on Highway 60 or for protecting us from the tornado, but the truth is, every moment of every day is in some sense an experience in the blessing of God’s protection.  The very fact that God gives us the air to breathe and lungs that work and a heart that beats is evidence that He is sustaining His creation; continually blessing us with the grace of His protection from the effects of the fall.  So let’s thank God frequently throughout the day.  Pray often: “Thank You, God, for Your protection.”  Say that with me now: “Thank You, God, for Your protection.”


God’s protecting the Apostle Paul and the wonders God works through Paul as he shares the Gospel on the island of Malta has an effect on these islanders.  Even today you can visit Malta and witness the appreciation of the people there for what Paul accomplished 2,000 years ago.  There’s a church in the area of Malta today called, “St. Paul’s Shipwreck Church.”  Then there’s this church here:


Pic 3 (St. Paul’s Church).  According to tradition, this church was built right over a grotto, or cave, where the Apostle Paul was said to have taken refuge.  We all know how stories are embellished and persons romanticized over the years, but it is clear that what we read happening here in Acts 28 has a lasting impact to this day.   The people of Malta were changed by the powerful work of God.  We turn to that point next.  We thank God for the blessing of His protection, and, secondly, we thank God for,


II.  The Blessing of God’s Power [7-10]


Remember the promise of Jesus in Acts 1:8?  He said, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth.”  Paul had received that power and God works His power in and through Paul while he is there on the island of Malta.  In the next four verses there are three ways God blesses through his power.  First:


1)   He blesses Miraculously (7-8)


7 In that region there was an estate of the leading citizen of the island, whose name was Publius, who received us and entertained us courteously for three days. 

8 And it happened that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and dysentery. Paul went in to him and prayed, and he laid his hands on him and healed him. 


So there’s this guy there on the island, a leading citizen by the name of Publius.  The word Publius means, “Chief Man” so he’s like the magistrate or governor of the island.  He obviously has a huge estate because he entertains 276 persons on it for three days.  But Publius has a father whom Luke, the physician, tells us “lay sick of a fever.”  Paul goes to Publius’ father, lays his hands on him and heals him.  It is a wonder-working powerful miracle of God.  God blesses miraculously.


Remember that Paul, as an apostle, has the apostolic gift of healing.  God worked miracles through the apostles.  We don’t have apostles today, people who have personally witnessed the resurrected Jesus, but we do still have miracles today.  God does not change.  He can heal a person of cancer at the snap of a finger.  I really believe that.  What I do not believe is that there are so-called apostles today walking around with the gift of healing.  I believe in healing, but I’m very skeptical of those who claim to be faith healers.  Put another way: I’m not too crazy about faith-healers, but I believe in faith healing.


Remember that Paul didn’t have this apostolic gift forever.  At the end of his ministry he tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:20 that he left a guy named Trophimus back in Miletus sick.  Why didn’t Paul heal him?  Well evidently the apostolic gift of healing lessened over time and eventually ceased with the passing of the apostles.  I think another sign of this occurs here in the text as I’ll share in a moment, but for now just know that it’s okay to be very skeptical of those who claim to be faith-healers.


Michele and I watched a guy on YouTube who is now the latest craze in faith healers.  It just sickens you to see it.  His name is Todd Bentley and he claims to be healing people, hitting a guy in the stomach who has Stage 4 cancer and so forth.  The guy’s a charlatan, a complete fraud.  He claims to have raised people from the dead and all that, the usual ridiculous stuff that is never substantiated by medical doctors and eye-witnesses.  Don’t be lured away into false teaching.  God blesses miraculously, but He warns us of false teachers.  According to the book of James, chapter 5, God likes to heal today through the praying body of Christ, not through some self-proclaimed faith-healer.  In fact, very frequently God heals us through medicine.  That’s the second sub-point here.  God blesses miraculously and:


2)  He blesses Medicinally (9)


9 So when this was done, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed. 


The Greek word translated “healed” there in verse 9 is a different word from the word used in verse 8.  The word here in verse 9 is “Therapueo,” the word from which get our English, “therapeutic.”  It is a word that simply means, “To cure.”  It conveys the idea of using common medical means to cure people from sicknesses.  So when the islanders saw the power of God to heal Publius’ father, those who had diseases came to Paul for healing and the Bible says that Paul—no doubt with the help of Dr. Luke—cured them.  Why didn’t Paul lay his hands on every single one of them and heal them miraculously as he had Publius’ father?  Well, maybe because the frequency of that apostolic gift was lessening over time.  But you know, whether God chooses to heal at the snap of a finger or whether God chooses to heal through doctors and medicine, who is the ultimate healer?  God!  God blesses miraculously and God blesses medicinally.  Here’s the third sub-point:


3)  He blesses Materially (10)


10 They also honored us in many ways; and when we departed, they provided such things as were necessary. 


When it came time for Paul and the crew to board ship and sail off to Rome, God blessed the crew through the generosity of the people of Malta.  Luke writes in verse 10 that “they provided such things as were necessary.”  God blessed Paul and his crew with material goods at the hands of the natives of Malta.  Little wonder Paul writes in Philippians 4:19, “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”


We’re counting our blessings this morning.  Thank God for the blessing of His protection and the blessing of His power.  Thirdly, thank God for:


III.  The Blessing of God’s People [11-16]


I love these next six verses!  Let’s just read them here:


11 After three months we sailed in an Alexandrian ship whose figurehead was the Twin Brothers (these would be figures of the mythological sons of Zeus, gods of navigation.  God uses a pagan ship to get Paul to Rome!), which had wintered at the island. 

12 And landing at Syracuse, we stayed three days. 

13 From there we circled round and reached Rhegium. And after one day the south wind blew; and the next day we came to Puteoli, 

14 where we found brethren, and were invited to stay with them seven days. And so we went toward Rome. 


I just really like that there in verse 14.  Paul and crew dock at Rome’s main port at Puteoli.  They get off the ship and who is there?  “Brethren!”  Luke writes in verse 14, “We found brethren and were invited to stay with them seven days.”  How encouraging that Paul and Luke would be met by brothers in Christ!


In these latter verses we are reminded of the power of community, how God blesses through His people.  You see it again here in the next verse:


15 And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage. 


By the way, let’s remember our geography.  Not all of you have maps in the backs of your Bible.  Here’s the map again:


Pic 4 (Map again).  Paul gets off the ship there in Puteoli, that’s about like where the shin is on the boot of Italy.  So he gets off there and they walk 125 miles north to Rome.  They walk through two locations called “Appii Forum” and “Three Inns.”  You see them there on the map.  Now this road they are on is called the Appian Way.  It is the most important ancient Roman road.  Much of the road is still there today.  Here’s a picture of it:


Pic 5 (Appian Way 1).  Some of you may have visited Italy and you’ve walked on this.  Here’s another picture:


Pic 6 (Appian Way 2).  Pretty cool, huh?


So Paul is walking on this very road as he heads to Rome.  And the Bible says in verse 15 that when they left Puteoli and walked along the Appian Way, who met them again?  See it there in verse 15?  “The brethren” again!  These are more believer, more Christians, who come to meet Paul and Luke and encourage them.  And Luke writes that “they came to meet” them “as far as Appii Forum, which was 43 miles from Rome and “Three Inns” which was 33 miles from Rome.  Little wonder, then, that when Paul saw them, Luke writes in the latter part of verse 15, that “he thanked God and took courage.”


These Christians were a blessing to Paul.  God used them to encourage the Apostle.  It made the rest of his journey all the sweeter.  So Luke writes:


16 Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him.


So Paul has been escorted to his final destination by loving Christian brothers.  Christians had walked as far as 43 miles just to be there to encourage Paul.  What a blessing!  You know, we’re talking about counting our blessings, but how frequently do you think about your being a blessing to someone else?  Here are people who walk 43 miles to bless another person.  The writer of Hebrews reminds us how we can bless one another simply by gathering together for worship.  He writes in Hebrews 10:25, “Don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is, but exhort one another—encourage one another—and all the more as you see the day approaching.”


How can you bless someone else this morning?  Someone here needs to be blessed by you today.  Give them a warm hug, an encouraging word, a promise of prayer.  God created us for relationship, a relationship with Him and a relationship with others.


I was blessed yesterday at the men’s breakfast as I listened to the testimony of one of our young men, how he’s come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through our church and how he’s been encouraged by others to get connected into various ministries in the body of Christ.  It was a reminder to me that there is a power in community, in relationships within the church body.  We were made for that: relationships with one another, and a relationship with Jesus Christ.


  • Stand for prayer.

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